Roman Villas

The Roman Villa is a hallmark of Roman Britain. It represents the influx of wealth and the arrival of planning knowledge and building techniques never seen on these shores before the Empire invaded.

Roman VillaWe talk of 'Roman Britain' and 'Roman buildings' as if a section of the population from the Empire flooded into the country and displaced the natives but of course this is not true. The builders and occupants of 'Roman' Villas like the one at Turkdean, which was excavated by Channel 4's Time Team, would have been built by people who were native to this land.

Romano Britons In the Costwolds area, the Dubonni tribe were the local native British tribe at the time, who would have come under Roman rule following the invasion. Naturally with invasion comes bloodshed and trauma as your homeland is changed, but the foreign rule was one with the emphasis on structure, organisation and administration. The Roman Empire was unlike anything else in the world before or since, and their ability to manage and exploit their territory revolved around making improvements to it. Lines of comminucation and record-keeping were improved, houses and cities were revolutionised and the overall standard of living improved. With these improvements came increased trade and new farming techniques.

The Dubonni tribe would have become Romanised as time went on, and they had a Romanised town centre at Cirencester. The British peoples were adopting Roman habbits, and by about 300 AD when Britain was at its richest, people of importance were investing in large buildings like the Turkdean Villa to cement their status within the community, impress their neighbours and draw attention from anyone passing through the area. During excavation at Turkdean, evidence of food such as suckling pig and small deer was found along with hunting dogs showing that high status food was consumed.

That's not to say that villas might not have been built following the arrival of a wealthy land-owner from across the channel, but in the Turkdean case it would have been a member of the local family made good perhaps from farming. Archeology on site shows elements of the settlement development through time as illustrated in the rendering above left, whereby the central block of houses was shifted to become more central.

Honorius CoinThe archaeology does show a bronze brooch from the 1st century AD, but in terms of the villa, there is nothing earlier than the 270s. The site also has a bath house and during its excavation a coin of Gratian was found in the rubble to provide a date for that section's demoltion of between 365 and 380 AD, but it was built upon again as the site was redeveloped. A coin of Honorius found tells us how late the villa survived as he was emperor when the Roman legions left, so this shows the site was used through both 3rd and 4th century and will have continued beyond the end of Roman rule.