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Room 69: Greek and Roman life 

Object details

Height: 1.88 m (in total)
Width: 99 cm
Museum number: GR 2011,5005.1

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Mosaic of Hercules

Possibly made in North Africa, Roman period, about AD 200

This mosaic depicts a large, heavily-built man wearing a beard. He is shown bruised and battered. His size and pose have led to suggestions that he is intended to be seen as a heroic figure, caught perhaps after one of his battles against man or monster.

The reddish tones of the face seem intended to show fresh injuries, and the mosaicist has cleverly rendered the human form and the texture of the skin stretched over muscles and tendons.

The lion’s skin tied around the figure’s hips and what is possibly a club by his left leg suggest this mosaic depicts Hercules (Herakles). According to legend, Hercules founded the Olympic Games to celebrate the last of his 12 labours – the cleansing of the cattle stables of King Augeas, whose palace was situated near Olympia.

Hercules is said to have set the length of the stadium at just over 192 metres, the distance he could run in one breath. During the Roman period guilds of professional athletes were formed, adopting Hercules as their patron.

In this mosaic, he clutches what look like palm branches, formed from green and slate-grey tesserae (mosaic pieces). Palm branches were tokens of victory at athletic contests.

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