previous next

BIGNOR Sussex, England.

Site of a large Roman villa close to Stane Street, the Roman road from London w Chichester, ca. 16 km NE of the latter. Discovered in 1811, it was extensively excavated in the following years. Mosaics of high quality were revealed; preserved under small sheds, they are still open to visitors. In 1960 a small site museum was built.

The plan of the villa reveals an inner courtyard surrounded by some 60 rooms and an outer courtyard containing what appear to be farmyard buildings, the whole covering a not quite rectangular area (ca. 174 x 96 m; over 1.6 ha). It is one of the largest villas in Britain. Early excavations gave little information about the history or development of the buildings, but the plan suggested an original nucleus in the W wing. Recent excavation confirms this, but shows a complicated sequence of no less than eight phases. The earliest identified building was a timber-framed corridor house, dated by a coin of Commodus to no earlier than ca. 180-190; but since Flavian samian ware and two coins of Trajan have been found it seems probable that earlier structures remain to be discovered. The first stone house was a simple oblong, but was soon embellished with a corridor and small wings. The great eniargement around the courtyard can be presumed to belong to the 4th c.: a further enlargement to the N is contemporary with the main mosaics, which are thus likely to belong to the middle years of the 4th c.

The majority of these mosaics are grouped at the NW corner of the house and include portrayals of the head of Venus in a nimbus, Ganymede and the Eagle, a Medusa head and the Four Seasons in the angles. In the SE corner of the courtyard, the capacious bath suite belongs to the latest phases of the villa: a smaller suite attached to the back of the W wing was never completely finished.

The buildings in the outer courtyard can be theoretically identified as quarters for cattle and sheep with their attendants; they allow for some 55 cattle, 12 pair of plough-oxen, and 200 sheep. Considerations such as these and an examination of local natural boundaries suggest an estate of perhaps ca. 800 ha. Excavation has shown that the villa collapsed from natural causes; the date is uncertain but may reasonably be placed in the first half of the 5th c. Perhaps the breakdown of markets and the escape of slaves left it economically impossible to maintain so large a building.


S. Lyson, Reliquiae Britannico-Romanae III (1817); S. Applebaum in H.P.R. Finberg, The Agrarian History of England and Wales I ii (1972) 182-84.


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: