Homer’s The Iliad – amazing Roman mosaic found in Rutland

Drone photography, aerial view of the mosaic pavement. (c) University of Leicester Archaeological Services

This amazing discovery was found during the 2020 lockdown by Jim Irvine, the son of the landowner. When the mosaic was initially partially uncovered, the archaeological team at Leicestershire County Council, who are the archaeological advisors to Rutland County Council were contacted for advice.

With the exceptional nature of the discovery, Historic England was able to secure funding for urgent archaeological investigations of the site by ULAS in August 2020.  

Further excavation involving staff and students from the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History took place in September 2021. This excavation exposed the entire mosaic which measures 11m by almost 7m and it depicts the story of the Greek hero Achillies in 3 separate scenes.  

With the extent of the site now known, it has been protected as a Scheduled Monument by the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) with the advice from Historic England.

The artwork forms the floor of what is thought to be a large dining or entertaining area. Mosaics were used in a variety of private and public buildings across the Roman Empire, and often featured famous figures from history and mythology. However, the Rutland mosaic is unique in the UK in that it features Achilles and his battle with Hector at the conclusion of the Trojan War and is one of only a handful of examples from across Europe.

The room is part of a large villa building occupied in the late Roman period, between the 3rd and 4th century AD. The villa is also surrounded by a range of other buildings and including what appear to be aisled barns, circular structures and a possible bath house, all within a series of boundary ditches. The complex is likely to have been occupied by a wealthy individual, with a knowledge of classical literature.

Fire damage and breaks in the mosaic suggest that the site was later re-used and re-purposed. Other evidence uncovered includes the discovery of human remains within the rubble covering the mosaic. These burials are thought to have been interred after the building was no longer occupied, and while their precise age is currently unknown, they are later than the mosaic but placed in a relationship to the villa building, suggesting a very late Roman or Early-Medieval date for the repurposing of this structure. Their discovery gives an insight into how the site may have been used during this relatively poorly understood early post-Roman period of history.

Evidence recovered from the site will be analysed by ULAS at their University of Leicester base, and by specialists from Historic England and across the UK, including David Neal, the foremost expert on mosaic research in the country.

You can now listen to a talk on The Rutland Roman Villa Project with Jennifer Browning – YouTube (organised by Leicestershire Fieldworkers) on YouTube. The talk took place online on Thursday 2nd December 2021.

Further information about the site can now be found on ULAS and Historic England websites.