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Floor Mosaic with Allegorical Representation of the Month of March

Roman art

The prestigious Roman priesthood of the Salii, devoted to the god Mars, had the role, among other things, of celebrating the beginning and end of the war season, and so in March and October following the Roman calendar. The opening of the war season was celebrated with a ceremony during which the sacred shields of the city of Rome were carried in procession and beat with sticks like a drum. The mosaic seems to depict this event, taking place before a statue of Mars Ultor. We see three male figures, dressed in the usual clothing worn by members of the priesthood, beating a skin that they hold taut with their hands.

The mosaic dates to the end of the second and beginning of the third century CE.

Object details

II-III secolo d.C.
marble tesserae
91 cm

Inserted into the floor of the room during the late eighteenth-century renovation of the residence (Visconti 1796, p. 74). Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • Interventi in alcune parti delle figure, l’angolo superiore sinistro, la testa e la coscia destra nella figura di sinistra, la parte centrale della pelle tesa delle due figure.
  • 1989 Consorzio ARKE'


This mosaic depicts a religious ritual taking place before a statue of Mars Ultor that perfectly reproduces the features of the colossal marble sculpture unearthed in the Forum of Nerva and now in the Capitoline Museum (Romeo 2010, pp. 184–191, no. 19). The statue presents the god standing, his left arm raised holding a staff and his right arm hanging down along his body and holding up a shield that is resting on the ground. He wears a Corinthian helmet and has a beard. The three men in front of the statue are using small sticks to beat a skin held taut with their left hands. They are wearing the clothing typical of members of the Salii priesthood: a colourful toga with red edging called a trabea, cinched with a belt around the waist. Each is wearing a pileus, a close-fitting cap pulled down around the temples and decorated with rings. The scene is framed by a polychrome dentil border composed of brown, red and white bands, which is followed, moving inward, by a plain white border four-tesserae wide and a plain red border three-tesserae wide. The Salii priesthood, founded by Numa Pompilius, according to the sources (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 2.70.1; Livy, Ad Urbe condita 1.20.4), led the rituals celebrating the transition, in the Roman calendar, from wartime to peacetime, and was therefore very closely linked to the god Mars. The month of March, which marked the beginning of the war season, was celebrated with a series of festivals during which the carmen saliare was sung and the sacred shields of the city of Rome, called ancilia and beat like drums with sticks, were carried in procession along with the twelve lances of Mars, the hastae Martiae. The celebrations culminated on 19 March with the ceremony of the Quinquatrus maiores. According to Varro, this name derived from the fact that the ceremony was held on the fifth day after the Ides of March (Varro, De lingua latina 6.14), whereas Ovid writes that it was because the festivities lasted five days, in celebration of the birth of the goddess Minerva and the consecration of the weapons of Mars (Ovid, Fasti 3.809–812). The war season ended in the month of October, with the ritual of the Armilustrium, when the soldiers laid down their arms. A calendar mosaic found in Thysdrus and now in the archaeological museum in Sousse has a similar scene, marked by the inscription Martias, leading us to suppose that there was a prototype for the representation of the celebrations held in the month of March.  This would have been the prototype for the Borghese mosaic as well, which is comparable to the one in Sousse and, like it, datable to between the second and third centuries CE (Foucher 1963, pp. 33–34, fig. 5, pl. 32).

Giulia Ciccarello

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  • Scheda di catalogo 12/01008528, P. Moreno 1975; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.