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Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Nile Mosaic of Palestrina

The Nile mosaic of Palestrina, dated from about 100 BC, is of the late Hellenistic style (i.e., it is made of very small tesserae). It was originally covering part of the floor of a Roman Shrine dedicated to the Goddess Fortuna.

The Nile Mosaic. 5.85 x 4.30 m (19 x 14')

This impressive piece depicts the River Nile as it flows from Ethiopia to the Mediterranean.

Ancient mosaics usually help us understand our ancestors. The Nile mosaic is no exception and it is very interesting for 2 reasons.

With 20 different scenes representing more than 40 kinds of actual or mythical animals: Hyenas, Monkeys, Snakes, Mongoose, Sphynx; about 14 kinds of trees and plants; a great variety of architectures houses, temples, farms; different people such as Peasants, Women, Priests, Ethiopians, Soldiers, it is a very detailed depiction of life in Ethiopia and Egypt.

Ethiopian Sphinx

Ethiopian Hunters

Fight between Snake and Mongoose

Fishing boat

Picnic at the lake

Hellenistic Architecture and Egyptian soldiers.

But beside that, the Nile Mosaic also clearly points at the fascination Egypt exerted over the Roman Elite of the late republic.

Pliny the Elder mentioned in his Natural History that :

Mosaics came into use as early as Sulla's rĂ©gime. At all events there exists even today one made of very small tesserae which he installed in the temple of Fortune at Palestrina ...”

So one of the earliest mosaic installed in Italy is about Egypt, and it was installed in a Temple dedicated to the Goddess Fortuna, which was assimilated by the Romans to the great Egyptian Goddess Isis.

Osiris, Isis and Horus.


We have a good indication here, of the forces at work that were to “corrupt” the original Roman religion with influences from the mystical Eastern Mediterranean World. 

But this, my little friends, is an other story ! 

Currently the Nile Mosaic can be seen at the Museo Nazionale Prenestino in  Palestrina, Italy.

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And if you are interested in purchasing one of my mosaics, would like to commission a special project or to simply discuss the wonderful art of mosaics, please contact me by email at or by phone at (334) 798 1639.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful article. Loved the detailed shots of that mosaic. It is very interesting to learn about this relationship between Italy and Egypt in the past.