A mosaic depicting scenes from Homer’s Iliad was found in Rutland, East Midlands, UK, dating back to the late Roman period, between the 3rd and 4th century AD.
“A ramble through the fields with the family turned into an incredible discovery,” Jim Irvine, son of landowner Brian Naylor in Rutland, East Midlands, tells Historic England – officially the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England. He was walking through his family’s land during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, when something out of the ordinary caught his eye.
“Finding some unusual pottery amongst the wheat piqued my interest and prompted some further investigative work. Later, looking at the satellite imagery I spotted a very clear crop mark, as if someone had drawn on my computer screen with a piece of chalk! This really was the ‘oh wow’ moment, and the beginning of the story,” he goes on to say.
Indeed, what Irvine had discovered was something amazing: a mosaic depicting scenes from Homer’s Iliad, dating back to Roman times.
"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,” John Thomas, Deputy Director of ULAS and project manager on the excavations, says.
“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.”
Historic England says the discovery is “the first Roman mosaic of its kind in the UK,” and adds that “Today [November 25, 2021], a rare Roman mosaic and surrounding villa complex have been protected as a scheduled monument by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England.”
A team from University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), working in partnership with Historic England and in liaison with Rutland County Council led the path to the decision.
Historic England notes that given the ‘exceptional’ nature of the discovery, it was able to “secure funding for urgent archaeological investigations of the site by ULAS in August 2020.”
According to the Daily Mail, while the initial discovery was made last year, “experts from the University of Leicester were only able to fully examine the site in September.”
The University of Leicester says “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 mosaic masterpiece measures 11 metres by almost 7 metres and depicts part of the story of the Greek hero Achilles.
“This archaeological discovery has filled most of my spare time over the last year. Between my normal job and this, it’s kept me very busy, and has been a fascinating journey,” Irvine says.
“The last year has been a total thrill to have been involved with, and to work with the archaeologists and students at the site, and I can only imagine what will be unearthed next!”
Experts believe that the mosaic artwork “forms the floor of … a large dining or entertaining area.”
Thomas says "The fact that we have the wider context of the surrounding complex is also hugely significant, because previous excavations on Roman villas have only been able to capture partial pictures of settlements like these, but this appears to be a very well-preserved example of a villa in its entirety."
The Independent reports that “Given how unusual the mosaic is, the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) has – on the advice of Historic England – designated the artwork and the surrounding villa complex as an archaeological site of national significance.”