Room of the Little Hunt
Living room with scenes of hunting and offering to Diana
The Room of the Little Hunt is a room in the Villa Romana del Casale. It is situated to the north of the Peristyle, between the Room of the Fishing Cupids, Room of the Seasons and the Guest room with geometric mosaic.
The original purpose of the room is not clear. The outstanding mosaics found here make it a very important room in the villa, but for what? A possible use could be as a dining-room, triclinium, for the guests staying in the neighbouring guest rooms.
The mosaic has a very complicated composition, illustrated by the table on the right. The composition consists of four rows, each split into two, three or five parts. In all there are twelve separate motifs in the mosaic, which have been given number on the illustration for ease of reference.
The upper-left part of the mosaic  shows a man in a yellow tunic who has two slender, rather fierce looking dogs on a lead. One dog is black, the other reddish brown. The mans head is missing due to damage to the mosaic.
The upper-right part  depicts another man, clad in a green tunic and a red cloak and carrying a long staff. He is instigating two dogs to chase an escaping fox. The two dogs has the same appearance as on . There are a some minor damages to this part of the mosaic.
In the second row to the left  two men, one in a yellow, the other in a green tunic, carry a wild boar tied to a bar with a net. Each man has a staff in one hand. An agitated dog is running below the wild boar, showing it great interest.
<% image id=6055 align=right maxsize=200 caption="Offering to Diana" %>
At the centre of the second row  three men is presenting an offering to Diana, the goddess for hunting. A statuette of the deity is standing on a tall base between two trees. In front of the statuette is an altar with a fire burning on top of it. A man in a red tunic is standing to the left of the altar, holding a plate with the offerings, which he is throwing piece by piece in the fire burning on the altar. Behind the man in red a man in yellow tunic arrives while holding a horse at the bridle. Opposite the altar a man in green tunic is assisting at the offering. He too is holding his horse at the bridle. To the extreme right a boy or a slave is holding back a reddish-brown dog that appears to oppose him.
To the right of the offering  is a scene with a solitary man in yellow tunic holding a dead rabbit in his left hand and a long staff in his right.
The second row of the mosaic is practically intact.
The third row consist of five separate parts, with two minor motifs on each side of the central theme. On the left the upper part  two men dressed in green and yellow are hunting for birds. They carry a bundle of lime sticks on a strap over their shoulder. The other shoulder is covered by a white scarf that is tied on the back. As one man has a bird on his shoulder and the other man a bird in his hand, so they might be hunting for birds with trained falcons. At their belts they carry a cylindrical container.
Below the bird hunters  there is a small scene with a black dog chasing what appears to be a fox trying to hide in its hole. Unfortunately the reading of the mosaic is hindered by some missing parts around the fox.
In the centre of the third row is the single most important part of the mosaic . In this scene five persons are dining under a red canopy. They are sitting or lying on a kind of elongated cushion or mattress behind a provisional table supported by stones. A man in red tunic is sitting in the middle, either cutting or blessing a huge, roasted bird that is lying on the table. What exactly he is doing is not clear as the part of the mosaic with his right arm has been destroyed. To his right a man in green tunic is holding a glass of wine in his hand. On the extreme left a man in yellow tunic is only partly visible due to damages to the mosaic (his legs, one arm and part of the torso and head remain). A man in yellow tunic is sitting/lying to the right of the man in the centre (his right hand missing). At the right extremity a man in green tunic is partly visible (his head and shoulders are missing), who is feeding bits to a brown dog. A two-sided axe is lying on the ground to the left of the table.
In front of the table a number of slaves are serving the persons at the table. One slave is bringing a glass of wine to the table while another is fetching some food in a big basket. In the centre is another basket full of amphorae. To the right a large ceramic vase is visible but the area has large lacunae.
In the background two horses are tied to the trees and the nets used for the hunt are hung over a branch of a tree. The red canopy is attached to the trees with ropes.
To the right of the diner motif there are two minor hunting scenes. The upper scene  shows a man in a yellow tunic hiding in a bush and sending two dogs, one black, another brown, after a fleeing rabbit. One of the dogs are partially obscured by a lacuna in the mosaic.
Below this  is a scene with a man on horseback, wearing a red tunic, hunting for rabbit with a bi-dental lance. The rabbit is hiding in the grass under a small tree.
The fourth and last row on the composition holds two splendid scenes. To the left  two men on horseback are chasing three deer into a large net that has been firmly attached to the ground with pegs. One deer has already fallen to the ground with its antlers entangled in the net. The man in front is dressed in a green, decorated tunic, the man in the back is dressed in yellow. The latter is partly obscured by a lacuna in the mosaic.
<% image id=6052 maxsize=200 align=right caption="The wild boar hunt" %>
In the lower right of the composition  there is a very dramatic scene. A man in yellow tunic is lying in distress on the ground under two trees, wounded at the thigh by a wild boar that is about to attack him again. His broken spear is on the ground beside him. He is defenceless. Just behind him a man in a red tunic is about to kill the wild boar with a spear, the point of the spear has just penetrated the breast of the boar that is bleeding heavily. Two dogs are also attacking the boar, one from the front and one from the back. Behind some rocks or bushes in the background there are two other persons. In the middle a man in a brown tunic is about to throw a rock(?) over the boar while another man in a green tunic to the right is looking rather perplexed and definitely inactive. It is a very vivid and dramatic depiction of a kill that went wrong.
We do not know who the persons are, or even if they are real persons or not. Nonetheless, a few things can be deduced from the mosaic.
First of all, there are several persons that appear more than once on the mosaic, most notably the three men that are seen hunting on horseback, i.e., a man in a red tunic, a man in a green tunic and a man in a yellow tunic. Several other persons seem to be slaves or other less important individuals, such as those handling the dogs, carrying the game and hunting small game by foot.
<% image id=6050 maxsize=200 align=left caption="Hunting for rabbit with a spear" %>
Of the recurrent persons, the man in red is without doubt the central person. He appears only in four of the twelve motifs, but always at the centre of attention. In the offering scene  he is performing the offer while the others are watching and at the dinner  he is seated in the middle blessing or slicing the food. This would be befitting for a pater familias, a head of family, or the highest ranking man in a group. He is only seen actively hunting in one scene  where he hunts for rabbit, but in the last scene he is the one who is saving the life of a companion. He is the only man depicted wearing a red tunic. No other person is depicted is such a central and indisputably positive way, so there is no doubt that the man in red is the highest ranking person depicted on the mosaic.
<% image id=6053 maxsize=200 align=right caption="Hunting for deer with net" %>
The second most important person is probably a man in a green tunic. There are more than one such person, as they appear in the motifs , , , , [8 twice],  and , but the person present in motifs ,  and  is distinct in that he is dressed in a more decorated tunic, as is evident comparing for example motifs ,  and . In the offering scene  he is clearly, based on position in the composition and on his posture, second to only to the man in red. At the dinner  he is seated at the right hand side of the man in red and he has a more active posture that the rest of the group. This person is also the leading figure in the hunt for deer with net . All this together places him as number two in the hierarchy.
Number three in the hierarchy would be the man in yellow. Also in this case there are more than one individual in the mosaic dressed in yellow. They appear in motifs , , , , , [8 twice], ,  and , but again a few of the figures stand out, most notably in the dinner scene  and in the hunt for wild boar , and to a lesser extent in . A man in a yellow tunic appears in the offering scene , but he is wearing a rather plain tunic and has a slightly inferior posture, so that individual is more likely a slave attending to the horse of his master while the latter pays homage to the goddess. In the dinner scene  the man in yellow is placed at the inferior left hand side of the host, and, probably more important, in the wild boar scene  the man in yellow is not exactly in a situation suitable for a very high ranking person. Had he been a peer of the man in red such a depiction would never have been made.
Now, the persons on the mosaics might not correspond to real life persons, but is is tempting to see the owner of the villa in the man in red, and maybe his son in the man in green. Whether they would be named Maximianus Herculius and Maxentius; C. Ceionius Rufius Volusiano and Ceionius Rufius Albinus or something completely different is another matter. Such a costly mosaic would have served a purpose, and in Roman society that purpose would probably be to show off rank, status and wealth. The mosaic alone does that well, but it would do so even more if the guests knew it depicted the richness of the surrounding countryside and the plentiful game, and that it showed the host not only as pious man, a good host and an able hunter but also as a man of great personal courage when a friend is in need.
Access to the Mosaic
The visitors platforms give access to three sides of the room, so there are good possibilities to admire the mosaic. Unfortunately, the only view point that is not accessible is the one from which the mosaic was intended to been seen, i.e., from the entrance to the room.
Prints of the photographs are available — read more here.
The pictures above are taken in the following locations:
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