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Roman Mosaics KS2 (8 – 12 years) 

Section I

This craft lesson is designed to give 8 – 12 year old children a basic understanding of what a mosaic is, a short history of Roman mosaics, how they made them and then how they can make their own using the patterns supplied.

 

Level                                                       Subject                                             Timing 

KS2/8-12 years                                  History, Art                                     2 – 3 hours 

Materials

  1. Instruction sheet (section I), history sheet and Quick Reference Guide sheet.
  2. Card or paper with the patterns printed on.
  3. Coloured card for the tiles (tesserae) in black, white, red and yellow. You can also add in dark red and green.
  4. Scissors
  5. Glue

Step by Step Instructions

  1. Run through the history section and use the exercise with the children to show how many people were involved in making a mosaic.
  2. Have the children pick a pattern to use, it is suggested that 2 -3 children work on the same pattern.
  3. Cut the coloured card into roughly 10mm – 15mm squares.
  4. If you wish the children can use coloured pens to make marks on the mosaic pattern to help them remember which colours go where.
  5. Using the glue, stick the card tesserae down following the patterns.
  6. The children will need to use scissors to cut triangles and other shapes to help fill some of the gaps. Wherever possible have them use uncut tesserae pieces as this makes for quick work.

 

Craft tips;

Have the card squares cut beforehand.

Have the children work in a set order, i.e. follow one colour line and complete it before moving on to the next.

 

Mosaic Worksheet KS2 (Section II)

History Sheet 

Mosaics - a way of laying a decorative floor using small pieces of cut stone (tesserae).

The Greeks began using pebbles to make floor mosaics from about the 5th century BC. From the 3rd century BC they also began to use cut stone with the pebbles.

 

About the 2nd century BC the Romans took this method and using cut stone instead of pebbles they created mosaic floors for their villas, bath houses and some office signs were even made as mosaics (Ostia, Port of Rome has examples of very basic black and white mosaics outside of offices).

 

Temples and public areas usually had floors made with the larger cut stone (tiles), a method known as Opus Sectile.

 

Cutting

The stones were cut to roughly the same size, 8-12mm using a hammer and hardie (an upside down chisel set into a block of wood).

  

Some mosaics had pieces cut down to 1-2mm for very intricate patterns (for example: the Alexander mosaic, found at Pompeii, Italy).

 

Using the average 10mm sized tesserae you would need 26 kilos to create 1 m² of mosaic floor. With 350 - 400 tesserae per kg this works out as 8,000-10,000 pieces per m².

 

All the stone is a natural colour except where you see some shades of red, particularly in Britain (Britannia), and this is where cut brick and tile has been used instead of natural stone for the red colour.

In some mosaics you can see where they have used small pieces of coloured glass to add a special effect, (Gladiator mosaic, Bignor Roman Villa, Hampshire, UK).

 

 

 

Patterns were marked on the floor using a sharp tool to etch lines in the dry cement base and also a charcoal wash was used to paint in black lines.

 

                 

 

Here you can see an example from the Villa Arianna in Italy. Some of the tesserae have fallen away exposing the original guidelines underneath.

 

Cement/Adhesive

The tesserae were set using a cement called ‘Pozzolan’, lime mixed with ground up volcanic rock.

 In Roman Britain instead of the volcanic rock waste material from the inside of a furnace, ground up pottery was used and in areas of Germany they used a stone material called Trass . These were mixed with lime to produce a powder which would set when mixed with water.

Grout

Different opinions on this, sometimes used but the tesserae were initially set into the cement up to 2/3rds of their depth. This made them firm enough to grind down as above and the debris from the pumice fills in the gaps

Finishing

The mosaic floor was rough in texture when completed and so was ground down using hard pumice stone, sand and water (a lots of slaves!) to make it smooth.

Polishing

We don’t know exactly what they used to polish the floor; after stone has been ground down it becomes very dull in colour so they had to use something. A type of wax would have worked well and one archaeological reports talks of a ‘red polishing stone’ being found.

 

Time

How long would it take? We really don’t know until someone works using the direct method onto the floor. This is setting tesserae directly into the wet cement, no modern methods used. It is not impossible that with all the stone cut and the patterns ready on the floor ready then they could have done 1 m² in 2 -3 days. This is for a very simple floor; for complex figural pieces you could be looking at 4-8 weeks for 1 square metre.

 

 

 

Copy Books

It seems logical that they had some form of ‘catalogue’ to work from so their customers could see what the mosaic would look like. These though would have been made from perishable materials such as wood or, for very expensive mosaic papyrus and none have survived.

 

The Mosaicists

Little is known about them, maybe citizens, freedmen but also slaves.

The full process could involve:

 

  • The Patron, the villa owner who commissions the floor.

 

  • Pictor Imaginarius, the mosaic painter, the leading artist, who would paint a small size picture of the design for the floor.

 

  • Pictor Parietarius, scales up the painting to an outline (not a full colour copy) onto the floor.

 

  • Tessellarius (mosaicist) who actually sets the mosaic.

 

  • Lapidarius Structor, unskilled worker who prepares and cuts the stone (slave?)

 

  • Calcis Coctor, unskilled worker who prepares the mortar and other materials. (slave?)

 

One exercise I’ve used to explain this is to get a child up to represent each person, as follows:

 1 (male) pupil as the villa owner, giving him a bag of ‘money’ to signify the high cost.

1 (female) pupil as the artist. The example I give of a known female artist is Helen, the daughter of Timon, an Alexandrian artist who had celebrated ‘the battle of Issus’ with a painting that was then bought to Rome (Ptolemy, the son of Hephaestion, in Photius, Bibliotheca, p. 482) Maybe give her some brushes.

1 pupil as the Pictor Parietarius, giving them any geometry items you might have, dividers etc.

1 pupil as the mosaicist and maybe 1 other as his top assistant who works closely with him to learn the trade.

For the unskilled workers, I get up 3 or 4 of the children to represent the slaves, go to ask them their names and before they can reply say “That’s ok don’t tell me you’re slaves, your names don’t matter” to illustrate the attitude to slave workers.

Obviously this is the ‘ideal’ for a mosaic team, it would vary and I imagine that a lot of the mosaicists were capable of doing the setting out and they would be working from a rough sketch of their own of a painting.

 

© Lawrence Payne 2011

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