On the Italian peninsula, the origin of the villa may be seen as the culmination of the uninterrupted development of rural structures that began in the 4th century BCE. Alternatively, they might have their roots in the abrupt shifts that came about in the wake of the Second Punic War, which saw the development of a new, slavery-based economic system.

The late Republican period provided impetus for villa-building, and some of the oldest examples are known from 2nd century BCE sources (Cato the Elder).Construction accelerated in the 1st century BCE, particularly along the shoreline between Rome and Naples. The villa maritimabecame the brick-and-mortar expression of the ambitions of the Roman upper classes. Some of these seaside palaces became imperial residences, including the Villa Iovis in Capri, Campania, and Tiberius's villa at Sperlonga, Latium.

The villas existing around Pompeii in the late 1st century CE offer a wide range of structures, ranging from the suburban Villa of the Mysteries and the rural Villa Regina and Villa Boscoreale to the luxurious residences at Oplontis. Excavations at Settefinestre (Tuscany) revealed the changes to a villa that, in the 2nd century, focused on the slave trade. Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli remains one of the most extraordinary villas of the early Roman Empire.

Piazza Armerina (Sicili) and Piazza Desenzano (Lombardy) testify to the vitality of architectural constructions in late Antiquity. Some of these creations did not have a productive role, which characterised villas from earlier periods.