30th July 2015: An Ancient Syrian All-girl Band; the Maryamin Mosaic and its Implications by Warwick Ball

Come along to The Counting House at 7pm to listen to Warwick, share a crust of bread, and learn about the Maryamin Mosaic…


Title of talk:

An Ancient Syrian All-girl Band: the Maryamin Mosaic and its Implications


Maryamin Mosaic

A few paragraphs on your subject:

The Maryamin Mosaic (from Maryamin, near Hama in Syria) is one of the most extraordinary works of Classical art to have survived from the ancient world. Unlike most mosaics, which tend to depict either formulaic scenes or purely abstract patterns, the Maryamin Mosaic represents a ‘snapshot’ of an actual event: a live musical performance. A wooden stage or dais is visible in the foreground, upon which six female musicians perform with clappers, an organ, a double flute, metal sounding bows, a cithara and castanets.
The performers are gorgeously and elegantly – even flamboyantly – dressed, in richly embroidered robes. The mosaic workmanship is of particularly high quality, with small tesserae permitting fine detail of both costumes and instruments to be shown, as well as fine gradations of colour and shading. Of particular importance are the organ and organist. The mosaic contains probably the most detailed representation of an ancient organ to have survived. Moreover, it is clear that that this is a bellows organ and not a water organ.
The earliest bellows organs are eighteenth century, whereas all earlier organs were water organs. Hence, the Maryamin Mosaic is one of the more important historical sources concerning the history of the development of keyboard instruments. Even more importantly, the organist appears to be playing with both hands, suggesting the development of harmony and polyphony some eight centuries before their rise in the western musical tradition.
As well as being one of the most important documents for the development of music and musical instruments and their spread from the ancient eastern Mediterranean into medieval Europe and ultimately into the mainstream Classical music tradition, the Maryamin Mosaic is an important source of information on ancient costume.

A few paragraphs about you:

Warwick Ball is a Near Eastern archaeologist and author who spent over twenty-five years carrying out excavations, architectural studies and monumental restoration throughout the Middle East and adjacent regions, having lived, worked and travelled in most countries between the Mediterranean and China. He excavated in Iran, Libya, Ethiopia, Afghanistan (where he was Acting Director of the British Institute of Afghan Studies), Jordan, and Iraq (where he was Director of Excavations with the British School of Archaeology in Iraq).
Warwick is currently director of Eastern Approaches, a special-interest travel company that offers small group tours of cultural and historical interest. Author of many books and articles on the history and archaeology of the region. Apart from specialist academic publications, these books include:

  • Syria: An Architectural and Historical Guide (3rd edition 2006);
  • The Monuments of Afghanistan. History, Archaeology, Architecture (2008);
  • East of the Wardrobe: The Lion, the Witch and the Orient on the orientalism in C S Lewis’ Narnia books (publisher pending).

He has just completed a quartet of books entitled ‘Asia in Europe and the Making of the West’: Out of Arabia. Phoenicians, Arabs and the Discovery of Europe (2009), Towards One World. Ancient Persia and the West (2010), Sultans of Rome. The Turkish World-wide Expansion (2012), and The Gates of Asia (2015). His book, Rome in the East: the Transformation of an Empire, was winner of the James Henry Breasted History Prize and was Choice Outstanding Academic Book in 2000.
On other publication matters, I am currently working on a new edition of my 2000 Rome in the East for Routledge, as well as a new and expanded edition of my 1982 Archaeological Gazetteer of Afghanistan to be published (under a new title) by Oxford University Press). I am also co-editing a new edition of the 1978 Archaeology of Afghanistan edited by Raymond Allchin and Norman Hammond to be published by Edinburgh University Press.

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