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Mosaics in Greece: black and white mosaics at Isthmia.

Floor view, Isthmia
Black and white floor, Isthmia, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

Mosaics at Isthmia, Greece

Another example of little known, or at least little written about, mosaics in Greece. These black and white mosaics at Isthmia, near Corinth, can be about an hour’s drive from Athens.

mosaics at isthmia
Octopos, Isthmia. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

The site isn’t on the main tourist trail and was virtually deserted the day we visited so I had them all to myself. They are unfenced and you can walk on them which seemed disconcertingly decadent as well as marvellously thrilling that more than a millenium after completion they are sturdy enough to do the job they are made for.

mosaics at Isthmia.
Mosaic floor, Isthmia, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

Aquatic motifs

Aquatic motifs keep coming up in Roman mosaics – what better symbol of trade, wealth, food, the fickleness of the nature, the unpredictability of the Gods and the extraordinary beauty of the seas?

mosaics at Isthmia
Mythical creature at Isthmia, Greece – part God Oceanus, part fish, part horse. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.

Countless people must have sat waiting for months and years for their loved ones to return from long sea voyages and when such a wild and monstrous force dominated your life, it was inevitable that it would turn up in other forms suitably contained, controlled and domesticated.

mosaics at Isthmia
Dolphin detail, Isthmia. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

I am struck by how extraordinarily similar in execution these mosaics are from others on the same theme – of course one would expect creatures from common myths to crop up all over the Roman empire, but why, in some cases, are the same themes actually made in almost the same way? Pattern books? A few specialist mosaic designers who travelled though out the region?

Take this mosaic at the Palazzo Massimo Museum in Rome:

Black and white aquatic scene, Palazzo Massimo Museum, Rome.

This in Pompeii:

Mosaic floor in situ, Pompeii bath house.

Or this floor mosaic at the House of Italica, Western Andalusia, near Seville:

Black and white aquatic mosaic, Italica house, Western Andalusia, near Seville

Terrifying and mysterious as it was, the sea, pristine, crystal clear and teaming with fish must have been more lovely by far than even the loveliest of Mediterranean seas of today. Here’s an example of one in Pelion, Greece, not far from where Jason set off on the Argo:

Labinou beach, Pelion, Greece.



  1. Mike McCloud

    You’re right ! Coverage of this subject IS hard to find ! I am trying to recollect the title of a book that was in my hometown library & in the Ancient Arts section. In it, mosaics of crests/trademarks of families that were involvolved in the sea trades were shown. Hoping you might have knowledge where I might find an alternate avenue to source them. My friend’s name was Pappaleo, now passed, however, his brother and also a friend, is alive. The crest had a Poseidon figure, sea horses, a few dolphins leaping about and Poseidon had the usual tri-pointed spear. The name associated with the mosaic was something like ‘Pappalao’-close as I can recall. Wondering if you’d have any knowledge of such a mosaic, or a closer focus on the subject, that you might forward to me. I would like to give any resulting learned information to the remaining brother (also a friend), and so for their family-at-large. The funny thing is, that the older friend claimed Greek descent and both brothers have jet black hair and could grow beards from their eye sockets to the waists ! I would appreciate any information you could pass on, and your time in any event, Thanks very much, Mike McCloud

    1. Hello Mike, this sounds very interesting indeed but unfortunately I cant help you at all as I havent come across such a book or such a mosaic but I would be intrigued and interested to know more if you manage to track it down. Do you remember in which country the mosaics of crests/trademarks were located? Your friend’s name does sound rather Greek (the literal translation of Pappa Lao in Greek is father of the people) and the beard growing propensity is a sure sign of some sort of Mediterranean descent! Sorry not to be of more help, Helen.

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