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ANCIENT ROMAN VILLAS AND MODERN VILLAINS

Updated: Feb 23

Treasure is found in England when ploughing, building new construction or using metal detectors.

Last year the movie, The Dig, re-enacted the 1939 excavation of an 88 foot long ship burial, called Sutton Hoo. The finds at this Anglo-Saxon (7th century) site included an iron helmet, exquisite gold and garnet jewelry, and gold coins. They are prominently displayed in the British Museum.




In December 2021 a 13-year old girl in England found a Bronze Age ax hoard in the countryside using a metal detector.(1) England has strict rules about reporting finds over 300 years old within 14 days of first finding it. On March 8, 2017, a police officer who found 10 gold coins and sold them illegally for $20,000, was charged and sentenced to 16 months in prison for “pure greed.” Eight of the coins have been recovered.(2)


The Roman army first landed in England in 46 AD and left around 410 AD. During that time Romanized Britons built villas, isolated agricultural estates worked by hired tenants, slaves and free tenants. Some villas were simple rectangular farmhouses, while other were palatial mansions built around an interior courtyard. One indicator of wealth was mosaic floors in the dining room, living room or bath.


Wikipedia lists more than 480 Roman villas in England, mostly in the south. Chedworth Villa, with 35 rooms built in several phases, was first excavated in 1864. Seven of the best villas are introduced in this article.(3) A six-minute video on YouTube briefly describes Fishbourne, the largest Roman villa north of the Alps.(4)


Many treasures from the Roman Britain era are found in the British Museum:

A small part of a floor mosaic from the Hinton St. Mary Villa built around 300 AD is a portrait of Christ with a chi-rho, (XP, the first two letters in Christ’s name in Greek) and with pomegranates, a symbol of immortality. It is one of the earliest portraits of Christ found anywhere. Constantine left York, England, for Rome after his father, one of the four emperors of the Tetrachy, died. He fought under the chi-rho symbol at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber in northern Rome in 312. After winning this battle, he became the Roman emperor. He legalized Christianity in 313. Based on hairstyles in other images, the mosaic in the villa is from 350.(5)


The Mildenhall Treasure was found in 1942 while ploughing. The 34 pieces of Roman silver tableware includes silver platters, bowls and goblets. The great silver dish, two feet across, is decorated in relief with Neptune’s face at the center, and Bacchus (god of wine), Hercules, Pan and other gods around the outer edge. Five out of eight silver spoons are inscribed with the chi-rho monogram between the Greek letters alpha and omega, signifying the beginning and the end.


During ploughing in 1975 near the Roman town of Durobrivae, a hoard of 27 silver items and one small gold piece was found in Water Newton, Cambridgeshire. The hoard includes nine silver vessels (jugs, bowls, chalices) and votive tokens embossed with chi-rho crosses. This 4th century collection is the earliest liturgical (church) silver found in the Roman Empire.

An unusual feature of the Lullingstone Villa is a room that was turned into a house church in the fourth century. The only known Christian paintings in Roman Britain are a fresco of a row of six people standing with their arms raised in prayer, and a fresco panel of a chi-rho monogram.



In 2020 archeologists at Chedworth Villa found mosaics that were designed and created in the 5th century. This discovery overturned the commonly held thought that Roman British towns and villas were abandoned after the Roman army left the island.(6)


An article in the December 2021 issue of the British Archeology Magazine, described a cemetery near a newly discovered Roman settlement at Fenstanton in 2017. A skeleton was uncovered and the bones caked in mud were bagged. When the bones were later cleaned in the lab, they found a nail going through a foot bone. The archeologist concluded it was from a crucifixion, which was unusual, since crucifixion was usually reserved for condemned slaves, rebels and lower classes. This is only the fourth example of physical evidence of crucifixions reported worldwide.(7)


Archeology in England is full of surprises, whether it be bone or bronze, silver or gold, or small pieces of cut stone used to make mosaics.



(1) https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10227007/Teen-metal-detectorist-Suffolk-finds-Bronze-Age-axe-hoard-just-dig.html

(2) https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-norfolk-39211374

(3) https://www.timetravelrome.com/2020/07/07/a-home-away-from-rome-7-roman-villas-to-explore-in-britain/

(4): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbFnj1Q66d0

(5) Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects (Penguin, 2010), 281-286.

(6) “Chedworth Roman Villa: Mosaic’s Age stuns historians” BBC, 10 December 2020.

(7) https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/dec/08/best-physical-evidence-of-roman-crucifixion-found-in-cambridgeshire


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