EBK Activity Sheets


Roman Mosaics in Britain
Magical Pictures & Patterns give a Window on the Past

Bacchus Mosaic from Roman Dining Room found in Leadenhall Street, London -  Nash Ford Publishing

  • Just like us, the Romans liked to decorate their homes. They painted pictures on their walls. They also liked to make their floors pretty, but they did not have carpets.
  • The ultimate way to show off how rich you were was to have a beautiful mosaic floor laid in your house, especially in the triclinium (dining room) where you would entertain your guests.
  • Mosaics were made from tiny cubes of coloured stone (each side about 1cm across) called 'tesserae' (plural of 'tessera'). They were put together like a puzzle to form patterns and pictures covering the whole floor in a room. 
    • The common colours of stone used were: white, black, orange, yellow, cream, grey and blue
    • Red was made from earthenware tiles
    • Green was rarer and made from glass
  • Black and white patterns were popular in the 1st century. These became multi-coloured in the 2nd century.
  • Mosaics were made by very skilled craftsmen called mosaicists. They could come to your house and do the work directly on the floor; or they might prepare panels or central pictures in their workshop (called an 'officina') first.
  • In the 3rd century though, no-one had any money and the workshops had closed down. A few mosaics were made by builders. They look like your baby brother had done them!
  • Some of the best mosaics were made in the 4th century. At that time, there were officinae in:
    • Venta (Winchester in Hampshire)
    • Durnovaria (Dorchester in Dorset)
    • Lindinis (Ilchester in Somerset)
    • Corinium (Cirencester in Gloucestershire)
    • Durobrivae (Water Newton in Huntingdonshire)
    • Petuaria (Brough-on-Humber in East Yorkshire)
  • Geometric patterns were very popular on mosaics. So were pictures of the gods:
    • The four seasons
    • Orpheus playing his harp to lots of animals
    • Venus 'at her toilet' (having a wash)
    • Bellerophon fighting the Chimera
    • The snake-haired gorgon called Medusa
    • Bacchus on his tiger was popular for dining rooms
    • Neptune, fish and sea-creatures were popular in Bath houses
  • Big town houses and country villas might have lots of mosaics, including in the corridors. Less important rooms might have plain 'tesselated pavements'.


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