Mosaic Fragment [Object of the Day #124]

December 5, 2012

Mosaic Fragment
Mosaic Fragment


Although this mosaic now stands as a wall within the Roman gallery, it originally formed part of a large house floor in one of the ancient Roman cities in Tunisia, probably Utica. The panel is over 2 m long and 1.3 m wide, and is dominated by a meander pattern composed of interlocking squares. On top of the rectangle is a boat in full sail next to which a Latin word “Vinclusus” has been repeated twice. Between the two words is an arched door leading to a path, while a chain or guilloche course forms the border at the right.

The scene represents the aftermath of one of the key events in the life of the Athenian hero Theseus. After killing the cannibalistic minotaur (half bull, half man) in its labyrinth-like lair on Crete, Theseus escaped from the building and sailed back to Athens, where he became king. The scene on the mosaic appears to show the minotaur’s labyrinth and its door, as well as Theseus in his boat on the return voyage. It seems likely that the slain minotaur would have been shown in one of the other parts of the floor that is now missing. The significance of the word “Vinclusus” is not clear, but it may be an abbreviation of “vinc(imus) lusus”, which means  “we won the contest.” The mosaic was made in the first half of the third century A.D., when many elite houses in Roman North Africa received new mosaic floors.

Penn Museum Object #MS4012
See this and other objects like it on Penn Museum’s Online Collection Database