The Romans Era in South Somerset
Detail of the fish border from around the octagonal plunge pool in the bath complex at Lufton Villa.
A photo showing the mosaic as excavated at Ilchester Mead villa.
A photo of the mosaic during its excavations showing one of the head piece panels with geometric patterns surrounding it.
The landscape of South Somerset during the Roman era was
dominated by high status villas often with the iconic art of the
Romans: mosaics. These villas were situated in the countryside
around the Roman town of Ilchester, named in Latin as Lindinis or
Lendinae, which is unique in that it is the only continuously
inhabited town in South Somerset with a Roman origin.
Before the Romans conquered Britain there appears to have been
a significant settlement at Ilchester, an iron age oppidum
existed just south of the town however after a Roman fort was
established the settlement refocused on the area where Ilchester
sits today. The town steadily grew in size and served no specific
function for over a century however in the latter 3rd or
early 4th century Ilchester found a new sense of
importance as it is believed that it was made the administrative
centre for the North Western section of its tribal unit: The
Durotriges - whose territory constituted all of Dorset, South
Somerset and East Devon. With this new found importance many villas
developed around Ilchester as the rich elite and politicians took
up residence near their new political centre.
The Romano-British Villas.
In 1907 a Roman villa was discovered at Bedmore Barn in
Somerset. This building was found to be of a hall type construction
with a number of rooms running in sequence. It is thought to have
been occupied over an extensive period with the height of its
activity occurring in he 3rd and 4th
centuries, ranging from roughly AD 250 - 380
The villa at Bratton Seymour was originally unearthed in 1834
however it was not until the 1960's that it received any
archaeological investigation. Here the first signs of habitation
date to the late 2nd century although it was not until
the 3rd to mid 4th century that the site
developed in a lavish villa complete with ornate mosaics.
Combe st Nicholas
Nestled in the eastern Blackdown Hills is the villa at Combe St
Nicholas. This winged villa was discovered in 1810 and has revealed
a variety of mosaics, almost one from every room. It also featured
such luxuries as hypocaust (underground heating) and an elaborate
In 1943 a villa and mosaic were reported at Cudworth when a
well was sunk however no further information is known. No
reports have been found of any reported building debris, nor
artefacts so it remains an intriguing occurrence and
Many villas are situated close to Roman roads for the benefits
of transport and one such example exists at East Coker, just off of
the old Roman road from Dorchester to Ilchester. The villa itself
featured mosaics, hypocausts and even painted wall plaster and
evidently must have been a pleasant place to live and the home of a
The villa at High Ham, just like the one at Cudworth, is a bit
of a mystery. After having been excavated in 1861 nearly all the
records and information relating to it has been lost, or possibly
as was the habit of some Antiquarians: never written down. The
little evidence that remains is a water-colour painting of two
mosaics and a selection of 4th century coins suggesting
it was in residence in the latter Roman period.
In the early 19th century Mr Samuel Hasell came
across Roman archaeological material at Hurcot. An expansive villa
complex was uncovered featuring a central structure of 28 x 40
metres, which demonstrated evidence of hypercausts, baths, and some
very extravagant mosaics. Like so many of the villas in this region
the archaeology suggest that it was built and lived in during the
3rd and 4th centuries AD.
Ilchester Mead villa is situated just 1km outside of the Roman
town of Ilchester and has three ranges built around a central
courtyard. Habitation began in the early 3rd century and
was long lasting, interestingly surviving into the 5th
century however the price of this survival was a significant
downturn in living standards by the turn of that century.
Littleton can boast a number of items of archaeological interest
including two Roman villas, however antiquarians produced few
documents so little is known of the first one. Fortunately the
second villa was documented and the evidence tells us that it was
originally constructed in the 2nd century then
extensively remodelled in the 4th century.
Just south of the village of Lopen another villa was discovered
as recently as 2001 during a driveway construction. Excavations
revealed a mosaic laden building with porticos that had been built
over the top of an existing Roman structure. Previously there had
been no known evidence of Roman activity here.
First discovered in 1938 the Low Ham villa is one of the larger
wealthier Roman residences in South Somerset. Investigations have
demonstrated it to have at least 3 ranges centred on a courtyard
and although it has not yet been fully excavated archaeologists
have identified an elaborate bath suite with a changing room, a
kitchen, hypocaust heated rooms and a possible winter dining room.
Complete with fine mosaics this was certainly a fine villa.
Furthermore it is known from small repair works across the building
that it was occupied until at least the end of the 4th
A similarly extravagant villa to the one at Low Ham is that
which was discovered at Lufton in the 1940's. Complete with an
elegant octagonal pool in its bath complex, this villa was adorned
with rich patterned mosaics and even painted walls that imitated
the mosaic styles suggesting inhabitation by a wealthy style
conscious family. However despite the investment in its
construction the villa was not inhabited for a long time.
Archaeology informs us that it was built at the earliest around AD
308 and would have been likely vacated around the AD 370's meaning
that Lufton is yet again another example of a lavish, albeit
short-lived, 4th century Roman villa.
In the 1820's Pitney was extensively excavated and a Roman
Villa explored. The large villa complex revealed all the usual
amenities and rooms but did not disclose many datable features,
however it was unearthed that there were 4 different phases of
refurbishment suggesting a lengthy habitation to require quite so
many reconstructions. Furthermore the extravagant mosaics
that were part of the last phase were dated to the the
4th century on stylistic basis so one could accept a
potential use of AD 200 - 400.
Half a kilometre away from the first villa another building was
also discovered however this building did not receive the attention
of the former meaning that no description was ever published
however it is safe to assume that it was not close to the magnitude
of the former Pitney villa.
Seavington St Mary
Just 300 metres away from a Roman road is the modest villa at
Seavington St Mary. This small structure featured only 4 rooms with
a simple chequered pattern mosaics and an exterior lined by a
portico. Nevertheless such a building still would have required
financial capital to create as well as ambition towards a higher
standard of living.
There is believed to be a villa roughly 1km north of Hamdon
Hill where it passes close to the Fosse way, although this has not
yet been confirmed. Nevertheless numerous treasures have been
found in the area suggesting the presence of a building.
In 1815 the foundations and bath of a Roman villa were
discovered in Tatworth. Other finds produced from the site included
a variety of pottery and coins which both gave a date range of AD
250 - 380 for habitation at this site.
Another archaeological site to have received antiquarian
interest was the villa at West Coker, however sadly as was habit at
the time no comprehensive plans were made of the discoveries
. In the 1960's further artefacts were recovered however
these were household items rather than architecture but were able
to provide a life span for the site of approximately AD 268 -
In addition to this, it has been suggested that there may have
been a possible temple site located elsewhere in West Coker. The
evidence for this comes from an inscription dedicated to the god
Mars Rigisamus, a combination of the Native British and the Roman
Just 270 metres east of the Roman road from Dorchester to
Ilchester lays Westland villa in Yeovil. The building itself is
rather similar in plan to the one at Ilchester mead being a
courtyard plan structure. Like many of the grander villas its main
age of occupation falls into the 3rd and
4th century, emphasised by the fact that out of
the 161 coins recovered from the site 155 of them date to that
During road alterations in 1845 a Roman structure was
discovered at Whitestaunton, after having been partially
investigated by the landowner it was said to have geometric mosaics
and a bath complex. This villa was later re-excavated by Time Team
to confirm this and explore its other features
Our final villa was uncovered in 1870 while farm buildings were
being constructed. It is recorded that 'a number of small tesserae'
as well a stone table and a column suggest a well furnished and
executed residence although a date for it was not given.
The frequency of Roman villas across the South Somerset
countryside suggests a great density of settlement in this region
as well as a considerable importance to the town of Ilchester. It
is around that town which these villas focus, especially in the
3rd and 4th centuries, and would mirror the
development of Ilchester into an important town in South Somerset
and a regional centre.