This beautiful mosaic floor decorated the main room of a Romano-British villa, or country farmhouse. The house lasted less than a generation before being abandoned, but some floors and foundations survived 1,500 years to be rediscovered in the late 19th century. The centrepiece to the mosaic is the god Mars, in his role as protector of agriculture.
When Britain was part of the Roman Empire, from the mid 1st century to the early years of the 5th, large farming estates or villas were created in a number of locations. This was particularly true of the area around the Roman crossroads at East Anton, on the northeastern side of Andover. Most of these farms were on chalk downland, perfect for growing cereals, but the villa at Fullerton was on the River Anton, well-placed to manage a water mill which processed these crops.
It seems to have been a successful business, because around the year 360 the owners built a luxurious, brand new house, facing the river, and decorated it with painted walls and colourful mosaic floors.
Most of these floors had geometric patterns, but the main room had a design depicting Mars. Despite his warlike stance, the Fullerton Mars is probably a protector of agriculture. The smaller male figures, or satyrs, represent untamed nature and the corner busts, two of the four seasons. The purpose of the pavement, therefore, was to seek divine protection for the farm and the mill.
At the time the mosaic was being created, Rome’s influence in Britain was nearing its end. In just twenty years, around 380, the mill appears to have stopped working and within a few more decades the site was effectively abandoned, as the Roman Empire in the West tottered… and fell.
The discovery of the Fullerton villa is first mentioned in 1872. The Mars mosaic was removed a few years later by the landowner, Sir William Cory, and laid in the entrance hall of his nearby manor house. Changing circumstances meant that it spent nearly 50 years beneath a carpet, and the proposal to acquire it and move it for a second time was first discussed in 2007.
With the help of grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a number of local supporters the mosaic was purchased and lifted by a team of specialists in December 2008. After appropriate conservation work it was installed here at the museum during 2009.
The original location of the mosaic has been excavated three times since the initial discovery. The first was when the floor was lifted, the second in the mid 1960s and the third in 2000 and 2001, when Professor Barry Cunliffe examined the area as part of his Danebury Environs Roman Programme. It was this work that included a thorough investigation of the canal (mill leat) and water-driven mill that are such special features of the site.
Mars was a favoured god in Ancient Rome. He was thought to be the son of Jupiter and Juno and the father of Romulus and Remus. For this reason the Romans styled themselves ‘sons of Mars’. He represented agriculture and fertility, and was seen as a protector of cattle. As an ‘earth-god’ he became a god of death, and finally of war, and is usually portrayed in full battle armour, wearing a crested helmet and bearing a shield.
The city of Rome had a number of temples dedicated to Mars and the Campus Martius (field of Mars) where the army was drilled and athletes trained, was also named in his honour. The ‘hastae Martiae’ (lances of Mars) were kept in the Forum Romanum and when they ‘moved’ - they were deliberately shaken - it was seen as a portent of war.
The month of March (Martius) is named after the god (wars were often started or renewed in the spring) and contained several festivals in his honour. The priests of Mars were called the Salii, or ‘jumpers’, because when they processed through the streets of Rome, they jumped the whole way!
More local worship of Mars, or a Celtic Mars-type deity, took place at the Iron Age and Romano-British temple on Hayling Island, near Havant, where he was probably revered as a dynastic or tribal god.