What Are Ancient Roman Mosaics?


Everybody knows how a mosaic looks like, but have you ever wondered what are ancient Roman mosaics and what are the mosaics used for?

A Roman mosaic is the mosaic made in Ancient Rome, usually by artists from beyond the Empire’s borders. Mosaic is the complex art of using small pieces of colored glass, stone or other materials to create various images. The pieces, called “tessarae” are roughly square and were used for patterns, historical scenes, figures, animals, religion, gladiator fights, ranging from simple to complex and some even with three dimensional effects and movement illusion. The earliest example was found in Delos and are dated from 2nd century BC, the Republican period.

The mosaics complemented the art of Roman Paining because of their role in architecture and in the Roman buildings and houses. Very durable and pleasant, the mosaics provided a resistant walking surface when placed on the floor. The ones on walls and ceilings had solely a decorative function and were built mainly from glass. Some also used mosaics to reinforce a message, for example a fish mosaic in a fish shop, sea monsters on the bottom of pools, symbols of longevity in a tomb.

If you are still wondering what are ancient Roman mosaics purposes, you should know that the Romans were people that appreciated the fine arts, so the “emblemata” mosaics were purely ornamental and created by skilled artist. They were not very common in ancient Rome because of the initial cost expenses, although they were a lifetime investment. Mosaics have been found in villa dining rooms, reception rooms and bedrooms.

There are different types of mosaics categorized by production techniques and the epoch they were born in. The crustae technique used pieces of pottery, mosaic cubes and colored marbles on a cement floor often pained in red, color associated with light. Marble, glass or stone were involved in the opus tesselatum technique. For the opus sectilis, various pieces of marble were used to create large puzzles, similar to a glass window concept. The marbles had different shapes, sizes and colors. opus vermiculatum were usually displayed on floors and walls as center-pieces and made of colorful minute pieces.

But what are ancient Roman mosaics without somebody to admire them? The mosaics have great durability and vibrant colors that in many cases they were all that remained from the roman ruins. A great example is the House of the Faun mosaic in ancient Pompeii, the one at Hadrian’s villa, the villa at Piazza Armerina and the Antioch mosaics from outside Italy.