As ancient Rome grew in power and influence, wealthier Romans began to build country houses outside the city. In Latin, such an estate was called a villa. Caretakers, groundskeepers, and domestic help were needed to maintain the house and property, so the Roman landowner built other small dwellings around his large one. Eventually, this entire community was referred to as a villa. In time, any small community became known as a villa and the inhabitants known as villani.
The early French adopted the term, changing the spelling to villein. During the Middle Ages, a villein was a free peasant or a common villager who owed allegiance to the lord who owned or was in charge of the area. Since peasant workers were uneducated and lived in rough dwellings, landowners and others considered them to be crude and without morals. Villein gradually came to be associated with a person fitting that description and is used now to refer to a deliberate scoundrel capable of committing great crimes.Then, over time the French form of the word gradually mutated into the word we know today “villain.”