Roman Mosaics

The Dorset County Museum has twelve mosaics on display from the Roman period, mostly fragments. Many are from Durnovaria, Roman Dorchester. The study of these fragments and the many others found in the County identify some as the Durnovarian school of mosaicists who provided a rich variety of designs for pavements constructed throughout the Fourth Century A.D. These designs are noted for their use of sea beasts, gods, goddesses and other ornament. None are identical.

In the entrance doorway of the museum is a mosaic made up in 1908 with tesserae from the surround of a pavement found behind 45 South Street, Dorchester, during building operations in 1905. In the entrance passage is a fragment of the geometric mosaic found beneath the pavement showing the sea creature theasos, found at Dewlish.

Mosaic found in Dewlish in 1975

Mosaic found in Dewlish in 1975 © DCM

On the wall above the reception desk to the right is a fragment from a mosaic depicting a sea creature procession or theasos, found at Dewlish during the excavations of 1975.

To the right of the Durngate Street pavement and under the staircase to the gallery is a complete mosaic from a plunge bath excavated on the site of the Romano-British villa at Hemsworth. It was presented to the museum by the executors of Lord Aliington in 1905.

Mosaic pavement found in Durngate Street, Dorchester in 1905. The Durngate Street pavement is one of the few in Britain which bear a signature; in this case a 'fruit and leaf motif. © DCM

Mosaic pavement found in Durngate Street, Dorchester in 1905. The Durngate Street pavement is one of the few in Britain which bear a signature; in this case a ‘fruit and leaf motif. © DCM

Through the doorway into the museum’s Victorian Gallery is a pavement from Durngate Street, Dorchester, found and removed to the museum in July 1905 and laid to be walked upon as part of the building. A typical example of the Durnovarian School, the crested serpents and the leaves form an obvious link with that from Hinton St. Mary, at present in store in the British Museum.

By the side of the main staircase is a portion of a mosaic found near South Street, Dorchester in 1894. It was the first mosaic to be placed on display in the museum. It was presented by Mr. Alfred Pope in 1895.

Roman masterpieces in Dorset

This mosaic pavement discovered at Olga Road, Dorchester in 1899 © DCM

This mosaic pavement discovered at Olga Road, Dorchester in 1899 © DCM

The other mosaic in the museums’s  Victorian Gallery is from Olga Road, Dorchester, found in 1899 and presented to the Museum by Mr. Alfred Pope in 1900. It was taken up and re-laid by subscription. This design contrasts with that from Durngate Street and has similarities with mosaics at Corinium, Roman Cirencester.

To the left of the Olga Road pavement is the doorway into the museums’s Temporary Exhibition Gallery where the polychrome mosaic from Fordington High Street, Dorchester is displayed. This mosaic also has similarities with those in Corinium and possibly dates from the Second Century A.D. It was found in October 1927 and presented by Messrs. T. J. Walne and O. C. Vidler when it was taken up and relaid to walk upon as part of the building.

This decorative mosaic found in Fordington, High Street, 1927 . Shows what may be the image of the Roman god of the sea, Neptune surrounded by fish and dolphins © DCM

This decorative mosaic found in Fordington, High Street, Dorchester, 1927 . Shows what may be the image of the Roman god of the sea, Neptune surrounded by fish and dolphins © DCM

There is a repair made in antiquity to the three strand guilloche around one of the circles containing a stylised flower and there are the remains – six red tessarae – of a figure which once occupied the central octagon.

Upstairs from the Temporary Exhibition Gallery is the Archaeological Gallery: Victim of Time, where there are three further fragments of mosaic on display.

In the Roman section there is a fragment of guilloche and stylised flower border presented in 1899 by the Directors of the Devon & Cornwall Bank (now the National Westminster Bank), Dorchester. It was found when building operations were underway for the new Bank.

The, Dorchester Prison mosaic, 4th Century. A tinted photographic lithograph. John Pouncy, 2nd December 1858. Using one of his new experimental photographic processes. This mosaic was presented to the Dorset County Museum by the Governor of Dorchester Prison in 1885, after its removal from the Prison chapel where it had been relaid in 1858. It was set on the north wall of the museum staircase masked by the overhanging portrait of James John Farquharson, 1857.

The, Dorchester Prison Mosaic, 4th Century. A tinted photographic lithograph. John Pouncy, 2nd December 1858. Using one of his new experimental photographic processes. This mosaic was presented to the Dorset County Museum by the Governor of Dorchester Prison in 1885, after its removal from the Prison chapel where it had been relaid in 1858. It was set on the north wall of the museum staircase masked by the overhanging portrait of James John Farquharson, 1857. © DCM

Also in the Conservation section there is a mosaic roundel depicting Oceanus or Neptune, which once formed the centre of a pavement found during the excavation of the Romano-British villa at Hemsworth in 1831. The pavement was lifted in 1908 and presented by the executors of Lord Allington in 1929. The identifying features on the head of this sea god are crab legs and two crab claws on the forehead.

Half way up the main staircase and at the first landing – and temporarily covered by a large oil painting – is a geometric mosaic, found in the County Prison burial ground whilst digging a grave for James Seal who was executed for murder on August 10th 1858, when it was taken up and presented to the Museum.

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