Chariot-racing at Leptis Magna in a mosaic

The circus of the Roman city of Leptis Magna in Libya was plundered for stone by a rascally Frenchman a couple of centuries ago.  However we can get a good idea of what it looked like from a mosaic at the Villa Selene, nearby.  Unfortunately it’s not that easy to make out.  Here’s my 2006 photograph, taken from one end.

Villa Selene nr Leptis Magna - chariot racing (original)

Villa Selene nr Leptis Magna – chariot racing (original)

However I discovered a funny thing this evening.  I loaded that image into Paint.Net this evening and, idly, hit the menu option to “auto-level”.  This never does anything useful; but it’s the top option on effects, so I often try it.  And … there is always a first time, and this is what I got! –

Villa Selene, chariot racers - autoleveled

Villa Selene, chariot racers – autoleveled

Suddenly we can see!  The gates at one end, the spina, even the colours, all become possible.

Digital photography … it is such a gift!

11 Responses to “Chariot-racing at Leptis Magna in a mosaic”


  1. Suburbanbanshee

    That is super-beautiful.

  2. Roger Pearse

    Isn’t it gorgeous? And very hard to see in a dim room at the end of the day and covered with sand. Hadn’t realised, until now, how good it is!

  3. Suburbanbanshee

    Nice look at Roman perception of horse hair colors, too. You’ve got your blacks, your red “blood bays”, your yellow duns or golden chestnut or golden bays, and your brown chestnuts. All you need are some grays, and you could complete your Four Horses of the Apocalypse set with a Zechariah set thrown in!

    Of course, I started looking around for other pics of other scenes, and mostly they are all pretty good. But I have to wonder about Romans — why would you depict a racing accident on your floor, where you’d have to look at it every day?

  4. Suburbanbanshee

    You don’t really see many grays, though, in the pictures. The old American wisdom was that light-colored hooves (like the ones grays sometimes have) are weak, and that grays overall don’t tend to win races. So I wonder if they had a similar feeling in Roman times?

    Heh, I guess I need to find more about all those Roman horse care books. Claiming certain characteristics for certain horse colors is pretty typical (even though seldom borne out by reality), and I bet Romans did it.

  5. Roger Pearse

    Now that’s an interesting thought. Horse characteristics … where on earth would that be, in the corpus of Roman literature?

  6. zimriel

    I’d look for Latin work on horses (specifically), and on animal husbandry and veterinary medicine (generally). The Romans had need of them for war. Here is a pdf I found to help us on our way. For a start I expect Xenophon’s “On Horsemanship” got translated into Latin.

  7. zimriel

    Might also try Strabo and Pliny – natural histories and geographical curiosities. That’s more on interesting foreign (ie. nonItalian) breeds of horses (and horsemen!) rather than on coloration though.

  8. DW

    “Digital photography … it is such a gift!”

    Not sure whether you also have loads of film negatives from times begone, but they also can be digitized and “enhanced”.

    Also, I make photos of a book instead of copies on a copying machine. This sometimes allows to have images of better visual quality in my photo-copied book compared to the original, especially if it a 1960/70s publication :)

  9. Roger Pearse

    Thank you, @Zimriel, for that! I’m sure that’s the right direction to take. I can’t research anything at the moment – drowning in the chores of this time of year – but it would be interesting to know.

    @DW – that’s interesting to know! I find that photocopying images is mostly a waste of time, as the quality is so poor.

  10. JB Piggin

    There are apparently some interesting quotes in the Hippiatrica (5th century) from Julius Africanus (3rd century) on “pimping” your horse in go-faster colours, principally black. Dappled was also desirable. Perhaps these customizing methods were a way for a horse dealer to increase the saleability of slow-selling models? Julius Africanus is a wonderful source for all kinds of sleazy practical science. See translations by Francis Thee (books.google.com/books?id=ONSPL0puLtcC) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippiatrica

  11. Roger Pearse

    Gosh! Thank you! I’d never even heard of that text!