A mosaic of the Kasta Tomb in Amphipolis depicting the abduction of Persephone by Pluto, 4th century BC
The oldest known mosaics come from the 8th BC. They were made of pebbles. Greek manufacturer developed this technique further in the 5th BC. Pebbles are homogeneous and vary in the color range between black and white only. Manufacturers gathered the pebbles and used them for floors and footpaths.
Greek manufacturers were able to create complex and first-class designs using this simple mosaic technique. They inserted stones on the scale of 1 to 2 cm and filled the outlines with small black pebbles.
In the 4th BC the color range was extended by green and red pebbles. In the ancient world mosaics were basically used for floors and footpaths. Life time was an important reason for using mosaics. Especially stones made of marble and chalk came out as particularly suitable for mosaics.
Marble can be broken in very small pieces and provides a natural range of colors. So artists were not very much restricted in their possibilities to create mosaics. A full range of nice colors could be used to design premium arts. Although the origin of mosaics is accredited to the Greeks, mosaics were also used in Assyrian, Egypt, Persia and other ancient civilization. Roman mosaics enjoyed a good reputation.
The Romans sophisticated mosaics for the use onto walls and floors in halls, villas and public houses. After the roman era mosaics were integrated in Christian, Byzantine, Persian and Indian architecture. Today's centers of handmade mosaics are Lebanon and Syria. In countries like Italy and Greece handmade mosaics are very expensive. Despite a big tradition in making mosaics the craftsmanship here seems to be lost.
As an art form, mosaic truly thrived during the Greco-Roman period in history: from Alexander the Great until the fall of Rome. It was the Greek, in the four centuries BC, who raised the pebble mosaic technique to an art form, with precise geometric patterns and detailed scenes of people and animals. By 200 BC, specially manufactured pieces ("tesserae") were being used to give extra detail and range of color to the work. Using small tesserae, sometimes only a few millimetres in size, meant that mosaics could imitate paintings. Many of the mosaics preserved at, for example, Pompeii were the work of Greek artists. This mosaic style was embraced by the Romans, who by 200 AD were beginning to create mosaics on walls as well, with examples such as "The Battle of Issus", depicting the famous battle of Alexander the Great and Darius.
Mosaics history is rich and diverse. Available archeological evidence indicates the use of mosaics in the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia some four thousand years ago (in Chaldean and Sumerian civilizations). There, pebbles were used as floor coverings and as embellishments on walls. Remnants of mosaic pavements in the ancient gardens of China and in Meso-American ruins have also been discovered.
Mosaic glass first appeared in Egypt about 1400 B.C. and has been produced intermittently for 3,500 years up to the present day. The technique gained popularity in different areas of glass production, usually for short periods. It is seen in the Hellenistic era (332–165 B.C.) after ancient Egypt, then in Rome and Alexandria in the fourth century A.D.