I visited Lullingstone a couple of years ago now but I did take the photographs below. It is a modest country villa on the River Darenth in north Kent. It was erected in 1st Century AD but later rebuilt and decorated in luxurious style in the 4th Century with mosaic and wall paintings. The superb mosaic shows the abduction of Europa by Jupiter disguised as a bull after Greek mythology. The centre panel not clear on my image shows Bellerophon riding Pegasus and spearing the Chimaera, a three headed monster, also a fabulous creature from Greek mythology.

Abduction and rape of Europa by Jupiter who is disguised as a bull Enhanced image of niche in nymphaeum, below Bathroom suite - foreground to back: frigidarium, tepidarium, caldarium, furnace3 Foreground bath suite (hypercaust) south wall looking NE Mosaic: note space for triclinium around central image
Niche in nymphaeum down the steps, three water nymphs but only one can been seen standing, the others are seated6 Kitchen (pot)7 Europa8

Bellerophon on Pegasus slaying the Chimaera mosaic (from a postcard)9

Click thumbnails for a LARGER image

The Villa

Lullingstone villa was discovered in 1939, although its existence had been known of since the turn of the 18th century when a tessellated pavement was found. Excavation had to wait for a war - work on the site started after WWII. It is built quite close to the river and is backed on its northwest side by a steep bank.

The history of the villa is too complicated to relate here but the original building is thought to have been started around AD75-80 as a timber frame house filled with wattle and daub; later it was re-built in stone in the 2nd century. The villa survived through 300 years of Roman occupation and underwent substantial alterations from time to time. Many finds have been made on the site but its best feature is the mosaic floor of the dining room which is divided into two. In the apse ‘Jupiter's Abduction & Rape of Europa' is featured (images 1 & 8) and the main area where the triclinium would have been the central image shows ‘Bellerophon on Pegasus killing the Chimaera’ (image 9). The corners of the main panel show heads in circles representing the four seasons and then there is the usual collection of swastikas, geometric designs and guilloche.

Water Worship

Lullingstone plan after DesticasThe house has a superb 4th-century bath suite comprising, from foreground backwards, (image 3); frigidarium, tepidarium and caldarium and a furnace, built against the south wall when the villa was at its most prosperous we assume (see plan on right). Both the cold and warm rooms had tessellated floors but the hot room was tiled. A shrine dedicated to three water nymphs was built at the same time ca. AD180; it contains a niche (see my images 2 & 6). This nymphaeum, set deep in the building and accessed by steps down to it, it had a concrete floor and rendered wall decorated with palms and other Mediterranean motifs.

The Temple Mausoleum

Plan of villa area through timeAt some time around AD280, after, it seems, the villa was abandoned for some time, a new building phase was started and the nymphaeum was access closed off.  Other demolitions and constructions in and around the site took place at this time too (see table below). Eventually the nymphaeum was demolished and a new vaulted-roof temple (because of presence of voussiors) was built outside above the villa cut into the bank (see plan left). At first this was a mausoleum just dug into the chalk but later a temple was constructed over it. Two burials, one of a young man the other a young woman in their early twenties, in lead coffins embossed scallop shells, were found here under the temple. The skeletons had grave goods with them: two each of a flagon, glass bottle, glass bowl, knives and spoons and some sort of Roman game.

The villa is thought to have been largely destroyed by fire early in the beginning of the 5th century and no further signs of occupation have been found after about AD420. This is some ten years after the Roman occupation of Britain had ceased.


The Mosaics

This is the strange cryptic text in the mosaic; debate has it that it refers to Christianity in some way and comes from the Aeneid, Book 1, pp.150 and references also in Ovid Metamorphoses Book 11, pp.835-75, the inscription translates as: "If jealous Juno had seen the swimming of the bull, she would with more justice have gone all the way to the halls of Aeolus." The image of Bellerophon killing the Chimaera is also supposed to be a reference to Christianity as well; it has been interpreted as the fight of good over evil or Christianity over Paganism. This is evidence perhaps that the original occupants of the villa may have been pagans worshipping a water deity and that these people were later replaced by Christians (it occurs to me perhaps hiding their beliefs for some reason).

Approximate date Supposed Event Type of owner
Up to 80 AD Pre-villa occupation. Timber/wattle & daub. Native farmer becoming Romanised, perhaps?
80-90 AD Building of the first flint and mortar house. The deep room (the nymphaeum) as a grain store. The same
Early 2nd Century Siting of the circular temple.     A fully Romanized native?
180 AD

Expansion of the house by addition of the baths, the kitchens and the north cult rooms. The Deep Room becomes a place of worship of the water nymphs. The  marble portrait busts now present.

A Roman possibly of Mediterranean origin? No evidence of farming.
200 AD House abandoned. -
Early 3rd. century Tannery established. A local?
220-280 AD House is left derelict. -
280 AD Re-occupation by new family. The baths are rebuilt, the northern steps blocked and the room rebuilt as a heated apartment. The marble portrait busts are deposited in the Deep room. A Roman-British individual farming on a large scale, whose descendants to own the villa until late in the 4th. century or to its final destruction?
300 AD The baths dismantled.  The same.
330-360 AD Construction of the apsidal (semi-circular) dining room and the reception room with their mosaic floors. The owner is now using the house as an intermittent residence, although farming continues?
380 AD The baths dismantled. The same.
380-385 AD Foundation of the Christian House-Church and its associated rooms. Pagan rites continue in the Deep room. The family now embrace Christianity?
390 AD The granary, its north wall recently buttressed, is used as a cart-standing, being shortly afterwards pulled down. The Christian rooms continue in use with the house-church. Farming ceases, and secular residence may have come to an end, leaving a centre of Christian worship only?
Early 5th. century  The final fire. -