Hinton St Mary Mosaic

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The Hinton St Mary Mosaic
Mosaic2 - plw.jpg
Createdearly 4th century
Period/cultureRomano-British (Christian)
PlaceHinton St Mary villa, Dorset
Present locationG49/wall, British Museum, London

The Hinton St Mary Mosaic is a large, almost complete Roman mosaic discovered at Hinton St Mary, Dorset, England. It appears to feature a portrait bust of Jesus Christ as its central motif. The mosaic was chosen as Object 44 in the BBC Radio 4 programme A History of the World in 100 Objects, presented by British Museum director Neil MacGregor.

The mosaic covered two rooms, joined by a small decorated threshold. It is largely red, yellow and cream in colouring. On stylistic grounds it has been dated to the 4th century and is attributed to the mosaic workshop of Durnovaria (modern Dorchester). It is currently in storage at the British Museum, although the central medallion is on display there.

Christian panel[edit]

Detail of central roundel mosaic

The panel in the larger room is 17 by 15 feet (5.2 by 4.6 m). A central circle surrounds a portrait bust of a man in a white pallium standing before a Christian chi-rho symbol flanked by two pomegranates. He is generally identified as Christ, although the Emperor Constantine I has also been suggested.[1] There is much evidence to lead to the identification of this as Christ, not least the absence of any insignia or identifiers pointing to a particular emperor. On each side of this are four lunettes, each featuring conventional forest and hunting vignettes, mostly of a dog and a deer. In the corners are four quarter circles containing portrait busts, either representing the winds or the seasons.

Pagan panel[edit]

The panel in the smaller room is 16 12 by 8 feet (5.0 by 2.4 m). It consists of a central circle containing an image of characters from Roman mythology, Bellerophon killing the Chimera. This has been interpreted in a more Christian context as representing good defeating evil. Flanking this are two rectangular panels again featuring dogs hunting deer.


The mosaic was discovered on 12 September 1963 by the local blacksmith, Walter John White.[2] It was cleared by the Dorset County Museum[2] and lifted for preservation by the British Museum,[3] although none of the rest of the building has been examined. It is generally assumed to have been a villa. The layout of the mosaic room certainly resembles a Roman triclinium, or dining room. However, it might easily be a church or other Christian complex. There were no finds dated earlier than c. 270.


  1. ^ Moorhead, Sam; Stuttard, David (2012). The Romans who Shaped Britain. Thames & Hudson. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-500-25189-8.
  2. ^ a b Toynbee 1964, p. 7.
  3. ^ Painter 1967, pp. 21–22.

Further reading[edit]

  • Neal, D. S. (1981). Roman Mosaics in Britain.
  • Painter, Kenneth (Autumn 1967). "The Roman Site at Hinton St. Mary, Dorset". The British Museum Quarterly. British Museum. XXXII (1–2): 15–31. JSTOR 4422986. closed access
  • Smith, D. J. (1969). 'The Mosaic Pavements' in Rivet, A. L. F. The Roman Villa in Britain.
  • Toynbee, Jocelyn Mary Catherine (1964). "A New Roman Mosaic Pavement Found in Dorset". The Journal of Roman Studies. Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. LIV (1–2): 7–14. JSTOR 298645. closed access

External links[edit]