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They say scratch England and you'll find Rome. That's certainly true at Chedworth Roman Villa in the Cotswold region of England. The villa provides a wonderful example of how the Roman "invaders" lived in the second century. It was discovered by accident in the year 1864, when a gamekeeper found fragments of paving and shards of pottery in a bank of soil. The importance of this extensive find was soon established and over the next two years the site was excavated.

Villas were an outstanding feature of country life in Roman Britain, culminating in the third and fourth centuries. Archaeologists can trace four types of villas in England: the cottage, winged corridor, courtyard and aisled villa. These once luxurious estates remind us of a time when England was a distant outpost of the far-reaching Roman Empire. For nearly 400 years, the British were a subject race, answering only to Rome.

The work at Chedworth was carried out by the Earl of Eldon, who owned the property. By 1924, the site was bought for The National Trust. Founded over one hundred years ago, The National Trust is the greatest conservation society in Britain and the country's largest private landowner.

Judging from the number and quality of villas known in the Cotswolds, the area was especially prosperous in the later Roman era. Approximately 22 villas are known within a ten-mile radius of Chedworth, nine of these being less than five miles away.

The villa lies at the head of a small valley, which opens out on the east to overlook the River Coln. According to experts, the most important reason why the house was built in this particular place was the availability of water. Some of the most popular artifacts found at the Roman villa are elaborate mosaics. There were a large number of them found at Chedworth, most produced in the colors of red white and blue. The degree of skill and care employed in laying the mosaics depended upon where they were to be used. The bath mosaics were considered to be very important, second only to that of the dining room, since people would spend a great deal of time there. Good mosaics would form a pleasant diversion. With the exception of one room, which had a human figure representing Winter, the mosaics at Chedworth were all geometric patterns.

A museum on-site displays additional finds from Chedworth. Iron objects, bronze objects and stone figures are exhibited. Some of the stone figures represent pagan gods, while another was an altar to the god Mars. A selection of tools used in the workaday life, such as saws, chisels, knives and sheep-shears are displayed.

The evidence of coins found in the towns and villas of the Cotswolds around Chedworth tells us that life continued to prosper at least until late in the fourth century. But early in the fifth century the authority of Roman central government collapsed, at least as far as Britain was concerned. The towns were expected to organize their own defenses and the official peace-keeping force withdrew. The finely balanced Roman life began to decline.

Excavations at Chedworth have continued off and on since the original finds. In April, 2000, a team from Sheffield University investigated the Garden Court of Chedworth. This study looked at a previously untouched part of the villa site. Much work has taken place on the European continent in the area of Roman gardens but this is believed to be the first dedicated project looking at British examples.

Although the villa ruins today are little more than partial walls, foundations and artifacts, our imagination can recognize the people who lived, worked and died there. Like us, they took great pride in their homes and wished to be surrounded by the beauty of our natural world.