Roman History Reading Group
Site Index
About Us
Readings by alpha
Readings, chronological
Currently Reading

Roman History Books and More Blog

arrow button Links of Interest

Ancient History & General Roman History Links
   including maps
Articles & Essays by Members & Friends
Electronic Texts & Author Websites
   Ancient & Modern Authors
History of Early Rome, Republic & Empire
Roman Calendar
Fun, Games & Movie Links
Mythology, Philosophy & Religion
     Early Christianity & Judaism
Way of Life

arrow Questions?


Ancient Rome as seen in the year 2001

Forum Romanum image - click here for articles on Rome

Irene's travelogue: Germania 1999

gladiator image - click here for travelogue

Irene's travelogue 2002

blue crater, click here for travelogue

Irene's travelogue 2003

battle mask, click here for travelogue 2003

A Visit to Fishbourne
by Robert Greaves

Bust of VespasianWhile I was in the UK in November 2006, I visited a friend living in Chichester and took the opportunity of visiting the site of a Roman palace in the village of Fishbourne, just outside the city. A museum has been constructed over part of the site so that visitors can look at the remains.

Map showing the location of Fishbourne
Map with location of the museum (use the scale on the left to zoom in and out)
with the palace superimposed on the modern village.

The site is very close to a natural harbour and was in the territory of the Atrebates. Roman buildings on the site can be traced from the earliest days of Claudius’ invasion to the end of the 3rd century AD. The earliest buildings on the site seem to have been military granaries, perhaps part of a military supply base. The future emperor Vespasian was one of the legates in the invasion and there is a bust of him in the museum, although it wasn’t clear to me whether it was an original bust found on the site or a copy from somewhere else.

As the military zone moved further west in the 50s, the military granaries seem to have been succeeded by a house called by archaeologists the ‘proto-palace’, at the southern end of the site of the palace. Many other similar buildings seem to have been erected along the south coast of Britain in the 50s and 60s.

However, Fishbourne’s fame as a Roman archaeological site rests on the palace built in the 70s. The palace was a huge complex, about the size of Nero’s Golden House in Rome or Buckingham Palace in London today. Of course, it was probably cheaper to build something that large in a sparsely populated area than in the middle of a big city, even if some of the skilled artisans had to be imported.

The palace was built around 75 AD in the form of four wings surrounding a formal garden. Another garden stretched from the South Wing to the sea. This model of what the palace may have looked like has West at the top. Although we can’t say for certain, it is very probable that the palace belonged to Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus (or possibly Togidubnus), a British king who sided with the Romans during the invasion. In the 70s he was given the title legatus Augusti (perhaps a reward for having supported Vespasian in his bid to become emperor), and so could have sat in the Roman Senate.

In the early second century, some of the eastern part of the North Wing was converted into a bath house, while later in the century the whole eastern end had to be demolished because of subsidence. Towards the end of the third century extensive remodelling was interrupted by a fire which destroyed enough of the palace to cause it to be abandoned. Much of the stonework was removed for use elsewhere.

In Saxon times the overgrown site became an agricultural one, and some of the buried remains were damaged by ploughing. Intermittent discoveries of Roman objects were made in the area in the 19th century, but it was not until 1960 when a workman cutting a trench for a water main found some ancient building rubble that the archaeological world started to take notice. So spectacular and significant were the finds that a modern museum has been built over the North Wing, allowing the public to examine some of the remains in situ.

Some of the sights to be seen:

The Hypocaust: The back flue would have come from a furnace outside the building. Gases would have travelled into the central chamber and then dispersed along the diagonal flues, up flues in the walls and then out of a chimney at the top.

the hypocaust another view of the hypocaust

The Cupid is one of the better-preserved mosaics. The room suffered from subsidence but the mosaic hasn’t suffered too much. Indeed, mosaics are remarkably resilient, as this one below right shows. The water table is very near the surface and water seeps through into the depressions at high tides after heavy rain.

Cupid mosaic Cupid mosaic this photo shows the subsidence

Escher: This abstract mosaic is somewhat spoiled by the dividing wall later constructed over it.

Robert GreavesInformation is taken from the museum guide book by Barry Cunliffe and the museum website.
The photos on this page are mine. In the unlikely event of anyone wanting to use them, please ask first.

Copyright 2007 © Robert Greaves

Other Features by Robert Greaves

Escher mosaic

back to Articles by Members and Friends
Roman History Reading Group
Roman History Books and More Blog
Google logo

Search the Internet Search this site

Valid XHTML 1.0!


Wikipedia, with the usual caveat:
Fishbourne Roman Palace
Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus

in association with, click hereFishbourne Roman Palace
(Tempus History & Archaeology)


in association with, click hereA Body in the Bathhouse
A Falco mystery by Lindsey Davis which takes place at the Palace of Fishbourne, with King Togidubnus in residence.