Roman Mosaic of Euterpe

Roman Mosaic of Euterpe

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Roman mosaics

Eager to adopt the artistic culture of the Hellenized eastern Mediterranean, the Romans introduced mosaic in this exquisite form in both their domestic architecture and their places of worship. Pompeii has yielded a host of opus vermiculatum works datable to the 2nd or 1st century bce . Among these the most famous is the Battle of Issus, found in the Casa del Fauno in 1831. This is the largest of all known works, measuring about 11.22 by 19.42 feet (3.42 by 5.92 metres), in the miniature mosaic technique. This mosaic (which probably copies a work of painting, perhaps a famous picture by Philoxenus of Eretria) and other Pompeiian panels of similar quality are supposed to have been executed by Greek artists, who carried on in the tradition established at Alexandria and Pergamum.

The Romans transformed mosaic from an exclusive art to a common decorative medium. Some of the earliest examples of this new type of floor are in the late republican (2nd century bce ) houses at Delos. For rooms of secondary importance and often for floors surrounding the finely designed and executed central emblēmata (a featured picture or ornamental motif) in the most important rooms, the Romans developed a simpler, less artistic kind of mosaic. The floors are set with fairly large tesserae with a limited range of colours, some tending toward monochrome (black-and-white). The decorative designs and motifs are also simple and uncomplicated.

This new trend in mosaic floors was probably stimulated by new and functional ways of thinking about the role of floors in architecture. To the practical Romans it may have seemed illogical that floors destined for rough wear should bear delicate pictures. Moreover, the demand for large-scale mosaic making brought about by the colossal urban expansion in the 1st century ce made the development of quicker and simpler techniques imperative. The aim of the Romans seems to have been to create a style, technique, and form of composition that would be simple and functional. Competition with painting in illusionistic and coloristic refinement was therefore abandoned emblēmata gave way to decorative elements distributed over the floor in one large overall pattern or to figure compositions taking the full floor plane and polychrome gave way to monochrome mosaics (which may have been easier to produce). Enormous floors in the baths and in the courtyards of warehouses (1st to 3rd century ce ) at Ostia, Rome’s port at the mouth of the Tiber, are the best preserved examples of the monochrome style.

The expressionist Roman style, which flourished in Italy, penetrated into the former Greek cities in the eastern part of the empire, but polychromy and types of composition based on the framed picture persisted with especial tenacity due to strong local Hellenistic traditions. A splendid series of emblēmata (2nd century) with mythological representations, allegories, and scenes from the theatre have been uncovered at Antioch in southern Turkey. They prove the existence of a school there of mosaicists of particular brilliance. Recent research has pointed to the African provinces as the site of another, highly active school with a taste for larger, dramatic compositions. Influence from these areas may have been responsible for the renewed opulence, represented by a vivid polychrome pictorial mosaic, which reappeared in Roman art in late antiquity. Outstanding examples of this renewal are the mosaics in the Roman villa of Casale (c. 300 ce ) near Piazza Armerina, Sicily. The mosaic decoration of this vast palace complex culminates in the gallery of the Large Hunt, which contains a scene of animal hunting and fighting covering an area of 3,200 square feet (300 square metres).

It is generally agreed that in the course of the 3rd century the status of mosaic was radically altered. Already in Hellenistic times the medium had been employed for other ends than floor covering and had become part of the embellishment of the fantastic garden architecture of which the rulers of the period seem to have been particularly fond. Reflections of this tradition in the 1st century ce are the mosaic-covered fountains in the mansions at Pompeii and Herculaneum and mosaic panels and niches in rustic banquet halls and artificial grottoes at The Golden House of Nero in Rome and his villa at Anzio. Mosaic fragments and imprints of tesserae in the vaults of baths and buildings of similar size demonstrate that mosaic gradually was introduced into new fields. Equally important is the evidence that mosaic was used to depict sacred images. On some of the monochrome floors at Ostia are scenes pertaining to animal sacrifice and to the cult of the dead. Three monuments of the 3rd century inform of another new practice introduced at this time, that of putting mosaic pictures of religious importance on walls: a niche mosaic with the god Silvanus from a temple of Mithra at Ostia a Christian wall and vault mosaic depicting Christ as Helios, the Sun God, in a mausoleum under St. Peter’s, Rome and a decoration, now lost but recorded in a 17th-century drawing, of a chapel for the Lupercalian worship at Rome. It has been pointed out by modern scholarship that the new role gradually assumed by mosaic must be related to the corresponding decline in interest in three-dimensional representation. The cultic mosaic took over the function of the cult statue, mosaic being that two-dimensional medium which was considered most capable of convincingly expressing religious ideas in visual form.


Euterpe was born as one of the daughters of Mnemosyne, Titan goddess of memory, and fathered by Zeus, god of the gods. Her sisters include Calliope (muse of epic poetry), Clio (muse of history), Melpomene (muse of tragedy), Terpsichore (muse of dancing), Erato (muse of erotic poetry), Thalia (muse of comedy), Polyhymnia (muse of hymns), and Urania (muse of astronomy). Sometimes they are referred to as water nymphs having been born from the four sacred springs on Helicon which flowed from the ground after Pegasus, the winged horse, stamped his hooves on the ground. [2] The mountain spring on Mount Parnassus was sacred to Euterpe and the other Muses. It flowed between two high rocks above the city of Delphi, and in ancient times its sacred waters were introduced into a square stone basin, where they were retained for the use of the Pythia, the priests, priestesses, as well as the oracle of Apollo. [3]

Along with her sister Muses, Euterpe was believed to have lived on Mount Olympus where she and her sisters entertained their father and the other Olympian gods with their great artistry. Later on, tradition also placed them on Mount Helicon in Boeotia where there was a major cult center to the goddesses, or on Mount Parnassus where the Castalian spring was a favorite destination for poets and artists. [4]

Some people believe that she invented the aulos or double-flute, though most mythographers credit Marsyas or Athena with its invention. Some say she also invented other wind instruments. Euterpe is often depicted holding a flute in artistic renditions of her.

Pindar and other sources (the author of the Bibliotheca [5] , and Servius [6] ), describe the Thracian king Rhesus, who appears in the Iliad, as son of Euterpe and the river-god Strymon Homer calls him son of Eioneus. [7]

Her and her sisters’ role was to entertain the gods on Mount Olympus. She inspired the development of liberal and fine arts in Ancient Greece, serving as an inspiration to poets, dramatists, and authors (such as Homer).

According to the traditions and beliefs of the Ancient Greek musicians would invoke the aid of Euterpe to inspire, guide and assist them in their compositions. This would often take the form of a prayer for divine inspiration from the minor goddess. [3]

Статуя «Эвтерпа» (St. Petersburg, Pavlovsk, Old Sylvia, Central area) (Санкт-Петербург, Павловск, Старая Сильвия, Центральная площадка)

Littlecote Roman Villa


HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Outstanding 4th-century mosaic

In the grounds of the Elizabethan mansion of Littlecote House near the Berkshire town of Hungerford stands perhaps the best-preserved Roman villa above ground in England. Littlecote Roman Villa is the only fully exposed villa in Britain and features the largest gatehouse ever found in a Roman villa in Britain.

The most memorable Roman remain, however, is a stunning 4th-century mosaic depicting Orpheus, the god of the underworld, arguably the finest Roman mosaic yet discovered in the British Isles.

The Roman Villa

The villa appears to have been built in the 1st century AD, during the first wave of Roman settlement in Britain. It seems to have been only sporadically occupied after that. The villa stands on the south bank of the River Kennett.

The first structure built here was a British round-house erected around 60 AD. Around 120 AD a combined bakery and brewery were built. Like the round-house, the brewery and bakery were built of timber. Around 250 AD the first stone building was erected. This building was altered around 290 AD with a workers' bath in the north corner.

The final and most interesting phase of construction came around 360 AD when the earlier building was largely demolished. The east, north and west walls were kept intact to form part of a new building that may have been a 'telesterion', a sacred precinct dedicated to the cult of Orpheus and Bacchus.

The sacred site included an entrance hall with a double door to a paved courtyard. At the far end of the courtyard is a door giving access to an antechamber with a bath suite to one side and steps on the other leading to a hall with a triple apse - like a three-leaf clover design. This triple apse, or 'triconch', is unique in Britain. The hall was paved with an elaborate mosaic that survives to a remarkable degree.

The Orpheus Mosaic

The mosaic was first mentioned in 1727 by William George, the estate steward for Sir Francis Popham, the owner of the Littlecote estate. The mosaic was discovered when digging post holes for a new fence around a hunting lodge. The mosaic was recorded by the Society of Antiquaries in April 1728. The antiquarian Roger Gale called it 'the finest pavement that the sun ever shone upon England'.

The sun didn't shine on it for long, though, as Sir Francis Popham had it reburied. He seems to have deliberately obscured its location, perhaps to avoid having antiquarians invading his grounds to view it. The mosaic was thought destroyed until it was rediscovered in 1977. Half the tiles had survived, and were replaced with modern terracotta tiles modelled on a 1730 engraving by George Vertue in the library of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

The mosaic is centred on a figure of Orpheus, the musician and priest of Apollo the sun god surrounded by a larger circle divided into quadrants. Within each quadrant is a female deity, each representing one of the four seasons. Here you see Persephone (Kora) with a goat, Venus (Aphrodite) with a hind, Leda (Nemesis) with a panther, and Demeter with a bull.

The beasts in each scene have been interpreted as transformations of Bacchus (Zagreus), the son of Zeus, when fleeing from the Titans. The entire sequence relates not only to the seasons but to the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

The mosaic has been the subject of scholarly debate. Some scholars believe that it was simply made to decorate a summer dining room. The prevailing opinion, however, is that the mosaic and the hall in which it stands were part of a re-purposing of the Littlecote site from a villa to a ceremonial complex.

This complex is thought to have been a collegium, a form of pagan monastery for followers of a sect based on the cult of Bacchus and the legends of Orpheus. Bacchus was considered to be a saviour deity who promised eternal life to his followers.

But why was the Littlecote villa transformed from a farm complex to a sacred site? One possibility is that the transformation occurred during the reign of the pagan emperor Julian the Apostate (reigned 361-363 AD), who rejected Christianity and tried to return the Roman Empire to the 'old religions'. During and after Julian's brief reign pagan temples and shrines in Britain were restored and new ones built. That may be what happened here at Littlecote.

Roman Remains

There's a lot to see in addition to the remarkable Orpheus mosaic. At the site entrance is the East Range with its impressively large gatehouse and a stable building. The gatehouse is huge, with triple arches supporting flanking towers.

The South Range began as an early 3rd-century farm building but was transformed around 270 AD with a bath complex at one end.

The West Range includes the remains of a well, overlaid by a later wall, and a well-preserved hypocaust, or underfloor heating system. Near the south-west corner of the range is a small building that may have ben a smokehouse for curing meat.

Littlecote House

Finds from the Roman villa are on display inside Littlecote House, now a country house hotel. The house was built by Sir George Darrell on the site of an earlier 13th-century mansion. Henry VIII is said to have visited Littlecote House during his courtship of Jane Seymour, his third wife. Sir John Popham inherited Littlecote in 1589 and built the present Elizabethan mansion. Three monarchs stayed at Littlecote House James I, his grandson Charles II, and William III.

Visitors are welcome to explore the restored formal gardens and view the villa exhibit inside the house. You can also buy a guidebook giving more details about the villa and its history.

Getting There

Littlecote House is located on a country lane two miles west of Hungerford, off the B4192. As you enter the estate grounds you will see signs guided you to parking for visitors to the villa. From the parking area it is a short walk west over level ground to the villa. There are information panels for each of the villa ranges, and another for the Orpheus mosaic, which is protected by a modern building to offer some shelter from the elements. There is no admittance fee.

More Photos

Most photos are available for licensing, please contact Britain Express image library.

About Littlecote Roman Villa
Address: Littlecote House, Hungerford, Wiltshire, England, RG17 0SU
Attraction Type: Roman Site
Location: In the grounds of Littlecote House Hotel, off the B4192 two miles west of Hungerford. Follow signs for parking.
Website: Littlecote Roman Villa
Location map
OS: SU297707
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express



Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

Roman Mosaics

Mosaics were used in a variety of private and public buildings across the Roman Empire. They were influenced by earlier and contemporary Hellenistic mosaics, and often included famous figures from history and mythology.

The Alexander Mosaic is a Roman mosaic originally from the House of the Faun, Pompeii, that dates to c. 100 BC and depicts a battle between the armies of Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia. (c) Magrippa

They also give the viewer an insight into everyday life in the Roman Empire the activities they partook in, the food they ate, the clothes they wore and also a glimpse of the natural world around them.

  • Unswept floor. Vatican Museum.
  • Marine life from Pompeii. Naples Archaeological Museum.
  • Actors from the House of the Tragic Poet. Naples Archaeological Museum.
  • Gladiators from the Zilten mosaic. Tripoli.
  • Dominus Julius mosaic. Bardo Museum. (c) O. Mustafin

Mosaics, also known as opus tessellatum, were made from small squares of cut marble, tile, glass, pottery, stone and shells, called tesserae.

A popular style in Roman Italy was to use just black and white tesserae, especially in marine motifs designed for Roman bath complexes, such as at Ostia and the Baths of Caracalla in Rome.

  • Baths of the Coachmen, Ostia. (c)
  • Baths of Caracalla, Rome. (c) Jona Lendering
  • Square of the Corporations, Ostia. (c)

Roman Mosaic of Euterpe - History

The floors of Roman buildings were often richly decorated with mosaics - tiny coloured stones (tesserae).

Many mosaics captured scenes of history and everyday Roman life.

Mosaic floors were a statement of wealth and importance.

Rich Romans decorated the floors of their main rooms with mosaics. These were stuck to the floor with mortar, a type of cement. Each mosaic used thousands of pieces to make a pattern.

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All the materials on these pages are free for homework and classroom use only. You may not redistribute, sell or place the content of this page on any other website or blog without written permission from the author Mandy Barrow.

©Copyright Mandy Barrow 2013

I teach computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.

The "Old Masters" mosaics of Roman Britain

Medusa’s head is depicted in the Roman Dyer Street mosaic, reconstructed at the Corinium Museum at Cirencester.

The majority of Britain's mosaic masterpieces have been lost to the ages, but those that remain are absolutely stunning.

When Pablo Picasso commented that “art is not truth” but rather “a lie that makes us realize the truth,” one assumes he wasn’t musing about the artistic glories of late Roman Britain. Research during the past decade or so suggests, however, that he could have been. The last century of Roman rule saw an artistic flourish that, in intellectual terms, has arguably never been excelled.

Using visual metaphors, allegories and rich allusions, the artists of 4th-century Roman Britain portrayed what they saw as ultimate truth through the beauty and vigor of symbolic fiction. Picasso would have loved it.

Another detail of the Lullingstone floor mosaic depicts the mythical figure of Summer wearing a garland of corn. ENGLISH HERITAGE

Like Europe in the first half of the 20th century, Britain 1,600 years earlier had been a place of massive intellectual ferment&msashand, as in Picasso’s work in the 20th century—4th-century Romano-British art powerfully reflected that state of flux. While the artistic debate was mainly political in the 20th century, Roman Britain was engaged in an unparalleled variety of religious and philosophical debates in the 4th century. Those debates were reflected above all in the achievements of the mosaic artists who beautified the floors of rich and plush Romano-British country houses in what is now England.


The 4th-century mosaic floors were the greatest artistic achievement of Roman Britain. Tragically, of the 2,000 or so Roman mosaics known to have existed, only 150 survive in a relatively complete state&msashand only half of those are from the 4th century, the period of highest creative output.

This circular mosaic from Hinton St. Mary, Dorset, depicts a figure of Christ in front of the universally recognized Chi Rho symbol. A detail of a nimbused Tyche or Fortuna, the goddess of fortune, discovered at Brantingham, East Yorkshire. An oval panel mosaic shows a merman paying homage to the goddess Venus, found in East Yorkshire and now on display in the Hull and East Riding Museum. Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, is also the subject of another mosaic, discovered at Bignor Roman villa, on the Sussex coast. SHERIDAN/ANCIENT ART AND ARCHITECTURE COU.ECTION

THE MAJORITY OF Britain’s mosaic masterpieces have been either lost or destroyed, most of them in recent centuries. It is as if 90 percent of Rembrandts or Picassos had been largely or totally obliterated. However, the mosaics that remain are, in terms of their illustration of philosophical thought and symbolism, absolutely stunning.

The educated elite of 4th-century Britain lived in lavish country villas and commissioned artists to create elaborate mosaics that visually mirrored the shifting beliefs of the times. Britain’s late Roman mosaic masterpieces are therefore awash with allusions to both pagan mythology and Christian ideology. In addition, there were some cases where pagan mythology was even used to bring stories from the Old and New Testaments to life. In several mosaic works (from Hinton St. Mary, Dorset and at Lullingstone, Kent), for example, spectacularly beautiful portrayals of Bellerophon (a half-human, half-divine son of a god) killing the Chimera (a firebreathing, multiheaded monster) are used to symbolize God’s destruction of evil.

An engraving shows workmen uncovering a tessellated Roman pavement beneath Cirencesler’s streets circa 1849. Mosaic pavements such as this one can be seen al the town’s Corinium Museum. CORBIS

In mosaics such as these, pagan mythology portrays verses in three different parts of the Bible. The verses reveal that “the Lord, with His great and strong sword, will punish the crooked serpent and slay the dragon” (Isaiah 27), that the Lord “breaks the heads of the dragons” (Psalm 74), and that “now cometh salvation and the Kingdom of our God and the power of his Christ,” for that great dragon, that old serpent Satan is overcome “by the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 12).

Another frequent pagan motif, the hunt, is used in at least one Romano-British Christian mosaic as a way of bringing to life a psalm regarded by Christians as a key prophecy of Christ. Verse 16 of Psalm 22 says: “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.” Romano-British artists used the hunted deer as an emblem of Christ approaching his passion-the dogs symbolizing those seeking his crucifixion.

The intellectual competition between the many religions was intense during the 4th century. In their missionary zeal for new adherents, the rival religious cults thought nothing of “borrowing” their opponents’ best ideas. The Christians and the Hellenistic cult of Orpheus, for instance, produced rich mosaics that feature Christ and Orpheus, respectively, each controlling-indeed imposing order upon-the forces of nature.

THE BRITISH MUSEUM owns a mosaic pavement from Dorset that portrays Christ surrounded by personifications of the Four Winds, reflecting the statement in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke that “He [Christ] commands even the winds and water and they obey him.” At Littlecote, in Wiltshire, Orpheus is shown controlling naturesymbolized by personifications of the Four Seasons-and in a now reburied masterpiece at Woodchester, in Gloucestershire, Orpheus is portrayed at the heart of nature, controlling the animal world.

It is on an island off England’s south coast, however, that one can see what is perhaps the most philosophically complex mosaic masterpiece from that era. Packed full of pictorial references to almost a dozen characters from Greek and other myths, this amazing mosaic at Brading on the Isle of Wight is dedicated to the twin concepts of sacrifice and salvation.

In the 4th century it was not just Christianity that was based on the idea that mankind could be saved through the death of a god. Salvation through divine or royal suffering was already an ancient and increasingly popular concept in the pagan world. The central panel of the Brading mosaic shows the severed head of Medusa, consort of Poseidon/Neptune, King of the Sea. In Greek mythology, human disease, a metaphor for human suffering, can only be defeated by the great god of healing, Asclepius, through the use of Medusa’s blood, shed at her decapitation. Medusa’s severed head is surrounded, in that mosaic, by four other panels, each containing pictorial references to other salvation-based stories.

IN PAGAN TRADITION, where the gods can be both good and bad-often at the same time—divine intervention or mere fate could also result in great harm to humanity. Near Bristol, antiquarians in the 19th century found a spectacularly beautiful mosaic, perhaps one of the finest ever created in Roman Britain, which portrays the legends of “Europa and the Bull,” “Athena and Marsyas” and “Achilles on the island of Skyros.” All are stories about mythological events that had tragic consequences. In the case of Europa, the ultimate result was the creation of an evil, man-devouring monster (the Minotaur). In the second, events led to the flaying alive of Marsyas by Apollo, and in the third myth the great hero Achilles’idyllic life on Skyros was the preamble to his death.

The last three stories also symbolize the fate of Romano-British art and culture—how Britain’s 4th-century Golden Age descended into its cultural nemesis, the Dark Ages. Within just a generation of the creation of the last mosaic masterpieces, Britain had ceased to be a part of the Roman Empire, and its political, cultural and technological fabric was beginning to disintegrate.
Not long after that, large tracts of land were being taken over by German barbarians. The villas were abandoned. The mosaics were buried, first under weeds and undergrowth and then under the debris of collapsed villa roofs and finally under successive layers of decaying vegetation, which over the centuries transmuted themselves into soil and farmland.

Only now, 1,600 years after the last mosaics were laid, are we beginning to rediscover the real meaning of the lost masterpieces for so long hidden beneath the fields of Old England.

Hesiod, Theogony 75 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"The Mousai (Muses) sang who dwell on Olympos, nine daughters begotten by great Zeus, Kleio (Clio) and Euterpe, Thaleia (Thalia), Melpomene and Terpsikhore (Terpsichore), and Erato and Polymnia (Polyhymnia) and Ourania (Urania) and Kalliope (Calliope)."

Orphic Hymn 76 to the Muses (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus . . . Kleio (Clio), and Erato who charms the sight, with thee, Euterpe, ministering delight : Thalia flourishing, Polymnia famed, Melpomene from skill in music named : Terpsikhore (Terpsichore), Ourania (Urania) heavenly bright."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 13 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Mnemosyne [bore to Zeus] the Mousai (Muses), the eldest of whom was Kalliope (Calliope), followed by Kleio (Clio), Melpomene, Euterpe, Erato, Terpsikhore (Terpsichore), Ourania (Urania), Thaleia (Thalia), and Polymnia."

Muse Euterpe, Athenian red-figure pyxis C5th B.C., Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 18 :
"Euterpe--or Kalliope (Calliope), according to some--bore to the river Strymon Rhesos (Rhesus), whom Diomedes murdered at Troy."

Roman Mosaics

Mosaic art continued to flourish in Roman times. There are many sites in Europe today that still have examples of mosaic floors from Roman times. This is a testament to the durability of the material and the art. Romans also used decorative mosaics for walls, fountains and more. Smaller tesserae, (Small stones and glass), more colors and more shades were also introduced during this period. The Romans continued with the same general design and subject matter of the Greeks. They did some basic figural work but it wasn’t until the rise of Christianity that figural wall mosaics really became popular.

With the rise of Christianity there was an explosion in mosaic art. Christians adapted the wall and ceiling mosaic forms for use in churches.