Rutland Roman villa complex features UK's 'first barn conversion'

The ORIGINAL Grand Design! Roman villa in Rutland where 1,500-year-old mosaic was found had wealthy owners who carried out Britain’s ‘first barn conversion’ with steam room and ‘cold plunge pool’, researchers discover

  • The barn conversion was discovered at site of Roman villa complex in Rutland, East Midlands 
  • Mosaic depicting Homer’s Iliad was found there by farmer’s son in 2020, before experts examined it last year
  • Bathing area also had Tepidarium – where villa’s residents would have scraped skin with a metal ‘strigil’ tool

Most of us have to make do with a simple shower or bath when we want to have a wash. 

But new findings have revealed how the inhabitants of a Roman villa complex unearthed in Rutland, East Midlands, had access to a bathing suite that included a steam room and plunge pool.

The facilities were discovered in what is believed to have been one of Britain’s earliest barn conversions, experts announced this week. 

The new findings were made by University of Leicester archaeologists at the same site where a 1,500-year-old mosaic depiction of Homer’s Iliad was found by a walker in 2020. 

New findings have revealed how the inhabitants of a Roman villa complex unearthed in Rutland, East Midlands, in 2020 had access to a bathing suite that included a steam room and plunge pool. The suite was housed in what is believed to be Britain’s first barn conversion

Experts have been working at the site, which dates from between the third and fourth centuries AD, since the mosaic find was reported by outlets including MailOnline in November last year. The mosaic depicted a scene from Homer’s Iliad

Experts have been working at the site, which dates from between the third and fourth centuries AD, in recent months – after the mosaic find was reported by outlets including MailOnline in November last year.

The converted barn may have had two storeys and boasted ‘sophisticated’ underfloor heating, although the standout features were its sauna and cold plunge pool. 

The complex also had a Tepidarium – or ‘medium heat room’, which was where the villa’s wealthy residents would have scraped their skin with a metal tool known as a ‘strigil’. 

The Leicester University archaeologists were working in partnership with Historic England and Rutland County Council.

WHO WAS HOMER?

Nobody knows for sure who Homer was but some scholars believe he was blind

There is very little known about exactly who or what Homer was, but is believed by the ancient Greeks to have been the first great epic poet.

He is credited as being the first to write down The Illiad and The Odyssey.

It is believed he was born some time between the 12th and 8th centuries BC.

Some suggest that he compiled existing oral stories and then recited them from memory. He is seen more as a balladeer as opposed to a traditional poet.

Many believe Homer was blind and he is often interpreted with thick curly hair, a beard and sightless eyes.

Homer’s Iliad is often considered to be the oldest surviving work of Western literature.

It is set during the Trojan War and its central figure is Achilles.   

The story sees Achilles, regarded as the greatest of all the Greek warriors, engage in a fierce argument with King Agamemnon.

Achilles withdraws from the battle after he is dishonoured by the king.

The Greek armies are hit by a plague sent by the god Apollo after Agamemnon takes the daughter of a priest of Apollo and refuses to return her.

Achilles later returns to the fold and famously kills Hector, the Prince of Troy, in front of the city gates.

Achilles is later killed by Hector’s brother, Paris, who shoots the warrior in the heel with an arrow.

That moment has been immortalised in modern day language with reference to an ‘Achilles heel’ meaning a point of weakness.  

Another scene from the Iliad, called The Meeting Of Hector And Andromache, is seen on an engraving from 1805

Homer also wrote The Odyssey which describes the aftermath of the Trojan Wars and Odysseus journey home after battle.

Historic England contributed £193,000 to fund this year’s excavation work.

The initial discovery of the mosaic was made by the son of local landowner Brian Naylor when he was out walking during the first coronavirus lockdown in 2020.

Experts were only able to examine the site in detail last year due to the pandemic.

What is believed to be a converted barn is similar in size to a small church. 

It was originally made of wood but was converted to stone in third or fourth century AD. 

It had a completed sequence of internal walls, demonstrating the fact that it had been in use for a long period of time and had undergone a series of changes. 

As well as the bath suite, the experts have found evidence of a water tank that could have been used to collect water from the structure’s roof. 

The bath suite consisted of a caldarium (sauna); the tepidarium and finally the frigidarium (cold room), where the pool was located. 

The heating system may have even been able to maintain varying desired temperatures.

The experts however cannot say whether the owners were Rutland natives or from overseas. 

But they were making lifestyle choices to associate themselves culturally with the Roman Empire. 

The remains of the mosaic, which measures approximately 31 feet by 21 feet, are the first in the UK and one of only a handful in the world to depict the Ancient Greek poet Homer’s story about hero Achilles and his battle with Hector at the conclusion of the Trojan War.

The mosaic once formed the floor of a room in a large Roman villa.

The experts’ work this year has led them to believe that the mosaic was laid out in a dining room (known as a triclinium).

Painted wall plaster, fragments of polished marble and broken stone columns hint at the grand decoration in the room to accompany the mosaic.

The decor used some imported material, indicating the considerable wealth and influence of the villa’s owners.

The dining room was a later addition to the main villa building, suggesting that the owners wanted to show off their wealth and knowledge of Roman culture by building a new area for feasting.

Further mosaics that now no longer exist would have graced the corridors leading to the dining room 

Human remains were also found at the site, which is believed to have once been the home of a wealthy person who had knowledge of classical literature.

The mosaic discovery was described as the most exciting of its kind in the UK in the last 100 years. 

Mosaics were often used in both private and public buildings across the Roman Empire, which Britain was part of from AD 43 until AD 410.

Whilst mosaics often featured figures from history and mythology, the one in Rutland is unique because of its depiction of Homer’s classic work.

Fire damage and breaks in the mosaic suggest that the site was later re-used or repurposed. 

The human remains which were found are believed to have been buried after the building was no longer occupied.

They are believed to date from the very late Roman or early Medieval periods.

Homer’s Iliad is often considered to be the oldest surviving work of Western literature.

It is set during the Trojan War and its central figure is Achilles.

The story sees Achilles, regarded as the greatest of all the Greek warriors, engage in a fierce argument with King Agamemnon.

The converted barn may have had two storeys and boasted ‘sophisticated’ underfloor heating, although the standout features were its sauna and cold plunge pool. The complex also boasted a Tepidarium – or ‘medium heat room’, which was where the villa’s wealthy residents would have scraped their skin with a metal tool known as a ‘strigil’

A piece of decorated tile from the recent excavations. Historic England contributed £193,000 to fund this year’s excavation work

Drone image of the site showing an area of the villa thought to be the main reception. This is where the mosaic was discovered last year. It has now been covered over again to protect it

Drone image of the site showing the layout of a section of the villa complex. Researchers are currently unsure what this area was used for

Researchers are seen at work at a portion of the site this year. Historic England’s Chief Executive, Duncan Wilson, said: ‘This is a fascinating site and has posed many questions about life in Roman Britain’

Achilles withdraws from the battle after he is dishonoured by the king.

The Greek armies are hit by a plague sent by the god Apollo after Agamemnon takes the daughter of a priest of Apollo and refuses to return her.

Achilles later returns to the fold and famously kills Hector, the Prince of Troy, in front of the city gates.

Achilles is later killed by Hector’s brother, Paris, who shoots the warrior in the heel with an arrow.

That moment has been immortalised in modern day language with reference to an ‘Achilles heel’ meaning a point of weakness.

The mosaic once formed the floor of a room in a large Roman villa which was occupied between the third and fourth centuries AD

Human remains were also found at the site last year. Above: A worker scrapes away dirt from human bones 

Historic England’s Chief Executive, Duncan Wilson, said: ‘This is a fascinating site and has posed many questions about life in Roman Britain. 

‘The answers will become clearer as the evidence is examined over the next few years by a team of specialists, and their work will help us understand the story of this villa complex, and its significance for our understanding of Roman Britain.’

John Thomas, Deputy Director of ULAS and Project Manager of ULAS excavations, 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.’

How England spent almost half a millennium under Roman rule

55BC – Julius Caesar crossed the channel with around 10,000 soldiers. They landed at a Pegwell Bay on the Isle of Thanet and were met by a force of Britons. Caesar was forced to withdraw.

54BC – Caesar crossed the channel again in his second attempt to conquer Britain. He came with with 27,000 infantry and cavalry and landed at Deal but were unopposed. They marched inland and after hard battles they defeated the Britons and key tribal leaders surrendered.

However, later that year, Caesar was forced to return to Gaul to deal with problems there and the Romans left.

54BC – 43BC – Although there were no Romans present in Britain during these years, their influence increased due to trade links.

43AD – A Roman force of 40,000 led by Aulus Plautius landed in Kent and took the south east. The emperor Claudius appointed Plautius as Governor of Britain and returned to Rome.

47AD – Londinium (London) was founded and Britain was declared part of the Roman empire. Networks of roads were built across the country.

50AD – Romans arrived in the southwest and made their mark in the form of a wooden fort on a hill near the river Exe.  A town was created at the site of the fort decades later and names Isca. 

When Romans let and Saxons ruled, all ex-Roman towns were called a ‘ceaster’. this was called ‘Exe ceaster’ and a merger of this eventually gave rise to Exeter.   

75 – 77AD – Romans defeated the last resistant tribes, making all Britain Roman. Many Britons started adopting Roman customs and law.

122AD – Emperor Hadrian ordered that a wall be built between England and Scotland to keep Scottish tribes out.

312AD – Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal throughout the Roman empire.

228AD – The Romans were being attacked by barbarian tribes and soldiers stationed in the country started to be recalled to Rome.

410AD – All Romans were recalled to Rome and Emperor Honorious told Britons they no longer had a connection to Rome.

Source: History on the net

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