Discovered in 1879, Brading Roman Villa is an important Roman country house on the Isle of Wight notable for its mosaics. Archaeological evidence suggests that the first villa was a comparatively simple structure dating to the mid-first-century A.D., which may have evolved from an Iron Age farm. Over the next hundred years it expanded around a central courtyard as wealth increased from farming, fishing, and hunting. The villa survived a major fire in the third century, and began to decline around 340, when it and other estates in southern Britain began to suffer from barbarian raids. A coin from the reign of Emperor Honorius (r. 393–423) indicates that the owners possibly held on until the early fifth century. The mosaics depict a variety of classical representations unparalleled in the Roman British world and illustrate the agricultural, industrial, and maritime connections the villa’s occupants had with the trading world. The villa was likely the administrative center of a late Roman estate and is surrounded by contemporary terracing and field patterns that remain visible despite hundreds of years of erosion. The villa has been open to the public since the 1880s when the site was excavated. Numerous valuable artifacts were uncovered and Brading was purchased by the Oglander family shortly after discovery in order to secure permanent access to the remains. In 1994, the ownership of the building was transferred to the Oglander Roman Trust.
2002 World Monuments Watch
When Brading Roman Villa was discovered in the late-nineteenth century, rudimentary metal structures were constructed in an attempt to preserve the site. However, the corrugated iron building provided inadequate protection and deteriorated over time due to damaging storms and rust. Two disastrous floods in 1990 and 1994 further threatened its stability and caused considerable damage to the mosaics. When the villa was listed on the 2002 World Monuments Watch, the protective covering had reached the end of its natural life and the safety of the villa was severely compromised. In 2003, World Monuments Fund, through the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage, facilitated the demolition of the structure. A temporary structure was erected to allow conservation of the mosaics. The deconstruction of the old shelter also enabled archaeologists to conduct extensive surveys at the site to advance research interests associated with the villa. At the conclusion of the investigative work, a new shelter was created improving protection of the mosaics and remains of the villa as well as the visitor experience.
Brading Roman Villa is a fine example of an estate constructed during the Roman period in southern Britain. At Brading, an invaluable series of Roman mosaics can be viewed in their original context. Brading is incomparable not only for its impressive finds, but for the remarkably well-preserved landscape in which it lies. The new protective building at Brading houses both research facilities and educational outreach programs. The exhibition and visitor center perform an important role in relating the covered remains at Brading Roman Villa with the surrounding archaeological landscape.