In June 2011, a floor mosaic dating from the late Antiquity, approximately 70 m2 in size, was discovered under the soil. The mosaic belongs to the residential quarters of a Roman rural estate. It is a polychrome floor mosaic made in the second half of the 4th century from stone, ceramic tesserae and multi-coloured glass paste. In the space delineated by a single and a double black stripe, there are images of domestic and wild animals in a landscape that is their habitat, such as a forest and pasture. The continuous stripe contains an ornamentation of four preserved animal figures moving among the trees or resting beneath them. Viewed from the entrance into the hall, in its depth in front of the opening of the apse, the stripe shows three domestic animals: a ram, a lamb and a sheep.
The mosaic features a floral landscape with sparse trees shown very schematically, and with schematised details such as budding branches, spring leaves and pronounced rooting. The central boughs are made of red ceramic tesserae that perhaps indicate spring and youth of the flora. Among the trees, one can discern tufts of grass, a grazing ram, a lamb lying beneath a tree, and a sheep, its head upright, standing beside a lamb. Very little colour was used in that pastoral scene, creating a marked effect of dimmed colours. This was achieved with the use of black and white tesserae, with some grey and ceramic red ones. The vividness of the image was achieved by placing tiles that follow the “depth” and form the natural contours of the animals. The ram is shown as more corpulent, with pronounced black and red lines on its back, belly and head, with bent horns and a long, rich and vivid tail. The sheep looks frailer – its gentler curves and wool are the result of shading using grey tesserae. The front part of the lamb resting between the trees is significantly damaged.
The image of a charging boar in the long eastern ribbon of the hall is particularly striking. The middle part of the image is damaged. The animal is shown with a simple technique of alternating black and white lines that indicate an apparent youth of the board. However, with regard to its strong snout and tusks, it is certainly an older, adult animal. Along the entire body, hairs made with short black lines indicate bristling. The boar is also moving in the forest indicated by the stylised leaf motifs; the tree trunks are only suggested.
The fauna mosaic can be classified as a bestiary – a variety of wild and domestic animals in their natural habitat. The dominant image of a boar can be connected with its particular mythological significance during the Antiquity. In the art of the Antiquity, the boar is depicted fairly often in mythological narrative episodes of the Labours of Hercules (the hunt for the Erymanthian Boar). In the ancient times, the boar is often shown as prey in one hunting episode, as proof of the courage of the hunters, who subdue it with the aid of dogs. Images of a slain boar being carried on a long pole are particularly expressive. The boar also appears as the embodiment of the wild, powerful and primal force of nature, and of impending danger. It is usually shown charging, with thick fur and as an adult animal. The boar also often appears in allegorical works as a companion and herald of winter.
Apart from the bestiary, the mosaic is characterised by floral motifs. As many as three impressive grape vines can be discerned. From the corner, acanthus leaves grow among them. The vines are bent, with curved and twisted trunks. From all parts of the trunks, dense clusters of different sizes are hanging, with thin shoots made of ceramic tesserae just like when dry red leaves in a vineyard prior to the harvest indicate a red variety. There are also birds in the vineyard (a black crow and quail or peahen). A figure of a bird, probably a crane, on long, thin legs, feasting on autumn fruits, is also of interest. A basket hangs from a vine above a mushroom stalk. The floral scene displays the splendour of ideas and execution. The distinct scene of a vineyard and life in it prior to the harvest as well as plenty of bird details saturate the composition, leaving it without empty spaces – horror vacui.
Floor mosaics from the Roman era show the tendency of placing floral motifs into corners to fill in empty spaces. The mosaic from the Vrsar quayside is the same because the corners of the aforementioned hall contain spread-out floral motifs. The architectural compositions and images on them were laid where the edges of the floral systems meet, completely overcome with them, that is, toward the central axes of the walls. The architecture obviously serves merely to relay the visual message contained on the mosaic surface within its contours.
The northern architectural scene is located in front of the apse and the ribbon with the sheep. The system is framed by two columns: the right one is merely implied, two-dimensionally and without perspective. The columns are spiral, depicted using red and black stripes on a light surface. Their capitals are schematically pronounced with shoots of leaves. They are bearing a dome-like roof which covers the airy interior like a canopy. If it is a symbolic canopy above the truss, then it represents the sacrosanct nature of the place, so it might be a fanum, sacellum or aedicula dedicated to some deity. Most likely it is a perspective of a small dome – konha – above the columns, as suggested by the truss geometry. The konha is made of ancient hollow imbrices, but without tegulae that would add another dimension to the truss. The imbrices narrow toward the middle acroterion, suggesting a dome-like architectural solution of the aedicula. Such an architectural concept translated into the mosaic medium is based on the actual architecture from Hadrian’s time. The architecture of the villa in Tivoli may have served as the model for its later depictions in mosaics. This aedicula is the architectural scenography for interior images. It shows the torso of a female figure, with the only visible elements being curly hair with the raised middle corniche, and the left shoulder covered by the folds of a tunic. The figure is holding a basket in her hands (fixed to the body, as it appears) with fruits, flowers or even leaves depicted using red ceramic tesserae. The aedicula is wrapped in vines, shoots and clusters on its left side and above the roof. Images in aediculae are not a rarity in ancient mosaics. They often show allegorical scenes of the seasons with all the necessary attributes, as is the case with this mosaic. The aedicula in front of the apse, insofar as it can be seen due to its severely damaged condition, could be an allegory of spring in the seasons cycle around the middle image to the right. With regard to the autumn mood on the left, the female figure could also be carrying picked autumn fruits. Along the right eastern wall of the hall, from the image of the charging boar toward the centre of the hall, there is another aedicula. The façade bordered by columns rests on an elongated shallow basament made up from black bordures on a white base. There are two columns on the edges of the basament, resting on plinths. The columns are cannelated and two-dimensional, with three cannelures. The column capitals have stylised protruding leaves, and the calotte is chromatically richer than the roof of the aedicula in front of the apse by omitting rounded white and red stripes. The image is severely damaged, and only parts of the composition on the left side of the aedicula have been preserved. The slender branch of the climbing plant that goes over the left column of the aedicula is probably a swamp plant, judging from its thin and tender hanging leaves.
There is a faithful representation of a duck, its red beak and feet, as if hanging or caught in the plant from its natural habitat. An elegant dolium is laid beneath the duck as if in anticipation of a catch. The plant is not growing from the ground, but rather from the inclined cubus of the bowl. The caught and hanged duck, just like the dolium or the larger vessel, tell their symbolic message. The winter months are the duck hunting season. The damage to the right side of the image, in whose hiatus there is room for a human figure or bust, prevents us from removing all doubt, therefore the assumption is based solely on the attributes of a hypothetical personification of winter.
The image of a vineyard prior to the harvest spreads further to the floor of the front part of the hall. The origin of the vines cannot be determined due to damage, but it can be assumed that a strong vine is growing from the southeastern corner of the hall, providing a passe-partout to the aedicula and its image in front of the portal of the hall. Apart from the floral ornaments (vine), parts of animal images can be seen in the hall. Only a part of the body of (probably) a sheep has been preserved – its hind part is made of mildly and neutrally coloured tesserae, like those used to depict the sheep in front of the apse of the hall. In front of the entrance, a fragment of the third aedicula has been preserved. Like the one in front of the apse, it has spiral columns, although only a part of the eastern column is visible. The image inside is almost completely ruined. Only indirectly, with regard to the deep preparation of concentric circles, a figure or, most likely a head in an emblem can be expected in its centre.
In the middle of the hall there is a basic composition of this floor mosaic that all other images are subordinate to. The middle image is largely ruined. In the north, from the direction of the apse, and in the south, from the direction of the entrance, it is bordered by a volume stripe with antitonic lily flowers. In the hierarchy of mosaic frames, this is a passe-partout of the highest order. It highlights the composition among others, its contents, the figures within the image, and the scene they constitute. The main image contains two human figures and probably only one fragment of an animal image. The topless woman or girl is lying down or floating. Beside her is a male warrior armed with a spear and shield. The woman’s clothing covers her body only partially and has many folds.
With regard to the mosaic motifs, technique, specific characteristics of the tesserae, muted colours, significant degree of schematicity, stylisation and “imperfection” of images, distinct features of the mosaic composition used since the times of the emperor Hadrian, the architectural context of the mosaic and historical circumstances in Vrsar, it can be dated to the second half of the 4th century or the first decade of the 5th century at the latest.