Roman Mosaics

By:Bhavya Sahay


Roman Mosaics were an important form an art during the Roman Empire. They were a feature of private homes. A mosaic is a picture that is made up of many tiny tiles. Its name in Latin is Opus Tesselatum. Since they were costly to have in your house, only the rich could afford them. They had pictures of clothing, tools, food, sports, farming, hunting, contests, weapons, and plants. Mosaics were mostly used on the floor, but they were used as wall art too. You could find them in public buildings, places of worship, and even houses.
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What were the mosaics made of, and how were they created?

Mosaics were made of 0.5-1.5 centimeter sqaures, that made a picture all together. The squares came in all different sizes and colors. The squares were made of tile, glass, smalto (glass paste), marble, pottery, and stones. The squares were hand-cut. The earliest mosaics were black and white pebbles set into a pattern.
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Where did Mosaics Originate? How Were They Used?

Mosaics were first used in the Bronze Age in the Minoan and Mycenaean Civilizations. They were used as flooring sets, and the material used was pebbles. A similar idea was used in the Near East which included, modern day Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Israel, and Lebanon.
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How Did Mosaics Alter Over Time?

Around the 2nd century BCE, the tesserae, or squares used for the mosaic, were cut more precisely, and small. They were also very colorful, and shading was first used on them. There were many scenes of Greek mythology. Until the Hellenistic times in 3rd century BCE, the mosaics were used as an art form and on floors. Many mosaics were copies of wall paintings. One of the most famous is Alexander the Great riding on his war chariot in the Battle of Issus (333 BCE). Romans developed their own styles as well, instead of copying wall art. In 2nd century CE, silhouetted figures became more common, and black and white was a new style in Italy itself. These influenced many Christian churches and Jewish synagogues.

What were Uses of Mosaics?

Mosaics were used in vaults, columns, and fountains, and even baths. Pumice, shells, and marble were used. They were used to cover niches, walls, and pediments. In Roman baths, the mosaics were covered in glass, so that it would give the shimmering effect. Even floors of pools were mosaic tiles. Churches and places of worship had them on walls.
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Where are some places that Mosaics have been found?

Many different styles have been found in Alexandria, Delos, Macedonia, Crete, Rhodes, mainland Greece, Italy, Corinth, and Olynthus. Each place developed their own style of mosaic at some point, usually in times of great growth.

Fun Facts:

  • Mosaics were not only an art form, but they were used for advertisements and signs.
  • Layers and layers of volcanic ash can protect mosaics from going bad. Example: Pompeii
  • Since Romans liked to keep dogs as companions and protectors, many mosaics in Pompeii had " Beware of the Dog" written on them in Latin
  • People who made the mosaics didn't sign their name, so most of the popular mosaics' artist is unknown.

Words to Know:

Opus Tesselatum- The latin name for mosaic

smalto- colored glass or enamel (glass paste)

tesserae- an individual tile

pumice- extrusive volcanic rock


Mosaics have influenced many art forms, and was very popular during the Roman empire. We still use it today around the world.