A previously unknown Roman villa containing a rare mosaic that depicts scenes from Homer's Iliad was discovered in a field in Rutland during lockdown last year. After the landowner's son noticed some unusual pottery on the ground he found an online satellite photograph showing crop marks that indicated a long-lost range of buildings and contacted the University of Leicester. John Thomas, deputy director of the university’s archaeological services and project manager on the excavations described the find as "... the most exciting Roman mosaic discovery in the UK in the last century", whilst Historic England described it as "one of the most remarkable and significant [mosaics] ever found in Britain". The mosaic is in panels, depicting Achilles’ battle with Hector during the Trojan War. It is thought to be unique in Britain as the only mosaic showing scenes from the Iliad and is unusual in portraying Achilles and Hector fighting in their chariots, rather than on foot as in some European mosaics. It measures 11 metres by 7 metres and forms the floor of what was thought to be a dining or entertaining area of the villa. The archaeological survey and dig revealed that the villa is surrounded by barns, circular structures and possibly a bath house. The villa complex is thought to date from the late Roman period (3rd or 4th Century AD) and have been occupied by a wealthy family with a knowledge of classical literature. Further excavations are planned for 2022. The site is not accessible to the public but Historic England said that discussions are ongoing with Rutland County Council to set up an off-site display of the villa complex and its finds.
I have just finished watching Art of Persia, a three-part series on the BBC (still available on iPlayer). It is a stunning portrayal of an amazing country and its fabulous historical and cultural treasures and it made me long to go back. Visiting ancient archaeological sites and beautiful mosques and learning about the Sufi poets, Samira Ahmed was the perfect presenter - interested and enquiring, but making her presentation all about the sites she was seeing and not about her. She reveals how narrow the West’s understanding of Persian culture is. Yet, for 3,000 years, Persia has influenced culture across the world. This was one of the few nations to defeat the Roman Empire. Yet, for most of its existence, Persia was isolated, not least because it held on its own language, even when overrun by Islamic, Arabic-speaking, invaders. Even today, Iran is the only non-Arabic speaking country in the Middle East. The ethos of being Persian is still an integral part of Iranian culture today. Whatever your political views, it is a country well-worth visiting and the local people will welcome you with open arms and generous hospitality.
The impact of the Coronavirus on the heritage sector has hit close to home this week with the sad news that Fishbourne Palace may have to close. Fishbourne, situated just outside Chichester, is a Roman villa on a monumental scale that was comprised of four large residential wings around a courtyard garden. It is the largest residential building from the Roman period found in Britain. The outline of the walls, together with many stunning and elaborate mosaics, survives. It was built around 70AD by Tiberius Claudius Togidubnus, king of the Regni, who was granted Roman citizenship and became fully assimilated into the Roman way of life. The site also houses the archaeological collections for Chichester District and serves as an important hub for academic research and both school-age and adult education, because it is a key site in explaining how the newly conquered province of Britain came to be absorbed culturally into the Roman empire.
Fishbourne is one of eight sites owned by the Sussex Archaeological Society (SAS), also known as Sussex Past, that have all been affected by the loss of visitors. SAS says that all its sites are threatened with closure due to a shortfall of £1 million in lost income. Next year marks the 175th anniversary of the founding of SAS and an appeal has been launched, supported by the historian, Tom Holland. Let’s hope it makes it to this momentous milestone.
My thoughts, views and musings about what's happening in the world of archives and records management, information and governance, heritage and culture