The origin of…Mosaic

“What is called good society is usually nothing but a mosaic of polished caricatures.” Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel

Post 47 Mosaic

Mosaic is an art form consisting of creating images by grouping small pieces of colored glass, stone, pebbles or other materials. The small, flat, square pieces of stone or glass are called tesserae.
The earliest known mosaics can be found at a temple in Abra, Mesopotamia, from the second half of the 3rd millennium BC and contain pieces of colored shells, stones and ivory. The first glazed tiled mosaics can be found at Susa and Chogha Zanbil, also in Mesopotamia, from around 1500 BC.

In Ancient Greece, 3rd century BC, designs with mythological subjects or scenes of hunting were popular. Later on the Romans copied the Greek and made large floor mosaics in their villas.
Two main techniques were used in Greco-Roman mosaic: opus vermiculatum using tiny tesserae and opus tesselatum, using larger tesserae. The first technique consisted of small panels, emblemata, that were made at workshops and then transported to the site and glued to a temporary support. When using the second technique, the mosaic was laid on site.
The largest collection of late Roman mosaics in situ in the world can be found at the Villa Romana del Casale built in the early 4th century, where the most important pieces are among others the Little Hunt, the Labors of Hercules and the Bikini Girls.

In Islamic culture, mosaics were used to decorate palaces and religious buildings. The most important early mosaic work in the Islamic world is the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus (built between 706 and 715), which was at that time the capital of the Arab Caliphate. Many mosaics were lost in a fire in 1893, although some have now been restored.
Non-religious Umayyad mosaics were modeled after the mosaics of the Roman country villas and used to decorate palaces of the caliphs and other high-ranking officials.
Islamic mosaic decorative mosaics were later on introduced in Moorish Spain (between the 8th and 15th century) where they were used to decorate the Mezquita de Córdoba (made between 965 and 970), among others.


  1. a decoration on a surface made by pressing small pieces of colored glass or stone into a soft material that then hardens to make pictures or patterns
  2. something made up of different things that together form a pattern (source: Merriam Webster).

The English mosaic, Dutch mozaïek, Spanish mosaico and Italian mosaico all come from Old French mosaic, mosaic work, from Medieval Latin musaicum, mosaic work/work of the Muses. Medieval mosaics were often dedicated to the Muses. The word formed in Medieval Latin as though from Greek, but the (late) Greek word for “mosaic work” was mouseion

Mosaic in other languages:
Dutch: mozaïek
Spanish: el mosaico
Italian: il mosaico


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