The Gallus Mosaic

The Gallus Mosaic

The Gallus Mosaic 2160 1440 Brading Roman Villa

This weeks post discusses the origins and symbolism of the cockerel headed figure in one of our mosaic floors.  This mosaic is particularly special as its the only known one of its type currently discovered and has led many archaeologists, Roman historians and mosaic specialists to question its meaning. This post written by Neville Carr, retired BRV curator and President of the Friends of Brading Roman Villa gives us one possible theory for its creation.

‘The most iconic of all the mosaics at Brading Roman Villa must be that of the Cock-Headed man.  I have often wondered who might have come up with this extraordinary design.  He or she must surely have been well educated & quite possibly with a sense of humour.  Given that it is a 4th century mosaic narrows the field somewhat.  A likely candidate is an exiled, high-ranking bureaucrat by the name of Palladius who served as the Chief Marshall of the Court in Antioch.  He appears to have got into hot water in AD 361, with the newly elected emperor, Julian.  Julian succeeded his cousin, Constantius II,  & set up a tribunal to deal with outstanding proceedings against quite often falsely accused officials.  Palladius was one such official who made complaints against a previous Emperor, Gallus, some time previously.  Gallus in Latin also means ‘Cock’ as in ‘Cock-headed’.  Could Palladius, having been banished to Britain in AD 361, as the punishment for daring to complain that Gallus spent all his time in pleasure at the arena instead of governance as a Caesar, have parodied Gallus as our ‘Cock-headed’ man in the mosaic, hence no other such scene with its temple & fabulous animals being yet found in such a combination?  The fact that our mosaic is also known as the ‘Bacchus’ mosaic suggests that wine, song & pleasure are appropriate pursuits here’.

N.Carr