A Short History of Fishbourne Roman Palace

Dating from 75 CE, Fishbourne Palace is the largest residential Roman building discovered in Britain. Today, visitors can marvel at the site’s well-preserved mosaic floors as well as artefacts in the on-site museum.

Timeline

  • 1960 – Discovery of Fishbourne Roman Palace ruins
  • 1961 – Exploratory excavation by Chichester Civic Society Excavation Committee
  • 1962 – Site purchased for The Sussex Archaeological Society
  • 1961 to 1968 – Major excavation work undertaken; mosaic floors uncovered
  • 1968 – Site and museum open to the public

The discovery of Fishbourne Roman Palace

In 1960 a contractor cutting a water main trench through fields north of Fishbourne village came across ancient-looking rubble.

The find was reported to a local archaeological committee and early examination of the trench suggested the presence of a substantial Roman building.

The Chichester Civic Society Excavation Committee carried out an exploratory excavation in 1961. This determined that the site was indeed occupied by an exceptionally large, late-first-century building.

From 1961 to 1968 eight major excavation seasons were undertaken, the most spectacular discoveries were the superb mosaic floors which are of national and international significance.

 

Site purchased and gifted in 1962

The importance of Fishbourne Roman Palace was immediately obvious and Ivan Margary, the Society’s Chairman of many years, purchased the site outright in 1962. He then immediately – and generously – transferred ownership and management to the Society.

 

Excavation and preservation

Over the next six years the Society and Chichester Civic Society worked in partnership to excavate the site, build the museum to preserve and interpret the Palace and finds.

In May 1968, the museum opened to the public, the popular interest in the site was enormous and in the first season the Palace welcomed over 250,00 visitors.

There have been several further excavation seasons since the 1960s, all of which have added to the greater understanding of the development of the Palace.

 

Recent developments

The development of the Collections Discovery Centre has provided a purpose-built store, conservation studio and teaching facility. This allows us to deliver new ways to engage with the remarkable collections associated with the Palace.

Visit Fishbourne Roman Palace and Gardens