Alexander Mosaic

Alexander Mosaic

Infobox Painting|

title=The Alexander Mosaic
artist=Mosaicist unknown
(copy of image by Apelles or
Philoxenos of Eretria)
year=c.200 BC
width_inch = 10ft 3 in
diameter_cm =
diameter_inch =
museum=Found at House of the Faun, Pompeii,
displayed at Naples National Archaeological Museum
The Alexander Mosaic or The Battle of Issus, dating from circa 200 BC, is a famous mosaic from the House of the Faun, Pompeii. It depicts a battle between the armies of Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia and measures 5.82 x 3.13m (19ft x 10ft 3in).


Which battle?

The mosaic depicts a battle during which Alexander faced and attempted to capture or kill Darius. Both the Battle of Issus of 333 BC and the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC fulfill these criteria, though the first is traditionally held to be likely. Recently, scholars have begun to favor the latter due to the presence of a large, lifeless tree in the center of the mosaic.

The mosaic is generally held to be a copy of either a painting by Apelles contemporary with Alexander himself, or a lost late fourth century BC fresco by the painter Philoxenos of Eretria. The latter is mentioned by Pliny the Elder (XXXV, 110) as a commission for the Macedonian king Cassander.Fact|date=February 2007 The work which we select from these two may influence our opinion on which battle is shown.

Alexander and Darius

Despite being partially ruined, the two main figures are easy to recognize.
*The portrait of Alexander is one of his most famous. Alexander's breastplate depicts Medusa, the famous Gorgon, and his wavy hair is typical of royal portraiture as established in Greek art of the fourth century B.C. He is portrayed sweeping into battle at the left, on his famous horse, Bucephalos, and focusing his gaze on the Persian leader.
*Darius is shown in a chariot. He seems to be desperately commanding his frightened charioteer to flee the battle, while stretching out his hand either as a mute gesture to Alexander, or possibly after throwing a javelin. He has a worried expression on his face. The charioteer is whipping the horses as he tries to escape.

The Persian soldiers behind him have expressions of determination and consternation.

Other features

Darius's brother Oxyathres is also portrayed, sacrificing himself to save the King.

Radical foreshortening - as in the central horse, seen from behind - and the use of shading to convey a sense of mass and volume enhance the naturalistic effect of the scene. Repeated diagonal spears, clashing metal, and the crowding of men and horses evoke the din of battle. At the same time, action is arrested by dramatic details such as the fallen horse and the Persian soldier in the foreground who watches his own death throes reflected in a shield.

History of the mosaic


The mosaic is made of about one and a half million tiny coloured tiles called tesserae, arranged in gradual curves called "opus vermiculatum," (literally, "worm work," because they seem to replicate the slow motion of a crawling worm). The mosaic is an unusually detailed work for a private residence and was probably commissioned by a wealthy person or family. Another theory states that it might have been an originally Hellenic mosaic that was looted from Greece and carried off to Rome. Italian archaeologist Fausto Levi supports the first theory.

Modern history

The mosaic was rediscovered on October 24, 1831 and in the September of 1843 moved to Naples, where it is currently preserved on a wall ("not" floor as it was found) in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale.

Modern copy

In 2003 the International Center for the Study and Teaching of Mosaic (CISIM) in Ravenna, Italy, proposed to create a copy of the mosaic. When they had received approval, the mosaic master Severo Bignami and his eight-person team took a large photograph of the mosaic, made a tracing of the image with a dark marker and created a negative impression of the mosaic.

The team composed the mosaic in sections in 44 clay frames, trying to preserve the pieces of the mosaic in the exact positions they are in the original mosaic. They had to keep the plates wet all the time. Then they pressed a tissue on the clay to create an image of the outlines of the mosaic in the clay.

The team recreated the mosaic with about 2 million pieces of various marble types. When they had placed all the pieces, they covered the result with a layer of glue and gauze and pulled it out of the clay. They placed each section on synthetic concrete and then united the sections with the compound of glasswool and plastic.

The project took 22 months and a cost equivalent to US$216,000. The copy was installed on the House of the Faun in 2005.

Photos of the process of making the copy are available at the website of the studio owned by two of the mosaicists that worked on the project, at [ Koko Mosaico]


* Marco Merola - " [ Alexander Piece by Piece] " ("Archaeology" magazine January/February 2006)

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