By Colonel James Krilich, USA Retired
Mosaic from Pompeii is a Roman copy of an earlier Hellenistic
painting/s mentioned in ancient sources.
Now residing in the Museo Nazionale, Naples, Italy. Dated from the
late 2nd century. B.C.
The dimensions of the mosaic are: 12 feet x 19 feet = 228 square
feet = 25.5 square yards
The mosaic is constructed with over one and a half million tesserae,
none larger than 4 mm.. It is made of four colors : white, yellow,
red, and black. The minuteness of the small pieces of marble enables
incredibly fine detail and a greater variation in colors.
The mosaic represents the turning-point at the Battle of the Issus
River in November 333 B.C. when Darius III fled the battle; but
Philoxenus, the artist from whose painting the mosaic was copied,
may have incorporated elements from other battles. Alexander's
personal moment of peril seems borrowed from the battles of Granicus
The mosaic focuses on the two Kings. On the left, Alexander, with
his head uncovered, rushes forward on his white horse Bucephalus,
skewering a Persian cavalrymen with his lance. With Alexander appear
his helmeted Macedonian soldiers, although little remains of them
due to damage of the left side of the mosaic.
In contrast, Darius on the right, wearing an upright Persian cap, is
fleeing in a chariot drawn by four black horses. Around him, his
Persian guards mill in confusion but one, his sword raised, moves to
There are many details which emphasize the terror and confusion of
the battle. The horse of the Persian defender of Darius collapses
beneath him while he writhes in agony on Alexander's lance. Below
Darius in his chariot, a Persian soldier, staring in horror at this
scene, attempts to hold a rearing horse. To the right, a soldier is
being crushed under the wheels of Darius' chariot. His face is
reflected in the shield which he holds. Further to the right appear
the terrified horses of the chariot team, trampling another
In the background, a dead tree is used as an artistic device to
symbolize the death of both the Persian defenders and as well as the
death of the Persian Empire. Its bare and twisted branches emphasize
the confusion of the battle at this point. Alexander, risking his
own safety has led his cavalry against Darius himself, the outcome
of the battle now rests on the outcome of individual combats.
In the foreground, the discarded weapons, rocks and the hindquarters
of a horse help to give a sense of depth to the scene.
The Alexander mosaic is thought to be based on a painting which
Philoxenus of Eretria created for King Cassander of Macedonia. The
painting is described by Pliny the Elder as representing "the battle
of Alexander with Darius." Certain inconsistencies in the mosaic
point to its derivation from another source. In the center of the
composition appears a helmeted head to the right of the rearing
horse. Two lance shafts come from the left and abruptly stop behind
this head. To the right of the same head appears a head of a horse
and beneath this are the hindquarters of another horse, neither of
which is logically completed. Among the four horses of Darius'
chariot there are parts of a white horse which do not fit together
anatomically. Above these horses is a Persian soldier who appears to
have two right hands, one on his head and the other raised in the
air. These details provide evidence that the mosaic artists
misunderstood details of the origin.
www.krilichmosaics.com photos of its design and
construction of a sample section of the Alexander Mosaic. The
medallion has a radius of 3.84 feet or diameter of 7.68 = 46 square
feet or 5 square yards.
This medallion will serve as a initial effort to begin design, and
construction of the full Alexander Mosaic 12 feet by 19 feet.
Back to the Alexander Mosaic
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