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In Satyricon (1st century CE), Petronius described the wide range of Roman dwellings.
It was economically as self-sufficient as a village and its inhabitants, who might be legally tied to it as serfs were villeins.
After the fall of the Roman Republic, villas became small farming compounds, which were increasingly fortified in Late Antiquity, sometimes transferred to the Church for reuse as a monastery.
Then they gradually re-evolved through the Middle Ages into elegant upper-class country homes.
In England the villas were abandoned, looted, and burned by Anglo-Saxon invaders in the fifth century.
But the concept of an isolated, self-sufficient agrarian working community, housed close together, survived into Anglo-Saxon culture as the vill, with its inhabitants - if formally bound to the land - as villeins.
In regions on the Continent, aristocrats and territorial magnates donated large working villas and overgrown abandoned ones to individual monks; these might become the nuclei of monasteries.
In this way, the Italian villa system of late Antiquity survived into the early Medieval period in the form of monasteries that withstood the disruptions of the Gothic War (535–554) and the Lombards.
A concentration of Imperial villas existed on the Gulf of Naples, on the Isle of Capri, at Monte Circeo and at Antium (Anzio).
Examples include the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum; and the "Villa of the Mysteries" and "Villa of the Vettii" in Pompeii.
Wealthy Romans also escaped the summer heat in the hills round Rome, especially around Tibur (Tivoand Frascati, such as at Hadrian's Villa.
Cicero allegedly possessed no fewer than seven villas, the oldest of which was near Arpinum, which he inherited.
A villa was originally an ancient Roman upper-class country house.