Barton Farm Villa: Orpheus

Barton Farm Villa (Corinium Museum) © David Gill

The Orpheus mosaic was discovered at Barton Farm outside Circencester in 1825. At the centre is the figure of Orpheus, wearing a Phrygian cap, and playing a lyre. The mosaic is dated to the fourth century AD.

A circle of birds surround Orpheus, among them a peacock.

Barton Farm Villa (Corinium Museum) © David Gill

Orpheus’ music has enchanted a group of animals, among them a lion, a tiger and possibly a leopard. The front of a fragmentary fourth animal can be seen.

Barton Farm Villa (Corinium Museum) © David Gill

The Corinium Museum has displayed the mosaic so that it can be viewed from the first floor of the museum.

Brading Roman Villa: protection and display

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Brading Roman Villa © David Gill

Brading Roman Villa is displayed within a purpose-built structure that allows visitors to walk above the excavated remains. The walkways are suspended above the remains and the main load is taken by the roof. Objects found during the excavations are displayed in cases around the route.

This replaced a earlier roofed structure whose supports can be seen alongside the remains.

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Brading Roman Villa © David Gill

The villa is preserved under the main structure. To the left is a cafe with a link reception and shop.

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Brading Roman Villa © David Gill

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Brading Roman Villa © David Gill

 

Orpheus at Brading Roman Villa

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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.

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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]

Woodchester Roman Villa

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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.

The Thruxton mosaic

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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.

Roman Winter

IMG_6257Among 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

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Newport Roman villa © David Gill

The Roman villa at Newport on the Isle of Wight was discovered in 1926 (and noted in AJA [1930] JSTOR). Among the excavated remains are the bath-complex.

Notice the explanatory signs (from 1975).

Roman Sites and English Heritage

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Walltown Crags, Hadrian’s Wall © David Gill

Hadrian’s Wall and Stanegate

Stanegate

Roman Forts

Saxon Shore Forts

Roman Towns

Roman Villas

Roman Temples

Other features

Bignor Roman Villa

Bignor Roman Villa © David Gill
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.

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1975

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.

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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.

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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.

Guides for Chedworth Roman Villa

Chedworth
(1981)

Chedworth Roman Villa was acquired for the National Trust in 1924. The site is located in the Cotswolds.

Sir Ian A. Richmond prepared a 15 page guide in 1966. This was revised (‘in the light of recent work on the site’) by Roger Goodburn in 1981 guide (16 pages, paper). A reconstruction was placed on the cover, and there is a double page plan of the villa in the centre showing the sequence of construction, and then a second set of plans for the bath complex in the northern range. Essentially the guide introduces the concept of the villa and then described the ‘discovery, situation and plan’ (pp. 3-4). The rest of the guide consists of a room by room guide, with a short section on the Museum (pp. 14-15).

Chedworth
(1979 [2002])

Goodburn prepared a more detailed illustrated guide in 1979 (my revised copy dates to 2002). This is illustrated with black and white images as well as plans. The main sections are:

  • The exploration of the site and a brief history of the villa
  • The Chedworth region in the Roman period
  • The growth of the house
  • The mosaics
  • The Museum (including a section on the coins by Richard Reece)
  • Buildings in the locality probably associated with the villa
  • The life and economy of Chedworth
  • The fate of Chedworth and its neighbours

There is a bibliography for the site.

Chedworth
(2012)

The 2012 guide is by Simon Esmonde Cleary. It is fully illustrated in colour and has a fold out plan at the front.

The sections are:

  • Rise and fall and discovery
  • A golden age
  • The decline of the Empire
  • Springing from the earth
  • Preserved for the public
  • Landscape and layout
  • The villa’s layout
  • Life in the villa
  • Decoration
  • Religion
  • Conserving and learning
  • Open to public view
  • Concerning conservation
  • Nature conservation
  • The story so far

The rooms appear in double page spreads with plans and reconstructions, e.g. The west range, the dining room, the west bath house, the north wing, the north bath house, room for interpretation (a wonderful bit of honesty!), the south wing, the kitchen, and the latrine.

There is a section on the Museum.

There is a note about the room numbers that were assigned in the Victorian period.

I particularly like the stress on a heritage site as a home for nature conservation with lizards and a distinctive type of snail (see here).