Fishborne Roman Palace is one of the best preserved and enigmatic Roman remains in Britain.
With a footprint comparable to, if not larger than, Buckingham Palace, the world-famous Fishborne relic offers a glimpse into Roman life that very few archaeological sites can match.
dr Rob Symmons is Curator of the Roman Palace and has been in charge of the Palace for sixteen years. His passion for luxury apartments has continued unabated over the years.
“A significant part of my work is encouraging other people to fly kites, to develop new theories and ideas about Roman settlement, and I love listening to them and developing my own ideas. I really enjoy supporting students and researchers, it drives me crazy in the morning.”
dr Symmon’s day-to-day work revolves around protecting the collections and making them as accessible to the public as possible. Currently, members of his team are digitizing all slides and photographing all coins so that they are available online.
As a specialist in bones, Rob is also responsible for bringing experts and Romanists together and facilitating their research by any means possible. He joked that at times he felt like a dating agency or even a dating agency.
Over the years, and thanks to the pioneering work of Barry Cunliffe in the Roman Palace excavation in the 1960s, many groundbreaking developments have been made, such as the discovery of a Roman Oyster helmet, which seems to confirm the theory that the Romans had contact with it the Sussex coast long before the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 47
“We have come to realize that when the Romans originally came to Britain it was not an invasion with ballistae and barracks, but rather a political note, and the more we look the more we see that there was a pre-conquest, possibly military presence here.
“We even have evidence of someone producing Roman cuisine but arranging it in a Celtic way – it suggests we were keeping Celts who were heavily influenced by the Romans in terms of Iron Age rituals.
“It suggests a much richer influence and relationship with the Romans prior to the supposed invasion. The image of Britain as a mysterious place to the Romans is inaccurate, certainly for places like Fishbourne
The Celts didn’t look across the Channel either and didn’t know who or what was there, they will have met them, perhaps married them, but certainly traded with them
It looks like Romans walked around Fishbourne in AD 40.
Despite the groundbreaking discoveries and the vast amount of history preserved at Fishbourne Roman Palace, Dr. Symmons agrees and has indicated that there are exciting developments on the horizon for the West Sussex archaeological site.
A particular jewel in the crown of West Sussex site are the hedges, no other place in the world can show the viewer the exact location and layout of the Roman formal garden with certainty – this is due to the excavations carried out during the building of the palace.
The palace was built some 30 years after the Roman invasion of AD 75, and the dramatic impact it would have on the population of the local tribes would have been of enormous importance. Never before have nature and the wilderness been so controlled, previously considered sacred territory inhabited by deceased ancestors and wild beings.
The palace also offers a revealing insight into attitudes towards early Roman settlement and, while showing a lack of investment, reveals the belief that the Romans only built the palace to appease and bribe the local tribal leader – Tiberius Claudius Togidubnus , and so built the luxury dwelling, only to survive long enough for the Romans to consolidate their power over Britain.
The palace attempted to install a hypocaust (to provide underfloor heating) in AD 275, but it is believed that it never operated as the palace suffered dramatic fire damage five years later. The cause of the fire is not certain, with stipulations that it could have been assailants, the hypocaust or a nearby blacksmith. dr Rob Symmons said: “It could have been anything, remember we’re talking about a time when people warmed their homes with open flames.”
Another jewel in the palace is a cupid riding a dolphin, one of the best preserved mosaics in Britain, showing creativity and artistic skill unmatched in Britain at the time.