Roman villas were extensive houses, often equipped with baths, mosaics, and other trappings of the wealthy landowner, and sat at the centre of large rural estates. In Roman Britain they are seen as a symbol of status and of alliance with Rome, part of the process of Romanisation which took place across the country.
Villa sites in Essex include the large site at Rivenhall, and others at Wendens Ambo, Gestingthorpe, Little Hallingbury, Boxted Wood, Hadstock, Pleshey and Chignall St. James. Much of the rural development which took place in the Roman period seems to date from shortly after the Boudiccan rebellion, about 70-75AD, but the construction of villas and the system they represent reached its height in the 2nd century (100-200 AD).
While the Western areas of Essex continued to show expansion and prosperity, it seems that, for the East at least, the period from the 2nd century onwards was one of decline for the rural settlements as much as for the towns. It has been suggested that rising sea levels and increasing demands from the Roman overlords may partly account for this; the former decreasing the amount of land available for growing food, and the second reducing the amount of food available for distribution.