Archaeologists have called the Fishbourne site a palac
Many archaeologists and historians have argued that the site of Fishbourne although often referred to as a palace was in fact used for a completely different purpose. Some argue that it was a palace, some say it was a retirement home for Emperor Vespasian, some say a mansio (a roman hotel), some say it could have been used for a military base for the roman army and some think it was an industrial site. Before I begin to analyse the evidence, I must consider that each piece of evidence that I use can be interpreted in different ways to fit each argument.
In this essay I will explore the possible uses of the site and I will look at the reasons why the site is actually referred to as Fishbourne Roman palace. My answer to this question will be discursive as there are many key points to consider. Firstly one of the best points to prove that Fishbourne might have been a palace in the roman times is that the size of the establishment was absolutely massive even by palace standards. Being 10 acres large, the site would be big even by today’s palace sizes.
As of yet it is the largest excavated domestic roman site discovered north of the Alps, which was very close to the heart of the Roman Empire in Rome. Also if the site is compared to the Bignor Roman site, Fishbourne is huge. Some think that with all the outbuildings, granaries and stables; Fishbourne is four times the size of Bignor, which is a key point to suggest why it is described as a palace and not a villa like the relatively small site of Bignor. Also the site of Fishbourne is massive compared to many Romano’s, which are a large type of house or mansion like a roman villa, but built in England.
The Fishbourne site is about the same size as Nero’s palace that was called Domus Aurea, which means ‘golden house’ in English. Nero made his palace extending all the way from the Palatine to the Esquiline (An area of Rome embracing two of the seven hills. The site contained imperial baths and many villas and grand buildings including the ‘Golden House’. ) Which at first he called the House of Passage, but when it was burned shortly after its completion and rebuilt, the Golden House.
This was a grand costly building so for Fishbourne to be a similar size means that it was probably built as a palace for someone with either lots of status or plenty of money. Moving into the site, there are even more sources that suggest that the site of Fishbourne might well have been used as a palace. Firstly there were over 100 rooms, 100+ mosaics and 50,000 tiles. These wouldn’t have been used in just a villa and especially not half as many mosaics would have been used in a villa. This is because the mosaics were very expensive to have created and took a long time to create.
In some places on the site, mosaics have been created over the top of older black and white mosaics. This shows that whoever lived on the site wanted to keep up with changing trends that were being fashioned in the heart of the Roman Empire in Rome. It also shows that the person who lived at Fishbourne was not at all short of money. Immigrant craftsmen shipped all the way from Italy laid each mosaic, which cost money and also time. This shows that the person who lived in Fishbourne had links with people in Italy and lots of wealth, status and prosperity.
Staying on the subject of wealth, even the stone walls inside the establishment had been plastered and painted which in those times was extremely expensive. Samian pottery was also in use, which was glazed and so expensive. Some of the walls were painted purple which was only really used in royal sites, this shows that royalty might have lived or stayed on site. A gold ring was found on the site, which was only small enough to fit a child. At that time anyone who had gold had to have enough status to wear it and even then had to get permission from the reigning emperor in Rome to wear it.
So the fact that a small child had been wearing gold further shows that the inhabitants of the site had been very wealthy or could have had wealthy guests to stay at the site. There is no certainty about who was responsible for the buildings at Fishbourne, however, speculation centres on one Tiberius Claudius Togidubnus (or Cogidubnus). The theory is that Togidubnus was a relative of Verica – the Atrebatic leader who may have persuaded Claudius to invade Britain. The Atrebates tribe were very pro Roman, and the young Togidubnus was established as client king of the Atrebates, during which time he would have come into contact with Vespasian.
Togidubnus’ men possibly fought alongside the Roman troops in the decisive battle against Boudicca, in AD61, which resulted in his area of influence being increased. One of the very few ancient Britons known to history, the Roman historian Tacitus tells us that ‘Certain states were given to Cogidubnus (he remained faithful down to our times) according to an old and long accepted Roman tradition of using kings also as instruments of slavery. ‘ Evidence that the new town at Chichester (Noviomagus) was his capital is given by an inscription found in 1723 and now on display in the Assembly Rooms in North Street.
It records the erection of a temple to Neptune and Minerva, by a guild of craftsmen, by permission of Tiberius Claudius Togidubnus, ‘great king in Britain’. A series of classically inspired buildings at Fishbourne, culminating in the construction of a truly palatial one in the late AD 70s, may have been the residences of King Togidubnus. He probably died towards the end of the century, at which time his kingdom was divided. The gardens at the site were extremely elaborate and cover a huge part of the palace.
A grand palace like Fishbourne would have needed an impressive garden to welcome important dignitaries. The gardens contained Native fruit, culinary herbs, apples, pears and medicine plants, which are all rarities. It would have been very strange to have fruit, vegetables and herbs such as these growing at a place where cooking was not needed. Finally the last points for the palace were that lots of little ornate decorations and finishes were applied. These included things like door handles sculptured like dolphins.
Skilled foreign craftsmen who would have cost lots of money to ship over to Britain probably applied these. This once again shows that the occupant of the palace had lots of money and links with other countries. There are a few points that suggest that the site may have been used for a different purpose. Firstly a military helmet was found on the site and it was quite likely that the owner of the place wouldn’t have had this at their home although this can be justified for as the owners of the palace probably would have had guards in the form of soldiers.
A distinctive military style ditch was also unearthed on the site and we know it is a military type because they are a special V shape so that if an enemy jumped down into one, he would do damage to or even break his ankles. The final point against the palace theory is that the site origin was too small for a palace and was more like a villa like Bignor. However, the site may have been extended later on and made into more of a palace size. If it had been a palace, it might have been positioned further away from the coast slightly more inland and was situated right on the coast by the sea, it was left open to attack by Saxon’s
Another possible explanation for what the site may have been used for is a retirement home for Emperor Vespasian. As Fishbourne was built during his reign as emperor in Rome, there could have been a chance that it might have been built for his retirement. There were lots of large rooms and if it had been for him he would have needed rooms to entertain and court guests’ that had come from far abroad. The rooms could also have been used for people to stay in and they were all fit for royals and very high status people.
Vespasian also loved big, grand buildings and he often wanted to outclass Nero with the size of his buildings. This is a possible explanation as to why Fishbourne is so large. So if Fishbourne had been build with a retirement home in mind this is the reason as to why it is so grand and matched up to the size of Nero’s ‘Golden House’ in Rome. However, Vespasian was always very reluctant to leave Rome so it would have been a big doubt that he would has left the capital of Rome and come and live and reign in England. It was also too far from the centre of the Roman empire, Rome.
If anything bad like an invasion of Rome, an attack or a senior figure dying happened then Vespasian would be too far away to sort anything out and wouldn’t be able to get back to Rome to quickly which may further cause problems. Also although there would have needed to be rooms to court and entertain guests, maybe there would have been too many rooms for this. Only a few rooms would be needed as not all the guests would have come at once. Another problem that could be faced if Vespasian moved to Fishbourne for his retirement is that along with the luxuries of being an emperor, you also gain a fair amount of enemies.
If an English tribe who didn’t approve of Vespasian’s ways attacked him at Fishbourne, although he would probably have some of his soldiers with him, they wouldn’t be able to stand up to a whole tribe. Some historians believe that the Fishbourne site was in fact used as a mansio which was like a sort of roman hotel. The size of the establishment would be very suitable for a hotel with lots of rooms for people to stay and dine in. Unlike the retirement home theory, lots of rooms would be good because there might be lots of people all at once wanting to stay unlike guests at a retirement home.
There is evidence of an entrance hall at the front of the building which may have been used as a reception for clients staying in the mansio. There were four large wings to the site, a massive 75,000 sq ft well kept garden area with wide colonnaded walks surrounding it and lots of pillars which could have been for decoration and load bearing. These things could all have contributed to the site being a mansio and the hypocaust heating system which was put in under the flooring although never used could have been there to keep clients staying at the mansio warm in winter months.
There is lots of evidence of the people staying or living in Fishbourne dining very well. 10,000 oyster shells were found when excavating the site which shows that either a lot of rich people had been on the site or that whoever was staying there eat in massive size portions. Oyster was expensive then as it is now so this shows that the site if it was mansio served up good quality food for rich guests. Another point which shows off the wealth of the clients is that piglet bones had also been found.
This shows that they were rich as instead of waiting until the maximum amount of pork is ready, they can afford to have the more tender meat from piglets although there is not half as much pork as there would be on a fully grown pig. A child’s ring has been found on the site which could show that the people staying at the mansio had children with them. As I mentioned earlier, the ring was gold and to wear gold in those days you had to have permission from the emperor in Rome.
Only very rich people and people with high status got the permission so the people staying in the hotel were either very rich or had lots of status. However the main point against the mansio though is that it was not built very close to the nearest roman road which was actually called Staines Street and went all the way from the south coast by Fishbourne up to London. But there was a large harbour out the back as it was built on the sea and so guests coming from Rome could have moored their vessels in the harbour.
But if Fishbourne had been a Roman mansio, then it would have almost certainly been built next to or adjacent to the nearest roman road for access purposes which is Staines Street. The final suggested uses of the site that a few archaeologists have argued for is that Fishbourne was used as a military base/fort or an industrial site. The two key points for the military base were that a military style helmet was dredged up from Bosham harbour which is the nearby harbour and that distinctive V shaped military style ditches have been found on the Fishbourne site and normal palaces or Roman mansios would not really have had them.
The ditch is distinctive as a military one as it is shaped like a V with a very narrow point at the bottom and a wider part further up. They were dug out like this so that if an enemy advanced and jumped down into the ditch without looking down at it, they would land awkwardly on their ankles in the narrow part and could even break both ankles. Another good point for the base is that it was situated right on the coast so it may have been positioned there to stop invading vessels.
This would have been a very good defensive position and would have made it very hard for any people to invade. However the main point against the military base is that why the walls and floors would be so elaborately painted and decorated for soldiers to walk across them and make them dirty and damage them (such as this mosaic below). Surely this would just be a waste of money! Also if it had been a military base then surely over the years more evidence would have been left as one helmet is very little left after all the years in use.
Moving onto the industrial site, the main points for this explanation are that on several of the mosaics, there is lots of evidence of scorch marks and burn marks. These would most likely have been caused by hot braziers and ovens which were regularly used in industrial sites. The walls of the site were good shelter for the machinery and ovens and being on the coast meant products could be shipped to and from. The size of the establishment is the right sort of size for an industrial site as there would have had to be lots of room for the braziers and the heavy machinery.
However would one hundred or more rooms be needed for this purpose? There are several points against the industrial site though. Firstly, why would the walls be so nicely painted and decorated and why would mosaics have been put down to get scorch marks and ruined. There would have been absolutely no need for such a grand well looked after garden and people probably wouldn’t have eaten in an industrial site so why all the oyster shells and piglet bones. In Conclusion I feel that Fishbourne was originally built as a grand palace for the very wealthy noble King Togidubnus or Cogidubnus.
I think this mainly because of its sheer size and the fact that it is so beautifully decorated with plaster painted walls and highly expensive colourful mosaics laid by skilled foreign craftsmen brought in from Italy. For the help that Togidubnus gave the Romans when invading etc, they paid in him grand, lavish palaces and that might be the reason as to why the Fishbourne site is such a large building as even King Togidubnus who was extremely wealthy would not be able to afford such a large palace with all the mosaics and expensive touches.
I think that the military style helmet and the V style military ditches can be justified for by saying that Togidubnus would have had some guards in the form of soldiers to protect him and his grand home, the ditches would have been positioned around the edges of the palace just on the off chance that the Atrebates or Regni tribe were to attack. This is the reason as to why there is only very little military evidence discovered at the site as there wouldn’t have been much military presence compared to that if it was used as a military base.
Although the mansio argument had lots of plus points for it, I ruled this possible use out after the fact that it was not built on a Roman road – Staines Street. I did this because if it had been a mansio then it would have almost certainly been built on or adjacent to a roman road. So I am left with the industrial site and the retirement home to justify for.
I don’t think it was a retirement home for the emperor Vespasian as he was always very reluctant to leave Rome which was the centre of the roman empire and that he was too far away if something bad happened or if someone decided to attack Fishbourne he would be able to stand up to a whole tribe with only a few soldiers around him. This leaves me with just the industrial site. As there is absolutely no need for any gardens in an industrial site and no need for all the di?? or, I am left to believe that after the site was originally used a palace then after the occupants of the site moved out or passed away and the palace was no longer used, another group of people moved into the shelter of the palace and set up an industrial site. This would explain the scorch marks on some of the mosaics and the gardens and the food remains would still have been on the site from the previous use as a palace for King Togidubnus.
So now I am left with a completely flaw free answer. After a thorough investigation of the site I believe that the site was originally used as a palace for King Togidubnus with some military presence in the form of guards. Then after the palace was no longer needed, another group of people moved in and used the shelter and the walls and roof of Fishbourne for an Industrial site.
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