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


24.12.07
  Happy Holidays

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas or whatever way you celebrate the return of light.
 


20.12.07
  Mithras Altars in Germania

I have mentioned that Mithras slaying the primordial bull is part of the Mithras cult, and that many altars in the mithraea show this scene. Below is a particularly beautiful Mithras altar from the museum at the Limes fort Osterburken in Germany.

Mithras altar stone, Osterburken

Scenes from Mithras' life and worship are depicted around the central scene of the tauroctony, the slaying of the bull. As I said, the problem with the Mithras mysteries is that they were just that, mysteries, known only to the initiated. We can deduce a few things from the iconography, but due to lack of written sources, much remains in the shadows of their subterranean temples.

Since the Mithras cult was especially popular among soldiers, there have been mithraea near most Roman forts, though not all have been discovered yet. The Saalburg probably had one as well as Osterburken. The exact location of the mithraeum of the latter is not known because the altar stone was discovered in the 19th century and taken to a museum before systematic diggings could take place. The whole first Osterburken excavation must have been a rather disorderly mess, and part of the fort is today covered by houses.

Closeup of the tauroctony

The figures to the left and right are Cautes and Cautopates, Mithras' helpers. I haven't yet figured out their exact role in the ritus, but they are present in most tauroctony scenes, and even have figures of their own sometimes, as displayed in the Saalburg museum (see below).

Osterburken managed to keep the altar stone which is today on display in the new museum that was built to cover the baths of the vicus. Just well - the Römisch-Germanisches Nationalmuseum Mainz doesn't need to get everything Roman.

Mithras Slaying the Bull, York Museum

This stone has been found in York, together with other proof for the existence of a mithraeum.

York, known in Roman times as Eboracum, was the administrative and military center of northern Britain, and people from all over the Empire brought their religions with them. Besides Mithras and Iupiter Optimus Maximus, the Roman State god, there was an altar dedicated to the Celtic Mother Godess popular in the Rhine area and several others. Often those foreign gods would be aligned with the Roman pantheon so that for example the British god Nodens became the same as Mars. The Roman Empire granted freedom of religion as long as the people also participated in the cult of the deified emperors.

Here is another of the Mithras pics in my collection: Mithras as sun charioteer. There isn't acutally much left of him, but three out of the four horses are still in pretty good shape.

Mithras driving the Sun Chariot, Saalburg Museum

There are two motives that maybe stand for some sort of resurrection mythos connected to Mithras, his role as sun charioteer, and an iconographic motive that shows him dining with another god (Apoll?). I think this second motive may have been a later addition, because in the original mythos, Mithras is not connected with other gods of the Persian pantheon.

It's all very mysterious, but people - especially men - seem to be attracted to that sort of community; just look at the popularity of the Masons in the 18th/19th centuries. Initiation rites, grades of membership, secrets ... they got all that, too. Though I can't detect a direct historical connection between both.

Here are some photos of Mithras' helpers. Cautes is holding a torch aloft, while Cautopates holds his pointed down. The significance of these gestures is discussed. Sunrise and sunset, some say, or light and darkness, or justice and obedience - the latter makes less sense to me because I can't figure out what the position of the torches should have to do with things like obedience. Though justice and obedience were among the virtues Mithras disciples swore to uphold.

Cautes

Found in Stockstadt near Mainz (the Roman Moguntiacum, one of the major Rhine border fortresses) today displayed in the Saalburg museum. The upper part of the statue has been reconstructed according to other images of him.

Cautopates

Besides the down-pointing torch, he holds something that looks like a lightning in his left hand. I have no idea what that signifies, but there seems to be more behind Cautes and Cautopates than symbols of light and darkness if other attributes are found with them.

Like most other Roman forts in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the Saalburg must have had a mithraeum, but it's not known where it was situated. We know today that the structure labeled as mithraeum has been misinterpreted, probably because the people involved with the Saalburg excavations and reconstruction wished to have a mithraeum in the 19th century. Judging from other places like Brocolita, it might well be somewhat further from the fort than first thought - somewhere in the woods, hidden even to aerial photography.
 


18.12.07
  Otto of Northeim

Otto held large possessions spread out in what is today Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Hessia, so when the Emperor Heinrich IV declared him outlaw, everyone and his uncle came swooping down at Otto, even those who didn't really care about Heinrich either, in order to hack a chunk off his lands. Ruotger of Eschwege was one of these, but the biggest bird in the flock turned out to be Welf IV who divorced Otto's daughter, changed sides, and gained the duchy of Bavaria (1).

Hanstein, south gate and curtain wall on bedrock base

The year between his banishment and final surrender was a turbulent one for Otto. He managed to keep a number of followers, but had to flee zigzag across Germany, plundering some fiefs of Heinrich's men in Thuringia, moving to his former allodial possessions around Göttingen (Northeim, the Hanstein etc.), getting involved in a few skirmishes with unfriendly neighbours, then spending some time on the Billung estates of his friend Magnus near Lüneburg until the latter was banished as well. The chronicler Lampert of Hersfeld says Otto had to recur to highway robbery in order to get the money to uphold his - ever diminishing - retinue.

Hanstein, buildings in the inner bailey at sunset

Not all his movements are clearly documented. Obviously, Otto fled to the Slavic tribe of the Liutici for a time (he must really have been desperate to seek shelter with a people he had defeated a few years ago, then still acting on behalf of the king), but returned to a stronghold near Kassel where he made his last stand against Heinrich's army and in the end had to accept formal surrender, the so so-called deditio (2).

More old walls.

The rest of Otto of Northeim's life wasn't boring, either. He was introduced to court during the regentship of Queen Agnes, got involved in an abduction, was accused of attempted regicide, led armies in several wars, participated in an unfortunate embassy to Rome; and his ongoing strife with the king overshadowed the last thirteen years of his life until his death in 1083.

(1) A little side note for our British readers: Welf later married Judith of Flanders, widow of Tostig Godwinson who fell at Stamford Bridge. Welf's grandson Heinrich the Proud was the father of Heinrich the Lion who married Mathilde, daughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Heinrich the Lion's mother was Gertrud, daughter of the Emperor Lothar of Süpplingenburg (the one who founded Königslutter Cathedral); her mother was Richenza, the granddaughter of Otto of Northeim. Gotta love family trees, lol. The Welfen dynasty still exists today.

(2) So far, I couldn't find out what happened to Otto's daughter Ethelind (the one married to Welf) and his sons, particularly his heir Heinrich the Fat, during that time.
 


11.12.07
  Will They Ever Learn?

Dear director of that German TV documentary about the Germans and Rome, this is a Roman saddle.


Do you see any stirrups? No? Right, because there aren't any stirrups on a Roman saddle. Next time, find an actor playing Germanicus in the Teutoburg Forest who can ride and dismount a horse without the need of stirrups. It's not that difficult, really, I've ridden bareback more than once, and a Roman saddle is more comfortable than that. You should also get a Roman saddle, the modern one would have looked a bit off even without the stirrups.
 


7.12.07
  A Note on handgenginn maðr

A handgenginn maðr is closer to his king than a vassal, but of higher status than a retainer. He usually stays in the king's entourage while a vassal holds a fief and only serves at court during given times; though sometimes a handgenginn maðr would be sent off onto a mission. On the other hand, the handgengna menn were held in high respect for their choice, and a king who could claim many of them was considered a good and successful king. The process is called ganga til hands and is a mixture of elements also found in the investiture of a vassal and special traits. It is a typical Norse institution, not to be found in England, Germany or France.
 


5.12.07
  Hanstein Introduction, 2

The first mention of Hanstein Castle names it as one of the possessions of Otto Count of Northeim and Duke of Bavaria. It was destroyed in 1070 by King Heinrich IV - I've mentioned in this post, that the relationship between Otto and Heinrich was an uneasy one since Otto was one of the major players in the Saxon opposition against the king.

The conflict started by an intrigue when a certain Egino accused Otto of planning to murder King Heinrich. I'll get back to events that surround the accusation and Heinrich's and Otto's reactions. What is clear is that in 1070 things had gone downriver really bad; Otto and his friend Magnus Billung had forfeited all their allodial possessions and fiefs and been proclaimed outlaws.

Trench between inner and outer curtain wall

The Hanstein, then still a wooden castle with probably only one moat and curtain wall, was destroyed by King Heinrich during what one website refers to as Battle of Eschwege. I researched that and it turned out it was a skirmish at best and not immediately connected with King Heinrich IV's actions. In September 1070, Otto of Northeim fought against a certain count Ruotger or Rugger who held land in the Eschwege area, commanding a troop of Thuringians. No siege is mentioned, so the Hanstein probably wasn't involved in that particular conflict. Nor do I think a minor troop would have had the siege engines necessary to conquer a place as well fortified as Hanstein Castle.

Otto won that one, but it didn't really change his situation, which was rather desperate at the time. Also, Ruotger seemed to have escaped, if he's the same mentioned five years later in connection with a transaction involving the Eschwege earldom.

Here are some more shots. , I like the softening light effects of a low winter sun behind the motives in these. Makes the pictures look a bit like old postcards.

Reconstructed main house

The reconstructed part has three storeys, the lower one with a low, cross grain vaulted ceiling and small windows, the upper ones more like halls, with a loftier cassette ceiling and somewhat larger windows. All were - insufficiently, I'm afraid - heated by a fireplace.

A cellar was hewn into the bedrock of the base. It held storage rooms and prison cells in former times, and today there's a little torture chamber as tourist attraction.

Entrance to the main building, seen from the east

In former times, access was only possible over a drawbridge. The lines of the inner trench are now softened into a park, but when the castle was still in use, the moat must have run around the entire main building, except to the south where the steep rocks offer sufficient protection.

The structure to the left with the one large window near the rim is supposed to have been the chapel. Behind it, you can see one of the chimneys running along outside the walls of another building.

Sabine Borchert, Herzog Otto von Northeim, Hannover 2005.
 


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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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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