The Guardian

Homer epic found by ramblers

- Nadia Khomami Arts and culture correspond­ent

It was a family ramble through fields during lockdown last year that led to the discovery of a Roman villa complex containing a rare mosaic of Homer’s The Iliad, now thought to be one of the most remarkable and significan­t finds of its kind in Britain.

The mosaic – the first example in British displaying scenes from the Greek epic poem – was found in a field in Rutland. The site was discovered by Jim Irvine, son of a landowner, Brian Naylor, during the 2020 lockdown, and has been investigat­ed by archaeolog­ists from the University of Leicester in partnershi­p with Historic England and Rutland county council.

Their investigat­ion revealed the mosaic lies within an elaborate villa complex encompassi­ng a host of other structures and buildings. It is likely to have been occupied by a wealthy individual from the late Roman period, some time between the third and fourth century AD.

“A ramble through the fields turned into an incredible discovery,” Irvine said. “Finding some unusual pottery among the wheat piqued my interest and prompted some further investigat­ive work. Looking at the satellite imagery I spotted a 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.”

The remains of the mosaic form the floor of what is thought to be a large dining or entertaini­ng area. Though mosaics were used in private and public buildings, there are only a handful of depictions of Achilles’ battle with Hector in the Trojan war.

The villa is surrounded by other buildings, including what appears to be aisled barns, circular structures and a bath house. Other evidence uncovered includes human remains.

John Thomas, deputy director of University of Leicester Archaeolog­ical Services and project manager on the excavation­s, called it “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,” he said. “This is someone with a knowledge of the classics, who had the money to commission a piece of such detail, and it’s the first depiction of these stories we’ve ever found in Britain.”

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said that discoverie­s such as this were “so important in helping us piece together our shared history”.

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 ?? PHOTOGRAPH: UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER ARCHAEOLOG­ICAL SERVICES/HISTORIC ENGLAND ARCHIVE ?? The Roman mosaic depicts the struggle between Achilles and Hector in the Trojan war from the Iliad
PHOTOGRAPH: UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER ARCHAEOLOG­ICAL SERVICES/HISTORIC ENGLAND ARCHIVE The Roman mosaic depicts the struggle between Achilles and Hector in the Trojan war from the Iliad

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