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Roman legionary                  Source: serpeblu / Adobe Stock

Kings Weston Roman Villa, Where a Murder Lay Hidden for 1500 Years

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Britain was part of the Roman Empire from the 1 st century AD to the start of the 5 th century AD when the emperor withdrew the legions from the islands and left the inhabitants to govern and fend for themselves. This period is often seen as a period of peace and prosperity, but historians also believe it to be one of oppression and brutality. While in Britain, the Romans built many remarkable structures, including amazing villas such as the Kings Weston Roman Villa which offers a unique insight into Roman-British society and culture.

Kings Weston Roman Villa: Site of an Ancient Murder

Archaeological evidence shows that Bristol in south-west England was once an ancient Iron Age settlement. The area, captured by the Romans who called it Abona, prospered as a trading center with its own port. As a result of their affluence, several villas were built in the region. The Kings Weston Roman Villa was discovered in Bristol during construction in 1947.

The Kings Weston Villa is thought to date to the 3 rd century AD, a period known in Roman history as the Third Century Crisis (or Imperial Crisis ). These years were marred by invasions, civil war, plague, and economic dislocation. The villa would have been owned by a wealthy landowner, a Romanized Briton, who likely had commercial interests in the nearby town and lands worked by tenant farmers. The home was built to typical Roman plan which afforded the family a luxurious lifestyle and even central heating.

Mosaics found at Kings Weston Villa (Bristol News)

Mosaics found at Kings Weston Villa ( Bristol News )

While excavating the site, the skeleton of a man who died violently was found in the same layer as 4 th century coins. The man, aged around fifty years old and approximately 5ft tall, had sword cuts to his head and may have been killed in a raid. At the time, the west coast of Britain was regularly raided by Irish pirates .

It is not known when the area ceased to be occupied and there is no evidence that the villa was destroyed by the Germanic invaders who overran most of Britain after the legions departed. It seems likely that the it was abandoned because of the societal collapse that occurred in the 5 th century AD.

Other remains found in the foundations were that of a pig which is thought to have been a sacrifice and two human skeletons were found buried near the stately house. The artifacts uncovered are now in a local museum.

Kings Weston Roman Villa, a Luxurious Lifestyle

There were once two distinct buildings at the site. Although most of the western section lies beneath a road , the eastern building is now fully excavated and open to the public. The structure is known as the winged corridor villa and was based on symmetrical designs. The foundations of the villa, as well as the outline of a great hall, can be seen. Remaining walls stand between a few inches to one foot high.

Example of a hypocaust system found in France (CC BY SA 3.0)

Example of a hypocaust system found in France ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

The villa’s design is similar to other villas found in Germany and Britain and because of the size, may have also been the home of extended family or clan. Two 3 rd century AD original mosaic floors of geometric designs were found on site and were most likely the floors of a public space in the villa where the dominus, or lord, greeted his clients and guests.

The central heating system, known as the hypocaust, circulated warm air between the walls and under the floor and a number of shafts can be seen in the mosaic floors. The hypocaust and the mosaics are covered by a wooden structure.

Visiting the Kings Weston Roman Villa

The site is located in a housing estate in Bristol. It is some distance away from the city’s many attractions, but it can be accessed by public transport. This heritage site is unstaffed and free to enter. Visitors can collect a key from Blaise Museum or Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and walk through the remains of the villa. Unfortunately, the area is somewhat overgrown and there is little information on the Kings Weston villa available at the site.

Top image: Roman legionary                  Source: serpeblu / Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan

References

Martin, A. (2014). Bristol and its neighbours in Roman Times . In Handbook to Bristol and the Neighbourhood with Map (In Excursion Pamphlets) (pp. 51-55). Butterworth-Heinemann

Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9781483198064500063

Smith, J. T. (2012). Roman villas: a study in social structure . Routledge

Available at:   https://books.google.ie/books?hl=en&lr=&id=idgqBgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=kings+weston+villa+roman+&ots=Yz48cU_qJM&sig=m3Bn2EER-ih2AbXCwiW5kQO2cD8&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=kings%20weston%20villa%20roman&f=false

Tratman, E. K. (1962). Some ideas on Roman roads in Bristol and North Somerset . University of Bristol Spelaeological Society

Available at:  http://www.ubss.org.uk/resources/proceedings/vol9/UBSS_Proc_9_3_159-176.pdf

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