A Pilaster depicting Victory from Roman Ascalon, by Kiernan Acquisto

Nike and Atlas 1This marble pilaster is the best preserved of four from the late second-early third century CE basilica at Ascalon. The sculpture depicts a winged Victory standing barefoot on a globe supported by a kneeling Atlas. The victory’s right leg is slightly advanced, as if she has just alighted, her left hand lifts her garment, and her missing right hand probably held a laurel wreath. Two other pilasters from the basilica depict similar Victories and a third depicts Isis-Tyche (Fischer 1995: 130, 133, 135). The pilasters were likely placed in an elevated position within the basilica, which was a public building located near the center of the city. The images allude to the Roman concept of the imperial oikoumene combined with the civic pride of the citizens of Ascalon; they are peaceful signals of territory, power, and inclusiveness (Friedland 2003: 332; Fischer 1995: 139, 146). These pilasters are similar to ones in the Severan basilica at Lepcis Magna. Geochemical and petrographical analysis reveal that the marble of the Ascalon pilasters came from Asia Minor, as did that of the Lepcis pilasters and other sculptures from Roman Palestine (Fischer 1995: 139, 148-9). The common source quarries suggest an imperially-regulated marble trade that shifted stone from marble-rich areas to marble-poor places like the Levant, which has no native source of marble (Friedland 2003: 336, 338). This organized network enabled a common aesthetic across the Roman Mediterranean.

Fischer, M., “The Basilica at Ascalon: marble, imperial art and architecture in Roman Palestine.” Pp. 121-150 in The Roman and Byzantine Near East: Some Recent Archaeological Research, ed. J. Humphrey. JRA Supplement 14 (1995).

Friedland, E., “Art as Cultural Artifact: Roman Sculpture in the Semitic East.” Pp. 331-344 in 100 Years of American Archaeology in the Middle East, ed. D.R. Clark and V.H. Matthews. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research: 2003.

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