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villas, Roman

villas, Roman. ‘Villa’ is a Latin word for farm, which has been appropriated by antiquaries and archaeologists to denote Romano-British rural establishments which exhibit Roman-style architecture, however debased. In general this means buildings to a rectilinear plan, often involving the use of stone and recognizably different from what is known of late Iron Age structures. Modern approaches might add differences in economic basis and social make-up as distinguishing the villa. Villas develop from the late 1st cent., often overlying Iron Age buildings and are seen as the indigenous aristocracy taking on Roman ways. By the first half of the 4th cent. there were probably 1,000 villas, ranging from simple cottages to vast palatial complexes such as Bignor and Woodchester. The larger villas were equipped with hypocausts, mosaics, painted walls and ceilings, but they remained the centres of agricultural estates. More recent work has concentrated on two aspects. One is the excavation of the hitherto-neglected agricultural dependencies and the reconstruction of the villa economy; the other is the examination of villa plans to elucidate social structures. Villas were in decline in the later 4th cent. and passed out of use in the first half of the 5th.

Alan Simon Esmonde Cleary

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