This Ancient Mosaic Depicts a Thrilling Chariot Race

Excavation and restoration work on a rare Roman piece in Cyprus provides a fresh look at historic customs.

After years of excavating, archaeologists in Cyprus have uncovered a rare, Roman-era floor mosaic almost 2,000 years old.

Scenes of chariot races in a Roman hippodrome, an open-air stadium for horse racing, span across the 85-foot long mosaic. The illustrations are accompanied by inscriptions in ancient Greek, indicating the names of the horses and their riders.

The mosaic is thought to have been part of a gallery in a 4th century AD mansion, and archaeologists say it’s likely one of only a handful from the ancient world. 

It lay undisturbed for centuries until a farmer in the Cyprus village of Akaki, about 14 miles from the capital Nicosia, stumbled upon a mosaic fragment from another part of the mansion in 1938, according to the Associated Press.

The rare floor mosaic was later discovered under a trail where a railway once passed. Digging at the site didn’t begin until 2013, and the full mosaic was only briefly seen in 2016 before authorities covered it up for protection.

RARE 2,000-YEAR-OLD CHARIOT RACING MOSAIC UNEARTHED Archaeologists uncovered an 85-foot-long mosaic from the Roman era depicting scenes of chariot races. The discovery is virtually intact, and it's one of only nine other mosaics found from the Roman era depicting the popular ancient racing sport.

Archaeologists have since recently removed the layer of protective dirt to begin restoration work, but they expect it will take several years until it can be visited by the public. (Read "7 Ancient Mysteries Archaeologists Will Solve This Century")

Still, the mosaic is the only one of its kind in Cyprus, and one of just nine other mosaics depicting hippodrome scenes found in the entire Roman world, Fryni Hadjichristofi, the chief archaeological officer in charge of the site, told the Associated Press.

"This is quite rare, as circus scenes—like we have in Akaki—are not often depicted on mosaics,” Hadjichristofi told AP. “We have most frequently isolated horses or charioteers taking part, that have taken part in the hippodrome, but hippodrome itself, the race in the hippodrome is quite rare.”

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Header Image: Ancient mosaic discovered in Cyprus. Photo from footage by Reuters. 

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