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A Roman Villa discovered in East Yorkshire

This resource is part of the Museum Snapshot collection - a collection of smaller resources perfect for starters, plenaries or spare moments to explore something fascinating.

Colour photograph of the mosaic, showing a naked woman with long hair
Roman Rudstone mosaic

This mosaic, known as the 'Venus Mosaic' comes from the floor of a Roman villa discovered in Rudston, East Yorkshire in 1933 by a farmer who was ploughing his field. It shows a lively figure of a woman in the centre of a circle. She is naked and her long hair is flowing wildly. She wears bracelets on her arms and in her right hand holds the apple she won in a beauty contest - the Judgement of Paris. Venus is nearly always shown with a mirror, and the Rudston Venus seems to have just dropped hers.

Colour photograph of a close up of part of the mosaic showing a figure.
Detail of the Roman Rudstone mosaic

A half-human, half-fish figure beside her (holding a burning torch just like a 2012 Olympic torch), is known as a merman or Triton and his presence refers to her birth from the sea. Other circles in the fragment show birds, animals and more figures. Many other mosaics and painted plaster walls from this 4th Century villa were found here but were moved to the museum for safety. Mosaics are made from tiny squares of coloured stone called 'tesserae' and were used to decorate Roman houses.

Young person's response to this object

An example of the Romans passing on their beliefs, culture and in a sense their technology (craftsmanship) to the British, gives us a sense of Roman influence on our lives today. Jordan Keighley

Discussion Ideas

  • This Roman villa in North Yorkshire is about as far away from Rome as any built during the Roman Empire. How do you think the people living in it showed that they still thought about home?
  • What other goddesses or gods do you know from Roman myths and legends?
  • The story of Venus is 1000s of years old. Why do you think people like to have these stories in their culture or religion?
  • What materials do you think mosaics were made from? Would different materials weather and decay in the ground at different rates? What materials are likely to survive best?
  • Look at some other examples of Roman mosaics: discuss what they’re used for - internal or external, floor or wall decoration, which rooms of the house they were located, relationship with heating systems; what materials they’re made of; how they were designed and laid.

Activity Ideas

  • Explore aspects of Roman life with this interactive, multi-media image, including a short BBC video.
  • Research other Roman mosaics and modern ones - look at how artists combine geometric and naturalistic patterns to construct their designs. 
  • Find out more about how the Romans made mosaics, different construction techniques and about which designs were popular in Britain.
  • Tesserae can be made of other materials to create a mosaic. Try using tiny squares cut from a magazine to form a portrait or a fantastic creature like a merman.
  • Find out more about modern examples of mosaic-making. Where are mosaics used today and who commissions them? Are they mostly used in public buildings or do people still have them in their houses like the Romans did? What examples of mosaics are there in private houses?
  • Use the Google map below to find where this mosaic was uncovered.

Internal Links

More resources on My Learning related to this subject area include:

The Romans in Leeds

The Raging Romans

Roman Skeleton's Jewellery

External Links

(My Learning is not responsible for the content on external links)

Interactive: Design a mosaic online

Wikipedia entry for Roman mosaics

BBC: Mosaics of Roman Britain gallery