Galleria Borghese logo
Search results for
No results :(

Hints for your search:

  • Search engine results update instantly as soon as you change your search key.
  • If you have entered more than one word, try to simplify the search by writing only one, later you can add other words to filter the results.
  • Omit words with less than 3 characters, as well as common words like "the", "of", "from", as they will not be included in the search.
  • You don't need to enter accents or capitalization.
  • The search for words, even if partially written, will also include the different variants existing in the database.
  • If your search yields no results, try typing just the first few characters of a word to see if it exists in the database.

Floor Mosaic with Gladiators and Hunters

Roman art

In 1834, seven mosaic fragments were found during the excavation of the Borghese estate at Torrenova, along Via Casilina, for the prince Francesco Borghese Aldobrandini. The panels, five of which are large in size and two of which are smaller, depict hunting scenes (venationes) and gladiator combat (munera) and would have decorated the floor of a cryptoporticus in an ancient Roman suburban villa.

The present panel, in polychrome tesserae on a white background, depicts a panther hunt on two registers. In the upper register, the animals are struck through with spears and lying lifeless on the ground; in the lower register, they fight against the hunters. There is a panther on the far right that is not involved in the fighting, while on the far left, we can see the four feet of another animal, the rest of which is lost. The display of depictions of gladiator games and hunting inside private homes was part of a widespread tradition, between the third and fourth centuries CE, of commissioning art attesting to and celebrating the virtues of the master of the house.

Object details

III-IV secolo d.C.
tessere in marmo
cm 5400 x 2246

Discovered in 1834 during excavations in a hamlet of Torrenova on Via Casilina; in the current location since 1839; purchased by the Italian State with the building, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • XIX secolo interventi nel lato inferiore destro, di restauro l’animale stante. Il montaggio è arbitrario.
  • 1908 R. Lazzari
  • 1926 C. Fossi
  • 1960 P. Saltelli
  • 1989 Consorzio ARKE'
  • 2020/2021 Istituto Centrale del Restauro: progetto scientifico di diagnostica e di restauro


This mosaic, set in front of the door between the Salone and Room 4, depicts a struggle between two hunters (bestiarii) and a number of panthers. There is a description of the panther and its introduction into Rome for the Circus games in Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historia 8.62–65). Here, the scenes are illustrated on two distinct planes: in the background, four big cats lie lifeless, struck through with spears; below, two hunters wound two attacking animals with their spears. There are two other panthers to the sides, although all that remains of the one on the left are the paws.

Strips of brown define the ground where the action takes place and shading has been used to give the figures depth. The hunters, described with polychrome tesserae against a solid white background, wear lavish white/grey clothing decorated with geometric embellishments called orbiculi. The garment of the figure on the left, who is labelled with the name Melitio, is decorated along the shoulder, while that of the figure on the right is embellished along the hem, in both cases white on a black background. The animals are for the most part rendered in green and grey, with black spots. The panel seems to be composed of a series of mosaic sheets joined by a long horizontal line. There are some losses, probably caused when the mosaic was detached from its original location, that have been filled with white tesserae. The arrangement of the figures is not entirely coherent, suggesting that they were rearranged during earlier restoration work.

This mosaic was discovered in 1834 along with the other four of similar size and two smaller ones on the Borghese estate in a hamlet in Torrenova, in an area called Vermicino-Quarto della Giostra, along Via Casilina. Luigi Canina, who was present when the mosaics were discovered, believed that they were actually already known in the seventeenth century, and that the place name Quarto della Giostra derived from the term used at the time for combat against animals. A large suburban villa was discovered during the excavations, which were carried out for the prince D. Francesco Borghese Aldobrandini. According to Canina, the mosaics decorated a cryptoporticus located on one side of the villa’s innermost peristyle, measuring about 140 palmi long and 12 wide. He further reported that ‘two thirds of this mosaic were found in good condition, and the remaining part was missing. It was divided into five panels framed by a meander motif, also mosaic in two simple hues’ (Canina 1834, pp. 193–194). The only part of the floor that has been preserved is the portion with figures, measuring in total 27.9 metres, while the meander frames are lost. The imagery is arranged in a single narrative frieze, depicting various moments of a single episode, scenes of gladiator combat (munera) and hunting (venationes), against a solid white background. Some of the figures are labelled with their name. After their discovery, the mosaics, divided into rectangular panels, were sent to Rome and kept, until 1839, in the Casino dell’Orologio, where they were restored by Gaetano Ruspi and Filippo Scaccia (Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, busta 347, fascicolo 6). After their restoration, they were in the Salone, where Giuseppe Santalmassi made drawings of them.

In 1961, Luigi Rocchetti published a wide-ranging study of the mosaics, focused in particular on the stylistic rendering of the figures. The scholar notes that the rendering of the orbiculi decorating the clothing accurately reflects their use at the end of the third century CE. He also observes that the geometric embellishment on the shoulder of the hunter named Melitio is similar to that found on the clothing of three figures hunting rhinoceros in a mosaic at Piazza Armerina from the fourth century CE (Gentili 1959, pl. XXVII). The hunter’s hair, which is arranged neatly over his forehead, leaving his temples free, and long sideburns that merge with his beard suggest a date of the second half of the third century CE. More precisely, during the reign of Diocletian, as confirmed by a gold coin depicting that emperor and another portraying Galerius, both in the Museo Nazionale Romano (PanviniRosati 1961).

Turning to the epigraphy, the scholar notes that the handling of the ‘L’ of Melitio, with the lower stroke slanting downward, seems to have been especially common during the third and fourth centuries (Hübner 1885, p. LXI). Lastly, Rocchetti points out a difference between the rendering of the gladiators, who were portrayed with identifying details and in dynamic poses, and that of the hunters, who are more stylised and lack portrait-like individuality. The rendering of the panthers also seems to have been inspired by repetitive, stereotypical iconography, producing a monotone, still composition in contrast to the gladiator scenes in the other panels.

It was customary in the late-Antonine period to decorate homes with scenes of gladiator combat, which served to celebrate the virtues and prestige of the patron. Mosaics could present single subjects in individual panels within complicated decorative compositions or comprise a single narrative frieze in a more complex programme. Two emblemata mosaics from the Via Appia and now in the archaeological museum in Madrid belong to the first category. All that survives of one of them, found in the area of the church of Quo Vadis in 1720 and probably from a floor of a funerary building, are two polychrome mosaic images of quadrigas. The images of gladiators are known only through two paintings at Eton. The second, discovered in 1670 in the Orto del Carciofolo, outside Porta Capena, and also comprising just two polychrome figured emblemata, must have decorated the walls of the baths in a vast building.

An example of a continuous narrative with hunting scenes is found in a polychrome floor mosaic from a room in a domus on the Aventine Hill, dating to the fourth century CE (Blake 1940, p. 118, pl. 30).

The lack of information, beyond Luigi Canina’s article, about the context in which the Borghese mosaic was found allows us to date the work exclusively on the basis of stylistic analysis, which suggests dating between the third and fourth centuries CE.

Giulia Ciccarello

  • L. Canina, Scavi all’Agro Romano, in “Bullettino dell’Instituto di Corrispondenza archeologica”, Roma 1834, pp.193-196
  • A. Nibby, Analisi storico-topografico-antiquaria della carta de’ dintorni di Roma, Roma 1837, p.238
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p.7
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, pp. 911-912
  • C. Cavedoni, Explicatio Musivi in villa Burghesiana asservati, quo certamina Amphitheatri repraesentata extant, in “Bullettino dell’Instituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica”, 1846, pp. 189-193
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), p.9
  • E. Hübner, Exempla Scripturae epigraphicae Latinae, Berlino 1885, p. LXI
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p.13
  • G. Giusti, La Galerie Borghèse et la Ville Humbert Première à Rome, Roma 1904, p. 15
  • H. Bulle, Der schöne Menschim Altertum, Munchen 1912, pp.148-149, tav.79
  • W. Helbig, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom (3° edizione), II, Leipzig 1913, pp. 124-126
  • A. De Rinaldis, La R. Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1935, p.6
  • M.E. Blake, Mosaics of the Late Empire in Rome and Vicinity, in “Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome”, 1940, pp.113-115, fig. tav. 30, 1-5
  • L. Vlad Borrelli, s.v.Gladiatore, in “Enciclopedia dell’arte antica, classica e orientale”, III, pp. 943-944, fig.1183
  • L. Robert, VII- Monuments de gladiateurs dans l’Orient grec, in “Hellenica” V, 1948, pp.83-85
  • A.B. Freijeiro, Mosaicos romanos con escenas de circo y anfiteatro en el Museo Arqueologico Nacional, in “Archivo español de arqueologia”, 23, 1950, pp. 132-133, figg.3-7
  • A. Riegl, Spätrömische Kunstindustrie, Bingen am Rhein 1953, p.223
  • A. Rumpf, Malerei und Zeichnung, in “Handbuch der Archäologie” VI, München 1953, p. 290
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (3° Edizione), Roma 1954, p.6
  • G. V. Gentili, La Villa Erculia di Piazza Armerina. I mosaici figurati, Roma 1959
  • F. Panvini Rosati, I Tetrarchi, Roma 1961
  • L. Rocchetti, Il mosaico con scene d’arena al Museo Borghese, in “Rivista dell’Istituto Nazionale d’Archeologia e Storia dell’arte”, 1961, pp. 79-115, figg. 1-16, 25; in particolare fig. 6-8
  • I. Lavin, The Hunting Mosaics of Antioch and their Sources. A Study of Compositional
  • Principles in the Development of Early Medieval Style, in “Dumbarton Oaks Papers”, 17, 1963, p. 257, fig.120
  • J. Coste, Il luogo di ritrovamento del mosaico con gladiatori a Villa Borghese, in “Bullettino della Commissione Archeologica Comunale di Roma”, 80, 1965-67, pp. 127-149
  • W. Helbig, H. Speier, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom, (4°Edizione), a cura di H. Speier, II, Tübingen 1966, pp. 711-714, n. 1951
  • G. Becatti, La mosaïque gréco-romaine, II, in “Actes du IIe colloque international pour l’étudede la mosaïque antique”, Paris 1975, pp.173-190, 187, tav. LXV, 1; D, 2
  • K.M.D. Dunbabin, The mosaics of Roman North Africa, in “Studies in Iconography and Patronage”, Oxford 1978, pp. 213-214
  • P. Moreno, Museo e la Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p.10
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p.102, fig.93, pp.96-103, n.113
  • S. Mancioli, Giochi e spettacoli, in “Vita e costumi dei romani antichi”, 4, 1987, p.53, fig.27
  • P. Sabbatini Tumolesi,Epigrafia anfiteatrale dell’Occidente romano, I Roma, in “Vetera” 2, 1988, pp.96-103, n. 113, tavv.XXVI-XXVIII, 1
  • P. Sabbatini Tumolesi, Per una nuova lettura del c.d. Mosaico Borghese, in “Nikephoros”, 3, 1990, pp.195-203
  • J.M. Blázquez, G. López Monteagudo, M.L. Neira Jiménez, M.P. San Nicolás Pedraz, Pavimentos africanos con espectaculos de toros. Estudio comparativo a propósito del mosaico de Silin (Tripolitania), in “Antiquités africaines” 26, 1990, p.152, fig.18
  • R. Pratesi, Gli spettacoli anfiteatrali nelle rappresentazioni musive di Roma e dintorni, in “Archivio della Società romana di Storia Patria”, 113, 1990, pp.12-15
  • R. Lanciani, Storia degli scavi di Roma e notizie intorno le collezioni romane di antichità, V, Roma 1994, p. 29
  • D.E. Johnston, Some Possible North African influences in Romano-British mosaics, in “Ancient Mosaics”, 1994, p. 300, fig. 8
  • K. Werner, Mosaiken aus Rom. Polychrome Mosaikpavimente und Emblemata aus Rom und Umgebung, Würzburg 1994, pp. 324-331, K149
  • G. Ch. Picard, Tradition iconographique et représentation de l’actualité dans la mosaïque antique, in “Mosaïque gréco-romaine”, 1994, p.48
  • G.L. Gregori, La fine della gladiatura, in Il Colosseo, a cura di A. Gabucci, Milano 1999, pp. 92-93, 96
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p.61, n.24
  • D. Augenti, Spettacoli del Colosseo nelle cronache degli antichi, Roma 2001, pp.50-52, nn. 20-21
  • P. Moreno, A.Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, pp. 136-137, n. 102b
  • M. Valenti, Ager Tusculanus (IGM 150 III NE – II NO), in “Forma Italiae, 41”, Firenze 2003, pp. 105-107, figg. 22-23
  • M. Papini, Munera gladiatoria e venationes nel mondo delle immagini, in “Memorie dell’Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Classe di Scienze morali, storiche e filologiche”, Roma 2004, p. 20, fig. 7, p. 25, pp. 170-175, figg. 77-78
  • S. Fogagnolo, Mosaico con scene di munus gladiatorum dalla Galleria Borghese: riesame di un soggetto poco diffuso, “Atti del XI Colloquio dell’Associazione Italiana per lo Studio e la Conservazione del Mosaico” (Ancona, 16-19 febbraio 2005), Tivoli 2006, pp. 255-264, figg. 2-7
  • F. Castiello, I mosaici con scene gladiatorie nella Galleria Borghese: progetto di conservazione, protocollo di protezione e valorizzazione di un pavimento musivo di età romana reimpiegato in contesto museale, Tesi di laurea magistrale ICR, a. a. 2019-20, relatori D. Gennari, M. Botticelli, C. D. Fossanova, M. C. Laurenti, M. Minozzi, B. Provinciali, A. R. Rubino, C. Santangelo, M. Tommasini
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/01008369, P. Moreno 1975; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020