Boudonus a servant in the Villa Magni Widinis speaks:
‘My family have always been servants to the Great Family whose own ancestors had the villa built in the valley made with stone from the hills around; they were the Great Family before the Dobunni became part of the Roman Empire. My father said as his own father told him that the Roman men were very clever because they left our tribes as they were. In Britain we had our kings, priests and warriors, craftsmen and farmers; we had rich lands feeding our cows, sheep and growing grain. The Roman men left this because they could see it worked and all they had to do was make our noble men willing clients. Only they didn’t like our priests, the druids were too political refusing to acknowledge the divine status of the emperor. You know what happened to them’
‘We gave them tax,- yes that meant our grain-kept the peace–yes kept it because we were too busy scraping up enough grain for ourselves to think of disturbing Roman peace-and our nobility were left alone to enjoy the luxuries of the Roman Empire: lots of wine was the main thing and more skin off our hands working to keep the taxes up. At Villa Magni Widinis the Great Family are the richest here in Dobunnic territory and around them gather all their nobles who live in smaller Roman villas around the vale. My family has always been proud to be servants at Villa Magni Widinis.
It is not just a big house, no the villa is a place where there is industry and where the grain and wool from all the villa estate are sorted and made ready for being sold at the market at Glevum. Through the villa gates you will see there are buildings for pottery, iron working, brewing, baking, carpentry and weaving. They are done by families like mine who live inside the villa walls. It is the shepherds and field labourers who live outside and they are the poorest, but even they have to come to the villa to be paid in grain, beer, salt and wool.
But don’t think they all like the Roman Empire, my mother nearly starved as a child because her father was not given the full payment of grain and salt. Our nobility have to take that out if there’s been a poor harvest‘
‘The Great Family live in their household quarters at the head of the villa and they have many rooms arranged around courtyards which, I have heard, are planted with pungent herbs so their scent blows in during summer; they have their bath house and gallery room of marble statues of Roman gods that they say are inhabited by spirits that bring good fortune to our villa. The Great Family always have guests in the longer months who arrive in their carts and wagons bringing up dust from the roads. The men will spend whole days out with their horses and baggage stewards hunting in the woods here. They will come back to relax, wash and settle into their dining and entertainment as the sun sinks and the oil lamps have to be lit. You cannot begin to imagine the rich colours of their tunics and the loud eloquent voices that follow our noble men around as they speak. The women are as magnificent to look at, though being a servant I would not dare look too long though I know I would like to!
I heard my father did as a younger man and caught the eye of the noble daughter, he was ashamed afterwards because the head servant of the family was sent round with two bruisers, men who carry out the rough administrations of the family. Father was pulled away and came back home staggering black and blue’
‘That is only half of Villa Magni Widinis I’ve told you about. I didn’t tell you about the new reception chamber being built where the mosaic artists from Corinium are putting down they say a huge pavement with Orpheus and the animals dancing around him. Orpheus is one of those Roman stories: but we’ve got stories here about enchanters who are lord of the wild animals who follow their poetry and music. Not only animals though men and women who go mad and wander off. Everyone likes to have the Great Family’s patronage because they have succeeded in the Roman civilization and yet they do not forget their own old tribal loyalties.
Loyalty to them is after all what’s kept my own family from rags and hunger. One last thing, I’ve thought sometimes when the great villa perhaps lies ruined, not that it ever will be, but I’ve thought if it was, who would be remembered, the Great Family or my own lot, the servants and workers getting by at the lower end? In Roman law we’re humiliores: little men close to the dirt’
By Robin Treefellow