Researchers working at the Colosseum Archeological Park in Rome have uncovered an ornate and exceptionally preserved mosaic inside a Republican-period domus, or wealthy townhome, near Palatine Hill. Constructed in phases between the first and second century BCE, the domus is located alongside a series of Agrippa’s warehouses that lined Vicus Tuscus, an important Ancient Roman commercial road leading from Palatine Hill to the trading port on the Tiber River.

The Italian Ministry of Culture revealed the details last week, noting in a statement that the excavated site is an “extraordinary discovery” that will further expand Rome’s cultural itinerary. The “rustic” mosaic is housed in a “specus aestivus,” a vaulted, cave-like room around the home’s atrium that’s used as a banquet hall or entertainment space with water features for guests during the summer seasons. Studded from floor to ceiling with seashells, precious glass, minerals, and Egyptian blue tiles, the mosaic will be presented to the public once the archaeological team completes its excavations of the site.

Seashells, various stones and minerals, and brilliant Egyptian blue tessarae were delicately and deliberately selected and arranged for the mosaic.
Detail image of the two ship prows crossing over a trident

The mosaic’s design is partitioned into four aedicules (shrine-like sections) flanked by columns, depicting vases with lotuses and vines, stacks of weapons accompanied by carnyx horn instruments, and the prows of ships crossing each other over a trident. The vaulted lunette above the aedicule design portrays a pastoral landscape with shepherds and farm animals, and a seaside landscape scene including a cliffside view of city center buildings and three ships on the ocean. Because the imagery depicts naval activity and objects pertaining to war, it is thought that the domus’ owner may have been a high-ranking soldier or nobleman at the time.

What makes the mosaic most remarkable is the inclusion of precious polychrome glass as well as flakes of white marble, spongy travertine, and volcanic ash pozzolana. Futher restoration into the other rooms of the domus also exposed a stucco covering decorated with fine designs of landscapes, architecture, and figuration. The domus is reportedly a prime example of Asia Luxuria — a sumptuous but controversial display of wealth, greed, and the finer pleasures of life as a “consequence” of the Ancient Roman military conquests in the East.

“The archaeological excavation will conclude in the first months of 2024, and we will subsequently work intensely to make this place — among the most evocative of Ancient Rome — accessible to the public as soon as possible,” said Colosseum Archeological Park Director Alfonsina Russo.

Detail image of the carnyx — a Celtic war horn usually portraying a boar’s head
Fine details from the top of a column between two of the aedicules

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...

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