Rare floor mosaic with scenes from Homer’s Iliad


Detail from the Roman mosaic with Achilles (left) and Hector fighting a chariot. (Image: University of Leicester Archaeological Services)

Archaeologists have discovered an extraordinary Roman mosaic under a field in Central England. Because it shows scenes from Homer’s Iliad and from it in particular the fight between the Greek hero Achilles and the Trojan Hector. In the whole of Europe only a handful of representations of this struggle are known, for Great Britain this mosaic is unique. It once adorned the floor of a Roman villa and testifies to the literary education of its owner.

The mosaic owes its discovery to the pandemic-induced lockdown in spring 2020: To pass the time, Jim Irvine and his family took long walks through the fields in County Rutland in east central England. “When I found some unusual ceramic shards in the middle of the wheat field, it piqued my interest and triggered further searches,” reports Irvine. At the same time, he contacted the archaeologists at the University of Leicester, who then systematically examined the site.

Mosaic 2
Uncovering the Roman mosaic (Image: Historic England)

Roman mosaic under the field

The geophysical investigations revealed that the remains of a Roman villa from the third to fourth centuries and its outbuildings were hidden under the field. In addition to the main house, the property comprised several barns, round buildings and a possible bathhouse. In autumn 2021, the first excavations uncovered a well-preserved floor mosaic in one of the villa’s larger salons or dining rooms. The colored mosaic stretches over an area of ​​eleven by seven meters and shows scenes of mythical heroes, just like in Vogue back then.

What is special, however, is that this mosaic depicts scenes from the Trojan War described by Homer in his Iliad. You can see the Greek hero Achilles and his Trojan opponent Hector at different stages of their famous battle. This makes the Rutland mosaic unique in all of England, as the archaeologists report. Because this motif has so far only been discovered in a handful of sites in Europe. “This is certainly the most exciting Roman discovery in Great Britain in the last century,” says excavation director John Thomas of the University of Leicester. “A representation of these stories has never been found here with us.”

Insight into the education and life of the Roman-British elite

The discovery of a mosaic with motifs from the Iliad in the middle of rural England suggests that the former owner of this Roman villa must have been an educated man. “This mosaic tells us a lot about the attitudes of the people at that time and their connection to classical literature, but also provides information about the person who commissioned this work of art,” explains Thomas. “It was obviously a question of someone with knowledge of the classics, who also had enough money to commission a work of such richness of detail.” – British elite in this late phase of the Roman Empire.

“The fact that we also find the larger context of the surrounding property here is of enormous importance,” says Thomas. “Because earlier excavations of Roman villas only ever produced parts of such properties. In contrast, this seems to be a very well-preserved example of a villa with all of its outbuildings. ”The first excavations also provided indications of what happened to this property after the Roman period. Traces of fire on the mosaic testify that there must have been a fire in the villa. The archaeologists also came across some graves from late antiquity or the early Middle Ages, which were located above the layer from Roman times. The team plans to continue excavating this site in 2022.

Source: University of Leicester / Historic England

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