IT was once the seat from which the Romans governed a large area of Wales.
Now the old Roman capital of Powys has a villa that wouldn’t have looked out of place in what was once their fourth largest settlement in Britain.
It was built using techniques and tools from the fourth century, but differs from the original in one important respect: it was built in six months instead of up to three years.
It was designed by archaeology professor Dai Morgan Evans, who worked on it with six volunteer builders.
The 66-year-old took part in the project as part of a forthcoming television series charting their efforts to build the villa in Wroxeter, Shropshire.
Prof Evans, who studied at Cardiff University, said the project was about anthropology as much as archaeology.
“It was not just simply building it as authentically as possible but also to bring in six builders who wouldn’t have the background knowledge,” he said.
“I think the important thing that got me particularly interested as a project was that through them having a learning experience, it may actually put it over to the audience watching the difficulties of doing this and what changes have taken place.”
Among the many barriers they faced was completing the project in such a short space of time. Prof Evans said: “The Romans would have spent two or even three years doing what we did in six months.”
Prof Evans said he had tried to design the villa to fit in with the style of other Roman buildings in Wroxeter, and said there was a common misconception that architecture in the period would have looked the same.
“The Roman Empire was not uniform and Roman Britain was not uniform,” he said. “There were regional styles and materials.”
They constructed the building – which will now be used as a tourist attraction and teaching space, and has a design life of at least 50 years – on the site of Viroconium, once the fourth-largest Roman settlement in Britain.
“Wroxeter is very famous as it was the Roman city capital of Powys, and I am very interested in the connections into Wales,” Prof Evans said.
“It’s not a copy of a building. It amalgamates different bits, but I think it would be very familiar to a Wroxeter Roman coming back.”
He said the process was one of trial and error, as they imitated Roman building techniques – including felling trees to collect wood and making their own bricks.
“We had to learn if it was possible to do things in a certain way. The builders were experimenting. I was putting challenges to them and they were learning and overcoming them,” he said.
And the short building season presented another obstacle. “Winter came early and we were trying to keep the pace up. Certainly there were times I really started to despair whether it would be up there with a roof on,” he said.
But he said they eventually managed to get the project “90%” finished.
“Unlike a lot of television things where they do something like this and it’s short term, in this case there’s something going to be there, depending on how long they want to use it,” he said.
“It’s got a design life of at least 50 years so it should be able to stay there.”
Prof Evans will now write up the project as a piece of academic research with colleagues, before working on Dark Ages archaeology in Pembrokeshire and Llangollen.
And he said he hoped the hard six months the builders had faced would also leave a legacy.
“They had some warning what it was going to be like and they did volunteer and that’s why I was not always necessarily kind to them,” he said.
But he added: “I don’t think they would rush to volunteer to be Roman builders again.”
Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day begins on Channel 4 at 9pm on January 20