Wednesday 11 February 2015

Roman mosaics from the Greetwell villa-palace and other sites in Lincolnshire

The following post collects together a number of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century illustrations of Roman mosaics found in Lincolnshire, starting with the mosaics found at a major complex discovered during mining at Greetwell Fields, Lincoln. 

Plan of Greetwell villa-palace, drawn in the late nineteenth century; click image for a larger view (from Green, 2012, fig. 3)

Detail of the bath suite and the western end of the main east–west corridor at the Greetwell villa-palace (from Green, 2012, fig. 3)

One of the corridor mosaics from the Greetwell villa-palace; click image for a larger view (image: The Collection: Art and Archaeology)

The Greetwell mosaics were found in approximately the area of the current Lincoln hospital during ironstone mining from 1883–94, with their discovery commemorated by the modern street-name 'Roman Pavement'. The mosaics discovered here have been described as being of 'palatial scale and quality' and were part of the decorative scheme of an exceptionally large Roman villa-palace, which occupied a magnificent position on the hilltop overlooking the Witham valley, probably originally in the form of a very large courtyard surrounded by four immense corridors, off which were located the main accommodation, baths suite and the like. It has been argued that this villa-palace is likely to have been the official residence of the governor of the Late Roman province of Britannia Secunda, the capital of which was Lincoln, with the villa-palace appearing to have been occupied right up until the end of the coin sequence in the early fifth century and maintained to a high standard. 

Needless to say, the last points above are of considerable interest in light of the hints of possible post-Roman provincial continuity discussed previously, and in this light it is also important to note the recent suggestion that the villa-palace's estate was actually preserved intact throughout the whole of the Anglo-Saxon period and into the medieval period, with its reconstructed boundaries matching those of the later Monks Leys estate almost exactly (the latter is first recorded just after the Norman Conquest, but has been considered to potentially have its origins in a pre-Viking minster estate). A case has also been made for the early medieval and later tenurial arrangements of a large region to the north of the Witham and east of Lincoln and Ermine Street to have had their origins in two large territories dependent upon the Greetwell villa-palace and a more modest, but still significant, villa at Scupholme.

Two fragments of painted wall plaster from the Greetwell villa-palace, on display in The Collection, Lincoln (photo: C. R. Green)

Unfortunately, the remains of Greetwell villa-palace and its mosaics were completely destroyed by the mining operations of the late nineteenth century, with the result that all that survives of this important site are a few finds, some fragments of painted wall plaster, a plan of the site made by the manager of the ironstone mine (pictured above), and some contemporary reports. The following excerpts are from one of these reports, published in Scientific American Supplement, Vol. XXXII, No. 821, in 1891, which describes the site, its destruction, and the making of the surviving plan:
For some weeks past, remains of a Roman villa have been exposed to view by Mr. Ramsden's miners in Greetwell Fields. From, the extent of the tesselated pavements laid bare there is hardly any doubt that in the Greetwell Fields, in centuries long gone by, there stood a Roman mansion, which for magnitude was perhaps unrivaled in England... What a pity it is that the inhabitants of Lincoln have not made an effort to preserve these precious relics of the grandeur of the Roman occupation, an occupation to which England owes so much...
Although these relics of a remote age are being dug up and are being destroyed, it is not the fault of Mr. Ramsden, for he not only preserved them as long as he conveniently could, but he also had the soil removed from over them, and had them thoroughly washed, in order that people might have an opportunity of seeing their extent and beauty... Mr. Ramsden, the manager of the Ironstone Works, is keeping a plan of the whole of the pavement, which he is coloring in exact imitation of the original work. This, when completed, will be most interesting, and he will be quite willing to show it to any one desirous of inspecting the same.

A contemporary plan showing the location of the Greetwell villa-palace (image: The Collection: Art and Archaeology)

Although the Greetwell villa-palace is almost certainly the most important villa in the Lincoln region, it was by no means the only one, and the second half of this post brings together and shares a number of antiquarian illustrations of mosaics found at some of these other villas, all of which were drawn and/or published by William Fowler of Winterton (1761–1832).

The first set of images consists of the mosaics that were discovered at the well-known Winterton Roman Villa in North Lincolnshire, including its famous mid-fourth-century Orpheus mosaic, along with a plan of the site in c. AD 350:

An illustration of mosaics found at the Winterton Roman villa, published 1798; click image for a larger view (PD image via the BL/SPL King George III Collection)

Detail of the mid- to late fourth-century Orpheus mosaic at Winterton Roman villa; click image for a larger view (PD image via Wikimedia Commons)

Plan of Winterton Roman villa in c.AD 350; red squares indicate rooms with mosaics (image: Wikimedia Commons)

The second set of images are of the mosaics that belonged to the Roman villa at Horkstow, North Lincolnshire. The plan of this villa is now unrecoverable due to the disturbance the site has suffered over the years, but the mosaics survive and are currently housed in Hull Museum; they again include a (fragmentary) mid-fourth-century Orpheus mosaic, as well as the well-known 'chariot race' mosaic:

An illustration of mosaics found at the Horkstow Roman villa, published c.1800; click image for a larger view (PD image via the BL/SPL King George III Collection)

Detail of the fragmentary, fourth-century Orpheus mosaic from Horkstow Roman villa; click image for a larger view (PD image via the BL/SPL King George III Collection)

Detail of the chariot race mosaic from Horkstow Roman villa; click image for a larger view (PD image via The Collection)

The third set of images consists of the plan of the important Roman villa at Scampton, Lincolnshire, and its mosaic; this site was excavated in 1795 and described in the following manner in a publication of 1808 (reissued 1810):
In the year 1795, some workmen, digging for stone in a field south-east of the village, and north of Tilbridge-lane, were observed to turn up several red tiles, which, on inspection, Mr Illingworth conceived to be Roman.  This induced him to survey the general appearance of the surrounding spot; and being struck with obvious traces of foundations, he directed the men to dig towards them, when they came to a wall two feet beneath the surface, and shortly after to a Roman pavement.  The result was, that the foundations of nearly a whole Roman villa were traced and accurately examined; and the situation of the place, the nature of the walls, the dimensions of some apartments, the number and beauty of the tessellated pavements, and the regular plan of the whole, leave little doubt of its having been a villa of considerable distinction and elegance.

An illustration of mosaics found at the Scampton villa, published 1800; click image for a larger view (PD image via the BL/SPL King George III Collection)

Plan of Scampton Roman villa, published in 1808; click image for a larger view (PD image via The Collection, also available on Google Books)

The fourth and final set of images are of the Roman villa at Denton, near Grantham, Lincolnshire, which saw the main focus of its occupation occurring in and after the late fourth century. The results of the Ministry of Works excavation here in the 1940s demonstrated that Denton villa was rebuilt in stone sometime after c. AD 370 into a basilican-type structure of at least seven rooms with mosaics (plus a separate bath-house to the south), based on the fact that this rebuilding clearly overlaid a coin of Valentinian I, 364–75, and another of Gratian, 367–83. Furthermore, the excavator suggested that the Denton villa may well then have continued to be maintained perhaps as late as the sixth century, given that: 
  1. there was a subsequent phase of rebuilding in stone and occupation after the one that occurred post-c. 370, with the excavator dating this building phase to probably the fifth century; 
  2. two graves were discovered inside the villa, one of which was associated with a sixth-century 'Anglo-Saxon' pot; and
  3. that these graves were located in central locations within two rooms and their fill contained no roof tile, slate or similar evidence of villa destruction, only tesserae, implying that the villa still stood and had not fallen into complete disrepair even by that late date.

A late fourth-century mosaic from Denton Roman villa, published in 1800; click image for a larger view (PD image via the BL/SPL King George III Collection)

Plan of Denton Roman villa, showing Phase II in white, constructed c.370 or after, and the rebuilding of Phase III (black), dated to probably the fifth century. Click the image above for a larger version of this plan, which is Smith, 1964, fig. 3.

Photograph from the 1948 and 1949 excavation of Denton Roman villa, showing a mosaic pavement on the south side (image: Smith, 1964, plate 7)

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2015, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.