A mosaic panel representing a wounded equine
Period: 3rd-4th century A.D.
Material: Stone tesserae
Dimensions: 68 x 92 cm
Ex-French collection, acquired around 1935.
The mosaic, which is affixed on a rectangular panel, is composed of stone tesserae of various sizes and colors.
On a white background, an equine – it is probably an onager, a species of wild donkey still surviving today in some African or Asian areas, and characterized by a gray/beige coat – has been deeply wounded in the neck, where a large amount of blood flows from, spilling upon the ground and forming a flat stain of grayish ochre color. The donkey’s coat is gray under the belly and beige on the body, with black lines on the legs and the neck. One should notice the very precise, realistic rendering of the coat and attitude of the animal, which, while still standing, begins to collapse under the seriousness of its injury: the hind legs, already folded, seem to be no longer able to support the weight of the body, the head is turned upwards, in a somewhat uncontrolled movement, and the mouth is open in a last rattle of pain and despair.
In front of the onager is at least one enigmatic yellow and red object, formed of a rod with a central bulge: this might belong to the hunter who attacked the animal.
From the 3rd century A.D. on, mosaics showing very violent hunting scenes or circus games in which animals fought and were slaughtered by gladiators became frequent: among the animals participating in such fights (sometimes they can also be hunting scenes between animals) one can list a very diversified fauna, including African (lions, ostriches, elephants, rhinoceros, etc.) or Asian (tigers, elephants, etc.) animals. Among all these species, onagers are attested on several occasions, especially in western North African (Tunisia) excavated contexts.
The inscription in Latin characters seems to suggest a name (THEBA? connection with the city of Thebes?): as it appears on other mosaics, it could be the name of the hunter or, more sorely, of the killed animal.
BEN ABED-BEN KHADER A., Image de la pierre, La Tunisie en mosaïque, Tunis, 2002, p. 59, fig.157-159 (Althiburos mosaic); fig. 182-190 (onager hunting).
On the presence of wild animals during the games:
GOLVIN J.-C. – LANDES C., Amphithéâtres et gladiateurs, Paris, 1990, pp. 185 ff.