Fishbourne Roman Palace is a large palace was built in the 1st century AD, around thirty years after the Roman conquest of Britain. It was built on the site of a Roman army supply base established at the Claudian invasion in 43 AD. The rectangular palace surrounded formal gardens, the northern half of which have been reconstructed. There were extensive alterations in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, with many of the original black and white mosaics being overlaid with more sophisticated coloured work, including the perfectly preserved dolphin mosaic in the north wing. More alterations were in progress when the palace burnt down in around 270, after which it was abandoned.
In size, the palace is approximately equivalent to Nero's Golden House in Rome or to the Roman villa at Piazza Armerina in Sicily, and in plan it closely mirrors the basic organisation of the emperor Domitian's palace, the Domus Flavia, completed in AD 92 upon the Palatine Hill in Rome. Fishbourne is by far the largest Roman residence known north of the Alps. At about 500 feet (150 m) square, it is larger in size than Buckingham Palace.
The first buildings on the site were granaries, apparently a supply base for the Roman army, constructed in the early part of the conquest in 43 AD. Later, two timber-frame buildings were constructed, one with clay and mortar floors and plaster walls which appears to have been a dwelling house of some comfort. These buildings were demolished in the AD 90s and replaced by a substantial stone-walled house, which included a courtyard garden with colonnades and a bath suite. It has been suggested that the palace itself, incorporating the previous house in its south-east corner, was built in around c 73–75 AD. A reinterpretation of the ground plan and finds assemblage by Dr Miles Russell of Bournemouth University has suggested that, given the extremely close parallels with Domitian's imperial palace in Rome, its construction may more plausibly date to after AD 92.
With regard to who lived in the Fishbourne palace, the accepted theory, first proposed by Barry Cunliffe, is that the early phase of the palace was the residence of Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus (or Togidubnus), a pro-Roman local chieftain who was installed as king of a number of territories following the first stage of the conquest. Cogidubnus / Togidubnus is known from a reference to his loyalty in Tacitus's Agricola, and from an inscription commemorating a temple dedicated to Neptune and Minerva found in nearby Chichester. Another theory is that it was built for another native, Sallustius Lucullus, a Roman governor of Britain of the late 1st century who may have been the son of the British prince Adminius. Two inscriptions recording the presence of Lucullus have been found in nearby Chichester and the redating, by Miles Russell, of the palace to the early AD 90s, would fit far more securely with such an interpretation. If the palace was designed for Lucullus, then it may have only been in use for a few years, for the Roman historian Suetonius records that Lucullus was executed by the delusional emperor Domitian in or shortly after AD 93. Additional theories suggest that either Verica, a British client king of the Roman Empire in the years preceding the Claudian invasion was owner of the palace, or even one Tiberius Claudius Catuarus, whose gold signet ring was recently discovered.
The palace as extensively re-planned early in the 2nd century, being subdivided up into a series of lesser apartments. Further redevelopment was begun in the late 3rd century, but these alterations were incomplete when the north wing was destroyed in a fire c. 270 AD. The damage was too great to repair, and the palace was abandoned and later dismantled. It is not known whether the fire was accidental, set by coastal raiders or part of a more widespread period of disruption caused by the revolt of the 'British' emperor Carausius in the 280s AD.
The final phase palace comprised four large wings with colonnaded fronts, forming a square around a formal garden. The north and east wings each consisted of suites of rooms built around courtyards, with a monumental entrance in the middle of the east wing. In the north-east corner was an aisled assembly hall. The west wing contained state rooms, a large ceremonial reception room, and a gallery. The south wing contained the owner's private apartments. The palace also included as many as 50 mosaic floors, under-floor central heating and an integral bathhouse.
A modern museum has been built by the Sussex Archaeological Society, incorporating most of the visible remains including one wing of the palace. The gardens have been re-planted using authentic plants from the Roman period.