Sold by Cadell & Davies, B.& J. White, Edwards, Payne, Robson, Nicol, Elmsley, and Leigh & Sotheby.London 1797 Large elephant folio, (17½ x 23½ inches). Hand-coloured engraved title + hand-coloured dedication plate to King George III + [ii] + 20 pp. text in English + 20 pp. + [iv] + 21 pp. text in French + 35 finely finished , hand-coloured, etched and/or aquatinted plates, of which 9 are double-page, 5 uncoloured engraved plates, and large engraved head- and tail-piece, 40 plates in total, a Splendid Contemporary Binding of Full Calf Gilt by Kalthoeber with his ticket, hinges repaired.
In 1793 Samuel Lyson commenced the extensive excavations which still today are the main source of our knowledge of the villa. These took place over three years and in 1797 Lysons was able to publish the results of his work in this book. He also found a number of very fine marble sculptural fragments, including the headless statue of Diana Luna, with the sacrificial bull at her feet, which are now in the British Museum. The quality of the carving is exceptional for statues found in British villas and these finds indicate the luxurious character of the villa.
These very fine aquatint illustrations include three coloured aquatint views of Woodchester, two of which are double-page. Samuel Lysons was one of the first archaeologists to investigate the Roman sites in Britain, as well as being a leading intellectual of his time and a benefactor of the British Museum, to which he donated many artifacts. Between 1793 and 1796, he undertook extensive excavations of Roman ruins which were published with his illustrations in 1797.That year he was made a fellow of the Royal Society and later served as its vice-president and treasurer. He was also an antiquary professor in the Royal Academy 1818.
Woodchester is most famous for its magnificent Orpheus mosaic, the largest in Britain and perhaps the most intricate.
In AD 43 the Emperor Claudius ordered a new invasion of England. His army, led by Plautius was successful and an arch was erected in Rome dedicated to Claudius’ victory. ‘He subdued eleven kings of Britain without any reverse, and received their surrender, and was the first to bring barbarian nations beyond the ocean under Roman sway.’ By the end of the first century England was fully occupied by the Romans – although only the south and east of the country could be described as fully under the Roman thumb.
Woodchester lay within this region, and the Cotswolds had become one of the richest and most valuable parts of Roman Britain.
Building the magnificent Villa in Woodchester probably began during the reign of Hadrian (AD 117-138.) There are a number of theories about the origins and its purpose.
One says it was built as the headquarters for the Romans’ protracted campaign against the Silures in South Wales; another claims it was the home of the Roman General, Vespasian. It may even have been the country house of the Roman Governor of the province. Who ever it belonged to, it was a work of great importance covering twenty-six acres.
However, a single ‘owner’ is of course misleading. The villa was built and rebuilt over two centuries or more. Giles Clarke, writing in Britannia in1982, feels that it was unlikely to have had an ‘official’ function. He argues that more likely, the villa was built and lived-in by the descendants of the pre-Roman tribal leader at Rodborough.The reason for building the villa on this particular site also has to be a matter of conjecture. Certainly the beauty of the surrounding area is a factor; the villa is sheltered in the valley and there would have been a plentiful supply of stone and wood for building. A constant supply of freshwater from the spring line would have also been a key consideration.
There must have been other considerations as well. If we follow Giles Clarke’s reasoning, it may well have been that the site was already the home or settlement of the Dubonni tribe and that Woodchester was of pre-Roman origin.
Interestingly, a recent excavation of another large villa, in Turkdean in the Cotswolds, has also thrown up evidence that it was actually built by the native Dubonni. The Dubonni were a civilized tribe, whose kingdom encompassed southern Worcestershire, most of Gloucestershire and north Somerset. It seemed, rather than resisting the Romans, they quickly adopted all the benefits of the new Roman civilisation and remained part of the hierarchy. Like the Romans they shared a reverence for nature and natural forces such as springs and, only a few hundred yards away from the villa, was the spring line which provided water for the villa.
Woodchester was also situated a convenient distance from three important Roman cities at Bath, Cirencester and Gloucester and was already on the path of an ancient road that ran between Gloucester and Bath.
The area immediately surrounding Woodchester is remarkably rich archaeologically: there are at least seven other villas within a five mile radius. Also, the Woodchester area is characterized by abundant evidence of religious activity. There have been found a number of alters to Mars in the Nailsworth Valley; there is a temple dedicated to Mercury found near Uley. This all suggests that the area was an important cultural and religious centre even before the Romans arrived.
In the latter half of the fourth century the villa was partially destroyed by fire probably by the Pict or Saxon invaders who had overwhelmed the island. It may have continued to be occupied during Saxon times but was certainly gradually dismantled and the stone reused to build housing and most probably the church.
The villa’s plan is of the courtyard type confirming to typical Italian design.
There are comparatively few of this layout in England. It had two large courtyards surrounded by buildings with 65 rooms including a main residence, a farm, a sun terrace, a spa and bath complex, and a large hall that contained the wonderful mosaic, The Great Pavement. This is one of the most complex and intricate mosaic designs found in northern Europe, and is 2,209 square feet and when complete contained one and a half million pieces of stone. This great mosaic was made around AD. 325 by craftsmen from Corinium, with the main design based around Orpheus and his relationship with nature.
In all thirteen mosaics have been recorded in situ.