Archaeologists with Cyprus’s Department of Antiquities recently came across a rare, sweeping mosaic floor that depicts the ancient sport of chariot racing held in a Roman hippodrome. Dating to the fourth century CE, the 36-foot-long, 13-feet-wide work cements scenes from one public stadium in colorful stone, featuring four chariots each pulled by springing horses of various hues and commandeered by assertive drivers.
Fryni Hadjichristofi, who led the excavations, said the mosaic is not just the only one of its kind in Cyprus but also stands as just one of a few in the world that depict such a scene. Only seven other known ancient mosaic floors, she told the AP, portray a similar chariot race at the hippodrome. This one is particularly remarkable as it is well-preserved and boasts ornate details as well as complete scenes from the racing tracks: the charioteers actually portray the same man, with the four chariots representing different periods of the competition. Hadjichristofi’s team revealed its recent find at the Piadhia site in Akaki — about 18 miles from Cyprus’ capital, Nicosia — last week, but first came across it last year during ongoing excavations.
“We noticed that there was something under the road,” Hadjichristofi told CNN. “But we really didn’t suspect we had this important thing underneath.” She suspects that the floor was once part of a villa likely owned by a person of wealth during the island’s days of Roman rule.
According to Cyprus Mail, the mosaic also features inscriptions likely recording the names of the racer and of one of the horses. Other figures portrayed include a man on horseback and two bystanders, with one cradling a water vessel and the other wielding a whip.
The Department of Antiquities’ director Marina Ieronymidou noted at the press conference that excavations at the site will continue, with the area possibly opening to the public in the future.
It seems like prime season for mosaic-finding in Cyprus, as just last month, construction crews in the southern coastal city of Larnaca came across another enormous, 2nd century CE floor showing the Labors of Hercules.