The earliest forms of mosaics to appear in Greco-Roman art date back to the 5th century B.C., with examples found at the ancient cities of Corinth and Olynthus. Those created by the Greeks were primarily constructed from black and white pebbles. Not until the 3rd century B.C. did mosaics made using tesserae become standard, and the technique spread as distinct styles emerged in different regions.
By the 2nd century B.C., smaller and more precisely cut tesserae were used, sometimes as small as four millimeters or even less. Many of these designs used a wide spectrum of colors with grouting that matched the tesserae. This particular type of mosaic, known as opus vermiculatum, used sophisticated coloring and shading to emphasize an outline around a subject, which created an effect similar to painting. A Greek mosaic artist known as Sosus of Pergamon is considered one of the most talented craftsman and the only mosaic artist whose name was recorded in literature. His mosaics were emulated by other artists in the centuries that followed.
At the beginning of the 1st century B.C., mosaics were being used to decorate walls and vaults. The earliest forms combined colored glass, shells, pumice, and other materials. By the mid-1st century B.C., however, glass tesserae was the standard material. Floor mosaics were more common as they proved to be a durable — yet lavish — means to adorn a room.
Though the majority of mosaics were decorated with geometric patterns, those of historical significance featured mythological scenes or depictions of everyday life. Modern analysis of mosaics sheds light on the social and political implications of these decorative works, exploring how they were used to represent the patron or family structure.
In 2017, a rare Roman mosaic was found in Boxford, England, estimated to be 1,600 years old. It depicts the Greek mythological hero Bellerophon, and is thought to be extremely rare in that it features figures and inscriptions instead of the geometric designs that were more common.