Roman mosaic

A Roman mosaic on a wall in the House of Neptune and Amphitrite, Herculaneum, Italy, 1st century AD

A Roman mosaic is a mosaic made during the Roman period, throughout the Roman Republic and later Empire. Mosaics were used in a variety of private and public buildings.[1] They were highly influenced by earlier and contemporary Hellenistic Greek mosaics, and often included famous figures from history and mythology, such as Alexander the Great in the Alexander Mosaic. A large proportion of surviving examples come from Italian sites such as Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as other areas of the Roman Empire.


A Roman mosaic inscribed with the Latin phrase cave canem ("beware of the dog"), from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii, Italy, 2nd century BC
Mosaic with Xenia, 4th century AD, Pius Clementine museum, Vatican Museums

The earliest examples of Roman mosaic flooring date to the late Republican period (2nd century BC) and are housed in Delos, Greece. Witts claims that tessellated pavements, using tesserae, were used in Europe from the late fifth to early fourth centuries BC.[2] This is contradicted by Ruth Westgate, who contends that the earliest tessellated mosaics of the Hellenistic period date to the 3rd century BC, with the 2nd to early 1st-century BC mosaics of Delos constituting roughly half of the known examples.[3] Hetty Joyce and Katherine M. D. Dunbabin concur with this assessment, asserting that the transition from pebble mosaics to more complex tessellated mosaics originated in Hellenistic-Greek Sicily during the 3rd century BC, developed at sites such as Morgantina and Syracuse.[4][5] The earliest known pebble mosaics and use of chip pavement are found at Olynthus in Greece's Chalcidice, dated to the 5th to 4th centuries BC, while other examples can be found at Pella, capital of Macedon, dated to the 4th century BC.[6][5]

The earliest mosaics of Roman Pompeii, dated to the Pompeian First Style of wall painting in the late 2nd and early 1st centuries BC, were clearly derived from the Hellenistic Greek model.[7] However, the contained far more figured scenes on average, less abstract design, the absence of lead strips, as well as an almost complete lack of complex, three-dimensional scenes utilizing polychromy until the Pompeian Second Style of wall painting (80-20 BC).[8][7] The mosaics in the Villa Romana del Casale (c. 300 AD) from Roman Sicily perhaps represent the hallmark of mosaic art in the Late Imperial period. The mosaic decoration of the local palace complex culminates in the gallery, which contains a scene of animal hunting and fighting covering an area of 3,200 square feet (300 m2).[9]

The Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii, ca. 100 BC
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