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Roman villa and rare mosaic found in Central England

A Roman villa complex containing an incredibly rare mosaic has been found beneath a farmer’s field in Rutland, England’s smallest county. Experts describe the discovery of the Roman mosaic as the most exciting in the UK in the last century.

Rutland_mosaic_and_surrounding_villa_discovery_c_Historic_England_Archive.jpgRoman mosaic discovery © Historic England Archive

Archaeology and history fans are celebrating the discovery of one of the most remarkable and significant Roman mosaics ever found in Britain. The mosaic is the first example in the UK displaying scenes from Homer’s The Iliad, and one of only a handful from across Europe.

Investigations by University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), working in partnership with Historic England, recorded the mosaic’s remains and revealed that it lies within an elaborate villa complex, encompassing a host of other structures and buildings. The complex is likely to have been occupied by a wealthy individual from the late Roman period.

Rutland_mosaic_and_surrounding_villa_discovery_c_Historic_England_Archive_3.jpgArchaeologists working on the site © Historic England Archive

The initial discovery of the mosaic was made during the 2020 lockdown by the son of the landowner, who contacted the archaeological team at Leicestershire County Council. Given the exceptional nature of the discovery, Historic England was able to secure funding for urgent archaeological investigations. The remains of the mosaic measure 36 ft (11 metres) by almost 23 ft (7 metres) and depict part of the story of the Greek hero Achilles.

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.

Rutland_mosaic_and_surrounding_villa_discovery_c_Historic_England_Archive_2.jpgPart of the rare mosaic © Historic England Archive

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 features revealed by a geophysical survey and archaeological evaluation, 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.

The site has been thoroughly examined and recorded and, as a protected scheduled monument, has now been backfilled to preserve it for future generations. Historic England is planning further excavations on the site in 2022 and discussions are on-going for an off-site display and interpretation of the villa complex and its finds.

The_bottom_panel_of_the_mosaic_c_University_of_Leicester_Archaeological_Services_-_Copy.jpgA panel from the mosaic © University of Leicester Archaeological Services

John Thomas, Deputy Director of ULAS and project manager on the excavations, said: “This is certainly the most exciting Roman mosaic discovery in the UK in the last century. It gives us fresh perspectives on the attitudes of people at the time, their links to classical literature, and it also tells us an enormous amount about the individual who commissioned this piece. This is someone with a knowledge of the classics, who had the money to commission a piece of such detail, and it’s the very first depiction of these stories that we’ve ever found in Britain.”

Janet Redler, Chief Executive of Janet Redler Travel & Tourism, added: “There is a wealth of Roman remains in Britain and it is fantastic when important new discoveries such as this are made, as they add to our knowledge and understanding of the period. A Roman tour of Britain is the perfect opportunity to see first-hand some of the incredible buildings and artefacts that the Romans left behind.”

If you or your group would like to enjoy a tailor-made tour of Roman Britain, taking in the most exciting Roman sites and treasures, please do contact our friendly team today. You can find out more about the historic county of Rutland amongst our suggestions of something different to discover in England.

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