Orpheus, Brading Roman villa © David Gill
A mosaic showing Orpheus playing a lyre (with scarlet strings) is located in Room VI of the West Wing at Brading Roman villa. This position served as the main entrance to this part of the villa.
Orpheus is seated on a rock and wears a red Phrygian cap. He is surrounded to his right by an ape and a peacock, and to his left a bird and a fox.
J.M.C. Toynbee (Art in Roman Britain, no. 195) dated this mosaic to the 4th century AD and noted that it is ‘the best-preserved, and in many ways the most attractive, of all the British renderings of Orpheus himself’. Other examples of Orpheus on mosaics from Britain include Barton Farm Villa, outside Cirencester, and Woodchester Villa in Gloucestershire.
Toynbee suggests that heads appeared in the four corners of the mosaic.
Orpheus, Brading Roman villa © David Gill
- See also Sarah Scott, ‘Symbols of Power and Nature: The Orpheus Mosaic of Fourth Century Britain and Their Architectural Contexts’ [TRAC]
Part of the Woodchester mosaic, British Museum © David Gill
The Woodchester mosaic is first record in Camden’s Britannia (1695). It was partially unearthed in 1772 by Edmund Browne who made drawings of the remains. Samuel Lysons (bap. 1763–d. 1819) [ODNB] made more detailed recordings in 1794 and published a coloured drawing in 1796.
Lysons presented a small fragment of the mosaic to the British Museum in 1808.
Lysons was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1786, and Director of the Society from 1798 to 1809. He also undertook work at Bignor.
Mosaic from Thruxton, British Museum © David Gill
The mosaic from Thruxton in north-west Hampshire was discovered in 1823 and was presented to the British Museum in 1899 [catalogue]. John Lickman’s engraving of the mosaic from the time of the discovery showed that the central roundel contained an image of Bacchus seated on a feline. This was subsequently lost through plough damage.
In the corners of the mosaic were the four seasons. An inscription appears at the top containing a name: Quintus Natalius Natalinus et Bodeni. A further line of text is known from the bottom end of the mosaic although only two letters could be read.
The mosaic appears to come from a villa, and it probably should be dated to the period 250–350.
Further information: Martin Henig & Grahame Soffe, ‘The Thruxton Roman Villa and Its Mosaic Pavement’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association 146, 1 (1993), 1-28.
Among the mosaics still in situ in the Roman villa at Bignor is a panel of winter. The room was on the west side of the complex. The villa was discovered in July 1811, and the mosaics were opened to the public in 1814. Special buildings were constructed to protect the mosaics from further damage.
Newport Roman villa © David Gill
The Roman villa at Newport on the Isle of Wight was discovered in 1926 (and noted in AJA  JSTOR). Among the excavated remains are the bath-complex.
Notice the explanatory signs (from 1975).
Walltown Crags, Hadrian’s Wall © David Gill
Hadrian’s Wall and Stanegate
Saxon Shore Forts
Bignor Roman Villa © David Gill
The Roman villa lies to the north of the South Downs in Sussex. It was discovered in 1811 and by 1814 the site was attracting large numbers of visitors. The villa contains a series of fine mosaics protected by a series of thatched buildings.
Our earliest guide dates to October 1975. It consists of 16 pages, following a tour of the site using the plan that appears in the centre (pp. 8-9). There are simple line drawings in the text.
We also have a guide book undated, with an image of the 1812 drawing of the Venus mosaic on the cover. It contains a history of the excavations, and a ‘walk around guide and description’. It is complete with plans and colour images, as well as a colour reconstruction.
The latest guide (again undated) is essentially a revised version of the previous one. There is an additional section on ‘Farming & Countryside’, as well as a page of the ‘Covering Buildings’ constructed to protect the remains in the early 19th century, and a section on the educational programme of the villa.
For other guidebooks to Roman villas see Lullingstone, North Leigh, and Welwyn.