Archaeologists use the term "villa" to describe a whole series of sites that have been located by aerial or ground-based prospecting, and that have been partially or totally excavated. These rural establishments all have similar characteristics – an agricultural farm with a permanent residential section built according to Roman custom (more romanorum) using floor plans and construction techniques that were in use in the Roman world.

Examination of theCarte Archéologique de la Gaule (Archaeological Map of Gaul), a joint publication of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres and the French Ministry of Culture provides evidence that villa sites attracted the attention of antiquarians since at least the late 18th century. Starting in 1830, Arcisse de Caumont developed a comparative approach to the initial layouts of villas in western France and in England. 

After the Second World War, villa excavations became extremely popular among an entire generation of volunteer archaeologists. Up until the 1970s, approved worksites focused primarily on residential mosaics and baths. Stricter requirements and the increasing professionalisation of the discipline meant that new approaches were adopted, even in the face of the persistent notion that it was no longer productive to excavate this type of site.