History of Great Witcombe Roman Villa

The growth of the new tribal capital of Corinium (Cirencester), the importance of Glevum (Gloucester) and the rich farming land made the Cotswold region a popular area to live during Roman times.

The remains of the Roman villa in its picturesque Cotswolds setting

The remains of the Roman villa

The villa at Great Witcombe is one of a group of large houses in the region and was constructed on the steep banks of Birdlip Hill below a line of springs.

It was built around AD 250 and there is evidence of two main phases of occupation lasting to the 5th century.

The villa was discovered in 1818 and partially excavated, and there were further excavations in the 20th century. 

Reconstruction painting of how the Roman villa might have looked in its heyday

Reconstruction drawing of how the Roman villa might have looked in its heyday
© Historic England (illustration by Ivan Lapper)

Description

The villa was terraced and built mainly of the local oolite (limestone), although white marble was imported to make some of the cornices, as well as fine sandstone to provide a suitable surface for painting frescoes. It consisted of two large wings, one of which formed a two- or three-storey residence, with a courtyard.

A separate building was connected by a long colonnaded corridor, off which opened a formal reception room. This suite of rooms was used for leisure purposes and was later extended to provide an extra set of baths, set at a lower level and divided from the courtyard by a cross-wall.

At about the same time, a large barn-like structure was added to the residential range – again set at a lower level and divided off by a cross-wall. This may have reflected a major change of use with the buildings now being used for a cult based on the worship of water and water spirits. A hint of this can be seen in the mosaic pavements preserved under the modern building where fragments of the columns and the villa’s hypocaust system can also be seen.

Although the views from the villa were spectacular, the slope and the springs caused the foundations to slip and there is evidence that buttresses had to be added to prop up many walls. 


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Colour drawing of a highly decorative mosaic pavement found at the villa, with dense guilloche, Greek key and other geometric design features

Drawing of a mosaic pavement found at the villa

Further Reading

Leach, P, Bevan, L and Pearson, T, Great Witcombe Roman Villa, Gloucestershire: a Report on the Excavation by Ernest Greenfield 1960–1973, British Archaeological Reports (Oxford, 1978)

Neal, DS, ‘Witcombe Roman Villa: a reconstruction’, in Ancient Monuments and their Interpretation: Essays Presented to AJ Taylor, ed MR Apted, R Gilyard-Beer and AD Saunders (Chichester, 1977), 27–40

Note 

The text on this page is derived from the Heritage Unlocked series of guidebooks, published in 2002–6. We intend to update and enhance the content as soon as possible to provide more information on the property and its history.

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