Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Fine Arts

Degree Program

Art History, PhD

Committee Chair

Westerfeld, Jennifer

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Fulton, Christopher

Committee Member

Fulton, Christopher

Committee Member

Foran, Debra

Committee Member

Campbell, Sheila

Author's Keywords

mosaics; euergetism; patronage; iconography; Jordan; Late Antique


In this dissertation, I examine nine ecclesiastic floor mosaics from Late Antique Palaestina and Arabia that contain topographic motifs ­­˗ images of cities set in realistic or stylized landscapes. Previous interpretations of the pavements have been limited by two assumptions: that artists or bishops were solely responsible for determining the compositions, and that only religious interpretations were intended for church pavements. Inscriptions indicating that patrons were generally lay people and iconography that encourages secular interpretations complicates both assumptions. This study investigates the mosaics in light of Late Antique euergetism in order to determine why donors included architectonic elements in the pavements. This objective is realized using an interdisciplinary approach designed to gain an understanding of the ways in which patrons interpreted topographic imagery. An examination of Late Antique Neo-Platonist philosophy and ekphrases is utilized in ascertaining perceptions of ecclesiastic space. Spatial analyses of the topographic pavements within their architectural contexts recreate the original viewer experience as closely as possible. Comparisons to topographic mosaics from Israel, Syria, and the West provide identifications for some of the motifs and indicate that architectonic imagery was often used to signify the purpose of individual buildings, including funerary, reliquary, or pilgrimage churches. Patrons of the church mosaics strategically combined topographic motifs with iconography that had traditionally been used in domestic mosaics to denote elite status and economic prosperity, including images of leisure activities and agricultural production. Donors also incorporated images of local natural resources, as well as depictions of pilgrimage and trade routes, in order to illustrate the source of their personal and/or communal wealth. The socio-economic importance of the depicted resources and sites is well attested in archaeological and textural sources, including pilgrim itineraria, saints’ vitae, and documents related to agricultural production and trade. The inclusion of this iconography in topographic mosaics complicates conventional religious interpretations. This dissertation expands our understanding of the ways in which topographic motifs functioned as elements of Late Antique iconography, their roll in identifying various types of ecclesiastic buildings, and the motivations that led donors to contribute resources to the construction and decoration of churches.