Space History Meets Roman History

May 12, 2013

Presented to Richard F. Gordon, the command module pilot of Apollo 12, this exquisite mosaic shows two pankratiast wrestlers; the wrestler to the left is in what seems to be a control technique by holding and entwining the legs of his opponent who is portrayed in the turtle position.  The full scene is represented against a white background and surrounded by a square red then black border.  Small tesserae are used to create the opponents who are colored in superb earth tones, with shades of browns, yellows, blacks and reds.


The Pankratiast was one of the hardest athletic games, or sports, in which all the powers of the fighter were called into action. It consisted of a fierce fight involving boxing and wrestling. "Pankratiasts...must employ backward falls which are not safe for the wrestler and grips in which victory must be obtained by falling...They must have skill in various methods of strangling; they also wrestle with an opponent's ankle and twist his arm, besides hitting and jumping on him, for all these practices belong to the pankration, only biting and gouging prohibited. The Spartans allow even these practices, but the Eleans and the laws of the games exclude them."  Philostratus, On Gymnastics

Condition:  Small areas of tesserae replaced, these identified in the conservation report produced when the piece was professionally cleaned.   This report shall be provided with the mosaic and is available for review upon request. 

Dimensions:  length 23.5 inches (59.7 centimeters) height 22 inches (56 centimeters)

Provenance:   After the Apollo 12 flight, Mission commander Charles "Pete" Conrad, Lunar Module Pilot Alan L. Bean and Command Module Pilot Richard F. Gordon, together with their wives were invited to spend the night at The White House by President and Mrs. Nixon. In the evening, after dinner, The President asked the party to visit the leadership of 21 countries around the world, as his direct personal representatives, to relate the story of their moon landing mission. To facilitate this assignment they used Air Force One aircraft with two complete flight crews and a number of State Department coordinators. As representatives of The President of the United States they were treated with much celebration and respect everywhere they went.

In Morocco, King Hussan II presented each astronaut with a fine mosaic panel, Richard Gordon received the piece offered here, titled:  "The Wrestlers".