Friends, Roman, Countrymen: Fishbourne Roman Palace

“Welcome, Bienvenue, Salvete” read the sign that greeted us as we approached Fishbourne Roman Palace, the largest Roman home discovered, so far, in Britain. I say “so far” because you never know what’s buried underneath your feet. Just when the anonymous ‘they’ think we’ve dug up all that we can – along comes a startling discovery of a temple, an amphitheatre, or even a palace with a link to the paintings of Pompeii.

Fishbourne Roman Palace was first discovered when a water main was being laid in the area and it was first excavated in 1960, although digs were still taking place as recently as 2002.

When the Museum Adventurer arrived in 2013 with his ever-elegant friend there were no digs going on, but we did arrive just in time to see a reenactment by the Ermine Street Guards.

Roman Reenactors
Roman Reenactors

The Roman reenactors went through some Roman army drills, which some of the children did not react well to: “One thing we’re good at,” said a Centurion, “is scaring children. Sorry for any nightmares tonight.”

Inside, rather than going straight for the famous ‘Cupid Riding a Dolphin’ mosaic, we turned left following the “Museum Starts Here” sign. Displayed on the far wall was a reconstruction of a piece of Trajan’s Column (interesting aside, the V&A also has a copy of the column). A gift, the Roman Palace tells us, from the Italian government.

Copy of Trajan's Column
Copy of Trajan’s Column

The museum guides our gaze to the “fabulous sea-horse” decorating one of the ships (can you see it?). The “fabulous sea-horse” is a recurring motif in Fishbourne’s mosaics as well as the museum’s mascot. It makes you wonder, what kind of person would decorate their home with sea-horses? This kind of person:

Marble head of King Togidubnus
Marble head of King Togidubnus

Meet the Palace’s most influential resident: King Togidubnus, a local ‘client king’ installed by the Romans. However, it might not be Togudubnus at all, some evidence suggests that it might be a representation of notorious Emperor Nero as a child.

Marvelous Mosaics

The mystery of the mysterious marble head is indeed interesting, but the museum’s masterpiece is its magnificent mosaic. (Oh, I do so enjoy alliteration).

Cupid Riding a Dolphin
Cupid Riding a Dolphin

Can you see the fabulous sea-horses? What about the amazing sea-panthers? And the little god riding the dolphin? It’s an incredible piece made of incredible tiny pieces, resulting in an incredible impact. The impact of the incredible tiny pieces isn’t always what you think it will be… “Wow, that’s a massive, massive carpet!” exclaimed one little boy who was there with his Grandfather, who did his best to correct his grandson.

Bringing Up The Bodies

Body buried in Fishbourne Roman Palace
Body buried in Fishbourne Roman Palace

Among the mosaics lies something we were not expecting to see; a skeleton. This body is one of four found at Fishbourne, and remains unknown, undated and anonymous. All we think we know is that these bodies were buried some time after the third century…

Roman Gardens

The museum also has a fantastic garden. With any fantastic garden, garden furniture is a must. How else would you enjoy the great outdoors? The Fishbourne Palace gardens have an al fresco triclinium – a three sofa’d dining area, which was really quite stunning.

Outdoor Triclinium
Outdoor Triclinium

Hands On

One of the things we really enjoyed about our visit to the Roman Palace was the amount of hands on activities. It wasn;t clear if these were part of regular programming, or whether they were there because of the reenactors, but we took full advantage:

Roman writingWeaving

Riding a chariot



If you enjoyed this post, you might like Fishbourne Roman Palace’s entry in the Museum of Museum Badges


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