Roman Britain: Rural Landscape (Iron Age Settlements, Villas, Imperial Estates, Regional Differences)

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  • Created by: Amy
  • Created on: 12-04-16 13:33

How large?

The rural population of Britain formed:

83% - 90%

of the whole population.

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Iron Age Settlements, part 1

  • Largely round houses, but some simple rectangular buildings.
  • Set in different types of farm enclosure.
  • Many replaced by villas later.
  • But continued to be built into the 3rd and 4th centuries.
    • E.g. Birdlip, Gloucestershire - where roundhouses were built in an area where villas were fairly common).
    • E.g. Ashton Keynes, Wiltshire
    • Marked continuity in domestic architecture, and gradual romanisation (in that a) not everyone accepted Roman living, and b)suggests co-existance wasn't too hostile). 
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Iron Age Settlements, part 2

  • Settlements fall into several categories 
    • Extensive Villages: e.g. Cranborne Chase, Fenlands, Upper Thames Valley.
    • Grouped and isolated farms. 
  • Sometimes, non-villa settlements were located close to Villas.
    • Homes of servants of tennants of the villa owning family? E.g. Stanwick, Northamptonshire.
  • Non-villa owners, not neccesarily poor.
    • Some may have been independent land owners.
    • Some buildings demonstrate surplus of wealth.
    • Some excavated remains show a high living standard.
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Villas: Introduction: Part 1

  • 'A seaside or country etate of a wealthy member of the urban elite' - Salway
  • But owned by very small population: 10-12%
  • In written sources;
    • Pliny: boasts of his country estate and garden
    • But there is no literary evidence about Villa function or ownership in Britain --> only 1 name survives: Villa Faustina.
  • Villas identified by architectural evidence/traces
    • Some or all may occur; e.g. stone foundations, ceramic/stone-tiled roofs, mortar floors, tessellated pavements, under-floor heating, painted wall plaster, window glass, bath houses.
    • All required specialist quarrymen, tile-makers, artistis, craftsmen
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Villas: Part 2

  • Ranges of shapes and sizes:
    • rectangular block, winged corridor, courtyards.
  • Represents the adoption of a Romanised lifestyle.
  • Many villas divided into sections:
    • Some areas for relaxation, some for work, etc.
    • Visitors could be restricted to appropriate ares (i.e. different rooms for guests/servants/family)
  • Early villas, such as Fishbourne - an 'ostentatious showpiece) were more elaborate (mostly.)
  • More modest villas spread later in the 1st/2nd centuries.(in south-east) 
  • By 4th: Villas became more common (in the east, centre and north-east of the countryside)
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Villas: Part 3: In the Economy

  • Many villas were on farms, and formed a vital part of the market economy -- > linked to roads, provided producuts to local towns, etc.
  • Some villas had specialities;
    • Shakenoak Villa, Oxfordshire = fish-farming.
    • Nene Valley Villas = pottery/metalworking.
    • East Coast Villas = oyster-farming/salt production.
    • Barnsley Park = wool production.
    • Claydon Pike = horse ranch.
  • Each estate would have included a range of resources
    • Arable land, pasture, meadow, woodland
  • Hambelden Villa, Buckinghamshire.
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Villas: Part 4

  • Villa owners;
    • Some descended from native Britons, e.g. children of chiefs who'd made deals with the invaders
    • Some originated from overseas:
      • 2nd Century tablet from Walbrook, London: mentions 3 men who owned a wood in Kent, names suggesting from the western empire, e.g. Spain, Gaul, Italy, etc.
  • At the very most, 15% of Roman settlements in the lowland zone were villas. Proportions were even lower in the highland areas.
  • Areas that have dense distribution of villas:
    • Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Cotswolds, the area of Hertforshire around Verulamium
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Regional Differences: Part 1

  • In the North and West (and in the Free North outside the province) the landscape differed.
  • Ken and Pera Dark: a 'native landscape' survived in the highland zone.
  • Military presence continued in highlands --> may have inhibited the growth of towns and villas, although a few examples did exist.
  • The typical native settlement (across Wales, Cornwall, Northern England and Scotland) were enclosed by an earth or stone bank and a ditch. Houses were often round and stone.
    • e.g. the brochs (stone houses) and duns (hill forts) of Scotland.
    • e.g. Chysauster, Cornwall.
  • In some areas on the edge of the highlands, settlements developed similarly to the lowlands.
    • Villas known in small numbers from the south-west, northern wales, and northen england (particularly in the north-east)
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Regional Differences: Part 2: Trade

  • Excavations in settlements in the highland zone show its common to find 'Roman' objects, e.g. pottery/coins --> Suggests a level of trade between the native population and Roman merchants.
  • Cornawall and North Wales: Considerable quantitiies of Roman goods found on many sites.
  • Northern England and Southern Scotland: Roman objects far less common.
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Imperial Estates: Part 1: Introduction

  • Properties belonging to the emperor.
  • Known in some parts of the empire, but it is not certain where they existed in Roman Britian.
  • Main Possibilities:
    • Fenlands, East Anglia
    • Upper Thames Valley
    • Hambelden Villa, Buckinghamshire


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Imperial Estates: Part 2: Fenlands, East Anglia

  • May have been an imperial estate, housing series of tenants.
  • Settlement at Stonea Grange, Cambridgeshire, may have been the administrative centre of the estate –-> as it had an elaborate tower.
  • Had a substantial investment in the drainage system –-> may suggest public funding --> But no inscription/literary sources to back up claim.
  • But may just have used surplus wealth in different ways than villa owners.
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Imperial Estates: Part 3: Upper Thames Valley

  • The gravel terrances of the Upper Thames Valley has been suggested to be an imperial estate.
  • Dense distribution of non-vill settlement, excavated at Claydon Pike, Gloucestershire.
    • Elaborate with evidence of wealth surplus.
  • Some military finds --> may have formed part of an estate that was run by the Roman army to supply units with horses.
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Imperial Estates: Part 4: Hambelden Villa

  • Possible imperial estate -- > clearly a business.
  • 70 gold pens found = suggests a lot of administration/paperwork.
  • Corn drying ovens, but no graneries --> exported asap.
  • 97 infant burrials found --> dead children of slaves.
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