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Ancient Roman Mosaics Pave the Villa Romana del Casale

Sicily, Italy

This villa in Sicily is paved extravagantly with fine mosaics that give an intimate peek into the lives of Rome’s rich and powerful as well as a look at what might be on the menu tonight.

Complete Video Script

[99] As Rome fell, the wealthy still had their countryside estates — this one's 500 miles south of the capital, in Sicily — where they continued to live in the lap of luxury.

[100, Villa Romana del Casale, fourth century AD, Sicily] This rich merchant carpeted his palace with fine mosaics. Each room had a theme, like this dining room with its scenes of Romans hunting. This room features cupids fishing. Far from the sea, only the very wealthy could afford seafood. Serving fish for dinner was showing off. This scene is as much an extravagant menu as a piece of art.

[101] Any top-end villa came with baths and a gym. These athletes are demonstrating Olympic-style events: discus throwing, racing, and some kind of ball game. For the winner? A victory palm and a crown of roses. And I thought bikinis were an invention of the 1950s.

[102] These mosaics give us a colorful peek at the lifestyle of Rome's elite. The expressive and realistic faces are a vivid reminder that it took a lot of people — real people — to run the empire.