Wednesday, August 18, 2010

British villa fit for an emperor: Experts finally solve puzzle of Roman ruins at Lullingstone

For 70 years, archaeologists have tried to unravel the secrets of one of the most remarkable Roman villas discovered in Britain.

The Lullingstone villa was uncovered in 1939 when a tree was blown down by high winds. Over the years, archaeologists found one of the first Christian chapels in Britain, the graves of a man and a woman, a pair of unique floor mosaics and two marble busts.

The owner of the villa in Kent has finally been identified as a former Emperor of Rome.

Archaeologists believe the site near the village of Eynsford, close to Orpington, was the home of Publius Helvius Pertinax.

He was Governor of Britain between AD185 and 187 and became Roman Emperor in AD193 – reigning for only 87 days at the start of 'the year of the five emperors', which saw the empire ripped apart by assassinations.

A high-quality seal found just outside the villa is believed to be the governor's personal mark. Two portrait busts left at the villa have been identified as Pertinax and probably his father.

The research was carried out by Martin Henig, who lectures in Roman art and culture at Oxford University, and German Richard de Kind.

Joanne Gray, curator at Lullingstone, said: 'We have always known that the site must have belonged to someone of high status because of its size, the quality of its mosaic floor and the archaeological finds.

'The image on the seal is one of victory. It is an image often used by Romans as a sign of imperial power.'

The son of a freed slave, Petrinax was born in AD126 in modern-day Piedmont, Italy, and became a brilliant military commander.

Fighting in a series of wars under successive emperors, he was posted to Britain in AD186 to crush a rebellion in the Sixth Legion before becoming governor.

When Emperor Commodus was assassinated, Pertinax was installed as his successor. He drew up a series of measures to balance the budget after Commodus's lavish spending on games and spectacles.

But the austere measures made him unpopular and he was assassinated by his own guards at the age of 66.

Historians say the villa was built in 82AD, enlarged in around 150AD and used by others for more than 300 years until it was burnt down in the 5th century. Its basement and foundation walls can still be viewed at the site, which is preserved by English Heritage.

Mrs Gray said the research had been carried out by archaeologists Martin Henig, who lectures in Roman art and culture at Oxford University, and German archaeologist Richard de Kind.

She added: 'The research that has been done points quite strongly to Lullingstone being the home of Britain's governor. Everything seems to fit.'

Visitors to the villa, near the village of Eynsford, can still view the basement and foundation walls of the villa. Visit

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