‘REGNVM: the First Kingdom’ is an ongoing project using archaeological and historical evidence to reassess the nature of cultural change across central south eastern Britain from the 1st century BC to the 4th century AD, examining in particular the nature of trade, globalisation and direct Roman Imperial patronage.
The traditional view of Roman Britain begins with the invasion of AD 43, when the emperor Claudius ordered the military subjugation of the island. New archaeological and historical evidence, however, suggests that this view is fundamentally flawed, for it fails to consider the input of the native aristocracy in the earliest stages of the development of Britannia.
In West Sussex and Eastern Hampshire it would appear that native British leaders not only traded with the Mediterranean world prior to the invasion of Claudius in AD 43, but actively collaborated with Rome and were significantly rewarded thereafter. One such leader was Tiberius Claudius Togidubnus, a Briton described as ‘Great King’ on an inscription found in the West Sussex city of Chichester. Close to the town lies Fishbourne, a Roman palace which, when constructed in the late 1st century AD, had a footprint larger than that of Buckingham Palace.
This was a well-appointed, mosaic-filled private ‘house’ comprising four colonnaded wings set around a vast open courtyard. Put together by an army of highly skilled architects and craftsmen brought in from the European mainland, the site would have cost, in today’s terms, well over £8 million to build. A fragment from a marble portrait of the young emperor Nero hints at possible links between the owners of the house and the imperial family.
Although there is no firm evidence as to who may originally have lived in Fishbourne, it may have been a Roman administrator, state official (such as the governor or tax collector), businessman or merchant, desperate for the comforts of Rome, or someone who had actually helped the Roman cause, perhaps a prominent British aristocrat with connections such as Togidubnus. What is clear, however, is that Fishbourne was originally only one of a number of early Roman palatial buildings established along the south coast of England in the 1st century. Whoever owned these palaces, they appear to have enthusiastically embraced Roman culture, developing ostentatious new homes at no little expense.
The REGNVM project, which encompasses archaeological survey (geophysical, topographical and surface collection), targeted excavation and the reevaluation of museum archives, was established in order to catalogue, examine and interpret the palaces, temples and later wealthy villas of this ‘first kingdom’ of Roman Britain in significant detail. It is a natural companion to the Durotriges Project, a larger field investigation into the less obviously Roman cultural zone of south western Britain, also run by the Faculty of Science and Technology at Bournemouth University.
Rudling, D. and Russell, M. 2015 Bignor Roman Villa: Unlocking the Site’s Secrets. Current Archaeology 309
Rudling, D. and Russell, M. 2015 Bignor Roman Villa. Stroud: The History Press
Russell, M. and Rudling, D. 2015 Bignor Roman Villa: Paradise Found? British Archaeology 144
Russell, M. and Manley, H. 2015 Trajan Places – Establishing Identity and Context for the Bosham and Hawkshaw Heads. Britannia 29
Russell, M. and Manley, H. 2013 Finding Nero: shining a new light on Romano-British sculpture. Internet Archaeology 32
Russell, M. 2013 A near life-size, togate bust from Chichester, West Sussex. Britannia 44
Russell, M. and Laycock, S. 2010 UnRoman Britain: Exposing the Great Myth of Britannia. Stroud: The History Press.
Russell, M. 2010 Bloodline: the Celtic Kings of Roman Britain. Stroud: Amberley
Russell, M. and Laycock, S. 2010 UnRoman Attitudes – Exposing the Myth of Britannia. Current Archaeology 249
Russell, M. 2006 Lucullus: Roman Britain’s Lost Governor. Current Archaeology 204
Russell, M. 2006 Roman Sussex. Stroud: Tempus
Russell, M. 2005 Ruling Britannia. History Today 55