Tag Archives: Fresco

Emperor Worship at Herculaneum Part 2

In a previous post I shared some images and thoughts on what I believe is the only completely preserved building dedicated to the worship of Roman Emperors in the First Century A.D.  I want to complete the posting of images from the main room where the statue of the Emperor was located.  In these two frescos, the Emperor is portrayed as the mythical hero Hercules!

On the left is Hercules with his club, lion’s skin, and a bow and arrows.

View looking at the north wall of the cult room of the Sacellum (chapel) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship).  The central panel is flanked by two slender spirally fluted columns.  It appears that there is an attempt to portray this central panel as a hanging tapestry.  On the left is Hercules with his club, lion’s skin, and a bow and arrows.  The nude figure next to him is a river deity that is attempting to snatch away Hercules’ wife, Deianeira.  Hercules is about to rescue her!  Tuck suggests that this is a metaphor for the Emperor as Hercules who protects/rescues his people.

Flanking the central piece are “windows” that look out on to the world.  Note especially the two chariots with horses in the upper two corners.

Hercules, without club or lion’s skin, is sitting nude. The female in the foreground is the deity Minerva and in the back, between the two of them, is Zeus’s wife, Hera.

View looking at the south wall of the cult room of the Sacellum (chapel) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship).  The central panel is flanked by two slender spirally fluted columns.  It appears that there is an attempt to portray this central panel as a hanging tapestry.  Hercules, without club or lion’s skin, is sitting nude.  The female in the foreground is the deity Minerva and in the back, between the two of them, is Zeus’s wife, Hera.  Tuck believes that this is a representation of Hercules about to be taken up to be with the gods (= apotheosis) and that he and Hera are here reconciled—Hera had attempted to kill him.  Tuck believes that this is a metaphor for the apotheosis (- ascension?) of the Emperor—being represented as Hercules.  In other words, Vespasian, like Emperors before him, was taken to be with the gods—and thus became a god!  And of course, the Emperor’s successor (even if adopted), would be “a son of god.”

To view 6 images of this important room Click Here.


Professor Tuck (see below) suggests that this room was renovated shortly after the death of Vespasian in A.D. 79, early in the reign of Titus—which implies that the room was soon buried by the pyroclastic flow from Vesuvius—ca. 24 August 79.

I am indebted to the explanatory comments of Steven L. Tuck in his engaging “Worshipping the Emperors at Herculaneum,” Lecture 21 in Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City.  Produced by the Great Courses/The Teaching Company, Course No. 3742, 2010.

Laodicea: A Massive Frescoed Wall — Something New (at least to me)

After returning from our October 2021 tour Following in the Footsteps of Paul in Turkey and Greece people would ask me “what’s new?” The site of Laodicea in Turkey has been under intensive excavation and restoration for over 20 years and it seems like there is always something new to see. Our visit there in October did not disappoint! (see after this introduction the main reason for my excitement—be sure to see the last image and the site diagram)

One of the places that has recently been under intense excavation and restoration is the North (Sacred) Agora which is located north of the western end of the Syrian Street (the main street of Laodicea—site diagram below).

The Main Entrance to the North (Sacred) Agora — the Propylon

The North (Sacred) Agora is huge, almost 9 acres (3.6 ha.) in size—about equal to 6.5 American Football Fields.  The three main entranceways are from the Syrian Street via monumental entrances.  In the center of the Agora, there were two temples: one dedicated to Athena and the other to Zeus—along with associated altars.

The Agora was initially constructed during the reign of Augustus (r. 27 BC to AD 14). The temples were dismantled during the reign of Constantine (r. 306–337) and a church was constructed at the north end of the Agora.  The earthquake of 494 destroyed parts of the Agora and it completely collapsed in the early seventh–century.

The 850-foot long western pool — partially restored

There are two porticos running north-south—one on the east and one on the west. Parallel to them, there were two long pools.

On the western side of the Agora the excavators have been busy restoring the wall that encloses the agora on the west.

What lies “behind the curtain?”

This is a view looking west at the western Portico of the North Agora.  The outer wall of the west portico is located behind the black fabric.  The erected columns formed the agora side of the portico and a roof ran from the columns to the wall.  This western portico was 980 feet long!

Well, I had to find out what was behind the curtain, and to my surprise . . . .

View looking northwest along the 200 foot long, 25 foot high, Frescoed Wall
Note the people standing at the far end of the wall

There it was—a two hundred foot long, 25 foot high Frescoed Wall! The archaeologists have reconstructed this wall using the rectangular frescoed travertine blocks that were found in the area. The rectangular carved stone blocks appear to be of travertine, covered with fresco painting.

To be frank, I could not believe my eyes with what I was seeing.  I never imagined that ‘mere walls’ would be so elaborately decorated!

A view of a portion of the western boundary wall of the North Agora

A detail of the Frescoed Wall — Note the rich colors and the geometric patterns

This is a detailed view of the stunning colors of a reconstructed arch of the western wall of the North Agora.

So you ask, where is the North Agora?

A map of the northwestern portion of Laodicea

#27 is the Propylon, the entrance to the North Agora, mentioned at the beginning of this post.
The North (Sacred) Agora, where all the above “goodies” are found, is located in the area between #27 and #42 — it has not yet made it onto the map.

For additional images and commentary about the North Agora Click Here.


Who knows what new items await us as we Follow in the Footsteps of Paul for 18 days in May 2022? For information about this trip, Click Here.

I can be contacted at: 2footstepstours@gmail.com

The Cave/Grotto of Paul and Thecla at Ephesus

One of the most interesting early extra–biblical stories is the one of Paul and Thecla (2nd century A.D.; Thecla is said to have been a female companion of Paul and eventually [for most of her life] a respected preacher of the Christian faith).

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From right to left: Theocleia (mother of Thecla), Paul, and Thecla
Fresco from the Grotto of Saint Paul at Ephesus
Click on Image to Enlarge

At Ephesus there is a not–too–frequently–visited cave sometimes called “The Grotto of Paul” (= Cave of Paul & Thecla).  It is located on the northern slope of Bülbül Dag, away from the normal visitors’ routes through Ephesus.  It overlooks the site of ancient Ephesus from the south.

On the western wall of the grotto a painting portrays an event from the apocryphal book called The Acts of Paul and Thecla (ca. early second century A.D.).  The painting (5th/6th century A.D.) depicts the initial event described in the book, in the city of Iconium, where Thecla is looking from a window at Paul preaching while Thecla’s mother (Theocleia) looks on.  Thecla, against the wishes of her mother and her finance Thamyris, gave up her betrothal (engagement) in order to remain a virgin and to follow Paul.

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Detail of Thecla looking down from a window at Paul preaching
Paul’s raised hand is visible on the right
Click on Image to Enlarge

Eventually Thecla was separated from Paul and became a significant preacher and witness to her faith.  Her life and impact has been much discussed during the past thirty years and this painting has figured large in the discussions.

In addition, The Acts of Paul and Thecla contains the earliest physical description of Paul:

“And he [Onesiphorus] saw Paul coming [towards Iconium], a man small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged, well-built, with eyebrows meeting, rather long-nosed, full of grace.”

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Paul and Theocleia (mother of Thecla) — Note the names spelled out in Greek
Also compare the artistic representation of Paul with the literary
Click on Image to Enlarge

The facial image of Paul in the fresco seems to match this description as do iconographic representations of Paul.

The cave seems to have served as a chapel from the early Byzantine period through the early 19th century.

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Vestibule to “The Grotto of Paul and Thecla” at Ephesus

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Plan of “The Grotto of Paul and Thecla”

The grotto is 50 ft. long 6.5 ft. wide and 7.5 ft. high gallery that was expanded to the south in the form of a “presbytery.”  It was excavated by Dr. Renate Pillinger from the University of Vienna in 1995.

Not familiar with the fascinating story of Paul and Thecla?  You can get a Kindle version of the story for only $1.99 in the New Testament Apocrypha—along with 43 other stories!

To view additional images of this Grotto and Frescos Click Here.