Aldborough: Mount Helikon

Helikon Mosaic © David Gill

Visitors to the Roman town of Aldborough (Isurium Bragantium) in Yorkshire will be able to rest on the site of Mount Helikon. A Ministry sign draws attention to where a fragment of a mosaic showing the muses was found. The setting was an apsidal room, perhaps part of a triclinium or dining-room.

The mosaic was found in 1846, and the site was re-excavated between 1976 and 1980. An illustration of the mosaic appears in Henry Eckroyd Smith’s Reliquiae Isurianae  (1852) [online].

Site of the Helikon mosaic at Aldborough © David Gill

The word Helikon appears next to a female figure holding a scroll. The identification with the muses was made by R.P. Wright who suggested that the Greek inscription identifying Mount Helikon indicated the subject of the mosaic.

This particular muse was originally identified as Klio (and appears in the English Heritage guidebook). However a photograph taken around 1900 (and in the English Heritage archive) shows a theatrical mask suggesting an identification with Melpomene or Thalia (see Ling 2007). The photograph hints that there may have been a (fragmentary) name on the scroll (perhaps Thalia). The other eight muses have not survived, although parts of one of the others were found during the excavation.

The site of the Roman town was placed in State Guardianship in 1952 and is now cared by English Heritage. The mosaic is on display in the site museum


Johnson, S. and D.S. Neal, 2002. Re-Excavation And Study Of The Helicon Mosaic, Aldborough Roman Town. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 74: 113-34.
Ling, Roger 2007. Inscriptions on Romano-British Mosaics and Wall-Paintings. Britannia, 38: 63-91. doi:10.3815/000000007784016395. [JSTOR]


Author: David Gill

David Gill is Honorary Professor in the Centre for Heritage at the University of Kent, and Honorary Research Fellow in the School of History and an Academic Associate in SISJAC at UEA; Professor of Archaeological Heritage.

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