Fishbourne Roman Palace (Villa Regis Cogidubni)

Claudian Supply-base and Romano-british Palace

Claudian Supply Base

The first buildings on the Fishbourne site were timber-built and of a military nature, very likely a deepwater anchorage and supply-base built during the initial Claudian invasion of south-east Britain. The campaigns on the south coast were conducted by the future emperor Vespasian, at this time known merely as the legate Titus Flavius Vespasianus, who was placed in command of the Second Augustan Legion. These timber buildings were possibly built as early as the winter of 43/44AD, during the early governorship of Aulus Plautius.

Fishbourne Roman Palace

The Roman villa at Fishbourne was discovered and excavated in the early 1960’s. The dig revealed a palatial residence with ornate gardens, a large bath suite, many mozaic floors and tesallated pavements, several guest suites arranged around their own courtyards, a spacious entrance-hall and even an audience chamber; truly a residence fit for a king!

Building work on the villa was started in the early 70AD’s, and over the years, additional wings, mozaics and gardens were added, which eventually covered about 4 hectares (10 acres), making Fishbourne one of the largest villas in Britain. The villa was apparently destroyed by fire in the late third century during which lead from the roof of the north wing melted over the surface of the mozaics beneath. After this catastrophic event the villa was abandoned, later becoming the site for a number of late-Roman burials, after many of its carfully prepared building-stones were removed for use in other constructions in the surrounding area.

Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus

The number of Roman inscriptions on stone recovered from Chichester and its environs is relatively few – only nine at the last count – but two of these in particular are very important. The first is a building inscription dedicated to the emperor Nero, the earliest dateable Roman stone in Britain, which is described on the RBO page for Chichester ( RIB 92), the second stone is an altar to the deities Neptune and Minerva which provides confirmation of a crucial statement in one of the classical histories (vide infra).

RIB91 - Altar dedicated to Neptune and Minerva

To Neptune and Minerva, for the welfare of the Divine House by the authority of Tiberius Claudius Togidubnus, great king of Britain, the guild of smiths and those therein gave this temple from their own resources, Pudens, son of Pudentinus, presenting the site.
Pro salute domus divinae is a very rare formula; see note to RIB 89.Cogidubnus: see 14 quaedam civitates Cogidumno regi donatae.r(egis) (et) legat(i) Aug(usti) in Brit(annia): on this title, which is characteristic of Claudius' 'tendency to mingle innovation with conservatism' see Collingwood and Myres, Roman Britain and the English Settlements (1936) 86.qui in eo [sun]á¹­ Huebner suggests that this phrase comprises members who joined in meetings of the guild without possessing all its privileges.Waltzing, Corporations iv 267 lists this phrase among those which indicate membership of a guild, but does not suggest that it implies any difference in status: cf. CIL xii 1929 scaenici Asiaticiani et qui in eodem corpore sunt.

The above inscription naming a certain Cogidubnus ‘Great King in Britain’, provides important confirmation for a passage from a famous work by the great Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus. In the Agricola, a biography of Tacitus’ own father-in-law, a Cogidumnus is reported to have been made ‘Client King’ in Britain.

Excerpt from Tacitus’ Agricola

The first consular governor to be placed in command of Britain was Aulus Plautius: soon after came Ostorius Scapula, both distinguished soldiers. The nearest portion of Britain was reduced little by little to the condition of a province: a colony of veterans was also planted. Certain states were handed over to king Cogidumnus – he has remained continuously loyal to our own times – according to the old and long-received principle of Roman policy, which employs kings as tools of enslavement.” (Tacitus Agricola 14.1)

The question whether the Cogidumnus of Tacitus is the same person as the Cogidubnus of RIB 91 will probably never be known for certain, but I reckon it’s a safe-enough bet.

CRAB – Cogidubnus Rex Atrebatum Britanniorum?

Other evidence which seems to confirm the reign of Cogidubnus in Britain comes in the form of two silver coins from the south of England, a stater found at Portsmouth, and a minim found at Hod Hill. Both of these coins are fully Romanised in design, and inscribed with the formula CRAB, which has been expanded to read C[ogidubnus] R[ex] A[trebatum] B[ritanniorum], or ‘Cogidumnus, King of the Atrebates of Britain’. If Cogidubnus was a client king of Rome, as is apparently evidenced, he would have been allowed to issue his own coinage. This practice is not unique to Cogidubnus in post-Iron-age Britain, for king Prasutagus of the Iceni tribe from Norfolk was another client of Rome, and is known also to have produced his own coinage after the 43AD invasion.

Cogidubnus and Fishbourne

It is quite likely that Cogidubnus was the descendant and probable heir of king Verica of the Atrebates, a king known by his coinage to be pro-Roman in attitude, who was forced to flee to the protection of Rome c.42AD following his expulsion from Britain by the Trinovantian warlord Caratacus. It is possible that Cogidubnus accompanied his elder relative during his flight to Claudius in Rome, but it is more likely given the enormous trust he was given later on, that Cogidubnus was already known to the imperial court, having been sent to Rome as a hostage to be educated in the ways of Roman society, as was often the case with the heirs of pro-Roman or fully client states.

Mozaic from Fishbourne Cupid riding a dolphin?

The successful campaigns of Vespasian in the south-west of England may have been expedited to some extent by the young British prince, recently returned from the continent in the train of the Roman invasion army. As a reward for his stout pro-Roman stance, the young prince was officially made client-king of Rome sometime before the death of the emperor Claudius in 54AD, as evidenced by his adoptive Roman name Tiberius Claudius. This kingship very likely gave the young British prince the tribal territories of his native Atrebates, the neighbouring state of the Regni and possibly also the Belgae, he was also allowed to issue his own coinage.

Given the proximity of the inscribed Chichester stone to the villa at Fishbourne, the opulence of the villa itself, which boasted fine marble transported all the way from Greece and Italy, the testimony of the great historian Tacitus confirming his name and client-status, and also the coinage in the south of England, it is not outside the realms of possibility that the Fishbourne palace was indeed, the residence of the ‘Great King of Britain’, Cogidubnus of the Atrebates.

References for Fishbourne Roman Palace

  • Britannia x (1979) pp.243-254;
  • The Fishbourne Story by I.D. Margary in Britannia ii (1971) pp.117-121;
  • Agricola by Cornelius Tacitus, translated by M. Hutton (Loeb, Harvard, 1914, revised 1970);
  • The Romans in Britain – An Anthology of Inscriptions by A.R. Burn (Blackwell, Oxford, 1969);
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).

Map References for Fishbourne Roman Palace

NGRef: SU8304 OSMap: LR197

Roman Roads near Fishbourne Roman Palace

E (1.25) to Noviomagvs Regnorvm (Chichester, West Sussex) WNW (28) to Clavsentvm (Bitterne, Hampshire)

Visiting Fishbourne Roman Palace (Villa Regis Cogidubni)


Opening Hours – from 17th May 2021

March to September 10.00am to 5.00pm

February, October and November 10.00am to 4.00pm

Last Admission 30 minutes before closure


£10.90 / Adult

Address: Roman Way, Chichester PO19 3QR
Telephone: 01243 785859