Roman villa and mosaic depicting Homer’s The Iliad discovered in Rutland

The stunning mosaic portrays the concluding scene of the Trojan War, in which Greek hero Achilles battles Hector, the leader of the Trojans.

Drone footage of the excavation of the mosaic. Video: © Historic England Archive.

A ‘remarkable’ Roman mosaic and surrounding villa complex have been unearthed beneath a farmer’s field in Rutland.

The mosaic, which depicts scenes from Homer’s The Iliad, was discovered during the summer of 2020 by the landowner’s son, who then contacted Leicestershire County Council’s archaeological team.

Excavation work was carried out by the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), with assistance from the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, and in partnership with Historic England and Rutland County Council.

Measuring 11m by almost 7m, the stunning mosaic depicts the concluding scene of the Trojan War, in which Greek hero Achilles battles Hector, the leader of the Trojans.

The top panel of the mosaic. This depicts the body of Hector being returned to his father King Priam (right) in exchange for his weight in gold. Image: © University of Leicester Archaeological Services.

It is the first example of a mosaic depicting scenes from Homer’s The Iliad in the UK, and just one of several from across Europe.

It is thought the mosaic once formed the floor of a large dining or entertaining area within the villa, which was occupied during the late Roman period (between the third and fourth centuries AD). However, evidence of fire damage and breakage in the mosaic suggests the site was later re-used.

The middle panel of the mosaic. The defeated Hector is dragged by Achilles in his chariot. Image: © University of Leicester Archaeological Services.
The bottom panel of the mosaic. It features Achilles (left) and Hector duelling on chariots. Image: © University of Leicester Archaeological Services.

Other features situated within a series of boundary ditches surrounding the villa were identified by geophysical survey, including aisled barns, a possible bath house, and circular structures.

Human skeletal remains, likely dating to the late Roman or early medieval period – and therefore after the building was no longer occupied – were also found within the rubble covering the mosaic.

Analysis of the various discoveries is currently being carried out, and further excavation of the site is planned for 2022.

To conserve it for the future, the site has been backfilled and, as of today, has been protected as a Scheduled Monument by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

John Thomas, Deputy Director of ULAS and excavation project manager, suggests the villa was occupied by ‘someone with a knowledge of the classics, who had the money to commission a piece of such detail.’

He adds: ‘This is certainly the most exciting Roman mosaic discovery in the UK in the last century.’

You can find out more in an upcoming issue of Current Archaeology magazine.