Alexander Mosaic was created around 100 BCE. It is a tessera mosaic from the House of the Faun, Pompeii. The size is quite large, 8 feet 11 inches × 16 feet 9 inches. It can be found today in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.
To understand Roman culture, one must analyze Roman ideals as a whole. The Roman culture was extraordinarily expansionistic. They were warlike but at the same time civilized to a fault. Roman leaders and Roman cities were considered the height of society and for a long time in the future would be seen as a golden age of humanity.
Their warlike nature in combination with their civilized nature created a reverence for past leaders. Thus, the Alexander mosaic shows Roman reverence for their forbearers and exemplifies a warlike culture steeped in an enlightened context.
Considering the mosaic is composed of more than a million tiles, the Roman attention to detail is inherent. The form represents the way they honor people their culture respects; the sheer amount of effort the mosaic required is representative of the fastidious nature of the Roman culture.
The mosaic a permanent fixture and represents the Roman ideal that their society would be permanent and everlasting. Interestingly, the exact opposite happened with the subject matter of the mosaic; he and his empire were proved to be mortal and fell to the test of time.
The content provides many points for thoughtful discussion. First, observe the tree in the background. The color choice and the lack of leaves suggests death. The scene is of a battle and battles inherently involve death.
Next, look to Alexander’s face. He is focused, intent on his objective. Connect this back to the Roman ideal of expansion and witness how the culture admired the focus conquerors needed, citing it as an ideal to be followed. \Further, Alexander came from a culture contrary to their own. By a layman view, he should be hated as a representation of the uncivilized era before the Romans. However, look to the spears forcing a viewer to look at Alexander. Clearly, his status as a preeminent conqueror overruled his status as a thing of the past.
The color choice provides an interesting medium for discussion. Notice how the opposing horsemen are black. Black is generally an indicator for the antagonist or the disfavored; couple this with the white highlights around Alexander and his horse and realize the Romans saw war as black and white. To them, there was a clear winner, loser, protagonist and antagonist. They valued simplicity, choosing to cast clear roles and power divisions to unsuccessfully stop power struggles. They valued simplicity but thrived in a distinct culture.
The Roman empire valued and respected their gods. Thus, they felt their military campaigns were sanctioned by the celestial beings. To observe this in the mosaic, reference the breastplates each commander wears. The right, antagonist commander dons a stark white breastplate, showing his foreign and damned nature. He does not have the support of the gods in the scene. Conversely, in the center of Alexander’s breastplate one observes a female face of some sort, perhaps a Gorgon. Regardless of what is his sponsor, Alexander demonstrates a celestial influence. His directive comes from something above him and he has the support of a higher power. Meanwhile, his opponent does not.
The Roman artist responsible for this piece weaves a masterful narrative of good versus evil. They represent Roman society as a whole and provide a codex to Roman beliefs in the future. Through the Alexander mosaic, one sees Roman culture as it was viewed by the Romans.