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UCLA Historical Journal

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Christians and Pagans in Roman Nea Paphos: Contextualizing the ‘House of Aion’ Mosaic


Since its chance discovery in 1983 at the site of ancient Nea Paphos, the proper interpretation of the “House of Aion” mosaic, a 4th-century floor pavement located in the triclinium of a wealthy Roman villa, has confounded scholars. While ostensibly depicting a simple assortment of traditional scenes from Greco-Roman mythology, several scholars have claimed to see in the layout of work’s pagan motifs a veiled anti-Christian polemical message. Although investigation of the mosaic has heretofore probed exhaustively the work’s own symbolic imagery, little attention has been paid to how the tumultuous religious history of Cyprus might illuminate its meaning. This paper seeks to remedy that lack of contextualization by reconstructing the religious atmosphere of 4th-century Nea Paphos through a range of historical, archaeological, and artistic evidence, with an eye toward how such evidence might be made to support the “Christian” interpretation of the mosaic. I conclude that, given such a background, it is highly likely that the commissioner of the mosaic intended the work as a subversion of Christianity.

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