The Greetwell villa

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LARA ERA Roman Colonia
LARA Record Number 7.23


The important late Roman 'villa' located in a magnificent position on the hilltop, looking south across the Witham Gap, is included under the heading of 'public' buildings, because Mr Jones points out that its function was most likely not that of a conventional countryside villa, but an 'official residence' of a senior figure, possibly the senior figure in the administration of Britannia Secunda - the provincial governor (chapter 7a). This, at least, is the implication of Dr Neal's assessment of the 'palatial scale and quality' of the mosaics, and the plan form, with a large courtyard surrounded by (probably) four immense corridors with mosaics, in advance of the main accommodation. Although it may have contained suites of 'private' rooms, in the role of 'official residence' it will have been the 'public' rooms towards which greatest contemporary attention will have been directed. Nor can its siting be accidental. When seen from the brow of Canwick Hill, at the point where the Roman road descends into the valley, the city and Forum buildings will have crowned the ridge due north; but separated from the city a little to the east, will have been this second highly imposing group of buildings. Like the palace at Fishbourne (Sussex) and also, perhaps, the villae within the ditches demarcating the oppida at Bagendon and Gorhambury, the Greetwell 'villa' lies within the LPRIA ditch systems. The question of whether this building does represent a specialised 'public' residence will be addressed, first, by the establishment of the plan of the building. Recovery of the plan of the site and the definition of its surrounding complex should be a high priority for work on the Colonia Era. Environmental work in this area, especially in the grounds of the palace, might be able to establish any distinctive planting which could be associated with gardens or with the cultivation of exotic food plants.

LARA Boundaries

The complex might have been very much larger than the residence itself, so the RAZ boundary takes in a very large area. It is constrained, however, by the known cemeteries to the west and by Wragby Road to the north. To the east lay, in the Roman Military Era anyway, the Iron Age ditch system, which places the Greetwell Villa inside the Lincoln dyke system and so invites comparison with the palace at Fishbourne, which lies inside the Chichester dykes system. The southern boundary of the villa estate could well have been the river itself. Certainly the cliff face would have formed an important part of the setting of the residence, and terraced gardens in the Mediterranean manner on the slopes are at least a possibility. The large estate defined by these boundaries is significantly similar to the estate which was subsequently to become the estate held by St Mary's Abbey during the medieval period (RAZ 8.1.3 and 9.55.2), and this raises the possibility that there may have been some continuity between the late Roman and the High Medieval period in the matter of estate boundaries. Any such continuity would be similar to that perceived by Finberg (1959; Wilkinson, Prosser and Holbrook 1995) in monastic estates at the other end of the limestone escarpment in Gloucestershire. The possibility (however remote) that the Greetwell Villa estate became the core of an important monastic holding is of very great interest and it makes archaeological work along the boundaries of the known monastic estate an urgent priority. The validity of the theory will be most easily tested along the proposed boundaries of the estate - where special attention should be directed in the course of future work. Small-scale excavation work could pay large dividends if it demonstrates that the medieval boundaries follow the same lines as Roman ones.