Bignor Roman Villa


Bignor Roman Villa is a large Roman courtyard villa which has been excavated and put on public display on the Bignor estate in the English county of West Sussex. It is well known for its high quality mosaic floors, which are some of the most complete and intricate in the country.

The Roman villa at Bignor was discovered in 1811 when George Tupper, whilst ploughing his field, struck a large stone believed to have been the piscina in the Ganymede room. A local man, John Hawkins, and a leading antiquary, Samuel Lysons, commenced excavation work shortly afterwards and had uncovered moreorless the entire site by 1819, coinciding with the death of Samuel Lysons. No further work was carried out at Bignor Roman Villa until 1925.

As with most Roman villas, the site evolved over several centuries, starting life as a simple farmstead with timber buildings in c 190 AD.

During the 3rd century, a masonry building was constructed comprising of just four rooms, which formed the basis of the west wing of the final site. This was extended between c.240 and 290 AD with the northern and southern wings were added, and then it was extended further still by the addition of an eastern wing. The final building now formed a complete square around a central courtyard, and comprised some 65 rooms in the main complex, with another nine rooms located in various outbuildings.

The majority of what remains today comprise the rooms in the western end of the north wing, and the bathhouse in the south eastern corner. These rooms, including the changing area of the bathhouse, contain some of the best preserved Roman mosaics in England, including the remains of the north corridor mosaic which extends some 79ft (24m) and would have originally run the complete length of the wing.

There is a summer and a winter dining room (one was heated underfloor, one was not), the summer room containing a beautiful mosaic of Ganymede being carried by an eagle from Mount Ida. The winter dining room also displays a fabulous mosaic depicting Venus and the gladiators but, unfortunately, the lower panel has suffered some destruction, due to the floor collapsing into the underfloor hypocaust. All eleven rooms open to the public have mosaic floors that have survived to varying degrees, and all very impressive even now. It is difficult to imagine just how sumptuous these would have looked in Bignor Roman Villa’s heyday.

The bath complex in the south eastern corner was accessed through the Medusa room – a changing area – which contains a particularly nice mosaic with the head of the gorgon at its centre. This mosaic is quite unusual in that it is bordered by square red tiles and black shale slabs. The baths form the traditional layout of warm rooms, hot room and cold plunge pool.

The Greek-key-patterned northern corridor extends for some 79 ft (24m) making it the longest in Britain.

The later history and decline of the building is not well documented and, at present, the assumption is that the site gradually declined in status, rather than suffering a catastrophic fate, such as the fire that destroyed most of Fishbourne Palace.