Fishbourne Palace: Roman Mosaics & Matrices

Fishbourne Palace Floors, Sussex, UK

Fishbourne Palace Mosaic Floors, Sussex, UK

Since ceasing to live in the UK in 1987, I have returned many times for visits. On one occasion in 1997, I visited the amazing Roman remains at Fishbourne Palace, near Chichester. This is the largest known Roman residence north of the Alps.

There’s nothing left of this vast palace above ground, and in fact, until work began on a planned housing estate in 1960, nobody knew that it was there at all. Under the surface, however, excavations revealed large numbers of mosaic floors in various states of preservation. The photo above shows some of the mosaics and remaining foundations, which are now housed within a museum that was built over them. Outside the museum, part of the palace’s Roman garden has been recreated.

Cupid on a Dolphin Mosaic, Fishbourne Palace

Cupid on a Dolphin Mosaic, Fishbourne Palace

The photo above shows the famous “Cupid on a Dolphin” mosaic at Fishbourne Palace. By an incredible stroke of luck, the mosaic is perfectly preserved, except for some subsidence of the ground underneath, as is visible above.

Much later, in 2012, I visited another Roman site, Verulamium, near the modern city of St. Albans. This site also features impressive mosaics, and even some surviving decorated plaster walls.

For various reasons, Britain has relatively few surviving Roman structures above ground, but the Verulamium Museum, shown below, is an impressive modern building based on Roman designs.

Verulamium Museum

Verulamium Museum

Inside the Verulamium Museum are a wide variety of artefacts discovered during the excavation of the city, including several building tiles that contain paw prints from cats and other animals that walked across them around 2000 years ago.

Animal Paw Prints on Roman Tiles, Verulamium

Animal Paw Prints on Roman Tiles, Verulamium

A cat paw print was also found on a Roman roof tile in Gloucestershire a couple of years ago, as described here.

During my visit to Verulamium, I bought a small but interesting book called Geometric Patterns from Roman Mosaics.

I’ve referred to this little book from time to time since then, whenever I’ve needed some explanation of the construction of Roman mosaics. It only struck me recently, however, that (as described in the book) most Roman mosaics are laid out in a rectangular matrix.

Over on my professional blog, I’ve written several articles about Bitmap Graphics, which are themselves based on rectangular matrices.

It really is an astonishing connection between ancient art and modern technology!

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