Brading Roman Villa

Brading Roman Villa was a Roman courtyard villa which has been excavated and put on public display in Brading on the Isle of Wight.

Brading Roman Villa
Brading Roman Villa - - 260719
Site museum housing the mosaics and walls
Brading Roman Villa is located in Isle of Wight
Brading Roman Villa
Location within Isle of Wight
General information
grid reference SZ598862
CountryUnited Kingdom
Coordinates50°40′22″N 1°09′16″W / 50.6728°N 1.1544°WCoordinates: 50°40′22″N 1°09′16″W / 50.6728°N 1.1544°W
Construction started1st century
Demolished4th century

Discovery and excavation

In 1879, a farmer called Mr Munns struck a buried mosaic floor while making holes on his land for a sheep pen. Captain Thorp of Yarbridge, who was in the area looking for Roman antiquities, helped Mr Munns uncover the Gallus panel the next day. By spring 1880, all of the site on Mr Munns' land had been excavated, which was half the villa; the remainder lay in the Oglander estate. Excavations were able to continue when Lady Louisa Oglander purchased the other half of the site.[1]

Although the site was open to the public by the Oglander estate for many years, it was handed over to a charitable trust in 1994 and upgraded with a visitor centre, exhibition, shop and cafe.[2] In 2004 the cover building was replaced and the visitor facilities were upgraded.[3] Behind the site is a small amphitheatre made from grassy banks. This was recently made from spoil from the building work.

Oxford University began a five-year excavation in August 2008, with hopes that it would reveal some new mosaics.[4]


Brading Roman Villa 10
Inside the covered building of the museum

The Roman 2nd Augusta Legion under Vespasian conquered the Isle of Wight in 44CE. The first simple villa dates from the mid-1st century but, over the next hundred years, it developed into a large and impressive stone-built villa around three sides of a central courtyard. Its luxurious rooms contained many fine Roman mosaics.[1]

Despite a disastrous fire in the 3rd century AD, the villa was still used for farming purposes for another 100 years. Around AD340, Brading Villa, like many estates in southern Britain, was suffering frequent pirate raids. However, Roman coins excavated at the site indicate that Brading was still occupied until AD395, when Emperor Honorius began his reign. The Villa was used for storing grain for an unknown period of time before finally collapsing in the 5th century. Undergrowth covered the site, and when the land was cleared to be used for agriculture, the location of Brading Roman Villa had been forgotten.[1]

The Villa

Brading mosaic
Mosaic in Brading Roman Villa

The villa's excavated remains are now undercover in the Exhibition and Visitor Centre. The ground floor's 12 rooms all survived, though it is not clear what all the rooms were used for. The largest room in the house with its beautiful mosaic floor may have been used for special occasions and to entertain guests. As there is no evidence of an indoor kitchen, food may have been prepared outside to reduce the risk of fire. Artefacts found within the house point to a high standard of living; Samian pottery, jewellery and games have all been found.[2]

There are mosaics in five of the rooms in the main villa house, which display a variety of subjects indicating the owners' wealth and education. As well as geometrical patterns, there is an Orpheus mosaic, while another features Bacchus, a cockerel-headed man, gladiators and a dome-shaped building. The largest mosaic, in two parts, contains images of Roman gods, goddesses, Medusa, and scenes depicting farming and the sea.[2]

The cockerel-headed man

Cockerel Headed Man - Brading Roman Villa 7
The cockerel-headed man

The cockerel-headed man is a unique feature of the mosaics. The mosaic shows the cockerel-headed man beside a building approached by steps, with two griffins beyond.[5]

One older opinion is that he represents the gnostic deity known as Abraxas; however Abraxas is usually depicted with a serpent's tail as well as a cockerel's head, which makes this interpretation seem unlikely.[5] An alternative view is that the figure lampoons a gladiator (or venator) called "Gallus" since the name means "cockerel" in Latin.[5] It has even been suggested that the figure lampoons the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire Constantius Gallus (ruled 351–354). Mosaics at Brading Villa are closely similar to others from Antioch. It has been speculated that Palladius, the former magister officiorum of that city, was their creator after his banishment to Britain, the cockerel-headed man being Palladius' lampoon of his former persecutor.[6] A more sober view is that the figure may simply be a fantastical animal similar to the dog-headed figures known elsewhere.[5]

Other buildings

Brading Roman villa excavation of north wing - - 1094949
Excavation of north wing in August 2008

On the north side of the main villa house are the remains of a farmhouse, probably lived in by workers, which has the remains of a hypocaust (underfloor heating) and a well. On the south side were agricultural buildings such as a granary and storerooms, but these do not survive today.[2]

Although there is no evidence of a Roman formal garden on the site, a water feature called a nymphaeum was found outside the villa and is now displayed in the Exhibition Centre. A reconstructed Roman garden has been planted in the grounds with a variety of plants, herbs and flowers representing those grown in Roman times.[2]


  1. ^ a b c History at Brading Roman Villa, 29 April 2009
  2. ^ a b c d e About Brading Roman Villa, 25 January 2010
  3. ^ Historic villa opens after revamp, BBC News, 1 August 2004
  4. ^ Roman villa set to be excavated, BBC News, 2 March 2008
  5. ^ a b c d Roger John Anthony Wilson (2002) A guide to the Roman remains in Britain pages 143-4 Constable
  6. ^ Rosamond Hanworth, (2004), "A Possible Name for a Landowner at Brading Villa". Britannia, Vol. 35, pp. 240–244

External links

2002 World Monuments Watch

The World Monuments Watch is a flagship advocacy program of the New York-based private non-profit organization, World Monuments Fund (WMF) that is dedicated to preserving and safeguarding the historic, artistic, and architectural heritage of humankind.


The ancient 'Kynges Towne' of Brading is the main town of the civil parish of the same name. The ecclesiastical parish of Brading used to cover about a tenth of the Isle of Wight. The civil parish now includes the town itself and Adgestone, Morton, Nunwell and other outlying areas between Ryde, St Helens, Bembridge, Sandown and Arreton. Alverstone was transferred to the Newchurch parish some thirty years ago.

Brading Down

Brading Down is a chalk down southwest of Brading, Isle of Wight. It is a prominent hill which overlooks Sandown Bay, with views across the bay towards Shanklin, Sandown and Culver Down. It is a Local Nature Reserve.Parts of the down are private, including an area used as a covered reservoir, and some for agriculture. However, much of the down, approximately 35 hectares (86 acres), is open to the public and is owned by the Isle of Wight Council. The main area of Brading Down is fenced and grazed but access on foot and for horse riders is available from the many pathways entering the area, and the car parks bordering the main Newport to Brading Road.

The thin chalk soils to the east of the site support a typical downland plant community with pyramidal orchids being a particular feature in the summer. In recent years, a programme of scrub clearance has been undertaken. The area is good for butterflies including common blue, chalkhill blue, small, large and dingy skippers, marbled white, gatekeeper, and meadow brown.In addition to the wildlife interest of chalk downland, the ancient field system on Brading Down is a Scheduled Monument. The finest surviving ancient field system on the Island is to be found on the down. This is likely to be of late Iron Age or Roman date and highlights the last time the fields were ploughed. The views over Brading Roman Villa and Sandown Levels reinforce the historical significance of the area. Further down the slopes, First World War practice trenches and former chalk pits show evidence of more recent archaeological interest.

Flinders Petrie

Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, FRS, FBA (3 June 1853 – 28 July 1942), commonly known as Flinders Petrie, was an English Egyptologist and a pioneer of systematic methodology in archaeology and preservation of artefacts. He held the first chair of Egyptology in the United Kingdom, and excavated many of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt in conjunction with his wife, Hilda Petrie. Some consider his most famous discovery to be that of the Merneptah Stele, an opinion with which Petrie himself concurred.Petrie developed the system of dating layers based on pottery and ceramic findings.

Gifford (company)

Gifford is part of the Ramboll Group, providing engineering consultancy, design, planning, project management and consulting services for buildings, infrastructure and the environment.

History of the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight is rich in historical and archaeological sites, from prehistoric fossil beds with dinosaur remains, to dwellings and artefacts dating back to the Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Roman periods.

Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight (; also referred to informally as The Island or abbreviated to IoW) is a county and the largest and second-most populous island in England. It is in the English Channel, between 2 and 5 miles off the coast of Hampshire, separated by the Solent. The island has resorts that have been holiday destinations since Victorian times, and is known for its mild climate, coastal scenery, and verdant landscape of fields, downland and chines. The island is designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

The island has been home to the poets Swinburne and Tennyson and to Queen Victoria, who built her much-loved summer residence and final home Osborne House at East Cowes. It has a maritime and industrial tradition including boat-building, sail-making, the manufacture of flying boats, the hovercraft, and Britain's space rockets. The island hosts annual music festivals including the Isle of Wight Festival, which in 1970 was the largest rock music event ever held. It has well-conserved wildlife and some of the richest cliffs and quarries for dinosaur fossils in Europe.

The isle was owned by a Norman family until 1293 and was earlier a kingdom in its own right. In common with the Crown dependencies, the British Crown was then represented on the island by the Governor of the Isle of Wight until 1995. The island has played an important part in the defence of the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth, and been near the front-line of conflicts through the ages, including the Spanish Armada and the Battle of Britain. Rural for most of its history, its Victorian fashionability and the growing affordability of holidays led to significant urban development during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Historically part of Hampshire, the island became a separate administrative county in 1890. It continued to share the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire until 1974, when it was made its own ceremonial county. Apart from a shared police force, there is now no administrative link with Hampshire, although a combined local authority with Portsmouth and Southampton was considered, this is now unlikely to proceed.The quickest public transport link to the mainland is the hovercraft from Ryde to Southsea; three vehicle ferry and two catamaran services cross the Solent to Southampton, Lymington and Portsmouth.

List of Roman villas in England

A list of Roman villas in England confirmed by archaeology.

List of museums on the Isle of Wight

This list of museums on the Isle of Wight, England contains museums which are defined for this context as institutions (including nonprofit organizations, government entities, and private businesses) that collect and care for objects of cultural, artistic, scientific, or historical interest and make their collections or related exhibits available for public viewing. Also included are non-profit art galleries and university art galleries. Museums that exist only in cyberspace (i.e., virtual museums) are not included.

To use the sortable table, click on the icons at the top of each column to sort that column in alphabetical order; click again for reverse alphabetical order.

List of tourist attractions in the Isle of Wight

The following is a list of tourist attractions on the Isle of Wight.

Lycurgus Cup

The Lycurgus Cup is a 4th-century Roman glass cage cup made of a dichroic glass, which shows a different colour depending on whether or not light is passing through it; red when lit from behind and green when lit from in front. It is the only complete Roman glass object made from this type of glass, and the one exhibiting the most impressive change in colour; it has been described as "the most spectacular glass of the period, fittingly decorated, which we know to have existed".The cup is also a very rare example of a complete Roman cage-cup, or diatretum, where the glass has been painstakingly cut and ground back to leave only a decorative "cage" at the original surface-level. Many parts of the cage have been completely undercut. Most cage-cups have a cage with a geometric abstract design, but here there is a composition with figures, showing the mythical King Lycurgus, who (depending on the version) tried to kill Ambrosia, a follower of the god Dionysus (Bacchus to the Romans). She was transformed into a vine that twined around the enraged king and restrained him, eventually killing him. Dionysus and two followers are shown taunting the king. The cup is the "only well-preserved figural example" of a cage cup.

Orpheus mosaic

Orpheus mosaics are found throughout the Roman Empire, normally in large Roman villas. The scene normally shown is Orpheus playing his lyre, and attracting birds and animals of many species to gather around him. Orpheus was a popular subject in classical art, and was also used in Early Christian art as a symbol for Christ.The standard depiction in Roman mosaic scenes (for the Romano-British variant see below) shows him seated and playing a lyre or cithara, wearing a Phyrgian cap, often beside a tree, and includes many animals drawn and pacified by his playing. The fox was considered Orpheus's special animal and may be placed beside him. In large examples the animals spread to occupy the whole floor of a room. Titles such as Orpheus Charming/Taming the Beasts may be used. Usually the whole scene occupies the same space, but sometimes Orpheus and the animals are each in compartments separated by borders with geometrical decoration.

An example of the usual composition with animals in the 6th-century Gaza synagogue is identified as David by an inscription in Hebrew, and has added royal attributes. Another adaptation is a Christian mosaic of Adam giving names to the animals (Genesis 2: 19-20) in a church of around 486-502 in Apamea, Syria. Some of the mosaics seem to relate to the rather elusive philosophical or religious doctrines of Orphism.In Byzantine mosaic large scenes with animals tended to be hunting scenes (one of the largest being again at Apamea). These are, at least initially, drawn from the popular venatio ("hunting") displays in the amphitheatres, where a variety of exotic beasts were released to fight and be killed. Despite the contrast in atmosphere, the Berlin mosaic from a house in Miletus manages to combine both a venatio and an Orpheus with animals in its two parts. A staged scene in the arena recorded by Martial combined an acted Orpheus with the punishment of criminals by damnatio ad bestias.

Roman sites in Great Britain

There are many Roman sites in Great Britain that are open to the public. There are also many sites that do not require special access, including Roman roads, and sites that have not been uncovered.

Structural Awards

The Institution of Structural Engineers' Structural Awards have been awarded for the structural design of buildings and infrastructure since 1968. The awards were re-organised in 2006 to include ten categories and the Supreme Award for structural engineering excellence, the highest award a structural project can win.

The David Alsop Sustainability Award, in memory of David Alsop, who died on 18 October 1996 while a vice president and president elect of the Institution of Structural Engineers, is made for "an outstanding structure which demonstrates excellent coordination of all aspects of the

engineering elements and services combined with elegance, life-time economy and respect for the environment in which the structure is built." It was first awarded in 2000.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms

The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits (sometimes shortened to Worms) is an 1881 book by Charles Darwin on earthworms. It was his last scientific book, and was published shortly before his death (see Darwin from Insectivorous Plants to Worms). Exploring earthworm behaviour and ecology, it continued the theme common throughout his work that gradual changes over long periods of time can lead to large and sometimes surprising consequences. It was the first significant work on soil bioturbation, although that term was not used by Darwin (it first appeared in the soil and geomorphic literature one hundred years later).

Villa rustica

Villa rustica (countryside villa) was the term used by the ancient Romans to denote a villa set in the open countryside, often as the hub of a large agricultural estate (latifundium). The adjective rusticum was used to distinguish it from an urban or resort villa. The villa rustica would thus serve both as a residence of the landowner and his family (and retainers) and also as a farm management centre. It would often comprise separate buildings to accommodate farm labourers and sheds and barns for animals and crops.

In modern British archaeology, a villa rustica is commonly (and misleadingly) referred to simply as a "Roman villa".

The villa rustica's design differed depending on the architect, but usually it consisted of three parts; the urbana (main house), agricultural center and the rusticana (farm area).

Warren Cup

The Warren Cup is an ancient Roman silver drinking cup decorated in relief with two images of male same-sex acts. It was purchased by the British Museum for £1.8 million in 1999, the most expensive single purchase by the museum at that time. It is usually dated to the time of the Julio-Claudian dynasty (1st century AD).

The cup is named after its first modern owner, Edward Perry Warren, notable for his art collection, which also included Rodin's The Kiss statue and Cranach's Adam and Eve painting.


Yarbridge is a hamlet on the Isle of Wight. It is at the southern tip of the parish of Brading (where the 2011 census population was listed). It has a popular pub restaurant called the Yarbridge Inn (formerly the Anglers Inn). There is also a small hotel with a swimming pool, Oaklands House.

The bridge over the River Yar, defended by a Second World War pillbox, was constructed in the Middle Ages by Sir Theobald Russell who was killed fighting a French invasion, dying of his wounds at Knighton Gorges. Until the bridge's construction, Bembridge had been an island accessible only at low tide. The bridge also crosses the railway and is bordered by an RSPB reserve on Brading Marshes.

Brading Roman Villa and Morton Manor are close by.

Roman visitor sites in the UK
Forts & military
Other sites


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