Thieves Steal Unique Mosaic of 6th Century Roman Goddess
JERUSALEM (AP) _ A 1,400-year-old mosaic of the Roman goddess of fortune was sawed out of a stone floor and stolen from an unguarded archaeological site in northern Israel, officials said Sunday.
Police sent detectives to Israel’s airports and seaports to try and stop the thieves from leaving the country with the medallion, a circular portrait about three feet in diameter.
Gabi Mazor of the Israeli Department of Antiquities said thieves used a power saw and professional techniques to slice the goddess from the mosaic floor in the predawn hours Friday.
He speculated the thieves specialized in archaelogical theft and may work for a private art collector.
The medallion was unearthed 18 months ago in Beit Shean, where Mazor’s archaeological team is uncovering one of the largest and best preserved Byzantine cities in the Holy Land.
The tile mosaic depicts Fortuna, Roman goddess of fortune and protector of cities. She is crowned with the ancient city walls of Beit Shean, carries a horn of plenty and is draped with a yellow, red and blue Roman cloak.
″I’m furious,″ Mazor said. ″We never expected to uncover such a beautiful mosaic floor during our digs.″
The artwork may now be in the hands of ″a collector who is willing to keep it in his home and never show it around,″ said Mazor.
He said it was impossible to estimate Fortuna’s value.
’It’s worth as much as someone will pay for it,″ he said. ″It’s unique, I have seen Tikha on coins before, but I know of no other mosaic,″ he said, using the Greek name for the goddess Fortuna.
Giora Solar, conservation director of the antiquities department, said stealing artifacts is rare in Israel but common in other Mediterranean countries, where security is usually more lax.
Beit Shean, 75 miles north of Jerusalem, was a large walled city throughout the Roman and Byzantine periods with 50,000 residents at its peak, huge for ancient times. It was renowned for the production of fine linens and sat on a main trade route between Damascus in modern-day Syria and Cairo in Egypt.
The excavation has already uncovered a Roman temple, a large theater and one of the largest Roman baths discovered in Israel.
Mazor said the dig area is part of a larger national park that is open to the public in the daytime. He said the site is guarded until midnight but is deserted from the time the guards leave until after dawn.