Roman exploitation of the countryside is symbolized by the Villa Romana del Casale (in Sicily), the centre of the large estate upon which the rural economy of the Western Empire was based. The villa is one of the most luxurious of its kind. It is especially noteworthy for the richness and quality of the mosaics which decorate almost every room; they are the finest mosaics in situ anywhere in the Roman world.
An earlier rural settlement, generally thought to have been a farm, although on slender evidence, existed on the site where the Late Roman villa was built. Its orientation was the same as that of the baths of the villa, and its foundations were discovered beneath parts of the villa.
The existence of baths in the earliest phase of the site suggests that it was the residence of a rich tenant or the steward of a rich landowner. Two portraits were discovered dating from the Flavian period (late 1st century AD) that may represent members of the owner's family. The stratigraphy of this earlier house provides a chronology from the 1st century AD to the Tetrarchy at the end of the 3rd century. This is an obscure period of Sicilian history, when the traditional latifundia system using slave labour underwent considerable changes.
There are indications that the earlier house was destroyed by an earthquake in the first decade of the 4th century, by which time it was probably owned by Marcus Aurelius Maximinianus, a Pannonian who had risen from the ranks of the Roman army to become a general. and then was raised to the status of Augustus by Diocletian. On the violent death of Maximinianus in 3 10 it would have passed to his son and Imperial colleague Maxentius, who lost his life at the hands of Constantine the Great at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in Rome in 3 12.
The grandeur and lavishness of the new structure that arose on the ruins of the earlier country house suggests that it was built on the orders, if not of one of these Roman rulers, then of a rich and powerful landowner, some time between 310 and 340. It continued to be occupied up to the Arab invasion of the 9th century, though in a state of increasing degradation. It seems that the final act of destruction was the work of the Norman ruler of Sicily, William I the Bad, around 115 5.