Members of The East Leake & District Local History Society were given an insight into one of the most exciting archaeological findings of recent times, here in the East Midlands, when Peter Liddle, former County Archaeologist for Leicestershire, gave an interesting talk on The Rutland Roman Villa Project, which earlier this year was featured on the TV programme Digging For Britain.
The remains of the villa containing a rare mosaic that depicts scenes from Homer’s Iliad was discovered beneath a farmer’s field by the farmer’s son who spotted “unusual pottery” on a walk during the 2020 lockdown. He dug a shallow trench, realized he had found something significant and contacted the archaeological team at Leicestershire County Council.
Historic England funded urgent excavation work at the site and subsequent investigations by archaeologists from the University of Leicester uncovered a Roman mosaic which has been described as one of the most remarkable and significant ever found in Britain.
The mosaic, which forms the floor of what was thought to be a dining or entertaining area of the villa, measures 11m x 7m (36ft x 23ft). The chief executive of Historic England said: “To have uncovered such a rare mosaic of this size, as well as a surrounding villa, is remarkable”. Mosaics were regularly used in private and public buildings across the Roman Empire, and often featured famous figures from mythology. However, the Rutland mosaic is thought to be unique in the UK as it features Achilles and his battle with Hector at the conclusion of the Trojan War, the only other mosaic depicting a similar scene having been found in Sicily.
Further investigations revealed the large villa is surrounded by barns, circular structures and possibly a bath house. The complex is thought to have been occupied from the late Roman period (between the 3rd and 4th Century AD) by a wealthy individual with knowledge of classical literature.
The mosaic and surrounding villa complex have now been protected as a Scheduled Monument on the advice of Historic England who said further excavations may be undertaken on the site in the future. As the site is on private land it is not accessible to the public but discussions are ongoing with Rutland County Council to set up an off-site display of the villa complex and its finds, which include animal and human remains.
The next meeting of the East Leake & District Local History Society will be at St. Mary’s Church at 7.30pm on Wednesday 16th November when the talk will be “The Top Ten Scandals of Sherwood Forest”. Visitors welcome, so why not come along.