Littlecote Roman Villa


Littlecote Roman Villa

Littlecote Roman Villa in Wiltshire is the only fully exposed Roman villa in Britain. It is a very large villa with an impressive mosaic floor which is open for public to see.

The villa is within the grounds of the Elizabethan mansion of Littlecote House, beside the River Kennet near the Berkshire border. It features the largest gatehouse ever found in a Roman villa in Britain.

The villa was constructed from around AD 170.  At around AD 360, earlier buildings were largely demolished and the site changed from being a large farm to become a ceremonial complex (or ‘Collegium’ – a sort of educational monastery) dedicated to the cult of Orpheus and Bacchus, a cult which went back to ancient Greece.  

By this time, the villa had become one of the largest in Britain. It had around 60 rooms, two bathhouses, many mosaic floors and several heated hypocausts. Many of the buildings were two storeys high and included five tall towers. The villa had a number of detached workshops and barns.

Most notably, it had a magnificent mosaic in a special hall dedicated to the ancient Greek legendary hero Orpheus, which can still be seen today.

The villa's history seems to have been one of continual improvement, enlargement and upgrading during the several hundred years of its occupation - ending as a semi-religious centre which then was abandoned (possibly due to Christian intolerance of paganism) shortly before the withdrawal of the Roman army from Britain.

In 1727-8 William George discovered the Orpheus mosaic whilst digging post-holes, and it was reported as “the finest pavement that the sun ever shone upon in England”.  An engraving and drawing were made and the villa was reburied. Its location eventually disappeared from memory until it was rediscovered in 1976 and the mosaic fully restored by 1980.

The site, situated on the banks of the River Kennet is open to the public. You can park very close by at Littlecote or why not walk from Ramsbury?  There is a 5 mile circular walk from Ramsbury available to download on our website.

Further reading

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