My Illlustrated Travel Journal with Essays about Roman and Mediaeval History and some Geology


19.9.07
  Pretty Houses

Half-timbered houses from the 15th to 17th centuries are quite common in Germany. The ones below can be found in Uslar, a little town in the mountains surrounding the Weser river (the Weserbergland).

Driving through those litte towns and villages and having a walk along the Weser is just the thing to do on a sunny Sunday afternoon in September.

The ones in the middle and to the left are from 1555 and serve as hotel today


Seen from a different angle

Most towns put quite some effort into keeping the old houses in good condition which isn't always easy because the renovation of those half-timbered houses requires the revival of ancient techniques.
 


5.9.07
  It's Too Cold Outside, Centurion

Join the Roman army, you'll get regular pay, regular food, toilets with water flushing, and indoor training facilities. Because it was essential for soldiers to have "unceasing drill in wet and windy weather," as the military writer Vegetius said.

Example one: Birdoswald / Hadrian's Wall. The guys had a basilica exercitatoria, a drill hall measuring 16 x 42.7 metres.

Birdoswald, view from the south gate over the granaries to the exercise hall
and the 17th century farm house

Unfortunatley, not much is left. The foundations directly in front of the farm house (beyond the remains of the granaries) are the south-west part of the drill hall - the other part is today covered by the house. The headquarters (principia) had been beyond the trees to the left, but not much remains of these, either.

From the foundations of the drill hall it can be deduced that the roof was a double arcade supportend by a series of columns flanking a broad nave. Light came from windows above the arcade. The style was a typical feature of Roman public buildings and later used in the triple naved Romanesque basilicas all over Christian Europe.

My guidebook has a drawing of auxiliary soldiers training with wooden swords and wicker shields in the basilica exercitatoria. In the foreground, a centurion is barking commands; he looks rather grim. Some poor sods are in for an extra session.

The drill hall remained unaltered during the entire period of Roman occupation of Birdoswald (Banna) which shows its importance.

Saalburg, interior of the reconstructed exercise hall (view to a side door)

The next example comes from the Saalburg at the German Limes. Here the exercise hall was not a separate entity but part of the principia.

This one measures 11.5 x 38.5 metres and is constructed as simple hall without side naves. The hall is situated directly on the axis of the via praetoria and its crossing the ways leading to the side gates.

Part of the floor has been found during excavations, as well as proof that wooden canopies protected the doors on the outside.

The position of the hall allows us to assume that it was not only used for training but also as meeting place for the entire cohort on formal occasions like the annual oath to the Emperor.

Saalburg, basilica exercitatoria, door leading to the yard of the principia

The troops stationed in the border forts were not legionaries - those had their base camps futher off in Eboracum (York) or Moguntiacum (Mainz) - but auxiliaries recruited from all over the Empire. As mentioned before, the garrison in the Saalburg was the second Raetian cohors equitata since 135 AD. The garrisons in Birdoswald varied; it included the First Aelia Dacorum milliaria, a 1000 man strong double cohort from the Danube that moved in shortly after Septimius Severus established major restructuring of the Wall defenses in the early 3rd century.
 


3.9.07
  Different Frontiers, Yet Alike

The landscapes through which the Hadrian's Wall and the German Limes run are different, though alien to the Romans in both cases. But the Romans brought their norm-sized forts, milecastles and watch towers to Britannia as well as Germania.

Remains of a milecastle at the Hadrian's Wall (near Birdoswald)

The first esample is from the Hadrian's Wall, the second from the German limes near Walldürn in the Odenwald.

Foundations of a watch tower at the Limes (near Walldürn, Odenwald)

When I visited Xanten in 2010, I rented a bicycyle for one day to get to some interesting places, among them the amphitheatre at Birten. I then cycled along the Rhine for a bit and took a turn along a lake.

'South Lake' near Xanten

Where I found this.

My compagnion for a day in front of the foundationas of a Roman watch tower

A Roman watchtower, 5 km from the former fort of Castra Vetera (the few remains of which are now buried beneath a grain field on the slope of Fürstenberg Hill). There must have been a chain of those along the Rhine - or rather, where the Rhine had been in Augustean times; its meanders have shifted a bit.

Closer view

The foundations of 4 x 4 metres are made of greywacke and mortar and are sufficient to support a wooden or half timbered construction of several storeys. There's no mention that this tower had ever been reconstructed all in stone like some of those at the Hadrian's Wall and Limes.

Different angle

Access would have been by a ladder to the second storey. The lower storey was used to store provisions, the middle one for living quarters, and the highest one was the actual lookout. Since the land around Xanten is rather flat, you could see far on a clear day.
 


2.9.07
  The Jewish Ritual Bath in Speyer

A cold water bath, a so called mikveh, was used by both Jewish men and women for ritual washings after a period of uncleanliness (like fe. menstruation). The water needed to be clean, which means a natural well or an artificial one dug to the ground water level. The mikveh in Speyer is of the latter type (the Rhine running through the town wasn't clean enough).

Constructed 1110-1120, it is one the oldest and best preserved in Europe and had obviously been built by the masons also working on the cathedral.

The wall that separates the anteroom from the bassin

A staircase leads about ten metres under the ground where it opens to the anteroom. With its cross-grain vault, it is the most beautiful part of the building, and the most interesting one because of the architectural history connected to it. It was very unusual for Christian masons to build a Jewish bath, but some of the bishops of Speyer protected the Jewish community in the Middle Ages.

In the left wall is a small changing cabinet, to the right a half-round staircase leads further down to the bassin.

The bassin

There is a light hole letting in some daylight, but the rest of the ceiling is cross-grain vaulted as well. The water is usually so deep a man can immerse himself fully, which is the requirement for proper ritual cleaning. Since the ground water level changes depending on the level of the Rhine, the bassin was very full when we were there and covered the lowest steps of the staircase.

View from the bassin staircase into the anteroom

The bath is no longer officially in use today, but the guide told us that sometimes orthodox Jews from Israel and particularly the US wish to use the mikveh. This can be arranged outside the official tourist opening times.

Closeup of a pillar capital
Note the ornaments on the middle border above the cube.

The material used was mostly red sandstone (the same as used for the cathedral, as can be seen here


Entrance to the mikveh.
Note the murals above the gates. They are worked in a net of quadratic sandstones points up, in imitation of the Roman opus reticulatum.

Bishop Rüdiger Huzmann granted the Jews settlement in Speyer in 1084. At first, they lived in the suburb, but after the progrome in connection with the 1096 crusade, Rüdiger allowed the community to move to an area near the Cathedral, within the protection of the town walls.

(To the left: Staircase leading down to the anteroom of the mikveh. It is closed by a double winged gate and constructed in two parts; in the upper part you can see niches with stone banks on both sides. The second part, which is flanked by by pillars, was closed by another door./

The curia Iudaeorum, called 'Judenhof' by the inhabitants of Speyer, became the centre of Jewish life and culture until the middle of the 13th century. During that time, the Jewish community in Speyer belonged to the most important ones in Europe.

The Judenhof was much larger than the remains today; besides the famlies' houses it encompassed the mikveh, a synagoge, a school, and women's prayer room.

Because of their trade contacts all over Europe and to the near and far East as well as their knowledge of languages and cultures and the high status education holds in their society, the Jews formed an élite among the town people. The sages of Speyer, a group of rabbis (or rabbe'im) famous for their wisdom, had considerable influence on the Jews in Europe. A wisdom sought even by bishops and emperors who granted the Jewish community in Speyer a number of privileges.

Detail from the staircase ceiling


 


The Lost Fort is a travel journal and history blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and other places. It includes essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, as well as some geology, illustrated with photos of old castles and churches, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes.

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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Location: Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who hasn't yet gotten an Instagram account. :-)


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