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


6.7.08
  Reconstructed Roman Walls

One of the features the Roman border fortresses share is the combination of a stone wall - surrounded by additional ditches and earthen walls - with an earthen rampart on the inside that also serves as battlement.

The reconstructed fortifications of the German Saalburg fortress present a good, if rain blurred, example.


You can see the outside of the walls here, and the ditches on the first picture in this post.

I suppose this unsual combination goes back to the history of Roman fortresses. They all began as semi-permanent structures with earthen walls and timber palisades on top, a more elaborate version of the marching camps.

Along the frontiers (the limes Germanicus, the Hadrian's Wall, the Syrian limes, and the Welsh forts) the fortresses were later rebuilt in stone, most of them in the 2nd century AD. Besides the stone buildings inside the forts, the defenses of earthen walls and trenches got an additional stone wall, watch towers, and stone gatehouses.

Cardiff castle shows another example of the reconstructed earth ramparts.


The outside of the wall can be seen on the first picture in this post. There are no trenches here today because of the situation in the middle of a town.

The Bute family made the reconstructed Roman fortifications into a park, thus the trees that would never have been allowed to grow there in times when a praefectus castrorum had the say.

The ramparts added to the stability of the walls, definitely well enough to stop a ram, and neither the German nor the British tribes had any more elaborate siege engines. They usually tried to climb the walls or breach the gates only to meet with pointy pila poking at them. Attacks on fortresses were not very frequent; the tribes prefered to attack the Romans outside when they were stretched out in marching columns.
 
Comments:
Gabriele

WOW! An excellent review.

It would be a mean plot bunny to send an attack against those walls. But knowing your plot bunnies . . .
 
And made tunnelling...difficult.
 
Thank you, Hank.
Well, Arminius did try it once and scared the garrison badly enough that they prefered a nightly sortie to break through to the Rhine defenses.

Bernita, that too.
 
"the trees that would never have been allowed to grow there in times when a praefectus castrorum had the say. "

I should think not! - just asking for an athletic troop of tribesmen to climb them, swing down on ropes inside, and wreak mayhem and destruction :-)
 
Carla, it's more that they get in the way of the Roman archers and pila throwers who defend the walls.
 
Can't go over, can't go under, guess we'll go through. *g*
 
Well, you can try. :p
 
Pay a resident to open the door. (easiest)

Starve them out. (might take awhile...send in their women, children, old folks, dogs, cats, and anything else you can think of which will help them use up their provisions. Don't harm them in any way...you need them spry and hungry....don't let them back out. If you can get them to massacre their own families, even better, that will not just win the battle, but the war as well!)

Send in diseases. (Not so good...your own guys might get it too)

Cut off the water supply. (they "might" have wells)

Seal them off so that they cannot support their neigbours (or otherwise do their job.) Make sure every complaint reaches the Emperor, or his field representative. Make a few of your own as well.


Remove their reason for being there. (burn the bridge, raze the town, whatever...and build a new bridge a dozen miles upstream. Keep an eye on them....

Get them recalled to Roma by complaining about their behaviour. (might work...but there would be another garrison showing up. Maybe yours? Or one more friendly or beholden to you? This might be a more long term project than you anticipated, but not a bad answer.)

Get them to "think" they are being recalled to Roma, and give them safe passage to the sea. (The messenger would have to be pretty darned convincing!)


Pay the commanders enough to surrender. (tricky that one...they might just take the money and stay put. Well, its only money...

The only real good reason for being in a fort is to get a good night's sleep. So bang a lot of drums, keep them awake, and alert for a week or so. You can figure out how. Send in the fire arrows. That should flush them out from behind their walls. Then deal with the sortie. (if you can)

Use every person who can handle a shovel to build a ramp up to and over the walls. Or fill in the ditch...whatever. Flavius Silva liked that one.

I am sure there are more. These are just the tip of the iceberg.
 
Hey, my engineers like a challenge. :P As long as I pay them, that is...
 
Your post couldn't be more timely: this very day UNESCO's World Heritage Committee will decide whether or not the Roman Antonine Wall in Scotland will be given World Heritage status.

Will that be the first?

Visit Zenobia's blog at Empress of the East
 
Bill, the Gauls tried some of those tricks with parts of Caesar's army, starving them, cutting off the water supply and such, but there always was a relief force ere their measures could gain any effect. That would be even more the case on organised borders with watch towers and more fortresses within a days march.

Arminius flushed a garrison out of a fort east of the Rhine, and a number of the soldiers managed to break through to safety, but he was more interested in getting the Romans out of the fortress than in killing them - annihiliating an understrength cohort or vexillatio would not make the same point the three legions he nixed some weeks earlier did make. Arminius wanted the Romans west of the Rhine, and he had the advantage that they were demoralised after Teutoburg Forest, so he could herd them there (though the sources put it a bit differently ;).

Hi Zenobia, nice to see you. :)
Antoninus Pius alerted me to it. Let's hope his wall gets the attention it deserves.
 
(looks at the walls) Nah... I'll just wait in the bushes with my guys and wait for the next patrol to come by...

It's nice to have reconstructions to give you an idea of what these structures were like.
 
Kirsten, that's what they did most of the time. :)
 
I visited Alesia once - very impressive fort with ditches, spikes, and all the trimmings - all to pen in a bunch of pesky Gauls!
Great photos (even if one was a tiny bit blurry, lol)

Sam
 
Hehe, I don't have any pity with Caesar and his troubles in Gaul. Sure, he was a good general, but he was also an arrogant jerk and full of himself. The best thing about De Bello Gallico is that it's more readable than Cicero's speeches so loved by Latin teachers. :p
 
Great photos, Gabriele. It's always good to see how things worked.
 
Amazing pictures. Thank you for sharing!
 
Thank you, Shelley and Krista.
 
what about a giant wooden badger? would that trick work?

Steven
http://steventill.com
 
The Antonine Wall won! It's now a World Heritage Site. Antoninus Pius is over the moon.
 
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Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction 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 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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