Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


14.9.14
  Castle Plesse - Rise and Fall of the Counts of Winzenburg

Castle Plesse near my hometown Göttingen is a fine example of a typical Mediaeval hilltop castle. Though pretty large for the area and extended over time, The Plesse as it is called, is not as formidable as the Norman castles in Wales, or the Wartburg in Thuringia, but it's also less tourist infected. The manor of the lord has been reconstructed and holds a restaurant, but it's closed on Mondays, so I chose a Monday to visit the place.

The castle played a role in local history, and at some point even in larger German context as refuge of a disgraced nobleman. So I got material for 2 or 3 posts.

BTW This is another rewrite of an older post.

Plesse, the main keep

Höhenburgen were a new feature in the 11th century because they were more difficult to construct than the simpler motte and bailey castles of the time: a keep - sometimes of stone - protected by earth walls (which were later remade in stone) and ditches. Soon Mediaeval German lords couldn't see a hill without wanting to get a castle up there. *grin*

The rise of the mountain castles falls into a period of internal struggles and changes in Germany. Kings, nobility and high ranking churchmen got into conflicts with each other in the 11th century, which finally led to a stronger position for the latter two, and a weakened king. Castles were not only means of defense, but status symbols. Originally, only the king had the right to build castles; he then gave them to the nobles as fiefs or sometimes allodial possessions, but now whoever had the power and the means built castles. No wonder I have six of them within half an hours driving distance.

Main keep in the centre and the hall to the left

As so often in the Middle Ages, we don't have an exact date when the first castle was erected on the Plesse mountain. The first mention in a charte dates from 1138 and names a Burggraf (Lord Commander) Robert who was commanding the garrison on behalf of Count Hermann of Winzenburg who held the Plesse as fief, but the origins of the castle likely date back into the 11th century, because it shares many features with other hilltop / promontory castles in Thuringia, Lower Saxony and Northern Hessia that have been built in the second half of the 11th century.

(Left: The so-called Little Tower)

It cannot be verified that the Castle Plesse - 'urbs qui Plesse dicitur' (1)- mentioned in a Vita of Bishop Meinwerk of Paderborn is the same as our Plesse. Meinwerk was a member of the House Immeding, an important noble family in the 10th and 11th centuries (Mathilde, the wife of Heinrich the Fowler and mother of Otto the Great, came from that house) who held land in the area. The Vita says that in 1015 he gave the Plesse and 1,100 hides of land - probably but a small bit of his heritage - to the cathedral in Paderborn, but the name 'Plesse' is ambiguous and the Vita Meinwerci dates from 1160 and therefore could either have confused two places, or deliberately backdated the existence of the castle to cement the claim of the bishopric; it would not have been the first case in history. ;-)

But it seems that Paderborn indeed held rights to the castle. The castle is mentioned in an exchange contract between Emperor Heinrich VI and the bishop of Paderborn (Heinrich got the Plesse for a castle in Westphalia) dating to 1192 but which was annulled a few years later; and as late as 1326, bishop Bernhard of Paderborn gives "half of the castle and the tower therein" as fief to the Lord of Plesse.

The first owner of the Plesse to appear in a number of chartes was Count Hermann II of Winzenburg-Reinhausen († 1152) who had bits of land spread over a rather large area from the Weser and Kassel, to the lands around Göttingen, and the Harz. His main seat was the Winzenburg near Hildesheim, held as fief from the bishop of Hildesheim. He used the name 'of Plesse' in several chartes which implies that it was one of his more important castles. The above mentioned Lord Commander Robert held the Plesse for him.

Family names in our sense did not exist in the 12th century and only slowly the denomination after one seat of a family became common. Robert signed as comes castelli di Plesse as well as Hermann of Winzenburg sometimes did. They often appear in chartes together, with Hermann the first and Robert the second witness; proof for their close feudal relationship. The use of single place name - Hermann of Winzenburg - is a modern construct to make it easier to keep track of the noble families.

Plesse, outer gate
(The white structure you can see gleaming through the foliage is the reconstructed keep)

It is often difficult to trace the rise of a noble family from the still existing documents, so they seem to appear out of nowhere once they become major players and thus are mentioned in chronicles, chartes and such. The Counts of Winzenburg are such an example. Hermann I of Winzenburg (1083 - 1138) was the son of Count Hermann of Formbach (near Passau / Bavaria) and Mathilde of Reinhausen (near Göttingen) which casts an interesting light on the scope of marriage connections. When Count Hermann of Reinhausen left no male heirs († 1122), Hermann of Winzenburg inherited from his mother not only some nice bits of land in Lower Saxony, but also became count of Reinhausen and margrave of the Leine Valley as well as reeve of Reinhausen Monastery. The construction - or, in case the castle is older, a thorough renovation - of Castle Plesse likely falls into this time.

(Right: another view of the reconstructed main keep)

Hermann of Winzenburg-Reinhausen, educated as boy by his uncle, bishop Udo of Hildesheim, was a member of the close entourage of Emperor Heinrich V (2); he accompagnied him to Italy in 1111, and fought for the emperor during the feud with the rebellious Saxon and Thuringian nobles. I won't go into detail here, but after his coronation as emperor, Heinrich V asserted his power more strongly and alienated several high ranking nobles, among the Duke Lothar of Saxony (3) and Landgrave Ludwig of Thuringia. Heinrich won the miliary encounter, and accepted their formal submission, the deditio, during the great diet in Mainz in January 1114 where he married Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England and Normandy. Lothar, barefoot and in a penitent's robe, threw himself at Heinrich's feet and was received back into grace and his possessions. Ludwig of Thuringia was taken prisoner and put in irons - obviously against prior agreements. Several nobles left the diet in protest; a highly significant action in the Middle Ages.

One may wonder what young Matilda (she was 12 a t the time) thought about the events. If she learned to be uncompromising there, she missed the second part of the lesson. Lothar of Saxony turned against the emperor the moment he put a foot in his own dukedom, and easily gained followers in Saxony and Thuringia, among them the bishop of Halberstadt. The sons of the landgrave managed to capture some of Heinrich's men and put them in exchange for Ludwig's freedom.

In February 1115, a battle was fought at the Welfesholz near Mansfeld (south-eastern foothills of the Harz) which turned out a decisive victory for Lothar. Heinrich's commander Hoyer of Mansfield fell, and Hermann of Winzenburg soon thereafter joined Lothar's alliance. The move is understandable since his lands lay in the sphere of influence of Lothar, and Heinrich V was in no position to defend his former vassal. Saxony was effectively lost to him.

Heinrich concentrated his activities in southern Germany and Italy, and one attempt to support his father-in-law in Normandy, which went wrong when his army met with a larger French one and Heinrich went back home (August 1124; 4). Heinrich died in May 1125 and was succeeded by his old nemesis, Lothar of Süpplingenburg Duke of Saxony. The princes of the realm elected him in favour of Heinrich's nephew Friedrich of Staufen Duke of Swabia.

Second gate with gatehouse

Hermann I of Winzenburg seems to have kept a good relationship with Lothar at first. They were distant relations; Lothar's mother Hedwig of Formbach was a cousin twice removed of Hermann. But eventually, things turned sour. The information I could find was not verifiable in detail, so I'll stick to the basics (5). What we do know is that he assassinated - or had his retainers assassinate - Burchard of Loccum, who may or may not have been a vassal of Herman of Winzenburg, but who definitely stood well enough with Lothar for the incident to cause major troubles. The reason seems to have been the buidling of a castle on ground that didn't belong to Burchard, at least Hermann claimed it was his land. What makes it worse is that the murder allegedly took place on sacred ground.

So Lothar called Hermann of Winzenburg to justice at the diet of Quedlinburg in August 1130. Hermann lost most of his fiefs, including the Winzenburg lands which fell back to Hildesheim. Hermann didn't give in so easily and held out against a besieging army in the Winzenburg for several months (6). He finally surrendered at the end of 1130 and was held captive in Blankenburg for some time. His sons, Hermann and Heinrich, sought refuge in the Rhineland. That's one of the pieces that didn't become clear to me - maybe they joined Friedrich and Konrad of Staufen who were not happy about Lothar being king (and emperor since 1133)

According to abbot Reinhard of Reinhausen, Hermann was released in 1134 and entrusted with the command of Castle Segeberg in Holstein where he died in 1137/38. Reinhard's text dates to shortly before 1156. There is no other proof for Hermann's activity in Holstein, though, and the unclear date of his death doesn't help.

Plesse Castle, outer curtain wall

But whatever the situation of the family prior to 1138, at that time Hermann II had received at least Castle Plesse back from the bishop of Paderborn, because it is during the following years that he prefers the denomination 'of Plesse' (Hermannus comes de Plessa) to the name 'of Winzenburg' since that fief had not been returned to him.

Obviously, King Konrad III, the first king and emperor of House Staufen, needed allies to balance the increasing power of the rival House Welfen, and the Winzenburg brothers were on the rise again. Hermann became a vassal of the archbishop of Mainz, married Elisabeth of Austria, a half-sister to Konrad (in 1142; 7), and was in the entourage of the king at times. Elisabeth died only two years later, though.

Hermann finally managed to receive the Winzenburg fief back from Hildesheim in May 1150, though Bishop Bernhard is said to have put several 'good behaviour'-clauses in the contract. I wish I could get my hands on whatever documents still exist.

Great Hall (which today houses a restaurant)

The role of Hermann II of Winzenburg in the Northeim heritage troubles can be traced rather well. When Siegfried IV of Boyneburg-Northeim died in 1144 without issue, Hermann's brother Heinrich married his widow Richenza and thus got his hands on the Northeim heritage, the allodial possessions of Boyneburg (also spelled Bomeneburg), and the fiefs they held from the archbishop of Mainz. Without that marriage, the next heir would have been Heinrich the Lion, the grandson of Richenza (a different one) of Northeim and Lothar of Süpplingenburg (their daughter Gertrud had married Heinrich's father, Henrich the Proud of Bavaria).

Heinrich of Winzenburg (also known as Heinrich of Assel after his mother's family) died already in 1146, so Hermann bought the part of the widow's heritage which she could legally dispose of. Which makes me wonder where he got the money from; his own fiefs at the time were not so large. Maybe he had a hand in the salt works in Göttingen or some other source like mines. Hermann also was granted the fiefs which Siegfried held from the king (8). The fiefs Siegfried once held from Mainz seem to have been so important to Hermann that he gave the family monastery of Reinhausen in exchange for their grant.

Overall, Hermann II Count of Winzenburg balanced some of the influence of the expanding Welfen in the area which may have been the reason Konrad supported him so strongly.

Gate to the lower bailey

But the return of the Winzenburg would not bring Hermann any luck. In January 1152, he and his third wife were murdered in the castle. The men behind it are said to have been the bishop of Hildesheim (one of his retainers was decapitated for the crime) and one Count Heinrich of Bodenburg, who lost a juridical duel and retired, severely wounded, to a monastery. Again, detailed and reliable information could not be obtained.

With Hermann's death, the Northeim-Boyneburg heritage fell to Heinrich the Lion.

The Lord Commander Robert of Plesse had disappeared from the chartes some time ago. At latest in 1150, a Bernhard of Höckelheim had replaced him, first as vassal of Hermann of Winzenburg, but later he held the fief directly from Paderborn. He would found the line of the Noble Lords of Plesse who will get another post.

View from the Plesse

Footnotes
1) The Latin urbs can mean 'castle' or 'settlement' in the Middle Ages
2) The interwebs, as so often, gets things wrong and spreads the information that Hermann I of Winzenburg was landgrave of Thuringia in several linked articles. I could not find anything to support that in my research books. At best we find that, according to Warsitzka, the position of Hermann "came close to that of a landgrave" (p. 54).
3) Lothar of Süpplingenburg, the future Emperor Lothar. He had received the dukedom after the Billung family died out in the male line. Obviously, Heinrich V had thought that a man with less land to his own than the Billung family (where the husbands of two daughters inherited most of the land) would prove more malleable. Turned out Heinrich was wrong there.
4) Heinrich may have hoped for the English throne for himself or a son with Matilda after the sinking of the White Ship in 1120.
5) Not only is the information about Bernhard of Loccum obscure, there is also a mess about the Hermanns of Winzenburg. Obviously, the death of Hermann of Reinhausen in 1122 has been confused with that of Hermann I of Winzenburg (1137 or 1138), so that some texts wrongly ascribe the events to Hermann II of Winzenburg-Reinhausen; a mistake even shared by Warsitzka. Though the way those guys called themselves alternately 'of Winzenburg, of Reinhausen, of Plesse' or any combination thereof, the confusion may be excused.
6) Which implies that he did not appear at the diet in person, but was condemned in absentia.
7) Agnes of Waiblingen was both their mother, first married to Friedrich I Duke of Swabia and then to Leopold III of Austria. One of Elisabeth's sisters, Gertrud of Babenberg, married Vladislav of Bohemia, another one, also named Agnes, married another Vladislav, Władysław of Poland. Geez people, get a baby name book. :-)
8) I could not find out whether he got them as direct successor of Siegfried or of his brother Heinrich. In the first case, the fiefs would have fallen home to the king and I'm not sure he kept them for two years. Fiefs were a common way to reward vassals. Or maybe Hermann had to earn them somehow.

Literature
Gerd Althoff: Heinrich V (1106-1125), in: Bernd Schneidmüller/ Stefan Weinfurter (ed.), Die deutschen Herrscher des Mittelalters. Historische Portraits von Heinrich I. bis Maximilian I. (919–1519), Munich 2003, p. 180-200
Gerd Althoff: Lothar III. (1125–1137), in: Bernd Schneidmüller/ Stefan Weinfurter (ed.), Die deutschen Herrscher des Mittelalters, p. 201–216
Gerd Althoff: Konrad III. (1138-1152), in: Bernd Schneidmüller/ Stefan Weinfurter (ed.), Die deutschen Herrscher des Mittelalters. p. 217-231
Wolfgang Petke: Stiftung und Reform von Reinhausen und die Burgenpolitik der Grafen von Winzenburg im hochmittelalterlichen Sachsen, iIn: Peter Aufgebauer (ed.): Burgenforschung in Südniedersachsen, Göttingen 2001, p. 65–96.
Wilfried Warsitzka: Die Thüringer Landgrafen. 2nd revised edition, Erfurt 2009

 


29.8.14
  Another Welfen Castle - Heldenburg in Salzderhelden

The castle today known as Heldenburg was first mentioned in chartes in the early 14th century as castrum soltho der helden which means 'the castle at the place near saltworks on a slope' (1). Salt had been extracted in the area since the 13th century and maybe earlier, so the castle likely dates back to the 13th century and served to protect the saltworks. Its founders were either the Welfen dukes or the counts of Dassel, one of the leading families of the area who also may have built Grubenhagen Castle.

The history of the castle is more easily to trace from the time it came into possession of Heinrich Mirabilis (2) Duke of Braunschweig. He was a great-grandson of Heinrich the Lion and Matilda of England, daughter of Henry II. In for a bit more geneaology? *grin*

Castle Heldenburg at Salzderhelden

When Heinrich the Lion was banned in 1182, he lost his titles and all his lands. Upon his second return from exile in 1189 he regained the possessions inherited from his mother, Gertrud of Süpplingenburg, the only daughter of Emperor Lothar - which was a considerable chunk of lands in northern Germany - but not the lands of his father Heinrich the Proud in Bavaria. The status of the Welfen family was a bit of a limbo. They had lost their titles as Dukes of Saxony and Bavaria (3) but on the other hand they were more than mere local nobility because they could still marry into royal families, and stand as candidates for the kingship.

Heinrich had three sons: Heinrich Count Palatine by Rhine, Otto, and Wilhelm / William of Winchester who was born in England in April 1184, during his father's exile. Wilhelm stood in as hostage for Richard Lionheart in 1193, and he would later support his brother Otto, the only German emperor of the Welfen family, in his strife with the Staufen.

In the so-called Contract of Paderborn (May 1202) the alliodial possessions of the Welfen family where distributed between the brothers Heinrich, Otto and Wilhelm. Wilhelm got the lands around Lüneburg, calling himself Duke of Lüneburg. He died in 1213, leaving behind an underage son - Otto 'the Child' (born 1204) - with his wife Helena of Denmark, a daughter of King Valdemar I. But from this one boy the younger House Welfen descends.

Remains of the keep and the palas

Emperor Otto had died childless in 1218 and Count Heinrich lost his son and heir at a young age. So he decided to set up his nephew Otto, who never got rid of the nickname 'the Child' even when he was grown up, as heir for the entire Welfen allodial possessions. Since Heinrich had two married daughters who could claim the heritage for their offspring, he left some unhappy sons-in-law and future troubles behind when he died in 1227.

Otto also had problems with the town of Braunschweig (4) whose citizens would have preferred imperial immediacy, and with some lands contested by the bishop of Bremen. But Otto took up marriage negotiations with Margrave Albert II of Brandenburg from House Ascania, a former rival of the Welfen who now turned into a powerful ally and bullied Braunschweig into submission. The date of the marriage to Mathilde of Brandenburg (for Kasia: her mother was Ełżbieta of Poland,) is not sure, it happened sometime between 1222 and 1227.

Heinrich the Lion's fall left a power vacuum in parts of northern Germany, esp. the lands he conquered from the Slavic tribes in Mecklenburg and Pomerania (5). The Danish kings for some time successfully pushed their power in these territories, which explains the marriage connections with the Welfen (6) that would support their claim. But since 1223, Valdemar II (a brother of Helena and thus an uncle by marriage to Otto) suffered some drawbacks, including captivity by the Count of Schwerin. After he was fred, he came back with an army, supported by Otto, but was defeated at the Battle of Bornhöved in July 1227 against an alliance of local nobles and Hansa towns. Otto was taken prisoner, and was released only in 1229.

Curtain wall, remains on the side of the Princes' House

These tidbits don't have much to do with the castle at Salzderhelden, but they tie in with English history, so I present them in some detail (though there'll be more Welfen posts). After his release from captivity, Otto traveled to England to establish a personal relationship so important in political dealings in the Middle Ages, with King Henry III. Those connections would pay off soon.

Emperor Friedrich II of Staufen had problems with his son, another Heinrich, and thus was interested in ending the still simmering feud with the Welfen. King Henry of England was one of the mediators in the negotiations. The alliances of Welfen / Plantagent and Staufen / Capetians had been broken by the marriage of Emperor Friedrich II to Isabella, a sister of King Henry III, in summer 1235, which started a new alliance of Staufen / Plantagenet.

The solution for the Welfen problem was presented at the diet in Mainz in August 1235, in attendance of most major nobles of the realm: Otto gave his allodial possessions to Friedrich who in turn gave them to the realm (imperium), added some more lands of the realm and created a new duchy of Braunschweig-Lüneburg which he then gave to Otto "and his sons and daughters in permanent heritage" as Fahnenlehen (imperial fief; basically an allod). Otto now was a duke and prince of the realm, and the limbo of the Welfen status ended.

View to keep and palas from the Princes' House

Otto died in 1252. His sons Albrecht and Johann were supposed rule together, with Albrecht acting a regent for the young Johann (the even younger brothers took up a clerical career) but after Johann came of age, they could not manage a united rule and the inheritance was split in 1269. Johann chose the lands around Lüneburg and Hannover (Older House Lüneburg) while Albrecht got the lands around Braunschweig and the area of Göttingen and Calenberg (Older House Braunschweig). The town of Braunschweig and the main seat of Dankwarderode as well as the cathedral St.Blasius were always shared by all branches of the family.

One of his daughters, Elisabeth, married William Count of Holland who became German king by election after the House Staufen died out in 1252 (7), not least thanks to the support of the Welfen prince.

All heads of the Welfen branches from that time held the title of Duke of Braunschweig or Duke of Lüneburg, with the names for territorial splits attached, until the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806; when their lands and titles were replaced by the kingdom of Hannover (the former Lüneburg lines) and the duchy of Braunschweig.

Gate with the Welfen arms

Albrecht had a bunch of sons with his wife Adelaide of Montferrat, so after his death in 1279 the possessions were split again, when all sons not chosing a career in the Church had come of age (1290). The oldest, Heinrich, got the lands in the Solling, around Einbeck, and the south-western Harz (Herzberg, Osterode, Duderstadt) and founded the new duchy that would later be called Braunschweig-Grubenhagen, though at his time he was mostly known as Duke of Braunschweig zu Salzderhelden.

Another son called Albrecht 'the Fat' got the lands around Göttingen and Calenberg as well as Hannover, and took his seat in Ballerhus Castle in Göttingen (8). The third son Wilhelm, chose the lands of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, creating that line of the House. A fourth son, Lothar, would become Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights. Kathryn, I have no idea if Edward II ever got that mess of cousins sorted out. :-)

Heinrich again had several sons. Some of them had to look for a living elsewhere. One (Otto) became a condottiere in Italy, and eventually Prince of Tarent; another (Heinrich) married into the Greek nobility. But still the already small duchy had to be split further during the next generations. Often the dukes were obliged to pawn out land and castles in order to keep up a noble lifestyle. Compared to the branches of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel and Lüneburg, they remained less important (9). The Grubenhagen line died out in 1596.

View to the Princes' House and the chapel

Duke Heinrich acquired the Heldenburg in 1291 and chose it as main residence. The situation of the castle near the saltworks and the town of Einbeck, famous for its beer, may have played a role in his decision. A great tournament was held in Salzderhelden in 1305, and some of the more splendid castle buildings like the Princes' House may date to Heinrich's time. He obviously spent more money than he should have, like so many nobles at the time. He also gifted land and money to chapters and monasteries; and he got involved in a few feuds.

Heinrich was pretty popular and received considerable support during the election of a successor to Rudolf of Habsburg as king of Germany, though in thed end Adolf of Nassau won in 1291 (10). Maybe we'd have fared better with Heinrich of Braunschweig zu Salzderhelden. The landgraves of Thuringia would certainly think so.

Heinrich got the prestigious position of Count Palatine of Saxony instead. He was married to Agnes of Meissen, a daughter of Albrecht the Degenerate (1282) with whom he had several children. Heinrich died on the Heldenburg in 1322.

Another view to the chapel (right) and Princes' House (left)

Thanks to the frequent presence of the Princes of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen in the 14th and 15th centuries, the castle developed into a considerable structure for living and defense with the great hall (palas), Princes' House and chapel surrounding the rectangular yard, as well as further living quarters, stables, kitchens, magazines, armory, archive and scribes' room. The castle was surrounded by a mighty curtain wall but I could not find out if there existed anything in the way of an outer bailey, though there are traces of a trench.

Today the lower part of the keep and the outer palas wall remain, as well as part of the Prince's House and the chapel, and one of the cellars. The location of the well is know but it's covered today.

The archive and scriptorium were neccesary because the dukes often held their courts of justice at the Heldenburg, negotiated contracts and other governmental acts. Interestingly, the castle also was the only mint outside a town in the duchy. Coinage was an important privilge; the coins from the Heldenburg had the inscription: monetanova salis Heldensis.

The dukes of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen had their family burial in the Chapter of St.Alexander in Einbeck, and members of the family held important positions there. Today only the church itself remains of the chapter; it's one of the largest Gothic stone churches in northern Germany. The second burial place was the church in Salzderhelden.

Great Hall, the outer wall that also served as curtain wall

Three of Heinrich Mirabilis' sons inherited the shared administration of the lands, but decided to split the territories (1324). The oldest, Heinrich, got the Eichsfeld which he pawned out to the archbishop of Mainz because he spent too much money traveling, and ended up in Greece for good (see above; maybe he liked the Greek wine better than the beer of Einbeck).

Ernst got the lands around Einbeck and Grubenhagen and took residence in the Heldenburg. But his younger brother died childless and Heinrich's offspring - if he had any; the sources are a bit garbled - never came to visit, so Ernst inherited the entire territory (minus the Eichsfeld) in 1351. He married Adelheid of Everstein, daughter of Count Heinrich II of Everstein (1335) and established one of several connections between the Welfen and the lords of Everstein-Polle, though the relationship with the Lüneburg line would be less amiable.

One of Ernst's sisters, Adelheid-Irene had married Andronikos III Palaiologos, future Emperor of Byzantium, in 1318, which may have triggered Heinrich's interest in Greece. But Irene died already in 1324 with no surviving child, which may have saved the Byzantine emperors from a few sons named Heinrich. *grin*

Ernst I of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen had several children. He died in 1361 and was succeeded by his son Albrecht I.

Princes House, inside view

Albrecht I of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen, already co-regent with his father Ernst, took over the duchy in 1361 and resided in the Heldenburg. His brother Friedrich got some lands near Osterode and Herzberg.

Albrecht was a partron of arts and science, but he also got involved in several feuds. One was with Otto Count of Waldeck who had married a daughter of the Lüneburg dukes of the Welfen line, and his son Heinrich claimed his mother's heritage - unsuccesfully in the end, so there may have been some family aspect to Albrecht's involvement. He was captured at the battle of Arnoldshausen in 1361 and had to abjure all vengeance (there is no translation for the German Urfehde schwören).

The other major feud he seems to have started himself. For one, he likely was unhappy that his uncle had given the Eichsfeld to the archbishop of Mainz and wanted to do something about it. Invading the land and destroying property was the usual way to go, and while Albrecht and his vassals were at it, they destroyed some villages on the territories of the landgraves of Thuringia as well, border reiver style. Landgrave Friedrich III 'the Strict' was not happy about that and threatened to bring the war to Albrecht's land. "I will be able to keep my castles and if it was raining landgraves," Albrecht said, refering to the fact the Friedrich co-ruled with his two brothers.

So Friedrich gathered an army of 18,000 man (11) and invaded the lands of Albrecht, laying siege to the Heldenburg (1365). His men built a wooden siege tower and labouriously rolled it toward the keep of the Heldenburg. But Albrecht fired a cannon shot that destroyed the tower and filled the men with such fear that they abandoned the siege. It is said this was the first time a cannon was heard in these lands (12). But the troops of the landrave destroyed enough of the smaller castles and villages on Albrecht's territories that he in the end sued for peace and met the Landgrave Friedrich in Eisenach.

A little tidbit aside. Friedrich would have more troubles with another Welfen ruler a few years later, our friend Otto the Quarrelsome.

Another view of the chapel

Albrecht was married to Agnes, a daughter of Duke Magnus Torquatus of Lüneburg (keep it in the Welfen family, heh) who died of the wounds he got in a fight with the Count of Everstein during the battle of Leveste, one of the battles fought in the Lüneburg succession wars (1373). You can see how the connections of local nobility thicken.

After Albrecht's death 1383, the only son Erich was under the guardianship of his uncle Friedrich until he came of age in 1402 and took his residence in the Heldenburg. He too, did not escape the feuds among nobles. Most notably is the one with the Counts of Hohnstein (who had their main seat in the eastern Harz; another place I've visited and should blog about). The reigning count, Gunther, fell in the strive and his sons had to pay a ransom of 8,000 mark gold for their freedom (1415). For one, a feud turned out well for Braunschweig-Grubenhagen.

Erich married Elisabeth, the daughter of Otto the Quarrelsome of Braunschweig-Göttingen (before 1415). Two of their sons would succeed to the Braunschweig-Grubenhagen inheritance and live in the Heldenburg. Erich died 1427.

The chapel

I'll spare you a bunch of more Heinrichs, Erichs and Albrechts who lived in Salzderhelden in the 15th century, and who usually didn't get along with someone else somewhere. :-)

After another split of the lands in 1481, the main seat was moved to Herzberg in the Harz foothills, the eastern part of the duchy; the Heldenburg in Salzderhelden became a widows' seat. When the Grubenhagen line died out, the castle came into possession of the Lüneburg-Celle line of the Welfen.

Judging by an engraving, the castle still looked pretty representative in 1654, with half timbered upper storeys and most curtain walls remaining, but it was only used sporadically in the 17th century. The last person to live there, the Chief Master of the Hunt von Moltke was executed in 1692. Afterwards the castle fell into decay. The ruins were preserved in 1983-88; in 1999 the keep was partly restored and a staircase added so one can access the roof.

The castle seen from the town

Footnotes
1) I have to rely primarily on online sources for this one, and there are contradictions between the dates. Obviously, the castle came into possession of Heinrich Mirabilis in 1292 but appears in chartes under the name castrum soltho only in 1320.
2) One website translates Mirabilis as 'The Odd', meaning he was a few fries short of a Happy Meal, but since the word Mirabilis is also used in context of Jesus in Medieaval texts, I think the translation of 'The Exalted' is more fitting.
3) Count Heinrich kept using the title 'Duke of Saxony' in documents, while the Staufen just called him 'Heinrich of Braunschweig'.
4) The Welfen held only some land inside the town where Castle Dankwarderode and the cathedral are, the rest was possession of the town resp. its citizens; a problem that can be found in other towns as well.
5) Basically the counties of Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
6) A second marriage connection between both families was the one between Knut (Canute), a son of Valdemar I and Gertrud, the daughter from Heinrich the Lion's first marriage to Clementia of Zähringen. They had no offspring.
7) He was named counter-king already during the time of Friedrich II and was crowned in Aachen in 1248, but his actual power did not extend beyond the Rhineland at the time. He died in a fight against rebellious Frisian nobles in 1256 and was succeeded by Richard of Cornwall, a son of King John.
8) Not traces of this castle remain today since the town razed it when the Welfen rulers were kicked out with Otto the Quarrelsome.
9) A fate they shared with the Göttingen-Calenberg line, see the ongoing financial problems of Otto the Quarrelsome.
10) He's the one who got a lot of money from Edward I to fight in France, but used it for an unsuccessful war in Thuringia instead.
11) If the sources don't exaggerate the number which they are likely to have done.
12) It is called 'bussen' (Büchse, which is old fashioned for gun) but in the context surely means something larger if it destroyed a siege tower. In case of the siege of the Bramburg, it was a handheld cannon with a matchlock, but I doubt that would have destroyed a tower.

Literature
Bernd Schneidmüller, Die Welfen: Herrschaft und Erinnerung 819-1252, Stuttgart 2000
Wilfried Warsitzka, Die Thüringer Landgrafen. 2nd revised edition, Erfurt 2009

 


3.8.14
  Scottish History: King David and the Civil War (Part 2)

Continuation of this post, with some random photos (I don't have any of southern England; should save up to travel there, heh).

The arrival in England of the Empress Matilda, claimant to the English throne, who was supported by her illegitimate half-brother Robert of Gloucester, in September 1139, changed the political map. Ranulf of Chester, David’s rival for Carlisle, joined her party.

At first, David watched from the sidelines, consolidating his position in Northumberland and Cumbria by a net of feudal and marital relationships between himself, his son Henry, William fitz Duncan, and various nobles,among them Eustace fitz John and the Umfravilles who became members of Henry's close entourage. Robert Bruce of Annandale resumed his feudal relationship with David after the treaty of Durham, and Bernard de Balliol swore an oath as well. Hugh de Morville had always been faithful to the king.

The castles at Newcastle and Bamburgh were again brought under David’s control, and he attained dominion over all of England north-west of the River Ribble and Pennines. He held the north-east as far south as the River Tyne, the border of the core territory of the bishopric of Durham. David also rebuilt the fortress of Carlisle which replaced Roxburgh as his favoured residence.

Once the wars in the north had stopped, David could offer a better stabilitly than either Stephen or Matilda, and Scottish rule was eventually accepted. The lands north of the Tyne would remain peaceful during the latter part of David’s reign and that’s more than could be said for most of southern and middle England.

The castle of Newcastle (left) and Tynemouth Abbey, seen from the river

When Stephen was captured by the Matilda's forces at Lincoln on 2 February 1141 (1), David finally decided to disregard his agreement with Stephen (2) and support Matilda. In either May or June, David travelled to the south of England to join Matilda's entourage, and was present during her short and unpleasant stay in London. John of Hexham notes that David soon became aware of Matilda’s shortcomings and her inability to make concessions and win allies. There may be the misogyny of a patriarchical society underlying statements like this, but fact is that Matilda did fail to gain the important support of London, and the circle of close supporters remained small. The bishop of Winchester, who happened to be Stephen’s brother Henri of Blois, kept a backdoor open though he had agreed to crown Matilda.

In the end, Matilda had to leave London and fled to Winchester, accompanied by Gloucester, King David and some others. But Stephen’s wife, the other Matilda, had gathered an army of Stephen’s followers and Flemish mercenaries and laid siege to the town. When fighting broke out in the streets of Winchester, Empress Matilda and some of her entourage broke through (September 1141). Mathilda made it to safety in Devizes. John Marshal escaped from a burning tower, badly wounded. Robert of Gloucester who covered the retreat was captured. Ranulf of Chester escaped as well. David made his way to Scotland; he was captured but bribed the men (I told you he must have a had a silver tongue talking his way out of predicaments, and these newly minted coins proabably helped, too) and galloped through hostile territory all the way to Durham where his chancellor William Comyn held the castle (see below).

After months of negotiations, the captured Robert of Gloucester was exchanged for King Stephen. Neither was Matilda willing to make any concessions to Stephen, nor Robert to buy his freedom with a shift of allegiances. So the civil war would continue for another 12 years though it was a stalemate with little military action after the first flurry of activity following Stephen’s release. Matilda moved to her stronghold at Oxford which was besieged by King Stephen in December 1141. Matilda escaped across the frozen moat covered in a white cloak, and retreated to Wallingford.

Matilda’s son Henry, the future Henry II of England who lived with his father Geoffrey of Anjou in Normandy, showed signs of independence already at the age of 14. He came to England with some household knights and a band of mercenaries in 1147. But he couldn’t pay his mercenaries nor buy passage back to Normany, and Matilda refused to give him any money since he had not asked her permsission for the adventure. In the end it was Stephen who helped the lad out of his predicament. That’s pretty much Stephen, I think; he liked to be courteous and generous.

Robert died in 1147, other supporters of Matilda joined the second crusade, and in 1148 Matilda herself returned to Normandy.

The town walls of Chester

Ranulf Earl of Chester changed his allegiance back to King Stephen again in late 1145. He must have gotten a knot in his cloak, turning it so often. I suppose he realized that Matilda could not help him getting Carlisle back and he may have hoped that Stephen was angry with King David and would further Ranulf’s claim. Stephen had taken away the Huntingdon fief from Earl Henry and given it to Henry’s half-brother Simon de Senlis, though it would turn out that Stephen stayed well out of the north and let David and Henry keep the Cumbrian and Northumbrian lands.

The following events are a bit murky, but it seems that Stephen began to mistrust Ranulf – several of his barons certainly did not like the man or doubted his motives – and under a pretext had Ranulf imprisoned in chains. They came to an agreement again in August 1146 where Ranulf had to give hostages and render his castles, including Lincoln. Of course, Ranulf rebelled as soon as the dungeon door opened. Stephen managed to prevent him from taking some important castles in south-west England, though the earl still controlled most of the north-west of England bordering Wales.

At this point, Ranulf looked elsewhere for assistance and met with his old enemy, King David of Scots in May 1149.

(Left: York Cathedral, south transept.)

We have to go back in time a bit. One of David’s goals was the control of the bishopric of Durham and preferably the archbishopric of York as well, especialy since there still was the open question of the submission of Scottish bishops to York. Sor far, the bishops of St.Andrews and Glasgow had managed to escape such an oath. John's successor to the see of Glasgow, Herbert, was consecrated by Pope Eugenius III in August 1147, circumventing the involvement of York.

Archbishop Thurstan of York, David's nemesis for years, had died in early 1140. David wanted to get the position for his stepson Waltheof (the brother of Simon de Senlis, from the first marriage of his late wife Matilda; 3), but King Stephen, fearing further increase of David's power, put forth a candidate of his own: William fitzHerbert, one of his nephews. But the diocese didn't want him, and then Stephen was captured and the see remained unoccupied.

The see of Durham had fallen vacant in 1140 as well, and here David wanted to get the job for his chancellor William Comyn. The relationship with Durham had always been uneasy, and having his own man there would solve a bunch of problems. But the chapter did not want William. So Comyn controlled the bishop's castle and the town, but there was no way to get him elected by the chapter without interference of a higher authority. The papal legate, Henri of Blois, would be such a man, and David had negotiations with him during his time at Matilda's court. William Comyn had accompagnied him; he too escaped the route of Winchester.

When it became clear that Matilda would not be queen and Henri of Blois' alliances were more on Stephen's side, David for once did not try to push matters and accepted the chapter's candidate, William de St.Barbe in 1143, despite him bein a former dean of York. In the end, both town and bishop were quite happy with the outcome and supported David.

In 1143, William fitzHerbert was finally consecrated as archbishop of York, but that didn't put an end to his troubles with the diocese who began to look to David for assisstance. We've seen that David got along pretty well with Pope Eugenius who in turn didn't like William fitzHerbert (though my reference books don't give a clear reason for that dislike). Eugenius replaced William with another Henry just to confuse my readers: Henry Murdac, bishop of Fountains. King Stephen was of course furious about the papal intervention and refused to recognise Henry. David on the other hand had cultivated a friendship with Henry Murdac who was present at David's court at Carlisle in May 1149.

Carlisle Castle

The meeting at Carlisle not only included King David, his son Earl Henry, Henry Murdac and Ranulf of Chester, but also Matilda's son Henry of Anjou who seemed to like getting away from Normandy and having fun in England instead. David held a lavish ceremony and knighted his great nephew. Henry of Anjou in turn promised that he would recognise Scottish possession of Newcastle and all of Northumbria, should he become king. Well, at the time, with Stephen's position again secure, the likely next king of England would be his son Eustace, so Henry didn't give away much. He woud regret - and go back on - that promise later.

But that was only the festival part of the meeting, more important - albeit I bet getting knighted was pretty important for Henry - were the politics. An agreement was reached with Ranulf Earl of Chester who got lands in Lancastershire and the promise of marriage to one of Earl Henry's daughters in exchange for giving up his claim on Carlise and - according to John of Hexham - paying homage to David. That would effectively have cut any feudal bonds with King Stephen and confirmed David's position as king not only of Scots but of the lands as far south as the Ribble and Tyne.

Stephen still barred Henry Murdac from taking up the see in York, despite the support from the pope and the Yorkshire Cistercians, so David and Ranulf decided on a military intervention on his behalf. A success would have made York a Scottish archdiocese, and would have given Ranulf a base to regain his lands around Lincoln. Led by King David and Henry of Anjou, an army of Anglo-Scottish nobles and men would come down from Carlisle while Ranulf's host marched along the Pennines.

But Stephen got wind of the plans and installed a new garrison in York. David knew he could not take the fortified town (he may have learned from the long siege of Wark Castle), disbanded his army and returned to Carlisle. But Stephen was in no position to push further north, either, and withdrew southwards. Henry of Anjou escaped an ambush by Stephen's son Eustace with the help of Ranulf who created a diversion by an attack on Lincoln, and fled southward and back to Normandy Maybe the third time would be the charm, lol.

Stephen finally admittend Henry Murdac to his see in 1151. David at least got an candidate on the see he could work with, but lacking immediate control of the town meant that a Scottish archbishopric was out of question; York remained English.

York, the old town with the towers of the Minster

The death of his nephew William fitz Duncan in 1147 must have been a blow for David. He lost not only a dear relative but also a stout supporter who held a central role in the net of feudal alliances woven in Northumbria and Cumbria. Williams death is not documented, but he disappears from signing chartes at the time. His wife Alice de Rumilly was still alive in 1151 when she founded a church. William fitz Duncan was succeeded by his son, another William. There were three daughters as well, but all children were still very young.

There was a brief episode of a rebellion by one Wimund who clamied he was a son of the 'earl of Moray' (which could have meant William fitz Duncan) and deprived of his rights by King David. He seems to have held a clerical position in Skye and managed to gather a warband of disgruntled second sons. The whole episode is badly documented and garbled, so I spare you the details. Wimund ended his days blinded and castrated in Byland Abbey, and the west remained in David's power.

Problems also arose in Caithness / Orkney. I'll refer to these briefly here, because as I've said, Orkney will get its own series of posts. The son of David's kinsman Maddad of Atholl and Margaret of Orkney, Harald Maddadson, had been appointed Earl of Caithness and part of Orkney (the other part was held by Rognvald for the Norwegian crown) in 1139. The boy was five years old at the time and thus in need of guardians, and one can count it as success for David to have the boy accepted in favour of other, adult, candidates, including Rognvald who may have claimed all of Orkney if not for internecine strifes.

With a power balance established, Rognvald went on a pilgrimage. That turned out to be a mistake because the King of Norway, Eystein II, sailed over with a fleet and captured young Harald Maddadson at Thurso in 1151. Harald had to acknowledge Norwegian overlordship to gain his freedom. Eystein went on a raiding trip along the Scottish east coast before he returned home.

David decided to now back the claim of Erlend Haraldsson, another descendant of Thorfinn the Mighty who established a veritable dynasty in Orkney. David granted Erlend half of Caithness as fief. But King Eystein responded by granting him Harald Maddadson's part of Orkney, and thus a three sided conflict between Rognvald, Harald Maddadson, and Erlend Haraldsson arose that only ended with Harald killing Erlend in 1154. Harald would keep causing trouble for David's grandsons.

Birsay / Orkney, view from the Norse settlement

David was now a very old man by the standard of his time. He had secured a realm that extended farther than when he first became King of Scots. Lands held of the English crown in 1141 had become an integral part of his kingdom in 1149, and the inclusion of the Anglo-Norman nobility who intermarried with the leading Scottish families and often held land in both parts, brought an increasing Norman influence in culture and law. Fringe parts like the Western Isles and Orkney with their Gaelic-Scandinavian culture we no longer a threat, but often acted as allies (Fergus of Galloway and, to some extent, Somarled of the Isles). David had founded monasteries and churches and invited clerics from the continent, built and expanded castles in the motte and bailey style, improved the infrastucture and set up a system of coinage. He also introduced the Norman feudal structures at least in the southern part of Scotland proper. In short, he elevated the backwater kingdom of Scots to a major player in Europe, thus fulfilling what Malcolm Canmore had started with his marriage to Margaret of Wessex.

After years spent mostly in the south due to the problems with King Stephen, David after the settlements in 1149 finally was able to move north again, and in May 1150, he can be found in Moray; in June, in Dunfermline where he held a grand assembly; and the following year in Aberdeen. A number of names of great magnates and churchmen in the king's entourage come up reguarly during these months: the bishops of Dunkeld, St.Andrews, Aberdeen and Caithness; the abbots of Holyrood and Kelso; the earls of Fife, Atholl, Buchan, Mar and Angus - most of them of Celtic ancestry. It is a different circle from the southern one with men like the Bishops of Glasgow and Carlisle, or Eustace fitz John, the Umfravilles, Morville, Balliol, Bruce and others, though there were contacts between both groups, of course.

The river Tay near Dunkeld, the ancient centre of Scotland

But David's hope for a strong Scotland in the boundaries he had set got a serious drawback when he received news that his son Henry had died in Roxburgh or Newcastle in June 1152. He'd been only 38 years old and a strong and active man (see his conduct at the Battle of the Standard), though his health may have detoriated in the last years. There is a passage in Bernhard of Clairveaux' Vita of Malachy where Malachy is said to have cured Earl Henry of a severe malady in Carlise in the 1140ies. This could be a fact, but also one of those wondrous cures always ascribed to saints. There is no sign that David thought he might lose his son and successor so early.

Henry had three sons, so the succession was not in immediate danger. But the boys were still young, Malcolm 11, William 9 and David 8. There were two main problems: the feudal net in the south, bound to the adult Henry, did not work as well with a child not old enough to enter lord/vassal relationships on a personal basis; and in Scotland proper, primogeniture was not yet so safely established that no other claimant to the throne might see a chance.

David did what he could to prevent a crisis to come after his death. He named Malcolm (later known as Malcolm IV the Maiden) as successor, and Donnchad mormaor of Fife, one of his oldest and most trusted Celto-Scottish vassals, as regent. He sent Malcolm and Donnchad on a tour through Scotland proper - accompagnied by a number of retainers that looked suspiciously like an army *wink* - to have Malcolm acknowledged as heir by his subjects. Then David personally accompagnied his second son, the future Earl of Northumberland, to Newcastle to take the oaths of his Northumbrian barons. John of Hexham mentions that David took hostages which shows that the peace in this part of his realm was a more fragile one than Oram describes (4).

(left: Dunfermline Abbey)

David's health began to detoriate in spring 1153, and on May 29, he died in his bed in the castle tower of Carlisle, aged 69. He was buried in Dunfermline Abbey.

The Irish Annals of Tigernach called him: Dabíd mac Mail Colaim, rí Alban & Saxan (David son of Malcolm King of Scotland and England). Eulogists like Ailred of Rievaulx mention David as pious and just king who brought the 'barbarian' Scots into the fold of civilization (5).

In August 1153, Stephen's son and successor, Eustace, died. Stephen agreed to the Treaty of Wallingford which would allow him to keep the throne until his death, while he recognised Matilda's son Henry of Anjou as heir. King Stephen died in October, and Henry succeeded him as Henry II of England. Malcolm IV of Scotland would lose most of the southern lands his father had won to Henry. His brother William the Lion did not succeed in winning back Northumbria either; it remained an English possession.


Footnotes
1) One of the knights captured with him was the young Roger de Mowbray who had earned his spurs at the Battle of the Standard
2) His agreements were never a feudal relationship; that was all between Stephen and Henry, but only that vague oath to keep the peace. David was a sneaky politician, but no oathbreaker.
3) What I find interesting is that David obviously got along well enough with Waltheof to want him in such an important position, while his relationship with Simon, who alway benefited from Earl Henry's losses during the Civil War, was likely more than a bit strained.
4) Oram, David the King, pages 177ff.
5) There is, of course, a lot of Latin topoi in those eulogies, and among them, bringing civilization to 'barbarians' was a popular one.

Sources
Frank Barlow: The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216. 5th edition, Edinburgh 1999
Robert Bartlett: England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225. 5th edition, Oxford University Press, 2003
Richard Oram: David, The King Who Made Scotland. Tempus Publishing Ltd, 2004
Richard Oram: Domination and Lordship, Scotland 1070-1230. The New Edinburgh History of Scotland, Edinburgh 2011
Ailred of Rievaulx: The Historical Works, translated by J.P. Freeland, edited by M.L. Dutton. Cistercian Publications 56, 2005
William P.L. Thomson: The New History of Orkney. Glasgow 1987, 4th edition 2008
Ian W. Walker: Lords of Alba, The Making of Scotland. Sutton Publishing, 2006

 


14.7.14
  Living With Horses - Roman Cavalry Barrack in the Limes Fort Aalen

Salvete carissimi lectori, it's Aelius Rufus again. Gabriele told me I should tell you a bit about the Limes fort in Aalen since that's from my time.

Gabriele has also added two maps about the Limes to her post with Roman maps so our dear readers won't get lost in the German forests.

Remains of the cavalry fort in Aalen

The German Limes, or as it's usually called, Upper German-Raetian Limes (Obergermanisch-Rätischer Limes) has a few things in common with Hadrian's Wall where my friend Gaius Fannius lives.

After Gabriele's ancestors had kicked the Romans out in the aftermath of the Varus battle, the Rhine in the west and the Danube in the north remained the borders of the Roman Empire. But her ancestors kept to that bad habit of crossing the Rhine, looking for shinies and cattle in the hinterland, so the Emperor Domitian (AD 83) pushed them back a bit further and established a road along the Neckar river and across the Swabian Alp from Moguntiacum at the Rhine to Augusta Vindelicum (Augsburg) at the Danube. That road was protected by watch towers and some forts were built. It was the same time when Domitian's general Agricola took a closer look at those tribes in the mountains of Caledonia who didn't leave the Romans alone, either. Only he got his big battle while Domitian didn't, because the German tribes knew better than to face the Roman army in a pitched battle.

Aalen, partly reconstructed cavalry barrack

At the same time the deified Hadrian decided to set the border between Romans and barbarians at the line now known as Hadrian's Wall, the emperor also proclaimed the fortified roads that cut from the Rhine to the Danube as border between the Romans and Gabriele's ancestors. But our dear Tony isn't content with those borders, so he pushed further into Caledonia with the Antonine Wall, and expanded the Limes border a bit east and north (AD 150/155). The fort at Osterburken dates to that time, as does the cavalry fort in Aalen.

Aalen was the main seat of the military administration of Raetia from about AD 150 until the fall of the Limes in the 250ies, and garrison of the Ala II Flavia pia fidelis milliaria. Its praefect also was the second in command of the entire province. No wonder they got such a big headquarter building.

View from the side

The fort in Aalen is quite a sight, I can tell you. With 277x214 metres it covers an area of ~6 hectares. It is surrounded by no less than four trenches. I'm glad I wasn't there for the digging. The fort as I've seen it has mostly buildings of timber or half-timbered walls on stone foundations, but Marc Aurel had most of it rebuilt in stone in about AD 170. Else it shows the usual pattern with walls, double-gates on each side and towers in the corners.

Gabriele says not much is left of those today, only the foundations of two of the gates and a bit of one of the trenches. Those stone filching locals from the future again, is my guess. Another remaining feature are the foundations of the principia, and excavations have shown the site of some of the barracks and granaries.

A room in the barrack

Today, one third of the fort lies under the old cemetery, another third is covered by houses, though when the first digs were made by the Reichlimeskommission in the 19th century, some of that space was still fields. Yeah, after the wars, building houses was more important than preserving the foundations of some Roman walls and barracks. The buildings usually found outside a fort, like the vicus settlement south of the fort and the baths are covered by houses as well.

Luckily for Gabriele and other Roman ... what does she call them, geeks? the foundations of the principia were never built over but made accessible for the public in the 1980ies. A museum has been around since 1964 and was recently modernised.

The fun bit, Gabriele tells me, is the partly reconstructed garrison barrack from 2005. Since it was a cavalry fort, those looked a bit different from the infantry barrack reconstructions you can find in Arbeia or Caerleon (where only the interior is shown). She should be able to time travel into the past and look at the fort in Aalen during the time of its splendour, when I visited the place.

The stable

Several sources say that an ala milliaria (a unit of 1,000) had 24 turmae of 32 men, but that would only bring it to 768 men. Well, I counted and Gabriele checked more sources*. We got another, more realistic number: 24 turmae of 42 men, that makes 1,008, not counting the decurions who lead the units (same as centurions for the footsloggers). The fort in Heidenheim where the Ala II Flavia had been stationed before moving to Aalen shows a size and number of barracks that would house a thousand.

They got a lot of horses, too. One of those research guys estimated a minimum of 1,200, but there may have been as many as 1,900 because of the need of extra horses as remounts and packhorses. You'll understand that I didn't count them.

Display of the fort layout Aalen

When you compare the reconstructed barrack part with the sketch of the fort layout Gabriele caught with her little picture box, you'll notice those barracks were a lot bigger. Well, there's no space to set up a full one, and I suspect no money either. Some things never change. The reconstructed barrack sits in the wrong spot, too, at my time there were two agricultural buildings, a magazine and a workshop for repairing horse stuff.

Since the barracks are under the cemetery and they won't dig up the bodies and make their ghosts angry, the fort in Heidenheim / Aquileia was used as foil for the reconstruction. The Ala II Flavia milliaria had been stationed there prior to moving to Aalen, and the Romans, practical lot that they are, dismantled the barracks and moved the parts, much like a prefabricated house in the future.

Roofed gallery at the outside of the barrack

The barracks in Heidenheim had been constructed of timber or in half-timbered style. Excavations in 2000-2004 showed the foundation groves and post holes of seven barracks. The results from the digs and surveys in both forts made it possible to reconstruct the ideal layout of a cavalry fort for an ala milliaria. It's the only way for the people from the future, though Gabriele sometimes mutters about how time travel would make research so much easier as long as you stayed out of the actual battles. I won't be surprised if she tried to bring one of those aviation machine thingies for that.

So we get 24 barracks - most of them combined to double barracks - with 13 rooms plus stables. Tacitus had no reason to be snarky about the Germans living in the same house with their cattle; the Roman soldiers do pretty much the same. That wattle and daub wall between living rooms (papiliones) and stables (stabula) doesn't keep the smell out, I can tell you. And there's always someone walking into the living room with his horse pooped sandals. But the advantage is that the guys got their mounts real close in case they had to go on an urgent mission.

Upper storey / gallery, maybe used for sleeping

The horse lads do have more space. 3 to 4 share a room of about 20 square metres, instead of our 15 square metres plus anteroom for eight men, and their rooms have a second storey. Each double barrack was about 80 metres long and 18 metres wide. The individuals stables could house 3 to 4 horses. Extra horses were kept in additional stables.

The bad thing about timber is that it's seldom preserved for those archaeologists from the future, but they can make some guesswork from post holes and such, like the basilica structure of the barracks.

The upper storey may have been supported by extra posts and crossbeams as in the reconstructed barrack, but one can't be sure whether the upper floor was a full storey or more like a gallery or loft. That the upper floor was used for sleeping is an assumption of course, it could also have been used for storage - those horses need a lot of fodder.

The decurio's quarter

The inner walls were half timbered with loam-covered wickerwork and roughcast, while the outer walls may have been a plank construction. All units were prepared in a way that they could be moved around. During summer, the front planks of the stables could be taken out so that they would be open towards the porch.

The roofs were covered by wooden shingles, and remains of glass point at glassed windows and transoms lights. A nice luxury in the German climate. Each papilio had a fireplace / stove facing the stable wall, probably made of bricks, with a brick or timber chimney taking the smoke out through the roof of the upper floor.

Those barracks used up a lot of wood. Mostly oak, but then, the German forests had a lot of those in my time. All the barracks in Aalen together would have used some 3,000 oak and about 400 pine trees.

Decurio's quarter from another angle
The wall segments / partitions have not all been inserted, and the view to the roof left open;
there would have been planks to add that second floor.

The decurios (decuriones), the commanders of a turma, got their own rooms, of course. A hundred square metres and a second floor. Though I have to be honest; the ground floor rooms were partly taken up by offices - tables and shelves - and I don't envy them the paperwork. They also had to make space for slaves. Hey, that's still more than I got for a flat, says Gabriele. And I have too many books; I could do with some more shelves.

The double barracks had living quarters for the decurios at one side, and for the lieutenants, the duplicarii at the other. They got some colour on their walls and their own loos. Though they still had to use the shared baths, heh.

A cavalry soldier and his mount in the museum

We know for sure that the Ala II Flavia pia fidelis milliaria was garrisoned in Heidenheim from AD 90/110* and moved to Aalen in AD 155/60 where it stayed until the midst of the 3rd century. But where the ala comes from is more difficult to trace. The name 'Flavia' points at an assembling under Vespasian (AD 70-79) or his sons (Titus AD 79-81, Domitian AD 81-96). The earliest mention is on a military diploma from AD 86 where it already got its full name pia fidelis milliaria. It is possible that the unit was created in the aftermath of the Batavian rebellion in AD 70; that would make it the oldest ala milliaria we know of.

Another scenario is that the basis of the unit was the Ala II Flavia Gemina stationed in Germania Superior which indeed was assembled after the rebellion but disappears from military diplomas before AD 90. It could have been expanded to 1,000 men, renamed and deployed to Raetia. The byname pia fidelis - pious and faithful - points at some special distinction; possibly during Domitian's war against the German tribe of the Chatti AD 83-85. But that doesn't solve the problem whether it was newly created then or expanded from the Ala Flavia Gemina.

An 'Ala II Flavia' can be traced in the fort at Günzburg (Gontia) at the Danube in AD 78 due to tile stamps, but it is not clear if that is the old Gemina (à 500 men) or the ala II Flavia milliaria. I think the most likely scenario is that of the expanded Gemina which was then moved to Heidenheim under the new name.

The reconstructed barrack seen from the shrine of the standards in the principia
The statue shows Marc Aurel

It definitely is a special troop, Aelius Rufus grins. And it got special, big headquarters for another post.

Sources:
Junkelmann, Marcus. Die Reiter Roms, Vol. II Der militärische Einsatz. Mainz 1991
Kemkes, Martin; Scheuerbrandt, Jörg; Willburger, Nina. Am Rande des Imperiums - Der Limes, Grenze Roms zu den Barbaren. Schriften des Limesmuseums Aalen, Stuttgart 2002
Kemkes, Martin; Scholz, Markus. Das Römerkastell Aalen. Schriften des Limesmuseums Aalen, vol. 58, Stuttgart 2012
Klee, Margot. Germania Superior - Eine römische Provinz in Deutschland, Frankreich und der Schweiz. Regensburg 2013

Note
* The number of 24 turmae à 42 men comes from Junkelmann.
* Kemkes/Scholz date the move to Heidenheim to AD 110 while Junkelmann dates it to AD 90. I agree with Junkelmann because it coincides with the disappearance of the Ala Gemina from the documents.

 


28.6.14
  Room Sharing, Roman Style

Hi, it's me, Aelius Rufus. Gabriele has taken an old post of me and added some of those little pictures and more information, so I have to retell a few things. I got to see the cavalry fort at Aalen which dates to the time of Antoninus Pius, and she thought it would be fun to compare the soldiers' barracks of the standard Hadrian's Wall / Limes forts to the cavalry ones (in another post to come).

A reconstructed barrack in Arbeia

That's the place where my friend Gaius Fannius commands a unit of the 5th cohort of Gaul auxiliary, sometimes visited by the mysterious, time traveling Merlinus. Well, he's a centurion and gets some more space to his own.

One barrack has been reconstructed, though there were several, of course, depending on the size of the garrison.

Interior of a room in a fort barrack (Caerleon Museum)

When I travel I usually get better places to stay than my living quarters in the Saalburg castellum. Thanks to Merlinus and the ongoing interest in Romans that leads to Rebuilding the Past projects, I can show you how our room looked. Pretty much like in the picture above.

(Oven for a contubernium, Caerleon Museum)

Eight of us, called a contubernium, share a room of 15 square metres plus a little anteroom with shelves for our equipment, and a kitchenette. You see it's pretty dark and sparsely furnished - not that there'd be space for anything more than bunk beds, one table, and a few pegs in the wall. When on campaign, we also share a tent.

Roman soldiers and auxiliaries don't have a central dining hall and no chefs (Asterix got that one wrong); we have to do our own cooking and can be glad if one of the chaps gets a bit of a hand for it. The ingredients, grain, beans, bacon, sometimes dried figs or other fruit and a bit of fish, as well as beer and wine are distributed by the command. There is always enough to keep us fit, but it's not roasted venison in a creamy juniper berry sauce, and potato gratin (ops, that's Gabriele chiming in, I have no idea what potatoes are).

Usually ten contubernia, a centuria that is though it only comes to 80 men, not a full hundred, share a barrack in the fort. Sometimes we get lucky and a bunch of the guys is commissioned elsewhere, like manning the mile forts and watch towers, accompagnying some tribune on some mission or whatever, and then we can spread out a bit more. The cavalry guys have more space, too.

Modell of a fortress (Birdoswald Museum)
In the lower part you can see the barracks with the attached houses for the centurions

We're led by a centurion, and those guys don't live in such crowded and dark quarters. No, centurions are special and have their own house at the end of the barrack and slaves to cook for them, and us poor soldiers to clean their armour.

Yes, dear Gaius, you know complaining about the centurions is part of the job.

Bedroom of the centurion, Arbeia

They also get ten times the salary we get. It's a damn injustice - invented by Augustus, I've been told. He wanted a gap between the ordinary soldiers and the officers so the army wouldn't stick together and turn against him or some such. And indeed, when there were mutinies like the time Tiberius became Emperor while the legions prefered Germanicus, it was the centurions who got killed during the mess, and in the end the mutiny came to nothing and Tiberius stayed put.

(Anteroom to the bedroom, Arbeia.
The centurion's anteroom was larger and also used as office.
)

There's one good thing, though, and that's the fact the centurions are ranked according to the place of the centuria they lead, and half of them spend their time ogling the place of the centurion ranking above them. It's even worse in the regular legions where there are sixty of the lot and the structure is even more complicated.

There was another good thing to being a centurion, Gaius Fannius told me. He could order some of the guys to slap a fresh layer of paint on the walls of his rooms in Arbeia. The reconstruction needs a house makeover; it gathered a fair bit of dirt and cobwebs.

Yeah, I could try to rise to the centuriate - I'm a Roman citizen thanks to my father - but I'm not sure I really want that. I doubt I could have so much fun traveling around when I had the responsibilty for some 80 lads. No way I could claim the whole lot as personal guard and take them around with me. Not to mention we'd create a stir in the Future. One or two guys in Roman attire get away with it, but a centuria would have people think they're making what Gabriele calls a movie.

Another interior shot of the soldiers' quarters

And here's the other layout. Kings size beds for four. Even worse, if you ask me; I prefer the bunk beds. Especially the way Gaius Incitus keeps trashing around at night, dreaming of fighting Germans. I don't want to get his arm in my face. Creating an earthquake in the bunk bed is bad enough.

Soldiers' quarters in Arbeia

But now I must go and fix the hobnails on those damn sandals. I swear they'll use lost nails to track the ways of the Roman army one day. *

Oh noes, Crispus and Buccio are playing at dice again. Which means the rest of us can listen to Buccio complaining that he's lost a weeks worth of pay. Again. He should know better and not play against Crispus, that man has some uncanny luck.

Barrack foundations at Caerleon

* They have in fact done that in Hedemünden where those nails mark the way from the south to Hedemünden Camp and the further route north on the hills along the Visurgis valley. A smaller camp (sort of a mile castle) also was discovered along that way. Sandal nails also helped showing the way the Romans retreated after the battle at Kalefeld.
 


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction and Fantasy living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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