By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A new exhibit opens Sunday at the Penn Museum that tells the story of wealth of the Roman empire more than 17 centuries ago.

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Titled, Unearthing a Masterpiece: A Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel, the new exhibit is an exceptionally large and well-preserved mosaic, depicting birds, fish and ferocious wild animals such as lions, a tiger and a bull.

“The size is about 50 feet by 27 feet,” says Brian Rose, curator-in-charge. “It decorated a large Roman House about 300 AD.”

Rose says it was discovered in Lod in 1996 and excavated in 2009. He says the area, known as Judea, became a colony of the Roman Empire 2000 years ago and was a “sun city” where wealthy Roman military men moved went to retire.

“People had a lot of money in 300 A.D.and there was a lot of aristocratic competition,” says Rose. “So you wanted to make sure that the mosaic that decorated your house was more grandiose than the one that decorated your neighbor’s house.”

One of animal pictures on the mosaic (Credit: Cherri Gregg)

One of animal pictures on the mosaic (Credit: Cherri Gregg)

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So who would have owned such an elaborate floor decoration? Museum Director Julian Siggers says the images provide some clues.

“Many scholars think that it may have belonged to a trainer of great gladiatorial gain,” says Siggers. “But because it has no humans depicted we’re not sure if it was from a wealthy Roman or a wealthy Jew or Christian. We’re not sure. But it must have been someone of considerable wealth to afford such a masterpiece.”

Mosaics in ancient Rome were not uncommon, but they took considerable effort.

“One would have needed a half a year at least to put a mosaic this elaborate together,” says Rose. “It was a formidable undertaking and because there are so many colors represented, you would have had to import cut stone from a variety of quarries.”

The Exhibit runs through May 12th, and will be the last time the mosaic is showcased in North America. For more information visit

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