The Rudston Charioteer Mosaic
The Charioteer Mosaic is one of the most striking and unusual mosaics to have been found so far in Roman Britain. Named after the central figure standing on a 'quadriga' or four-horse chariot, it paved a large room at a 4th century AD villa near Rudston, East Yorkshire. It is thought to have been laid between about 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 - The Venus Mosaic, The Aquatic Mosaic and The Swastika Mosaic, - are also on display at the Hull and East Riding Museum.
The central circular panel depicts a charioteer standing in a 'quadriga' or four-horse chariot 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 suggest he drives for the 'russata factio', the red club. Each of the horses has a plume on its head and their manes are bound with coloured ribbons.
In the corners are circular panels containing 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 is very skilfully crafted using specially-shaped tesserae, an unusual feature in Romano-British mosaics. he result is exceptionally beautiful.
Summer, in the roundel on the bottom right, is crowned with poppies and corn. This roundel is much cruder than Spring and is likely to have been made by a different mosaicist. Only part of the figure of Autumn survives, with a rake on her right shoulder. The personification of Winter is completely destroyed but may have been a hooded and cloaked figure as can been seen in other Seasons Mosaics elsewhere.
The rectangular side panels contain birds, resembling strange pheasants or perhaps peacocks, with large bodies and long, curving tails. Each panel also contains a pear-shaped fruit and a round one, perhaps an apple or pomegranate. The mosaic was designed to be view 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, and so closest to the viewer, is the most carefully executed of the four.