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

  Let's Play

Here are some Roman toys from the Saalburg Museum. There is a special exhibition for children where Roman life is explained in an easy to understand way; and the curators took care to find some extra goodies for the kids. Most of the material presented in the museum is from excavations in the Saalburg area, but the toys partly come from other diggings.

Since wooden and other organic artefacts have seldom been preserved, our knowledge about Roman toys is probably limited, since there will also have been wooden figures, rag dolls, and the like that haven't survived.

Toy soldier

The little guy was less bendable than his modern counterpart, but he had a removable spear in his hand, and he was painted as brightly as the star trooper that keeps him company. The shield is too small for a Roman foot soldier, though, and the hair style looks like a Suevi knot, so maybe he was a member of the enemy army, or an auxiliary.

If the boy who owned the figure was lucky and had several of them, he could act out fight scenes. My brother and I played with figures of Indians, US soldiers, and a few pathfinders. *grin*

Miniature tableware and kitchen utensils

I won't be surprised if it had a pedagogic purpose besides mere play. Even a girl from a wealthy family - and I suppose only such a girl would have a had that sort of toys - would need to know what was going on the kitchen in order to be able and oversee the slaves later in her life.

Roman wheeled bird to the right

Some things don't change much. Though the Roman one looks more like a dove, not a duck. The wooden axle that didn't survive has been replaced with plastic, and the eye to run a rope through has broken off. But the wheels did actually work.

Lion on wheels

And if you were lucky, you got a lion instead of a boring duck.

  Saalburg, Walls

Here are some more shots of the Saalburg walls, taken while I walked around the fort to get a feel for the size. That is, splashing through mud and wet grass, working the camera with one hand and holding an umbrella with the other. Varus Battle weather indeed.

The shots throught the trees and foliage look romantic, but of course, in Roman times trees would not have allowed to grow so close to the fort and give some sneaky Germans the chance of cover. There are different estimations how large the cleared areas were and it might have differed in different countries, but a minimum of bowshot distance can be assumed.

I bet after walking a day with full equipment through bad weather, Roman soldiers would have been very glad to see those walls. Probably after sweating under a hot German summer sun as well. :)

  Saalburg, Main Gate

I've given you some information about the history of the reconstructed Saalburg fort in this post. Today we'll have a closer look at the main gate, the porta praetoria. It was reached by a bridge (not a drawbridge) crossing the inner ditch surrounding the fort. The outer ditch was interrupted in front of the gate.

The statue of the Emperor would not have stood in front of the gate in Roman times, but in the yard of the principia.

Porta praetoria, seen from the outside

It looks quite impressing and it was supposed to impress the Germans who might cross into the agri decumantes to trade with the Romans. If you look closely at the right wing, you can see the lower part is open and people are passing through - to give you a size comparison.

The windows are closed by shutters in a way that the defenders were protected even if they opened the shutters to shoot arrows at attackers. In the model below, the shutters are open.

As said before, the gate would have been painted white, and the vicus, the village outside the fort, would have been more than some mossy stone foundations.

A model of the Saalburg displayed in the museum. It represents the original look of the gate.
(The foreground is a bit blurred because I had to shoot through the glass of the vitrine)

On a rainy day you can't blame the Romans' love for white walls; it would make the place look a bit more cheerful.

Another view from the principia along the via praetoria

This view shows the inside from a wider angle. To the left are the two granaries (the museum), to the right the commander's house (praetorium). It is a later addition and therefore has the correctly painted walls. It houses rooms for the staff working in the museum today. I'm pretty sure the original granaries didn't have such large windows, but I suppose some concessions to the modern use had to be made.

  A Summer Day at the Edersee Reservoir

The Edersee is a large reservoir west of Kassel. It was constructed 1908-1914 by erecting a dam of rock and concrete across the Eder valley. For those of you liking numbers, the dam is 47 metres high and 270 metres long at the bottom, 400 on top. The width is 36 metres on bottom and 6 on top.

The Edersee is 27 kilometres long, winding through the former valley, and up to 42 metres deep. If the lake is full, it holds 199.5 million m³ water.

View over the lake from the balcony of our friends' house

It was full to the brim when we were there. Just the day before, the overflow gates in the dam had been opened to let surplus water out. Too bad those Niagara falls were gone after a day and we missed them this time. I have seen the spectacle several times in spring, but it's 50 years since it last happened in August.

The main purpose of the Edersee reservoir is the regulation of shipping levels for the Weser river, and the generation of hydropower. Thus, in dry summers water has to be let out and one can see the remains of the three submerged villages in the valley that had to be abandoned for the reservoir. There is still an old bridge crossing the Eder, remains of a church, and a cemetary. People go there and visit the graves of their ancestors in times the ground falls dry. I have experienced such summers as well.

Rocky shore on the Scheidt peninsula

The most tragic event in the history of the lake happened May 17, 1943, when planes of the British Royal Airforce bombarded the dam and ripped a 70 metres wide and 20 metres deep hole into it. Within short time some 160 million m³ water thundered into the Eder valley, destroying houses, bridges and arable land. I found three different numbers of people killed on different websites, but it must have been at least 50. The dam was repaired immediately and the gap could be closed in four months, in time for the autumnal rains.

A peaceful afternoon on the lake

Another important purpose for the Edersee today is to provide a recreational area. The water is clean, so swimming is fun. There is fishing, sailing and electrical boats, hiking paths in the hills around the lake, a bicycle way, and several camping sites. People from places like Kassel, Korbach and other towns who can afford it, buy summer houses dotting the hills in some places - fortunately mostly hidden by trees.

The water glittering in the sun

So, having friends with both a summer house and a boat is fun. :)

Mountains surrounding the lake

The picture below shows Schloss Waldeck (Waldeck Castle), a castle that first is mentioned in chartes in 1120 and was seat of the Counts of Waldeck until 1655, when they moved to the more modern palace in Arolsen. Afterwards, the castle served as garrison, then prison, and now houses a rather expensive hotel in its renovated walls.

Waldeck Castle

The mountain is less steep from the other side, so the castle can be reached by car. When the castle still was seat of the counts, the view did not include the lake, of course, but the even deeper Eder valley. And my German tribe of the Chatti lived around there as well, long before anyone put a castle up that mountain. :)

  A Roman Country Estate

After all the rainy pics of late, I thought I'd share some sunny ones for a change. Here are the first impressions of the villa rustica, the Roman country estate in Wachenheim, a village some twenty minutes drive from Mannheim. My aunt lives in Wachenheim and so an afternoon walk through the vineyards was due. :)

Main building seen from the east wing
(The roofed-in place in the background is a cellar)

Mannheim lies at the Rhine, so the lands west of the river were not agri decumantes but Roman-dominated since Caesar who defined the Rhine as border between Gallia and Germania. Finds point to a so-called Elbe-Germanic tribe having migrated in from Bohemia or todays Thuringia (who knows, it could have been some of the guys Arminius conquered when he dealt with the Marcomannic king Maroboduus in 18 AD). They have been connected to the Nemeti known from Roman sources.

The Nemeti were probably a Germanic tribe, though it's difficult to say for sure because of all the tribal moves going on between 50 BC and 20 AD. Maybe they were more Germano-Celtic, like the Treveri north of them you may remember from my posts about Trier. A major Roman town in the area was Noviomagus / Civitas Nemetorum, todays Speyer.

The villa was found by chance during a reparcelling of the agricultural land in 1980. Funds and donations made it possible to buy some of the land which has since then been excavated under lead of the Archaeological Monument Care Speyer, and the remains have been restored to avoid further decay. A number of tablets has been set up which explain what's what in the villa as well as some additional Roman context. The open air museum encompasses 15000 square metres, but there are more remains suspected to hide under the vinyard next to it.

The land where the villa was found also showed traces of earlier settlements dating back as far as the Late Stone Age 6000 BC.

Porticus (entrance hall) of the main building, about 60 metres wide

Settlement in Roman times began with a farm in timber construction about 20 AD. In the early 2nd century the farm was enlarged and stone buildings in Roman style were erected. The villa and outhouses have been changed several times; the remains we can see today represent the status from the early 4th century. The Wachenheim villa rustica obviously had survived the Alamannic incursions of the 3rd and 4th centuries rather well.

We cannot say for sure whether the villa belonged to a Roman family living in the Rhine valley, or to a rich, Romanized Nemetian one. It may as well have changed ownership during all those years. What we can say is that whoever lived there wanted all the Roman amenities like hypocaust heating and baths.

The width of the foundations points to two storey buildings for most of the estate. Another luxury were two sets of baths, one for the family and one for the slaves and farmhands.

Compared to other villas in the area it counts as medium sized though it looks pretty large when you walk around. And while it might not be the largest villa, it surely is one of the best preserved (not counting the reconstructed ones in the Moselle valley).

View from the porticus over the remains of the main building

In the 5th century, the estate was still inhabited, probably by Germans, but it began to fall into decline and was abandoned in the 6th century.

So, that's the Romans at my aunt's backdoor. :) There's more left to see than of the Roman remains at my backdoor, but then, the Romans in the Rhine valley were around for five centuries while they spent only a few years in the Weser area.

This is pretty much the view the people living in the Roman Villa would have had on a summer afternoon.

Vineyards near the villa

The Romans introduced vineyards to the Rhine valley and other suitable areas around it, that's why the landscape has not changed much since then, except that the modern villages look a bit different from the Roman-time estates and settlements.

The area, the so-called Deutsche Weinstraße (German Wine Road) is famous for its vintages. Of course, the growing of grapes spreads far beyond the villages connected by said road.

Yes, I have more pics, you greedy lot. *grin*

  The Saalburg, A Reconstructed Limes Fort

The German Limes was a frontier cutting through the right angle formed by Rhine and Danube, the first borders of Germania. It starts north-east of Wiesbaden and meets the Danube near Regensburg, thus adding not only the Taunus and Odenwald forests but also the fertile lands of the Wetterau and Neckar plains to the Roman Empire. Those areas were called agri decumantes.

The first stage in the development of the Limes was Domitian's victory against the Chatti in 83 AD. To keep them off, a series of watchtowers and forts, connected by a road, were built. The early Saalburg fort (the Roman name is unknown) was a wall and timber fort with wooden buildings housing about hundred men.

The next stage 90 AD was a larger fort, but still a timber construction fortified with walls and trenches. It was flattened when in 135 AD the second Raetian cohors equitata (a 500 man troop of mixed horse and infantry) was stationed in the Saalburg and built a new fort.

Saalburg, wall and trenches outside the fort

The new fort encompassed an area of 147 x 221 metres, surrounded by a stone wall and with both stone (headquarters) and timber buildings (barracks, stables). Outside the fort a village developed where artisans and traders lived. The Romans added a stone bath and a guest house. It is estimated that up to 2000 people lived in fort and village.

After several massive Germanic incursions into the agri decumantes, the Limes was abandoned in 260 AD, fort and village fell into decline. The walls of the fort were used as quarry in the Middle Ages, much like the Hadrian's Wall.

Inner yard of the principia

In the 19th century, interest in Antiquity grew, and from 1894 on the Saalburg was excavated under the leadership of the archaeologist Louis Jacobi. The fort and its surroundings have been excavated fully which was an important achievement for the time, albeit modern archaeolgical techniques would be able to answer some questions better today.

Emperor Wilhelm II who took a keen interest in the discoveries, ordered the Saalburg fortress to be rebuilt in 1897. Leader of the reconstruction was Jacobi.

Between 1897 and 1907 the Saalburg fort was reconstructed on the foundations of the old castellum. Jacobi used other known Roman buildings as foil and thus managed to reconstruct a somewhat close representation of a Roman fort. Though some details are wrong like the space between the merlons which is too small. It is said that Wilhelm ordered it that way, and who can argue with an emperor. Also, the white paint with the red lines is missing, thus making the walls appear aged instead of correctly Roman.

Via praetoria leading to the south gate, on a very rainy day

Not all buildings inside the fort have been reconstructed, instead leaving space for a park-like area with lawns and trees. The horreum (granary) hosts a museum; the principia (headquarters) have been completely rebuilt as well as a wooden barrack serving as taberna (restaurant), and several wells. Further reconstruction is going on these days; side wings and a peristyle garden have been added to the praetorium (commander's house) which is the seat of the museum administration, and more barracks are to be built.

Since the entire outer wall stands in its original dimensions, one can get a good impression of the size of a Roman military fort. Quite impressive, despite the rain. And there's one advantage to the sucky weather - less tourists standing around in your photos. :)

More posts can be found here, here and here. And here.

  Home Again

The weather made up for it yesterday. It was one of those perfect summer days we get so few this year: not scorchingly hot (that is, no more than 25°C for me, lol) and sunny. I got a good swim in the rather cool Edersee and a nice little cruise in our friends' boat. Only sailing boats and electrical ones are permitted on lake Edersee, so there's no nasty noise from those superfast motor yachts. My brother and family were there as well, staying for a few days. I talked books with my nephew who is an avid reader, and played a bit with my niece.

Of course, I took pics, but they're not up yet. So here are some one of another little cruise - the ghost cruise on the river Ouse in York.

Evening on the Ouse in York

It was a fun little trip guided by a Mediaevalish dressed up young lady telling lots of ghost stories about Romans and robbers in York. I didn't see any, though, and I'd so have liked to meet with that spooky centurion.

What I did get was an ale called Centurion's Ghost in the Last Drop Inn. A pretty good one. Can't blame the soldiers in Vindolanda for asking to get more Celtic beer. After all, they missed their chance to get better acquainted with the German ones. *grin*

I missed ghost stories about our dear Richard, though. You'd think he left some ghosts behind, but it seems they've abandoned York long ago.

Another view of the river

And now I'll have to read up on a lot of blog posts. Our Edward and Richard fangirls have been really busy, there's some stuff about a certain Alexander and one Kassandros on Wynn's blog, Scott muses about historical fiction writers giving in to the Dark Side (of Fantasy), and a number of blogs I haven't even checked yet.

  Meet Flavinus, Signifer of the Ala Petriana

No, not one of my characters this time (though he might fit into Eagle of the Sea), but a cavalry soldier whose grave monument survived, because it ended up in Hexham Abbey, probably during Wilfrid's time.

We learn from the inscription below the relief that the slab was erected for one Flavinus, signifer in Candidus' troop of the Ala Petriana. He died age 25, after seven years of service.

A signifer is the standard bearer of a cavalry ala (like the aquilifer is for a legion), and an ala is a horse troop of usually 500 men. The Ala Petriana was recruited in Gaul and took its name from its first commander, Titus Pomponius Petra. It was stationed in Corstopitum since 79 AD and some time after 98 AD moved to Uxelodunum (Stanwix near Carlisle). It had then become an ala milliaria of about 1000 men who were awarded Roman citizenship; but that happened after Flavinus' death.

Flavinus is nickname, probably because his original Gaulish one was unpronouncable, but he was no citizen, or he would have used all three names on the monument. It's derived from flavus = blond, fairhaired; a nickname by which Arminius' brother Flavus who remained in Roman service, is known as well.

Our Flavinus wears a torque which marks him as man of some standing in his tribe. As signifer, he had an elevated position in his troop as well, and added responsibilities like the charge of the regimental funds including the burial fund that paid for his memorial stone.

A victorious rider trampling a fallen enemy underfoot is a common motive on such stones; the naked foe is no example of the actual look of local tribal warriors. We don't know if Flavinus fell in action though he might have taken part in Agricola's campaigns.

The memorial stone would not have stood inside the fort or the settlement, of course. There were gaveyards outside the settlements. A large one has been found in a valley near Augusta Treverorum (Trier), for example. Some of the slabs from that place are now in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, like this magnificient one.

It has been repainted using traces of the old colours still to be found on the monument. In Roman times, all memory stones (and buildings, for that matter) were painted, also Flavinus stone, though we don't know which colours were used on that one. I bet it was red for the plumes on his helmet and gold or silver for the face mask he is wearing beneath the helmet.

(Face mask of a cavalry officer, found at Kalkriese, copyright official website of Kalkriese.)

Face masks were part of the parade uniform for the cavalry. It's not sure whether they were also used in battle. I've seen the Kalkriese one and was surprised how tiny it is - it would fit a teenage boy these days. The Romans on average were smaller than people today.

One may wonder why the men who built Wilfrid's church bothered with such a big stone, it's too unwieldy to be carried several miles just to be used in some wall; after all, it stands 2.64 metres. Since Roman stones with inscriptions have been used in walls, the Latin words might not have meant much to the Saxons involved in the building. It's an assumption, but maybe they took the relief for a variant of St. George and the dragon - a human enemy as symbol for the beast. Or the grotesque face of the naked man looked like the devil to those early Christians. We'll probably never know.

Somehow, Flavinus' stone made it into the 12th century priory, because it was found in the foundations of the east range of the cloister during an excavation in 1881, and is since then displayed in the south transept.

  Hexham Abbey

Besides Roman remains I also visited some Medieaval sites in Northumberland, among them Hexham Abbey. Here as well as in Carlisle Abbey and York Minster, I met with kind, helpful and well informed staff members who took their time to satisfy my curiosity.

Hexham Abbey, seen from the east

The first church on the site dates back to 672. That year Queen Ethelreda (Aethilthryth - how's that for a name, lol) made a grant of land to Wilfrid, Bishop of York. A few years later Wilfrid got on the wrong side of King Ecgfrith, left England for some years and upon his return was imprisoned for a time. It was no easy job being a bishop then, it seems.

Wilfrid built a Benedictine abbey on the site of the present church. Attempts to reconstruct it from the traces of foundations show that it must have been a pretty impressive building: the long nave slightly narrower than the present one, with aisles on both sides (the basilika style I mentioned in my post about Bursfelde Abbey). Wilfrid's biographer, one Stephen, waxed rather poetic about the church

"...with its crypts of wonderfully dressed stone and the manifold building above ground, supported by various columns and many side aisles, and adorned with walls of notable length and height ..." (text copied from a leaflet I got in the abbey).

The stones were mostly filched from the nearby Roman buildings of Coria settlement (Corbridge), and some give their origins away. More about that in another post.

Today only the crypt remains of the original building.

Hexham Abbey interior, upper part of the south transept
The passegeway in the middle led from the former dormitory into the church

In Norman times, Wilfrid’s abbey was replaced by an Augustinian priory. The church one can see today is mainly that building of about 1170-1250, in the Early English style, a variant of the Gothic style (what would be Frühgotik in Germany). The choir and the north and south transepts date from this period.

North transept, seen from the passageway in the south transept

Since the church had seen damage over times and part of the east nave had collapsed, the east end was rebuilt in 1860. Other parts of the abbey were rebuilt during the time of Canon Edwin Sidney Savage (1898-1919). His project involved re-building the nave, whose walls incorporate some of the earlier church and the restoration of the choir.

Since the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537 the abbey has been the parish church of Hexham and remains so until today.

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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