Fishbourne Roman Palace

Having lived within a few miles of Fishbourne Roman Palace for the majority of my life, the other day I finally got around to visiting it again several decades after my one and only visit in the 70’s. I remember little if anything from the previous visit so I looked forward to it with a fresh mind. On arriving at the car park I looked across with mounting horror at the coaches and double decker  bus and then the long stream of little kids.  I parked up and then made my way over to the ticket office, approaching the kiosk I was nearly bowled over by an excited school kid, and then I heard the magic words – the kids will be leaving shortly 🙂 I’ve not got much against kids it’s just that I like to explore museums and such in peace and quiet. Anyhow I bought my ticket and also purchased a guide book. The lady who mentioned that the kids were leaving shortly, also informed me that just around the corner amongst the displays a member of staff was about to give a talk on some artifacts of which we would also be able to handle. Date of visit 26/03/15

Brief History of the Palace and Location

There has been very little evidence of occupation in pre-Roman times from around the site. A couple of flint axes of Mesolithic date from the eastern creek from around 4000 B.C. A small number of fragments of Iron Age pottery from the first century B.C.

The history of the palace has been divided into three periods.

  • A. D. 43-75                     Covers the early occupation and development of the site prior to the construction of the palace.
  • A. D. 75-100                   Covers the period of the contruction, it’s occupation until alterations begin around about 100.
  • A. D. 100-280/290       The occupation, alterations and eventual destruction.

Within The Museum

The gentleman who gave the talk was very good, clear and consice and had a nice personality, sadly I cannot remember his name, he mentioned that he had previously appeared on Channel 4’s Time Team and when he was on screen they had put a caption up with somebody else’s name and occupation on it. There were about a dozen or so artifacts to handle, various types of pottery from jugs, beakers, bowls including Samian Ware, marble, tegula (roof tiles), tesserae, roman window glass and a roman iron nail. Some of the pottery surprised me, the quality and the finish was great, they were a lot thinner/delicate than I had expected. After the talk I had intended on looking around the museum displays but the north wing remains which are the highlight of the palace was devoid of people so that was where I headed.

I have highlighted the North Wing section on the image below. The North Wing was composed of 23 rooms.


To the right is a mosaic floored corridor built in the early second century to link the north and west wings.

Continuing onwards I came to Exhibit B – a very fine example of a hypocaust, although unfinished it is easy to see the principle of it’s operation.


Further down into the wing we come across this mosaic with a black and white geometric design. This group of mosaic floors are of the earliest to be seen in Britain. Note on the top left hand side of the image between the wall and the floor is a ‘Quadrant moulding’ which is an early type of what we would call a skirting board. Also visible along the top left hand edge is the doorway.

Exhibit C


Another room, another mosaic, this time much smaller and is thought to represent two scallop shells. The surrounding tesserae are made from cut up roof tiles giving them the red colour, they are also much more coarse than those used in the central pattern.

Exhibit E

frpsmThe Dolphin Mosaic

Exhibit F

This is the finest of all the mosaics at Fishbourne – it really is quite stunning.


frpd2The ‘Cupid on a dolphin’ mosaic, made up from some 360,000 tessarae, has incorperated into it two sea horses which whilst expecting them to balance out the mosaic they are very different in their appearance. Due to it’s size and position the pronounced dip in the center almost looks like it was designed that way. I have changed the white balance on the image above to try and show what I believe is an accurate colour representation of the mosaic, for all the other images I have left them at a slightly warmer colour produced by the lighting.

I’ve included this following image to show the scale, plus it helps set the position within the North wing – the hypocaust pictured earlier can be seen in the background.

frpd3With the passage of time having taken it’s toll on the remains, whether from the locals robbing the stone, ploughing, subsidence or just age related decay it’s surprising how much still remains especially at how close to the surface it is.  Whilst the subsidence in the dolphin mosaic has an almost ‘engineered’ look to it, the same cannot be said about the subsidence in the image below.


In the following image, which is of a floral mosaic, the circular subsidence is caused by earlier post holes of timber framed buildings on the site before the palace was built rotting away. The trench line that can be seen going from center left  to top center is from a water-main installed in 1960 which led to the discovery of the palace.

Exhibit O


frpmlhsfrpmrhsThese next two images give an example as to what kind of alterations that took place in the building during it’s lifetime, these mosaics laid sometime after 75 AD had a dividing wall built right through it sometime in the late 1st century – notice the lack of border in the mosaic against the dividing wall. I’ve placed the two images so that the dividing wall can be seen in the center.

A couple of images, one showing a roman water pipe and the other a mock up of a roman roof showing the tiles (tegula)



I’ve included this section here of Vespasian, he is a key player in history at the time the site of the palace was first occupide. I wish I had taken more notice of the description of this piece in the museum.

Note: The plinth in the image to the left has the name Vespasian on it, looking at other images of the head on the ‘net it would appear it is of Tiberius instead.

Vespasian or to give his correct name – Titus Flavius Vespasianus was born in 9 AD in Reate (Rieti), north west of Rome. He was very successful militarily commanding the second legion in the invasion of Britain in 43 AD and conquering the south west of England. He later rose in the senate to become consul in 51 AD and governor of Africa a decade later. During the quick succession of emperors following the death of Nero he made his own bid for power and became the ninth emperor of Rome in 69 AD until his death in 79 AD upon which he was succeeded by his eldest son Titus.

The link with Fishbourne Roman Palace? It has been suggested that the palace may have been built for Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus. Tiberius was a 1st-century king of the Regnenses or Regni tribe in early Roman Britain. The successful campaigns of Vespasian in the south-west of England may have been expedited to some extent by the young British prince, recently returned from the continent in the train of the Roman invasion army. As a reward for his stout pro-Roman stance, the young prince was officially made client-king of Rome sometime before the death of the emperor Claudius in AD54, as evidenced by his adoptive Roman name Tiberius Claudius.

A very pleasant visit – highly recommended.