New Date for Chedworth Roman Villa Mosaic Changes English History
Scientific dating methods occasionally rewrite history, and this is certainly the case at the UK Chedworth Roman villa. Using precise radiocarbon dating techniques, scientists have been able to verify the continued existence of Roman culture and civilization in Britain, decades after the crumbling Roman Empire ceded control of the region. According to the National Trust report , scientists have proved that the Chedworth Roman villa mosaic, found at a sprawling Roman villa in Gloucestershire, had been assembled sometime in the mid-to-late 5th century AD, several decades after Rome’s official administrative exit from Britain in 410 AD.
The colorful and intricately designed Chedworth Roman villa mosaic was uncovered by archaeologists associated with the National Trust in 2017. It took a few years for testing to be completed, and researchers were thrilled to discover that this distinctive cultural artifact was constructed at a time when Roman power and influence in Britain had supposedly gone extinct.
“I am still reeling in shock of this dating,” said Dr. Stephen Cosh , an archaeological researcher and expert on Roman mosaics. “There are very late Roman mosaics in the area, for which archaeology can only ever say they must be later than a particular date. But none has ever been suspected to be this late … there is no question that this find at Chedworth is of enormous significance.”
With descent into the Dark Ages pending, historians had previously believed that Roman towns and villas in Britain had been abandoned following the cessation of official Roman control. Steep economic decline and serious military setbacks had preceded and initiated the Roman withdrawal, and it was assumed that the egress of the Romans following these developments had been nearly universal.
But it seems that conclusion was inaccurate, and it was the Chedworth Roman villa mosaic dating that has clearly shown that “history” was wrong.
The Chedworth Roman villa site where the mosaic (to the right of the tent coverings) was found. ( National Trust )
According to National Trust archaeologist Martin Papworth, this exciting discovery will force academics and historians to reconsider existing theories of what happened in the post-Roman era in the UK and elsewhere.
“It has generally been believed that most of the [indigenous] population turned to subsistence farming to sustain themselves and, after the break with Rome, Britannia’s administrative system broke down into a series of local fiefdoms,” Papworth explained. “What is so exciting about the dating of the mosaic at Chedworth is that it is evidence for a more gradual decline. The creation of a new room and the laying of a new floor suggests wealth, and a mosaic industry continuing 50 years later than had been expected.”
There have been several other mosaics discovered in this same region, and archaeologists now strongly suspect that dating will show at least some were constructed in the post-Roman era as well.
The Chedworth Roman villa and its surrounding Roman structures may have been part of a Roman enclave that continued to exist in the shadows in post-Roman Britain, perhaps long after Rome’s official abdication of control in 410 AD.
In the vacuum of power that developed in the wake of the Roman imperial exit, surviving Roman elites , given the new dating, determined to preserve their culture and lifestyle for as long as possible, along with at least a modicum of political organization.
Ceramic shards and pieces of marble imported from the Eastern Mediterranean have also been found at Chedworth, confirming that the villa was owned by a person of great wealth and power. An inscribed silver spoon unearthed by archaeologists at the site has identified that individual as a man named Censorinus. It is his descendants who likely continued to occupy the villa—in luxurious fashion—throughout the 5 th century AD.
A closeup of the mosaic found at the Chedworth Roman villa that has “rewritten history”. ( National Trust )
Very near Chedworth was another city called Cirencester, which was the Roman provincial capital and home of the local government. Its proximity to Censorinus’s villa implies that Censorinus himself may have been a local administrator, and he may have continued to exercise authority and enjoy significant privilege even after the Roman legions had departed.
Among the locals, the end of Roman imperial rule would have been greeted with considerable fear. With the barbarians literally howling at the gates, Roman aristocrats and politicians who remained in the area likely would have received cooperation from the citizens of Gloucestershire (Cirencester) and the surrounding area. The locals would have seen the Romans not as interlopers, but as their last best hope for preserving some kind of political order during a time of chaos and breakdown.
Interestingly, the Romans went on a real estate development binge in Cirencester during the late Roman period, constructing multiple grand and imposing structures that were later significantly refurbished and remodeled. Given the tight time frame, it is quite possible that the refurbishing occurred during the post-Roman era. This would signify a defiant attitude among the Roman political and moneyed elite, who were apparently determined (or encouraged by the locals?) to preserve what they’d built, despite being abandoned by what remained of the vanishing Roman Empire.
A group effort in the process of restoring the Chedworth Roman villa floor mosaic. ( National Trust )
The discovery that Roman culture continued to exist, and to some extent even thrive, in post-Roman Britain is not altogether surprising. The Romans were not driven out of Britain by an angry indigenous population intent on spilling blood, but instead withdrew of their own accord. Consequently, the Romans who remained wouldn’t have been subject to genocidal campaigns or forced into exile. Nor would they have been totally stripped of their possessions or their positions in local communities.
Nevertheless, the long-term survival of Roman culture in Britain was impossible. Separated from its homeland for decades, with no influx of new information, material goods, or people, the surviving Roman enclaves would have slowly devolved into lonely, isolated outposts. Through a process of gradual assimilation, culturally, socially, politically, and genetically, the signs and influence of Roman culture would have faded away over time. And as the Dark Ages descended much of the memory of what came before would have been forgotten.
Fortunately, modern archaeologists are experts at reconstructing the lost history of civilizations, epochs, eras, and peoples. With just one surprising radiocarbon dating discovery from the Chedworth Roman villa, conventional theories about what happened during the immediate post-Roman era in Britain will have to be completely revised. And this clearly shows that “history” is not always right!
Top Image: An archaeologist working on the Chedworth Roman villa mosaic that effectively changes the view of post-Roman history in the UK in a big way. Source: National Trust
By Nathan Falde