East Midland archaeologists were “gobsmacked” to unearth another trove of finds at the site of a Roman villa complex in Rutland. Two years after it was first discovered beneath a farmer’s field, the site has revealed a lavish barn conversion with a sophisticated Roman-style bath suite and mosaic.
“It’s amazing; it sort of makes up for all the muddy ditches that I’ve spent a lot of my time in,” said Jennifer Browning, a projects officer with the University of Leicester archaeological services.
It was during the first national lockdown in 2020 when the site attracted the interest of archaeologists after a family spotted some pottery fragments in one of their fields. Experts from the University of Leicester were called in and began unveiling a grand Roman villa with a rare mosaic depicting the Trojan war epic from Homer’s (c. 8th century BC) Iliad. Historic England hailed the mosaic – now protected by the government – as one of the most significant of its kind in Britain.
“The (Iliad) mosaic is a fantastic eye-catching find,” explained John Thomas, deputy director of University of Leicester archaeological services. “But it’s just one element of a much bigger settlement that we now know of from the geophysics.”
This year, the second round of discoveries provides fresh evidence of the owners’ once lavish lifestyle. A large barn, possibly with multiple storeys, was found about 50 metres away from the villa. Originally built using timber, the barn was later converted into stone for living and agricultural purposes. Inside the dwelling was a luxurious bath suite with underfloor heating and heating ducts built into the walls.
The excavation also unearthed a new mosaic believed to be part of a dining or entertaining area of the large villa, featuring a kaleidoscopic geometric pattern. It suggests that the site was first occupied in the 2nd or 3rd centuries CE, which is much older than previously thought by a hundred years or more.
Speaking about the importance of Rutland, Thomas said: “It’s difficult to overstate the significance of this Roman villa complex to our understanding of life in late Roman Britain. While previous excavations of individual buildings, or smaller-scale villas, have given us a snapshot, this discovery in Rutland is much more complete and provides a clearer picture of the whole complex.”