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||3rd c. AD
||purchase from the international art market, 2004
After the destruction of Carthage (146 BC) the central part of Northern Africa became the Roman province called Africa. Agricultural production in the large local estates played a crucial role in supplying the empire, so Africa became one of the richest regions. In terms of art too, the area was closely linked to the classical culture of the Greco-Roman world. For instance, the floors of wealthy villas were adorned with vast mosaics depicting stories from mythology.
Orpheus was the most famous songster in Greek mythology. His singing and playing the lyre charmed even the gods of the underworld, who restored to him his dead wife, Eurydice. His music even subdued wild animals - this scene was a popular subject for Roman mosaics, with Orpheus in the centre, and round about the animals turning to face him. The Budapest mosaic may also have been the central part of such a large-scale composition.
Orpheus became especially popular from the beginning of the third century, in the late imperial period which faced the crisis of the empire and classical culture. By then the figure of the singer had been enriched with novel elements: for instance, he was thought to be the originator of a Greek religious belief which aimed to secure the soul's prosperity in the afterlife. The image of the divine singer thus offered countless possibilities of interpretation, which varied according to era, region and intellectual persuasion. In fact, his figure was adopted unchanged by Early Christian art as one possible form of representation of Christ.