A History of Mosaics

The mosaic has been one of history’s most common forms of decorative art. Regardless of the culture or country mosaics and glass have been used to provide a unique and interesting way to decorate and adorn. Usually applied with mortar or some other adhesive, they can be seen on walls, floors and ceilings the world over.


Image by birsenmahmutoglu/ CC BY

Humble beginnings

The oldest mosaics on record are estimated to be from around 8 BC and derived from Mesopotamia (around Iraq). Originally comprised of pebbles and stones, they also included shells and ivory as part of the decorations.

The Greeks were able to improve on this by creating amazing designs. They would insert small stones which were outlined with black pebbles. Eventually, specially created stones known as ‘tesserae’ were used to provide more detail. This allowed them to create innovative designs which allowed images to be seen, much like paintings. Greek mosaics were also quite durable. For example, many survived the eruption of Vesuvius in the town of Pompeii in 79AD.

Mosaics 2

 Image by Wikimedia / CC BY

The Romans really embraced mosaics, using them mainly on the floor in private homes and public buildings throughout the Roman Empire. Due to the array of images created, they provided historians with a record of many things such as common activities, flowers, animals and agriculture.


Other empires also took mosaics and integrated them as part of their culture also. The Byzantine Empire incorporated small pieces of glass in their designs (‘smalti’). Byzantine mosaics were usually placed on a wall, and backed with reflective metallic elements such as silver or gold. Many mosaics were ungrouted, allowing the light to refract through the glass. This created an amazing look.

In contrast, Islamic mosaics took a different route. The Moors adopted Mosaics in the 8th Century and the designs were mainly geometric.

Mosaics 3

Image by The Joy of Shards / CC BY

This style, known as ‘zillij’ incorporated purpose-made ceramic shapes which were hand crafted to fit together perfectly.

Mosaics in Europe were used in many churches and cathedrals. However, the Middle Ages saw a decline in their use outside of religious buildings. This was probably due to financial issues as creating a mosaic was time consuming and expensive. The church was wealthy and therefore could afford elaborate designs during this time.

The benefits speak for themselves; mosaics are much more resilient and resistant to wear and tear. Many have survived hundreds of years against elements such as weather and people walking over them.

Mosaics 4

Image by Jos Zomerplaag / CC BY

Today, mosaics are still used in homes around the world. Mainly in areas such as kitchens, washrooms and bathrooms, they provide a stylish and eye-catching design which is both hygienic and decorative.
Tile Depot has a diverse range of mosaic tiles which are perfect for home decoration. Contact us for more information on mosaics.