Alexander the Great


This mosaic of Alexander the Great (c. 100BC) was discovered during the excavations in Pompeii in 1831 and is located in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.


This mosaic is believed to be either a copy of a painting by the famous Apelles of Kos or a copy of a fresco by Philoxenos of Eretria. The scene depicts Alexander the Great’s defeat over the king of Persia Darius III in the ‘Battle of Issus’ (333BC). The image of Alexander is preserved on the left hand side of the mosaic where he is seen riding into battle on his horse Bucephalus. Darius III is shown riding his chariot (turning to flee) on the right hand side of the mosaic. In this battle Alexander sought to capture and kill Darius II, but he stopped pursuing him after an almost thirty kilometre chase ran into the night.

The mosaic was found in what is called ‘The House of the Faun’ in Pompeii. It was a floor mosaic and covered an area of nineteen feet in length and ten feet three inches in height. The mosaic contains over one million mosaic tiles called tesserae and is constructed in a way known as ‘worm work’ (opus vermiculatum) which is where the tiles are arranged in a gradual curve. There is evidence to suggest that the mosaic was repaired several times in its lifespan, and in specific places which would account for repeated footfall.  After painstaking work using the same materials, a replica of the mosaic is on display in Pompeii.

Did you known?

The subject matter has been altered to fit its setting in a Roman house. Considering the time the mosaic was produced, it seems odd that a Roman mosaic would depict Alexander the Great, who was Greek. Subsequently, Alexander is depicted in armour more akin to that of the Romans than that of the Greeks.

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