In the late 19th century, under the influence of Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges's theses on the pre-eminence of the rural estate in Antiquity, archaeologists assigned a leading role to the villa in the countryside of Roman Gaul. Research in the field confirmed that the spread of this architectural model was not confined to the Mediterranean zone, but included all of the provinces. Nonetheless, increasing numbers of excavations provide evidence that villas were not the only institutions to contribute to the development of the lands around cities – they shared this task with a range of farms, both isolated and grouped into communities.

When villas became archaeological objects, sites were compared in an attempt to discover the existence of a standard floor-plan. The wide architectural diversity that researchers encountered led to typologies that included such criteria as the size of the villa, the presence of structural elements such as a courtyard or a columned façade, the architectural style of the estate and the pars rustica, the identification of leisure- and luxury-type installations, and the discovery of certain functional structures. These attempts, which were based on both excavations and the results of aerial prospecting, were useful on a regional scale, and allowed researchers to distinguish architectural expressions that were peculiar to certain Gallic provinces.