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Advanced Technology Sheds New Light on the House of the Drinking Contest at Antioch

September 20, 2019 @ 7:00 pm EDT

University of Central Florida, Room TBA
4000 Central Florida Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32816 United States

Lecturer: John Dobbins

Antioch-on-the-Orontes was the capital of the Roman province of Syria and one of the most important cities in antiquity.  Among the treasures discovered by the 1930s excavations at Antioch and its vicinity are numerous polychrome floor mosaics.  This presentation focuses on reconstructing the original setting of the mosaics from the third-century CE House of the Drinking Contest at Seleucia Pieria, the port city of Antioch.  Mosaics from the house now are located in Boston, Princeton, Richmond, Denver, St. Petersburg (FL), and Antakya (site of Antioch in Turkey).

The separation of the mosaics has severed them from their original site and from each other.  Not even the original excavators saw the mosaics in their ancient context because the roofs of the house were gone as were the walls that supported the roofs and created windows, doors, and a courtyard that admitted light into the house.  Excavation photographs present the mosaics in place, but the lighting conditions were not those of ancient Antioch.  The ancient occupants saw light enter over walls, through windows, and between columns as it moved across pavements during the course of the day and the arc of the year.  Neither excavation photographs nor museum environments recreate that ancient context.

We start by examining the mosaics themselves.  This takes some time.  Then computer science addresses the problem of the lost architectural and lighting contexts through a 3D model created by Ethan Gruber that recreates the house and inserts the mosaics into the spaces that originally contained them.  A programming script calibrates the sunlight to the latitude and longitude of Seleucia Pieria and is set to the year 230 thus enabling an accurate lighting simulation for the house and its mosaics.  The computer model presents a graphic rendering of the hypotheses underpinning the architectural reconstruction.  Lighting simulations present the lighting conditions at the summer and winter solstices of the year 230.  Time-lapse videos allow the viewer to observe and study the movement of light throughout the house on those days.  Finally, the model places the viewer within the ancient spaces, thereby reconstructing and recontextualizing view corridors within the house and from the house to the natural environment.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Two chapters in Christine Kondoleon, Antioch: Lost Ancient City, Princeton, 2000:

John J. Dobbins, “The Houses at Antioch,” pp. 50-61.

Christine Kondoleon, “Mosaics of Antioch,” pp. 62-77.

Ethan Gruber and John J. Dobbins, “Illuminating Historical Architecture: The House of the Drinking Contest at Antioch,” in F. Contreras, et al. eds., Fusion of Cultures.  Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference on Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology, Granada, Spain, April 2010 (Archaeopress, Oxford, 2013) 77-84.

Howland Lecture

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September 20, 2019
7:00 pm EDT
Event Categories:


Brigitte Kovacevich


University of Central Florida, Room TBA
4000 Central Florida Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32816 United States
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