Archaeologists study Roman villa discovered under Rutland farmland | Inheritance

It was a family walk through fields during lockdown last year that led to an “oh wow moment”: the discovery of a Roman villa complex containing a rare mosaic depicting Homer’s Iliad, now believed to be one of the most remarkable and significant finds of its kind in Britain.

The mosaic depicts scenes from Homer's Iliad, about the epic battle between Achilles and the Trojan hero, Hector.
The mosaic depicts scenes from Homer’s Iliad, about the epic battle between Achilles and the Trojan hero, Hector. Photo: ULAS / PA Wire

The mosaic – the first example found in Britain showing scenes from the Greek epic poem, and only one of a handful from across Europe – was found under a farmer’s field in Rutland. It is now protected by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England.

Battle of the Trojan War was illustrated in only a handful of mosaics that have been found.
Battle of the Trojan War was illustrated in only a handful of mosaics that have been found. Photo: ULAS / PA Wire

The site was discovered by Jim Irvine, son of the landowner, Brian Naylor, during the closure in 2020 and has been investigated by archaeologists from the University of Leicester in collaboration with Historic England and Rutland County Council.

Their study revealed that the mosaic is located in an extensive villa complex that includes a wide range of other structures and buildings. It has probably been occupied by a wealthy person from the late Roman period, sometime between the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.

“A hike through the fields with the family turned out to be an incredible discovery,” Irvine said. “Finding some unusual pottery among the wheat aroused my interest and prompted some further investigative work.

“Later, when I looked at the satellite images, I saw a very clear cut mark, as if someone had drawn on my computer screen with a piece of chalk. This was really the ‘oh wow’ moment and the beginning of the story.”

Human remains have been found at the site.
Human remains have been found at the site. Photo: Steven Baker / Historic England Archive

The remains of the mosaic measure 11m times almost 7m and form the floor in what is believed to be a large dining or entertainment area. Although mosaics were used in a number of private and public buildings across the Roman Empire, and often contained famous figures from history and mythology, there are only a handful of depictions of Achilles’ battle with Hector at the end of the Trojan War.

The villa is surrounded by what appear to be walkway barns, circular structures and a possible bath house. Human remains were also found in the rubble covering the mosaic, which was probably buried after the building was no longer occupied.

John Thomas, deputy director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services and project manager at the excavations, called it “the most exciting Roman mosaic discovery in Britain in the last century”.

“It gives us fresh perspectives on people’s attitudes at the time, their connections to classical literature,” he said. “This [the villa’s owner] is a person with knowledge of the classics who had the money to order a piece of such a detail, and it is the very first depiction of these stories we have ever found in Britain. “

Duncan Wilson, CEO of Historic England, added that discoveries like this were “so important to help us gather our common history”.

An aerial photo of the archeological site, photographed by drone.
An aerial photo of the archeological site, photographed by drone. Photo: Steven Baker / Historic England Archive
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