Rudston charioteer mosaic

Object info
The Rudston Charioteer Mosaic
Roman (325–350 AD)

Where to see it
Hull and East Riding Museum of Archaeology

Accession number

Purchase a print or image licence
The Rudston Charioteer Mosaic on Bridgeman Images

About this highlight

The Rudston Charioteer Mosaic is one of the most striking and unusual mosaics discovered so far in Roman Britain. It’s named after the central figure, who stands on a "quadriga" or four-horse chariot. The mosaic once paved a large room at a fourth-century-AD villa near Rudston, East Yorkshire. It's thought to have been laid between c. 325 and 350 AD.

The mosaic was discovered in 1971 and is one of five surviving from the site. Three other mosaics found in another building at the villa are also on display at the Hull and East Riding Museum. These are The Venus Mosaic, The Aquatic Mosaic and The Swastika Mosaic.

The Charioteer

The central circular panel depicts a charioteer facing straight out towards the viewer. He holds symbols of victory: a palm frond and a wreath. He wears a crash helmet and a leather corslet to protect him in the event of an accident. His red tunic suggests he drives for the "russata factio" – the red club. Each horse has a plume on its head and a mane bound with coloured ribbons.

Four Seasons

In the corners of the mosaic, circular panels contain female representations of the Four Seasons. Only Spring and Summer are well-preserved. Spring, at the top right of the design, has a swallow on her right shoulder. This roundel was skilfully crafted using specially-shaped tesserae, an unusual feature in Romano-British mosaics. The result is exceptionally beautiful.

Summer, in the roundel on the bottom right, wears a crown of poppies and corn. This roundel is much cruder than Spring, so it's likely that a different mosaicist made it. Only part of the figure of Autumn survives, with a rake on her right shoulder. 

The personification of Winter is completely destroyed. She may have been a hooded and cloaked figure, as seen in Seasons Mosaics elsewhere.

Bird Panels

The rectangular side panels contain birds resembling strange pheasants or peacocks with large bodies and long, curving tails. Each panel also shows a pear-shaped fruit and a round one – perhaps an apple or pomegranate? The mosaic was designed to be viewed from a couch positioned along the end wall of the room, on the border of squares rather than from the entrance. This would explain why the bird below the Charioteer (the one closest to the viewer) is the most carefully executed of the four.