The Daily Telegraph
Iliad mosaic ‘most important find’ in century
Experts suggest artwork depicting scenes from epic could have belonged to a ‘Roman Stephen Fry’
‘It’s definitely a way to show off at dinner parties, or like us doing up our homes when we can’
A ROMAN mosaic unearthed in a farmer’s field has been hailed as one of the most exciting discoveries in Britain in the past century.
The find, located within a 1,700-yearold villa complex in Rutland, is the first mosaic found in the UK which depicts scenes from Homer’s Iliad.
Experts from Historic England have said that the owner of the villa was likely to be of high-status figure with broad intellectual interests like “Stephen Fry”, and the 92sq yd mosaic would have been a way to show off the owner’s erudition to dinner guests.
The “rare and remarkable” mosaic has since been protected by the Government on the advice of Historic England. Nick Carter, inspector of ancient monuments for the charity, said: “It is clearly the home of someone who has an interest in classical literature, who has his own personal interests and tastes and wants to share them.
“It’s someone with a lot of interests. A Roman Stephen Fry maybe.”
Roman high society held Greek philosophy, literature and language in high regard, and the placement of the mosaic depicting Homer’s epic in the 3rd or 4th century villa complex is significant, according to Mr Carter.
“It was placed on the floor of the room used for dining and entertaining”, he said. “It’s definitely a way to show off at dinner parties, or like us doing up our homes when we can.
“It shows off his status – he was highstatus, wealthy, intellectual. This was an educated person.”
Prof Ken Dark, an author and Roman expert, believes the ostentatious fourpanel mosaic indicates “an awareness of Greek literature” and was likely to be “intended to impress guests with how highly educated the owner was”.
He added: “It is displaying erudition, like quoting one of the classics of English literature at a dinner party.”
The reference to a Greek epic by the ancient equivalent of rural British gentry, based on what would probably have been an agricultural centre, also supports the view that Roman and early medieval Britain was not a “cultural backwater”.
The find was made in the field of Rutland landowner Brian Naylor by his son, Jim Irvine, who contacted heritage authorities in 2020 after finding shards of pottery on a family walk. Excavations by a University of Leicester team made significant finds, including two mysterious sets of human remains probably placed there after the Roman period.
While further work is needed to properly examine and date the site, the uniqueness of the literary mosaic has led dig leader John Thomas, of Leicester University’s archaeological services, to declare it “the most exciting Roman mosaic discovery in the UK in the last century”.
Duncan Wilson, 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. Discoveries like this are so important in helping us piece together our shared history. By protecting this site, we are able to continue learning from it and look forward to what future excavations may teach us about the people who lived there more than 1,500 years ago.”
Visitors will not be able to visit the site, however, as the mosaic, which is crafted from pieces of ceramic and coloured stone, will remain buried for the foreseeable future to protect the artwork from the elements pending further excavation.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport yesterday officially marked the villa as a scheduled monument on the advice of Historic England, and the charity is now working with Rutland county council on how best to display other finds unearthed at the site.
While it remains closed to the public indefinitely, the moment of the mosaic’s discovery will be broadcast next year on the BBC’S Digging for Britain programme, hosted by Prof Alice Roberts.