Roman Villa under your Tennis Court

Imagine you are a loving father – not such a terrible stretch, and you want to wire your old country barn for electricity so that your children can play indoor tennis at night. That’s something that many of us would gladly do. Just lay some electric cable (hire a professional of course), and there you have it, tennis day and night, year round, and grateful children…

Now if you are in the former Roman colony of Britannia, homeowners that take a spade to their backyard are used to surprises given the rich history of the island.  Yet no one in their right might would expect anything quite as rich as what this homeowner uncovered – one of the most stunning Roman villas ever unearthed, anywhere in the world.

Workers had sunk their shovels about 24 inches below the surface when they struck something hard. Some quick work with their hands revealed Roman mosaic (right) whereupon the homeowner called in the archaeologists who quickly determined that what lay beneath this Mosaic Floor of Tennis Court Villacountry home was the most perfectly intact Roman villa ever discovered in England, one that had been virtually untouched since it collapsed in the 6th century CE, approximately a century after Roman legions were evacuated from Britannia by the Emperor Honorius who told the Romans in Britain to “look to their own defenses”,  in 410CE, because Rome could no longer support its most distant borders.

Returning to the villa (images of the dig below along with an artist’s rendering of the home), which was believed to possess three stories – it has rather stunned archaeologists thrilling with what might be found once it is excavated. As one opined: “This is a hugely valuable site with incredible potential. The discovery of such an elaborate and extraordinarily well-preserved villa, undamaged by agriculture for over 1,500 years, is unparalleled in recent years and it gives us a perfect opportunity to understand Roman and post-Roman Britain.”

Coffin of Tennis Court Villa Active Dig of Tennis Court Villa Artist Rendering of Tennis Court Villa

That said, for the time being, Historic England covered over the recent finds with earth to preserve them until such time as their raise sufficient funds to run a proper dig, a thoughtful move. Until then this Roman villa will continue to slumber underground, dreaming of Honorius perhaps, and his fateful decision one thousand four hundred years ago to abandon Britannia…

I can’t help imagine what the owner of that palatial estate thought as they watched the Picts, Celts and Jutes come loping out of the forest, knowing that their time had come.

For more on the villa see here.