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7 Stunning Roman Mosaics

The following seven Roman mosaics are all currently on display in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme National Museum, Rome. Mosaics were a common feature of Roman private homes and public buildings across the empire from Africa to Antioch. Mosaics, otherwise known as opus tesellatum, were made with small black, white, and coloured squares typically measuring between 0.5 and 1.5 cm, but fine details were often rendered using even smaller pieces as little as 1 mm in size. These squares (tesserae or tessellae) were cut from materials such as marble, tile, glass, smalto (glass paste),pottery, stone, and even shells. A base was first prepared with fresh mortar, and the tesserae positioned as close together as possible with any gaps then filled with liquid mortar in a process known as grouting. The whole was then cleaned and polished. Mosaics were by no means limited to flooring. Vaults, columns, and fountains were often decorated with mosaic, especially in Roman baths. Popular subjects were figures and scenes from Roman mythology, landscapes, and still-lifes.

To read more about this fascinating art form, see Ancient History Encyclopedia’s article on Roman Mosaics.

Seasons Mosaic

A Roman floor mosaic dating to the 3rd century CE and depicting one of the four Seasons. Black and white mosaics were very popular throughout the Roman period in Italy. Provenance: via Prenestina, Rome. Palazzo Massimo, Rome.
A Roman floor mosaic dating to the 3rd century CE and depicting one of the four seasons. Black and white mosaics were very popular throughout the Roman period in Italy. Provenance: via Prenestina, Rome.
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8 Ancient Greek Temples

The temple in the ancient Greek world was perhaps the most recognisable building in the urban landscape. Typically constructed in an eye-catching location using the finest of marble, they were the focus of Greek religious practices and could house magnificent treasures and monumental stautes of the Greek gods on the inside and display some of the greatest of Greek sculpture on the outside. Built wherever the Greeks colonized across the Mediterranean world, they would go on to influence the Romans and, even today, their architectural features can be seen across the world in all manner of public buildings. To read more on temples see Ancient History Encyclopedia’s definition, Temples in the Ancient World.

Temple of Apollo, Naxos

The remains of the foundations, crepidoma and doorway leading from the prodromos to the cella of the 6th century BCE temple of Apollo on Naxos in the Cyclades. The doorway is 6m high and 3.5 m wide. The temple itself, as indicated by its surviving foundations, measured some 59 by 28 metres.
The remains of the foundations, crepidoma and doorway leading from the prodromos to the cella of the 6th century BCE temple of Apollo on Naxos in the Cyclades. The doorway is 6m high and 3.5 m wide. The temple itself, as indicated by its surviving foundations, measured some 59 by 28 metres.
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Exhibitions Travel

Visiting the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

The National Archaeological Museum of Athens can effortlessly lay claim to being one of the very greatest museums in the world. It can do that because it is literally jam-packed with most of the most famous art objects from ancient Greece, so much so, a first-time visit here is a strangely familiar experience. From the towering bronze Poseidon to the shimmering gold mask of Agamemnon, the antiquities on display here provide the staple images of ancient Greece; adorning guidebooks, calendars, and travel agents’ windows around the world. Familiar many of these works might be but the wow-factor is certainly no less for it. Wandering around the museum one has a constant urge to re-trace one’s steps for just one more glimpse of a stunning piece before moving on. As everything is arranged in chronological order, your tour of the museum gives you a perfect vision of the evolution of Greek art and there is even an Egyptian section as an added bonus if your senses have not already been blown away by everything on the ground floor.

The bronze Antikythera Youth c. 340 BCE.
The bronze Antikythera Youth c. 340 BCE.

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10 Greek Pottery Details

The pottery of ancient Greece has provided us with some of the most distinctive pottery shapes and striking decoration from antiquity. This collection begins with the Minoans whose love of the sea and flowing, vibrant forms can be seen on the famous Marine Style askos. In the archaic period geometric designs gained popularity until designers eventually began to experiment with human figures. These would become more and more expressive and detailed with the black-figure style which first appeared in Corinth and then spread across Greece. Finally, the red-figure style added yet more details and greater variety in colours to pottery decoration and saw more ambitious attempts made at achieving depth and perspective.  For more on this fascinating subject see Ancient History Encyclopedia’s definition on Greek pottery.

Minoan Pottery

New-Palace period (1500-1450 BCE) Cretan Clay askos with 'Marine Style' decoration, Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete.
Minoan Octopus, New-Palace period (1500-1450 BCE) Cretan Clay askos with ‘Marine Style’ decoration, Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete.
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10 Greek & Roman Frescoes

As a technique, true fresco painting (buon fresco) is the painting of colour pigments on wet lime plaster without a binding agent, and when the paint is absorbed by the plaster, it is fixed and protected from fading. Inherent problems with frescoes for historians are their fragility, incompleteness, and artistic anonymity. In addition, at archaeological sites they are often found removed from their original settings, making them extremely difficult to date. However, frescoes can provide us with some of the most striking imagery from antiquity, and they can give a unique insight into the ordinary lives of people long ago.

For more on frescoes see our articles on Minoan Frescoes, Akrotiri Frescoes, and Roman Wall Painting.

 Minoan Frescoes

Minoan Dolphin Fresco
Minoan Dolphin Fresco from Knossos, Crete, 1700-1450 BCE.
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10 Coins of Ancient Greece

The first Greek coins were minted in Aegina from 560 BCE, and then Athens and Corinth also began their own coin production shortly after. Each city used an easily identifiable symbol: a turtle for Aegina, an owl for Athens and a winged-horse for Corinth.  The turtle was an apt choice for the Mediterranean trading power, the owl was associated with Athens’ patron goddess Athena, and Pegasus was the horse of the Corinthian hero Bellerophon. Other cities soon produced their own coins and images from Greek mythology continued to be popular in coin designs. Later, letters and short inscriptions were added to signify the issuing authority.  The coins were created by hammering a plain metal disk placed between two engraved metal dies made from hardened bronze or iron. The disks were heated first to aid the stamping of the design. Greek coins were most commonly made of silver, gold, or a copper alloy.

Silver stater from Metapontum, 520 BCE. O: Ear of wheat, R: same incuse.
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10 Ancient Gold Jewellery Pieces

Malleable, lustrous, resistant to corrosion, and high in value, gold has always been a favourite material for jewellers going back to earliest antiquity. The following jewellery pieces are all from the ancient Mediterranean and have nothing more in common than their excellent craftsmanship and striking designs. For more on the history of ancient gold see Ancient History Encyclopedia’s definition on gold in antiquity.

Gold Bead

A gold bead from the dolmen d'Er Roh, La Trinite Sur Mer (France). 2200-2000 BCE. (Vannes Archaeological Museum, France)
A gold bead from the dolmen d’Er Roh, La Trinite Sur Mer (France). 2200-2000 BCE. Vannes Archaeological Museum, France.