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The Middle East as Seen Through Foreign Eyes

Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century

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Alexander the Great Mosaic

Alexander the Great Mosaic

This mosaic floor from Roman Pompeii shows how ancient artists might interpret contemporary circumstances by referring to events that were already ancient in their own time. It depicts a battle between Alexander the Great, shown as young, unhelmeted, and aggressive on a rearing charger, and the Achaemenid Persian king Darius III, shown as graying, alarmed, and looming over a horse’s hindquarters while his charioteer lashes his team in retreat. 

The mosaic was made in the first century BCE, when the Roman Empire was in the early stages of a long standoff with the Parthian Empire of Persia, a confrontation that played out in the same territories where Alexander had been triumphant 400 years earlier. Unlike the artist of the piece illustrated in image 2, the maker of this mosaic showed accurate historical knowledge in his portrayal of Persian attire and arms.

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