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


22.9.10
  Baudobriga - A 4th Century Roman Fort

Today the place is called Boppard, one of the charming little towns that nest on the flat stripe between mountains and river in the Middle Rhine Valley. There had been a Celtic settlement not far from the modern town when Caesar conquered Gaul and reached the Rhine in 55 BC. The Roman settlement - an unfortified vicus - dates to the time of the Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) who consolidated the road network and built additional forts at the Rhine.

Remains of the 4th century Roman wall in Boppard

The settlement is mentioned in several sources in the 2nd and 3rd centuries (fe. in the Tabula Peutingeriana, a Medieaval copy of a Roman map). During that time the Limes ran somewhat north-west of the Rhine in this area and added a greater feeling of security to the settlements bordering the river. The Limes extended deeper into Germania further south-east, near Wiesbaden, and then along the Taunus and Odenwald forests down to the Danube. During that time, Baudobriga probably was a peaceful community that benefitted from the trade on the Rhine and the Roman road along it, as well as the connection to the hinterland in Gaul. Most of the buildings were half timbered houses with stone foundations and cellars.

Roman wall and remains of a tower

But in 260 AD, the Limes was abandoned because of the increasing German incursions. Once they made it through the border fortifications, there was no way to stop those big bad Germans from getting deep into Roman territory until one of the legions could be alerted (and the nearest one was in Moguntiacum). In the long run, even the Rhine would not keep the Germans out, but the Romans didn't want to give up a province so easily (the agri decumantes between Rhine and Limes was another matter and less fraught politically).

The emperor Julian, after having dealt with two ursupers (Roman officers of German origins, to add insult to injury), fortified the Rhine line with a new set of forts in 355 AD, among them Baudobriga. The fort was built at some distance from the vicus but took the old name with it.

The Rhine at Boppard

In 406, the Roman troops were called back to protect Italy. The next time Boppard appears in the sources (634) it has become a Merovingian a royal seat and administration centre of the so-called Realm of Boppard (Bopparder Reich). Since no finds dating to past the time of the fort have been made in the place of the old vicus, one can assume that the settlement moved closer to the fort and occupied the fort itself after it had been abandoned by the garrison.

Another shot of wall and tower

Boppard has the best preserved Roman fortress walls in Germany. A section of 55 metres of the fortress walls is still visible today, rising up to impressive 9 metres. The fort walls once enclosed a space of 308 x 154 metres (4.6 hectares). The walls had 28 towers of a horseshoe floor plan with the round part jutting outside the walls, and at least two gates on the road that runs along the Rhine and right through the fort (it's still the main road of the old town today), though one can assume there were gates on the north and south sides as well. What remains of the wall today is the kernel of concrete and stone mix, the outer stones have disappeared, as usual. The walls were 3 metres deep and additionaly secured by trenches, except on the river side where the wall was only 2 metres deep and had no trench.

Sketch of the fort layout

Since the fort has been inhabited continually, little is known about the interior buildings during Roman times. The model sketch shows the usual barracks, granaries and a principia - Roman forts followed a pattern and it's not difficult to guess what goes where, but the 4th century fortresses were slightly different. For example, this one had the baths inside the fortifications.

The baths were discovered during renovation work on St.Severus Church in the 1960ies, together with an early Christian church from the 6th century.

St.Severus Church

The northern fort wall was integrated into the bath building; it formed one side of the basilica or training hall. The baths encompassed an area of 50 x 35 metres. Some time after the fort was abandoned by the garrison, the civilians cut down the wall between the basilica and the apsidal-shaped adjacent room and by that got a one nave church with a choir apsis that had a floor level slightly higher than the nave. Four rooms on the south side once belonging to the baths, may have been used as sacristy and for storage. The fort wall continued to be one of the walls of the church.

An interesting feature of the 6th century church was a keyhole shaped ambo, an elevated platform from which the gospel was read. It extended from the choir into the nave. The feature disappeared from the Western churches to be replaced by the pulpit, but it's common in Eastern churches.

St.Severus Church, interior

A new church was built in the 8th century, and another one in the 12/13th centuries; that is the one we can see today. I don't know if remains of the fort wall can still be found in the wall that separates the naves of the Romanesque church but it's possible. Old floor plans often were expanded but not entirely abandoned when new churches were built in the place of older ones. There are remains of a Roman wall in the cathedral in Trier, for example.

A walk on the wall

The excavations of the bath foundations were documented in photos (there is a fine example of remains of a hypocaust heating and the tubuli that heated the walls), but the floor had to be closed up again because the St.Severus Church is still in use. The past is hiding under our feet - the street level of Baudobriga was lower than the one of Boppard. But where some walls remain, you can still stand in awe of the massive fortifications and grand halls the Romans built. No wonder they inspired later architects.
 


15.9.10
  The Annual Autumn Post

Since I'm lazy there'll just be some photos today. My favourite season has arrived with the first storm that left dry leaves, overripe apples and polished chestnuts on the ground, and that rich fragrance of ripe fruit and mist in the air.

Last year we had photos of rivers in autumn, this year I'll give you some views from castle battlements and halls.

Hanstein

I love the warm colours and the soft haze that veils the distant views, the promise of winter in the crisp air. It's a time of melancholy and poems, of breathing more slowly and deeply, of being aware of time.

Plesse

The forests turn into a canopy of gold and red and mirror the hearth fire that in former times would be the centre of life for the months to come. People would gather in the precious warmth, singing songs and mending gear.

Normanstein

The fields of gently waving corn now show the rich brown soil that had been hidden from the summer heat. Soon the winter grain will be sown and the vintage begin, and the festivals of autumn will bring one last outburst of cololur and mirth, ere snow and darkness fall.

Hardenberg

Nowadays the acorns lie to rot because the pigs are no longer driven into the oak groves to get an extra layer of fat, and few people still care to collect rosehips and elderberries. We have forgotten the sweet taste of the apples we filched from neighbour's tree as children in the grocery store's year round supply.
 


9.9.10
  The River Reivers of Bramburg Castle

The remains of the Bramburg are hidden in a beech wood on a promontory above the Weser river. The photos in this post are from a visit last summer.

The castle was first named in a chronicle from 1093 that mentions that Heinrich the Fat, the founder of Bursfelde Abbey, had the castle fortified in order to protect the nearby abbey, thus it must date further back than 1093.

(Bramburg Castle, the keep)

As usual, we can only get glimpses of the castle's history when it is mentioned in chartes and chronicles.

There's a connection with Corvey again. A charte from 1222 mentions that Abbot Hermann of Corvey gave half of the castle as fief to Heidenreich Count of Scharzfeld and his wife Beatrix, so the Bramburg must have belonged to Corvey at that time. Both the abbot and Count Heidenreich promise not to sell or destroy their part of the castle and the lands belonging to it; this is witnessed by thirteen ministeriales (a specific group of vassals in the German feudal system) on each side. Corvey had repaired the tower before this transaction took place, and Heidenreich of Scharzfeld accedes the income from his part of the Bramwald Forest timber rights to the abbey in return. Moreover he promises the fief will be returned to Corvey after his death (which is pretty much feudal standard).

But in 1245 Heidenreich sold his part of the Bramburg to Archbishop Siegfried III of Mainz (heh, Mainz is still busy collecting lands and castles) for 300 mark silver. Oops, didn't he promise not to sell the castle? Well, since 23 years have passed, the feudal possessions and contracts may have changed.

The next time the Bramburg appears in documents (1279, 1286), the castle has come into possession of the Welfen family. We don't know how and when it changed hands. In the 14th century, the lords of Stockhausen were hereditary chatellains (Burgmannen) on the Bramburg; they appear in several chartes and documents. The Stockhausen family are old Lower Saxon / Hessian nobility with possessions in the Göttingen area.

Bramburg Castle, trench

But in the 15th century, the Stockhausen chatellains on the Bramburg took to the somewhat more adventurous lifestyle of highway - well, high river - robbery. It was more profitable than pawning out lands, and the Weser river was an important trade route. They were not the only lords to misuse their power and the strategical position of their strongholds to rob travelers and merchants in the 15th-16th centuries. There's even a German word for them, Raubritter (robber knights).

The men in the castle used to span a chain across the Weser to stop the merchant ships and transport barges. The chain was connected to a rope that led up to the castle and a bell in the inner bailey, so the retainers of the Bramburg would be alerted of a new catch. They jumped onto their horses, one chronicle said, and rode down the incline to plunder the ship. That must have been quite a feast; the slope down to the Weser is really steep and I can't see what advantage horses could have offered in a fight on a ship.

I also suspect they didn't content themselves with plundering, but took prisoners for ransom on occasion. The Bramburg keep has a suitable dungeon. *grin*

View from the Bramburg to the Weser river

In 1458, Duke Wilhelm of Thuringia had enough. The attacks from the Bramburg and other places along the Weser and the roads to Thuringia affected the merchants who traveled to his lands. He gathered an army of 1200 men and marched towards the offending castles. The chatellain of Jühnde (near Göttingen) fled, but Lambert of Stockhausen decided to try to hold the Bramburg.

On July 10, Duke Wilhelm's army reached the village of Imbsen at the foot of the Bramburg where it camped. The way up to the castle is easier from that side since the slopes are less steep than the ones facing the river bend. The duke had his men cut down trees for easier access as well.

The next day 600 men marched up to the Bramburg, 'with a number of handheld cannons, (siege) equipment, and other arms' (1), the rest of the men remained in camp.

The defenders had dug a new trench around the castle, as well as erected bulwarks and obstacles. The castle garrison fought from behind the bulwarks, while one man shot at the attackers from a bay window in the keep with 'eyner bussen' (a handheld cannon with a matchlock - muskets were not yet invented) and caused 'great fear'. The assailants were without cover because the trees had been cut down. But then one of the duke's gunsmiths shot down the bay window on which the brave shooter stood. If the whole bay window blew up, that gunsmith must have managed to get a larger cannon in position.

After several hours of fighting, the defenders had to retire into the castle. When they brought one of their wounded leaders, Hans of Gladebeck, over the drawbridge, Duke Wilhelm's men pressed after, managed to get inside the castle and conquered it. The duke took captive Lambert of Stockhausen, Hans of Gladebeck, Johan Speigel and '51 more knights and men at arms'. If those were the entire garrison one has to admit that they had a lot of courage to defend the Bramburg against 600 men.

The interior of the castle was put to fire, but the buildings were not dismanteled. Duke Wilhelm brought his most prominent prisoners to Gotha, a town in Thuringia, where he kept them for a year.

Tree roots growing over some old stones

Lambert of Stockhausen and the other prisoners were released in 1459, but the family didn't learn their lesson. The river reiver business flared up again, and in 1494, Wilhelm II Duke of Braunschweig-Calenberg-Göttingen and his son Heinrich had to take the Bramburg again. This time the castle was badly damaged and has remained a ruin since then. But the lords of Stockhausen were allowed to keep the feudal possessions that came with the castle (several villages at the Weser, and the Bramwald Forest).


Bramburg, another view of the keep

Today only the keep (Bergfried), part of the trench, and tumbled and overgrown stones remain of the Bramburg. The keep is said to have been 34 metres high once, but today it's only 21 metres. Originally access was only possible several metres above ground, the room below served as dungeon and could be reached via a trapdoor. The ground floor door you can see on the photos has been added in more recent times. There are still three storeys left, the uppermost with a vaulted chamber, but the keep has become so unsafe it is forbidden to enter it.

There must have been a palas building once and the obligatory battlements, outhouses, and gate towers (a drawbridge is mentioned, see above), but today it takes a lot of imagination to see these in the few foundations still left.

The access is still almost as difficult as for Duke Wilhelm's army, only no one was shooting bullets from a bay window this time. *grin*

The way to the Bramburg, without a drawbridge across the trench these days

1) The source quoted on the castle website has 'mit itweilen bussen, radesschup unde anderer were' which is some old lower German dialect once spoken in our area which you can't find in any dictionary. I read radesschup (Gerätschaft?) as 'equipment', probably battering rams and cannons.
 


2.9.10
  Where the Roman Stones Went

Some of them at least. The abandoned Colonia Ulpia Traiana served as quarry for the new town that developed near it. Obviously there were still some good stones left in the 16th century which made it into the walls of this beautiful house.

The Gothic House in Xanten

The Gothic House (Gotisches Haus) is one of several old houses in Xanten that have survived, and surely the most impressive of them. The red brick stones are a local product, but the the greyish tuff stone has been identified as Roman.

The 'show side' facing the market square presents a fine crow stepped gable - those decorated gables were a way to display your wealth in the late Middle Ages. Another show off are the large windows. Of course, they are modern windows now - the 16th century would have had crown glass windows - but the sizes are the original ones which meant lot of glass, and glass was expensive. You can see that most of the grey tuff stones have been worked into the front side as well becasue they, too, were considered more valuable than bricks. I wonder if the rights of using the CUT remains as quarry were limited to certain groups of people, like the Church and wealthy citizens.

Not only the walls, but also the timber girders and beams as well as the roof construction inside the building are the original ones. The timber can be dated to 1540, but else I could not find much information about the builder, a wealthy merchant, and later owners of the house.

The Gothic House hosts a nice, atmospheric café and restaurant today, which is the reason I didn't take any photos of the interior. I felt it would have been bad style to move around and take pics, thereby disturbing the other guests. The rooms have been restored according to old plans so the interior layout is more or less 16th century (except for the kitchen, I suppose *grin*).
 


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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