Fish in Roman mosaics


Fish in Roman Mosaics

It is not suprising that fish and other aquatic creatures appear so frequently in Roman mosaics given the importance of the Mediteraneon sea to both trade and food supply. The appear in many Roman mosaics and although we must accept certain artistic licence from the mosaicists they can tell us something about the types of fish caught then and also how easy they were to catch compared to now. 

What these mosaics can tell us

In a study starting in 2011 Paolo Guidetti, a biologist at the University of Salento and Fiorenza Micheli, a biologist at Stanford University made a study of how often and in what context a fish called a grouper appeared in Roman mosaics to see if they could determine how prevelant they were. They looked at 73 Etruscan, Greek and Roman mosaics from between the first and fifth centuries that showed fish or fishing scenes. Of those, 23 had groupers. They were able to show that these fish were much more common, much larger and more accesible to catch than now. Mosaics show men fishing for groupers with harpoons at the water's surface. Today, this would be unheard of.

Christianity and Fish Mosiacs

The symbol of a fish was used by the early Christians as a secret way to identify themselves to each other at a time when they were being persecuted so it is not surprising that these images found their way into their mosaics. The style of these later representations was much flatter, less three dimensional but fish remained a popular addition to the mosaics such as the one on the left here from Mount Nebo in Jordan.