Colonization, Triumphs, and Skin Color

Public domain image of the mosaic from the baths at Colonia Augusta Nerviana Martialis Veteranorum Sitifensium (mod. Algeria). The theme is the triumph of Dionysus over ‘India’.
Detail of above.

It’s speculated that the name for the city in which this mosaic was found derives from their an indigenous or Semitic word meaning ‘black’.

Notice that the animals (esp. the giraffe = cameleopard) are African not exclusively “Indian.” Notice the emphasis given to the textured hair of three of the four captives. Notice the purple stripes on two of the captives garments and the diadem marking them as high status prisoners.

How would this read to a Roman veteran assigned to this colony or the children of such veterans as they lived in a north African landscape? The artist makes a clear distinction between the heroic/divine as white/pale skinned, the tanned/brown of the fauns and satyrs (non-human), and the black/dark brown of the bound captives. The image of Dionysus esp. Victory holding a crown above his head and riding in the chariot recalls imperial triumphal imagery.

Detail of above
Roman triumph - Wikipedia
Marcus Aurelius Triumphal imagery now in Capitoline Museum
The Arch of Titus (article) | Early empire | Khan Academy
Detail of the Arch of Titus.

Blanchard-Lemée, Michèle. “Dionysos et la victoire: variations sur un thème iconographique à Sétif et à Djemila.” Comptes Rendus / Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, no. 1 (2001): 529-543. Doi: 10.3406/crai.2001.16281

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