View of the river Darent from Lullingstone Roman Villa
Lullingstone Roman Villa in Kent is among the most outstanding of Roman remains in Britain. This villa is one of a number that have been found in north Kent along the course of the Roman road known as Watling Street. The course of this road is now roughly the course of the A2. Farming communities grew up on the fertile soil of this area to supply food to London and other nearby towns. Judging by the villa's size Roman farmers here made a good living.
Lullingstone Villa was established around 75AD. The Roman conquest which had begun in 43AD was well established by this time. Boudicca's rebellion which reached London in 60AD was a fading memory. There may have been unrest in the south east of England around 193 - 197AD when governor Clodius Albinus tried to seize control of the empire, and similar trouble between 287 and 296 AD when governors Carausius and Allectus had ideas above their station. But generally speaking Britannia was a peaceful province. Farmers in southern England could get on with making money and living their own version of the Roman dream. The villa grew, to include a bath block where residents could bathe in the Roman style, moving from hot, to tepid, to cold baths, with a vigorous massage given by servants afterwards. The villa was built on a bank overlooking a river valley. Residents could sit out in the sunshine on a veranda and enjoy a view of the lovely little river that we now call the Darent. The spirits of this river were celebrated in a "Cult Room," representations of these spirits surviving in an alcove on the walls.
The Cult Room
As the centuries passed the peaceful certainties of Roman rule began to weaken. Rome's emperor had always been worshipped as a god. Other religious beliefs were permitted as long as they did not conflict with belief in the emperor. In Lullingstone's Cult Room, and in the house church just above it, these beliefs were duly followed. But around 300AD Christianity was becoming increasingly popular, and as Christians believed in a single god their belief did indeed threaten the emperor cult. Roman emperors did not learn the lessons of later European rulers, who got round the problem of clearly not being gods by claiming that they were appointed by God. Roman Emperors still wanted to be actual gods, an idea whose time seemed to have passed. By 380AD the Cult Room at Lullingstone had been converted to a Christian chapel, although there is evidence that people played it safe and worshipped the old gods as well. This change reflects the break down of the Roman Empire which was gathering momentum at this time. By 410AD problems for the Romans in Europe were so serious that Britannia's garrison was withdrawn to provide reinforcements elsewhere. This withdrawal was only supposed to be temporary, but the soldiers never returned.
Romanised Britons who remained faced a frightening, uncertain future. There were invasions from what is now Scotland, and then invasions of Saxon peoples from Europe. There were no Roman soldiers to stop these incursions, and the peaceful, well ordered province of Britannia descended into chaos. As a fitting symbol of this growing disorder, Lullingstone Villa was gutted by fire early in the fifth century, soon after the Romans left. Soil slipping down from the steep hillside above the ruined villa covering, and protecting, what remained. Lullingstone Villa then lay largely undisturbed until 1949 when the Darenth Valley Archaeological Group began excavations. Because the site had been covered so quickly by soil, the state of preservation was remarkable. So often Roman sites in Britain present no more than floors, and the courses of under floor heating systems, but at Lullingstone whole rooms remain, with walls, doors, and strong echoes of the people who lived in them.
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Directions: Lullingstone Villa is in Lullingstone Lane in the village of Eynsford, Kent. Come off junction 3 of the M25, onto the A20 and follow signs for Eynsford. Once in the village follow signs to Lullingstone Villa. Click here for an interactive road and satellite map centred on Lullingstone Roman Villa. Postcode DA4 0JA
Access: There is good wheelchair access, though some of the exhibits might be set rather high for easy viewing. There is a high viewing gallery which is not accessible. Adapted toilet facilities are available.
telephone: 01322 863467