Culture: Roman
Date: Circa 1st – 2nd century A.D.
Medium: Tesserae
Condition: Intact, mounted on a light weight backing. Ready for hanging.
Provenance: Ex- Early European private collection 1980's, with import documents to the U.S.
Dimensions: 49 1/2 x 48 1/2 in. (125.7 x 123.2 cm.)
Ref No. RO1174


The expressive head of Medusa occupying the center of this lovely mosaic, although early Greek representations of Medusa emphasized her hideous and monstrous appearance, a human like head of Medusa first surfaced in Hellenistic art and flourished around the time this mosaic was created. The head reveals ten snakes escaping from Medusa’s hair, it is framed by a circular wreath and four tendrils, one on each corner.

This mosaic excavated from the Eastern Roman empire most likely Antioch, that was an important trading caravan and caravan center, and was one of the four great metropolitan centers of the late classical world. One of Antioch’s most luxurious suburbs, Daphine, was excavated in 1930, by American and French archeologists, who unearthed floor mosaics as large as thirty feet. Many of these mosaics are now housed in museum collections, such as the Dumbarton Oaks Museum in Washington D.C., The Brooklyn Museum, The Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Princeton University Museum.

Floor mosaics were called lithastratum to distinguish them from the wall or vault mosaics, which were referred to as opus musivum. The tesserae (latin for cubes or dice), have been cut in a regular shape so as to fit into the gridal cubes, are the pieces that make up the mosaic surface. The main requisite of the material, aside from colors, was its natural resistance to wear. Stone and marble, and their natural colors, determined the color schemes of mosaics in Roman times (though later, glass was also used). Two or three layers of mortar served as the setting bed, which carried the tesserae facing up; the first layer resting on a thick foundation that prevented the settling of the mortar bed and the formation of cracks. The solidarity of the mosaics depends on its close-set texture.

cf: A closely similar floor mosaic depicting Medusa head and in a circular frame, from the villa of Dionysos, now in the Archeological Museum, Dion, Greece.