In the excavations conducted by the joint expedition at Caesarea, on behalf of the University of Haifa and the University of Maryland, USA, a treasure trove was discovered in 1995 that included vessels made of metal, ceramic and glass. The group of metal artifacts was the largest among them. This group will be the subject of my lecture.
The treasure trove consisted of one hundred twenty five vessels made of brass and in a few instances of copper. Among these vessels there is a large group of candlesticks, pails, jugs, trays, small stoves (kopah) and items such as handles and pedestals for vessels. The crystallization of these vessels’ form is based on the shape and decoration of metal vessels from the Roman-Byzantine period. In the lecture I will examine the Roman-Byzantine influences on the crystallization of three groups: the candlesticks, the pails and the group of trays.
There are thirty four pieces of candlesticks that were found in the treasure trove, thirty one of them belong to candlesticks that have a base, stem and plate that were prepared separately, and were assembled to form the complete candlestick. Three other parts belong to a candlestick whose parts were screwed together and two of them have prototypes that date to the Roman-Byzantine period.
The group of pails comprises nine vessels of various shapes and sizes – cylindrical pails, pails with slightly concave sides and one pail with a piriform body. The use of pails in the Islamic culture is derived from the Roman-Byzantine culture. On a tombstone from the third century CE there is the image of the deceased, portrayed as a child, holding a pail in his left hand that was intended for ceremonial use. The pail contains water from the Nile together with offerings of food, which symbolize the needs of the deceased after death. In a scene from a mosaic pavement in the Armarina villa in Rome a man is depicted in a bathhouse grasping a pail in his hand.
In the Islamic world pails were used in domestic life for drawing water from the household cistern and were used in bathhouses, as seen in Umayyad frescoes from Qutser Amra which portray women in a bathhouse, and in miniature drawings from the sixth to the tenth centuries CE.
Byzantine pails decorated with scenes taken from Roman mythology or hunting scenes with a strip of inscription appearing below the rim will be presented opposite the finds from Caesarea. It is apparent from this comparison that besides the continuity of their use, the decorative subjects and how they were divided along the surface of the pail were influenced by Byzantine art. The pails from the treasure trove at Caesarea are decorated on their surfaces with portrayals of animals or floral decorations and an inscribed strip appears below the rim.
The trays, which were used to serve fruit and to carry serving vessels such as small bowls, are decorated with pairs of circles engraved in the center of the tray and on its sides. These are the remains of a Roman tradition according to which they would thicken the center of the vessel and adorn it with engraved circles, as evidence of the skill of the artist. In addition, the most magnificent tray of the group, whose center is decorated with a scene that depicts a bird of prey attacking a doe and is surrounded by an inscribed band, is analogous in form and decorative style to the group of trays from Bulgaria that date to the Middle Byzantine period (863-1241 CE) in which Islamic influence is apparent in the design of the trays and their decoration. These mutual influences attest to the interrelationship between the cultures during the Fatimid period and also to the existence of a decorative style in the eastern Mediterranean Sea that is common to the Fatimid culture and contemporary Byzantine culture.