One of England’s most important Roman sites has re-opened after the completion a year long refurbishment project.
Rare decorated glass gaming counters discovered at Lullingstone Roman Villa
around 60 years ago are among the 240 artifacts now on display at the
site near Eynsford.
Working with some of the original excavators who discovered the objects during digs at the site from the
late 1940s until 1961, English Heritage has brought together the varied collection of finds to shed light on the way the affluent Romans who occupied the villa – one of the most important and complete in Britain – are believed to have lived, worked, worshipped and relaxed.
Lively interpretation panels bringing the Roman occupation to life feature a
series of illustrations by award-winning children’s illustrator Jane
Ray and to engage younger visitors, there are interactive objects
ranging from a handling collection of Roman artifacts to tesserae cubes
to make into mosaics.
The highlight of the new interpretation is a sound and light show which
dramatically illuminates the ruined villa from above while telling its
story. Visitors can look down as the lights pick out rooms, from the
bath suite to the triclinium, or dining room, as well as the villa’s
crowning glory, a superb mosaic floor laid during the 4th century which
vividly depicts scenes from ancient mythology.
The majority of the artifacts have not been seen since they went on display
after excavation in the 1950s, including a remarkable collection of
grave goods discovered in a mausoleum containing the bodies of a man
and woman who both died in their mid-twenties. Their above average
heights – she was 5ft 6in tall and he measured 5ft 10in – are
consistent with their high status, reflecting better diets and living
conditions than the norm.
Objects buried with them include 30 gaming counters, which were possibly used
for the game ludus duodecim scripta – a game similar to backgammon –
and placed with the body for entertainment during the journey to the
They were found on the lid of the man’s shell-embossed lead coffin alongside
a head carved into bone. This was believed to represent a goddess
providing protection, or possibly the snake-haired gorgon Medusa – in
Greek mythology, Medusa’s blood was used to revive the dead. Displayed
with his skeleton, other finds from the mausoleum include a glass
bottle with dolphin handles, flagons thought to have contained water or
wine for the journey, silver spoons and a wooden keg.
Improved amenities for visitors have also been installed, including a new shop
and tea bar and an Education Room with floor to ceiling windows
overlooking the villa for the thousands of schoolchildren who visit the
site each year.
A house-church is located directly above a cult room still containing a
niche with a painted scene of water nymphs for pagan worship,
illustrating that the villa’s occupants came to embrace Christianity,
possibly while still worshipping other gods. A cross-shaped chi-rho
(pronounced ‘Cairo’) found within the house-church is one of the oldest
early Christian symbols ever discovered in Britain.
A vast array of objects have gone on display at the villa, which
represent every aspect of daily life for the villa’s occupants – from
intricate jewellery, tools, coins and pots to dishes and jugs for
holding and storing food, wine and water.
There are harness fittings, suggesting that horses and oxen were kept at the
villa, writing implements and even keys and padlocks which indicate
there were items of value to lock up – further evidence that people of
wealth and importance occupied the site.
One of four skeletons of babies discovered at Lullingstone is on display.
Dating from the late 2nd century, it was found buried south of the bath
suite – children who were still-born or died under 10 days old tended
not to be buried in a proper grave and they were regarded as having no
Although it was known that a Roman site existed at Lullingstone during the 19th- century, the exact location was not found until 1939 and excavations did not begin until 1949.
Archaeologist, author and director of the Roman Building Trust, Dr Tony Rook worked on
the excavations as a schoolboy and was present when the mosaic floor
“I used to cycle from home in Sevenoaks,” he says. “From time to time, my
father would take pity on me and collect me and my bike by car. As a
result he started to get interested. As an artist, he began doing the
drawings recording our discoveries and later my mother too became
involved. When my father retired, my parents became the site’s first
“At that time, the mosaic was covered only by a tarpaulin which we took off
each day. When the Ministry of Works took over, my father suggested
there was little point in advertising the site as open after sunset, so
they gave him a hurricane lamp! They also provided him with a new
police raincoat each year and continued to send one even after a cover
over the site was erected.
“Until then, my father displayed all the objects, which he conserved and
restored, but this was subsequently reduced to just a selection and so
I am very pleased to see so many now going back on view for people to
Open daily from 10am to 6pm until September 30, 10am to 4pm from October 1
to November 30 and 10am to 4pm Wednesdays to Sundays from December 1
Admission: adults £5.50, concessions £4.40, children £2.80, family £13.80, under fives and EH members free
Phone 0870 333 1181
Visit http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/ lullingstone