The Great Pavement of Woodchester - The Orpheus Mosaic Pavement
The Roman Great Pavement is believed to have been laid in around 325 A.D. It is by far the most elaborate of the several hundred Roman pavements of decorative mosaic known in Britain and the largest in Europe, north of the Alps.
The first recorded reference to this mosaic is in Gough’s ‘Additions to Camden’s Britannia’ published in 1695. This followed the visit to the site by Edward Lluyd, the Celtic scholar, two years earlier. In 1797 Samuel Lysons referred to the intricate mosaic as “The Great Pavement” and this name has been used in all published material since.
“For size and richness of ornaments this Pavement is, I believe, equaled by few of those discovered in other provinces of the Roman Empire and is undoubtedly superior to any of the same kind found hitherto in this country”
Samuel Lysons ‘An Account of Roman Antiquities Discovered at Woodchester’ 1797.
The Story of Orpheus
The Great Pavement depicts the story of Orpheus, the quasi-divine musician and singer of Greek mythology whose music had the power to move trees and subdue wild creatures.
Orpheus is seated in the open side of the central octagon on the North/South axis of the floor. He wears a Phrygian cap, a striped tunic and breeches and a flowing cloak which billows from his shoulders. Immediately outside the octagon is a circle of birds including pheasants, peacocks and doves. Outside the bird zone is a band of laurel leaves encircled by a guilloche. The most dramatic feature of the mosaic is the animal circle. This contains eleven beasts stalking around the floor: a Lion, Lioness, Wild Boar, Horse, Elephant, Tiger, Gryphon, Bear, Leopard, Stag and Tigress, then follows the mask of Neptune with lobster claws sprouting from his head. On either side of him are the beautiful acanthus scrolls said to symbolize the waves of the sea. The circles are enclosed within a square border and four pairs of water nymphs are placed in the spandrels. At each corner of this central square is a stone pillar base. Outside the central square are twenty four geometric panels. Almost all the standard patterns used by the Roman mosaicists are to be found in this floor.
The Great Pavement of Woodchester is one of some fifty Roman mosaics depicting Orpheus charming wild creatures. These have been found in all parts of the Roman Empire and range in date from the second century to the fifth.