The Fourth Century
c. 400-300 BCE


The Alexander Mosaic
Floor mosaic from Pompeii
an adaption of a Greek wall painting of c. 310 BCE by Philoxenos of Eretria
8' 10" x 17'
(National Museum, Naples)

A large floor mosaic of small squares (tesserae) cut from stones of various colours, and of glass. Only four colours used - black, white, red, and yellow. The scene depicts one of Alexander's battles against the Persian king Darius, probably the Battle of Issos in 333 BCE.

The elaborate composition is centred on the two protagonists - bareheaded Alexander charging in on the left, and Darius, attempting to flee in his chariot on the right. Alexander spears a Persian soldier who attempts to block his path to Darius. Another Persian soldier offers his horse to Darius as the king's charioteer frantically tries to turn the chariot away from the encircling Greeks, whose spears can be seen behind the Persian horsemen. The crowded action takes place in foreground. Only a gnarled tree and a few stones form the setting.

Note the extreme detail and modeling possible with the tesserae technique. There are tiny details, such as the ivory inlay of running animals on the spokes of Darius' chariot.

As Darius' chariot turns, it runs over one of his men, whose face can be seen reflected in the polished surface of his shield. The mosaic is a work of very high quality; a masterful rendering of shadows and highlights, and very effective foreshortening (n.b. the central horse seen from the rear).

The mosaic catches the excitement of the battle, the panic and agony of Darius at the moment of his defeat, the unstoppable heroic confidence of the youthful Alexander at the moment of victory. at the moment of victory.

© Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe