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


31.1.11
  Further Development of Roman Helmets

I got some more helmets for you, but since the first post about Roman helmets was going to become pretty long already, I saved them for another one. So here we go.

One feature of Imperial Gallic helmets I didn't mention before is the 'eyebrow' decoration above the brow reinforce ridge. Since I mostly photographed the Weisenau helmets from the side because you can better see the neckguard and cheek pieces, the front decoration remained invisible. But here's a front shot that shows this particular fashion of Roman helmet design. Those eyebrows could flare out to the sides of the skull (see the second helmet, the Weisenau from Haltern, in the first post where they almost meet in the back - must have been the Lagerfeld version).

Imperial Gallic helmet with 'eyebrow' decoration; Xanten

The next helm type that became popular and replaced - at least partly - the Imperial Gallic models - was the intercisca or ridge helmet (Bügelhelm in German). The intercisca is made of two separate pieces that are held together by a riveted ridge along the skull; that ridge can end in a noseguard. The bowl shaped helmet usually has cheek pieces and a neck protection as well, though the neckguard is much smaller than on the Weisenau types and the additional pieces are always connected by leather thongs, no longer by hinges.

Ridge helmets were usually made of iron and often decorated with silver or gilt sheathing. The first depiction of an intercisca appears on coins issued by Constantine the Great (AD 272 - 337) and became increasingly popular during the 4th century with a number of finds spread all over the empire, until they were replaced by the Spangenhelm, a model that would last into the early Middle Ages.

Late Roman ridge helmet, originally silvered; Worms

The spangenhelm (yes, another word the English language met and liked) further developed the technique of riveting several pieces together. A spangenhelm consists of a metal headband and 4 -6 metal strips (Spangen) that curve up into a conical shape and end in a point. The segments betweeen those strips are filled by bronze or steel plates. Those helmets could be gilded or otherwise decorated.

The front part of the headband often included a nasal and brow protection ridges. Cheek pieces made of leather or metal were added as well as a mail neckguard which was more flexible than the older plate ones. Some spangenhelms included a face mask - the famous helmet of Sutton Hoo is a fine example of an intricately decorated spangenhelm with eyebrow ridges and face mask. We're almost back to the 1st century AD Roman cavalry helmets.

6th century Spangenhelm; Landesmuseum Mainz

The spangenhelm was the most common helmet in Europe from Late Antiquity to the early Middle Ages. The example I got for you is from an early 6th century Merovingian grave - the Fürstengrab of Planig. The burial included a number of precious items, among them the gilded spangenhelm, a jewel incrusted sword, and other weapons and shiny things; surely the grave of a nobleman or prince. A reconstruction shows the helmet with a horsetail crest but I'm not sure how accurate that is.

There are some depictions of what looks like spangenhelmets worn by the Sarmathian cataphracti, the heavy armoured cavalry, on the Traian Column. Thus that sort of helmet seems to have been known already in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD though no finds from that earlier time have yet come to light.
 


25.1.11
  Isis Worship in the Ancient World - A Guest Post by Stephanie Dray

Stephanie Dray is the author of a forthcoming trilogy of historical fiction novels set in the Augustan Age, starting with Lily of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra's Daughter. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

Stephanie Dray is currently sponsoring the Cleopatra Literary Contest for Young Women, the deadline for which is March 1, 2011, but join her newsletter now for updates and a chance to win a free copy of Lily of the Nile and additional prizes.


Today, Stephanie stops by at The Lost Fort on her blogtour and will tell us about:


Isis Worship in the Ancient World

Today, we take for granted the concept of personal spirituality or a relationship with god. In much of the ancient world, however, religion was a covenant between the state and the divine realm. All of this started to change with the rise of henotheistic mystery cults, and as a forerunner of Christianity, the Isian (or Isiac) religion was one of the few in the ancient world to concern itself with social justice. In challenging temporal authority, the spread of Isis worship nurtured a nascent concept of personal spirituality without which our world might be very different today.

So what do we know about how Isians worshipped? Sadly, not much.

Isis was a fertility goddess, so there were certainly fertility rites. What form these rites took, however, is a matter of some debate. While no record of Isian mystery rites has survived, Isiacism was a syncretic religion that embraced the rites of other goddess cults. What we learn about the orgiastic rituals of Inana, Ishtar, Cybele and others are probably true of Isianism too.

Certainly, we know that the phallus was an important religious symbol for the Isians, presumably because it was the last part of Osiris' dismembered body that Isis could not find (at least according to the story as recorded by Plutarch). A phallus is also a very simple expression of basic reproduction and this was not shameful to ancient cultures. But the rites may have gone beyond the symbolic to embrace temple prostitution.

Given the later reputation for chastity enjoyed by the Isians, it would be easy to blame Christian propagandists for inventing the accusation of harlotry to denigrate a rival cult. And yet, mentions of sexual initiation rites in female cults predates the Christians and can be found in Hebrew scripture. The censorious Romans wrote often about the supposedly immoral conduct of women within the Temple of Isis and it’s important to note that the Egyptian culture that created this powerful mother goddess had an entirely different attitude towards sex and marriage. Joyce Tyldesley writes in Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt (1), that pre-marital chastity was not particularly valued in ancient Egyptian society. Illegitimacy carried with it no serious stigma, and marriages were sometimes not recognized until after several children were produced. Moreover, there is a legend that Isis had herself served as a prostitute in Tyre, which lends some support to the possibility of orgiastic ritual.

However, as one of the oldest religions of the world, Isianism was constantly evolving. As asserted by Ruth Tucker & Walter L. Liefeld in Daughters of the Church (2), "the religion of the goddess Isis spawned both temple prostitution among some and sexual purity among others at the same time."

Both men and women were admitted into the Isian priesthood and both donned sparkling white garb. Each day the cult statue of the goddess would have been washed, dressed, and adorned with jewelry. Whereas most Roman temples were open to the street so that the public business could be seen, many Isian temples were enclosed for the privacy of worshippers, to foster a sanctum in which suppliants could find a connection to the goddess. This led to suspicion early in the empire, but eventually Isis would become the darling of Roman emperors who actively promoted her cult.

Foundations of the Isis temple in Mainz

The sistrum and the rattle were symbols of the great goddess, so it is fair to assume that some music accompanied a call to prayer. Candles and light seem to have been important along with incense. But in a strange echo of today’s holy water, it’s said that as Isis worship spread throughout the world, water from the sacred Nile river was imported to fill pools or fountains within her temples.

In ancient times, temples often served as museums and cultural centers as well as holy meeting places so it is no surprise to read of references in ancient texts to sacred crocodiles and other Egyptian beasts being kept in the temples of Isis. Whether or not these creatures played any role in ritual, we cannot say.

One ceremony we know a fair bit about is the Navigium Isidis, which marked the first sailing day when it was safe to travel over the sea. It was celebrated on March 5th with a festival of worshippers parading through the streets holding lamps and flowers while singing hymns. A sacrificial boat filled with spices, milk and other things sacred and honorable to goddess would be consecrated and launched into the sea.

Sources:
Tyldesley, Joyce A., Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt (Penguin History). Boston 1995
Ruth Tucker & Walter L. Liefeld, Daughters of the Church. Zondervan 1987


You can follow Stephanie's blog tour to find more cool stuff about Isis and writing historical fiction:

 


23.1.11
  The Isis Temple in Moguntiacum (Mainz)

Moguntiacum has been the location of a legionary and an auxiliary fort since 16 BC when Augustus' son-in-law Drusus started the first expedition into Germania on the other side of the Rhine. The place, as usual, attracted civilian settlements, and by the end of the 1st century AD had become the capital of the province Germania Superior. By that time, the forts had been rebuilt in stone and the civilian settlements had developed structures of a Roman town with a forum, a theatre, baths, temples, and a harbour. Moguntiacum remained a major Roman place until the Migration Period in the 4th century.

So whenever someone digs a pit, the County Office for Historic Preservation (Landesamt für Denkmalpflege) will be involved. They also had a look when the earth was scooped out for fonduations of a new shopping mall in 1999. Since the place lay over the road that once led to the Roman bridge, they expected to find some remains of artisan's workshop and small stores usually located in such places. The foundations of a temple five metres under todays level came as a surprise. Even more, under the temple was a Celtic Hallstatt burial from about 680-650 BC. A seventeen months rescue dig took place to save all moveable artifacts of both the temple and the grave.

View of the Taberna archaeologica with its 'starlit sky'

At first, it was planned to document the foundations and then cover the place up again, but the inhabitants of Mainz wanted nothing of that. They started a public campaign and convinced the local government to preserve the temple. Since the remains were in the way of the planned underground parking, they had to be moved a few metres along the 'road', an endeavour that cost about 3.5 million Euro, funded by the Town of Mainz and the County of Rhineland-Palatinate.

Since 2003, there is a museum on cellar level of the shopping mall 'Römerpassage', the Taberna archaeologica, that can be reached from the mall (admission is free). It shows the remains of the temple and the finds made on the site in a modern multimedia display with glass walkways over the foundations, voiceover of a Roman who visits the temple, a film projection at one wall and changing illumination that makes for a nice atmosphere and difficult photographing, because I could not figure out a pattern to the lights. The place is usually rather dark but sometimes the sacred fires flare up, so to speak, and that's the best moment to get shots of the foundations. There are also some display cases with the finds, including the bones and jewellery of that Celtic lady.

Some of the temple foundations

The temple is dedicated to Isis Panthea and Mater Magna / Cybele. How did goddesses from the Nile and Asia Minor end up at the Rhine? Well, the Graeco-Roman pantheon rarely met a god or goddess they didn't like. The orgiastic cult of Cybele, a goddess of the earth, fertility and wild animals, had found its way to Rome already in the 3rd century BC (though the self-castration of her priests was forbidden) and the Egyptian gods were popular with the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty in Alexandria. The Isis cult was forbidden in Rome during the times of Augustus and Tiberius because of the recent war with Egypt, but it became popular again under Caligula.

Like the Mithras cult, the worship of Isis is a mystery cult, open only to initiates (but contrary to the exclusively male Mithras cult, both men and women could join). Those cults were henotheistic, that is they merged several gods into one, like Isis Panthea (the All-Goddess) or Mater Magna (the Great Mother) but accepted the existence of other gods. Thus a Roman who worshipped Mithras or Isis had no problems in partaking in the official cult of Jupiter Optimus Maximus and the Deified Emperors as well. The official cult was integrative for the empire and by refusing to join it, the Christians put themselves outside the empire while still living within its boundaries; one of the reasons they were not officially accepted for a long time.

Foundations at the moment the 'fires' are on

There is proof for the existence of Isis temples at the Rhine since the 2nd century AD, but the one in Moguntiacum is interesting because it dates earlier: to the reign of Vespasian, AD 69 - 79. A building inscription mentions him: "Primigenius [unreadable word], of the Imperator Vespasianus Augustus the procurator of the finances, by order for the Great Mother, has erected [=this building]." (yep, that's Latin syntax for you, lol). Means, Vespasian's minister of the finances, one Primigenius, has built the temple dedicated to the Great Mother, and done so by imperial order.

We further have two tabulae ansatae, stone tablets with dovetail handles, that read "pro salvte avgvstorvm spqr exercitvs isidi panthaea (the other one has: matri magnae) ..." (= for the benefit of the emperors, the senate and people of Rome and the army, to Isis Panthea / Mater Magna ...), followed by the names of the dedicants, Imperial freedmen. The formulas used are official ones, not something a private worshipper would have written. The official character of the building can also be proven by a number of tiles with legionary inscription that have been found, which means that the legions (fe. the XXII Primigenia, stationed in Mainz at the time of Vespasian) were not only involved in the construction work but also used army material.

The dedication stones (the tabulae ansatae are to the left)

Vespasian had a soft spot for the Egyptian gods. Before claiming the postion of emperor, he visited the Serapis temple in Alexandria and was told by the god he'd be succesful. According to Sueton, Serapis even worked a miracle on Vespasian's behalf. Serapis is another of those syncretistic gods, uniting Zeus, Osiris and Apis, the sacred bull; he was the god of the Nile flood (fertility), healing and oracles, but also of death. He is the husband of Isis who became the protective goddess of the Flavian dynasty like Venus had been for the Julio-Claudian emperors. There must have been a temple of Jupiter and/or the Capitolinian Trias as well, but it has not been found.

The commission of the Isis temple fell in a time of political change and could have been meant as some sort of symbolic act. Vespasian had won the strife for the imperial purple. The civilian settlements of Moguntiacum had been destroyed during the Batavian rebellion, together with the fort at Vetera (Xanten) and other places, so there was a lot of building going on along the middle and lower Rhine. Moreover, the Rhine legions had to be restructured; two legions had been almost destroyed when Vetera fell (V Alaudae, XV Primigenia), two that sided with the rebels were disbanded (XVI Gallica) or partly disbanded and merged with another legion (I Germanica, merged with VII Gemina).

Overview with a projection of an Isis statue

The Hallstatt burial mounds must still have been visible at the time the temple was built, thus part of the area along the road between the fort on the Kästrich hill and the Rhine bridge may have been considered sacred ground. It could explain the lack of the usual artisan workshops and other hovels that gathered along such roads. One of the graves was then deliberately used as centre of the temple.

The Isis / Mater Magna temple doesn't follow the style of Gallo-Roman arcade temples (Umgangstempel another untranslatable word) one would expect north ot the Alpes. Arcade temples have one rectangular central room, the cella, and a procession walk around it, often pillared and open to the outside, but roofed in; the cella was usually higher than the colonnade.

The Isis temple is a walled area with different buildings instead which moreover have been altered significantly during the 200 years the temple was in use. When town walls were added AD 250, the temple was included in the protected area.

The temple with clouds of incense smoke (I used a flash for that one)

The first temple area consisted of two small rectangular temples, a latrine (now, that's a luxury you won't find in modern churches) and two simple half-timbered single room houses equipped with hearths and wells. They may have served as meeting rooms.

Changes in the 2nd century enlarged the temple area to 16x16 metres. The main building consisted of two larger rooms along a central axis, surrounded by several smaller ones, including a room housing a well - water played an important role in the Isis worship. The single door was located opposite the well room. Outside the central building, in the inner yard, are three massive stone bases that may have held altars. There are also traces of several fire places with remains of burnt offerings, and deposit pits.

Detail of the outer wall foundation with stucco decoration

The buildings were half timbered with stone foundations (and those luckily remain until today). The loam covered willow tracery between the beams had a layer of roughcast with decorative frescoes. Scores of bits of coloured roughcast and stucco have been found, including a larger fragment showing Anubis with a staff and a palm tree. The floor seems to have been but hardened clay; the buildings were roofed in with tiles and shingles. Makes me wonder how shingles fared in the German rain; they may have needed regular replacing.

The cult of Isis and Mater Magna in Moguntiacum obviously was no longer active towards the end of the 3rd century though we don't know the reason. But all dateable finds point to the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, and during that time the temple was a lively place of worship.

Another overview

Here's a guest post by Stephanie Dray, who tells us more about the Isis worship. A post about the finds in the Isis Temple can be found here.

Sources:
The extensive German Wikipedia article about the Isis temple in Mainz which is based on the guidebook that's currently out of print.
Roland Gschößl, Im Schmelztiegel der Religionen - Göttertausch bei Kelten, Römern und Germanen. Mainz 2006
 


17.1.11
  Transformations of a Helmet

The oldest Roman helmet, in use already during the wars against Hannibal, is the Montefortino type. It was influenced by Celtic helmets. The Montefortino is a simple design of conical or round shape, made if iron or copper alloy (bronze, brass), sometimes tinned or silvered. The crest knob was usually made in one piece with the skull and would hold a horse tail crista (more like Éomer in the LOTR movies, not the red crest that Hollywood uses no matter which period of Roman history). The short neckguard is also made in one piece, but the cheeck pieces were added separately and often made of (boiled) leather, which is the reason they are rarely found. There are also rings or studs for the chin straps.

Earlier Monterfortino helmets were decorated with rope and pinecone patterns, but after Marius' reform of the army, when men who could not afford to buy their own gear could join, the helmet became a plain, mass fabricated standard issue.

Hagenau type helmet; Haltern

Halfway during the 1st century BC, another type of helmet appeared, the Hagenau (German teminology) or Coolus. And that's where things start to get complicated. For one, the English classification of helmets, introduced by Russel Robinson in the 1970ies, has never been adapted by German archaeologists and I admit I don't know it well enough to use it (I'll stick to the German distinctions), and second, several types of helmets were used side by side because older Montefortino helmets would not be thrown away just because an improved version appeared.

The Hagenau type helmet was of globular or hemispherical shape and added a brow reinforce, a ridge along the front of the helmet. The additional ridge may be due to the fact that the Romans had to deal with enemies who used longer swords for hewing (the Roman gladius was more a stabbing weapon), and in case of the Germans also battle axes and cudgels that could make a dent even in a Roman helmet.

The metal was 1.5 - 2 mm thick, and there was a lining of linen cloth filled with horse hair or sometimes felt at the inside of the helmet. The whole thing would weigh about 2 kg. The crest knob was riveted on; in some cases there were feather tubes at the temples - at that time, the crests came in use. During the march, helmets were worn attached to straps on the body armour.

Weisenau helmet; Haltern

The next type that appears is the Weisenau helmet (Imperial Gallic G), named after its first find near Mainz. The Weisenau helmet comes in a number of variants (and sub-groups on Robinson's list). It is worked more elaborately than the Hagenau/Coolus type, and Marcus Junkelmann suggests that it may have started out as a version worn by officers. It slowly replaced the older models during Claudian times and was used by the rank and file soldiers as well. The helmet is somewhat heavier than the Hagenau: about 2.3 kg.

Though the various helmet types still coexisted during the 1st century; the Weisenau became more common. It's the one you can find a lot in German museums at the Rhine. It's also the helmet most popular with reencactors of early Imperial armies - well, it looks cooler than the Montefortino, for sure. :)

Weisenau helmet with decorations; Worms

The Weisenau was always hammered into shape which makes for a better fitting while the older models often were spun on a lathe. The neck guard becomes larger and slighly slanted downward, there is always a brow reinforce ridge, the cheek pieces are made of metal and better adapted to the shape of the head, and the helmets are decorated with etched patterns, stamped bosses and applied brass features, often tinned or silvered. Some models have a carrying handle. There are rings for chin straps at the rim, and the cheek pieces were secured under the chin as well.

The Weisenau started out as infantry helmet but soon was used by the cavalry as well, albeit often with a somewhat shorter neckguard in which case it's also called a Weiler helmet. Weiler type helmets could be very elaborately decorated (see below).

Helmets are found without cheek pieces in most cases though one can't say for sure if the lost parts necessarily were made of perishable material; there are reasons why metal cheekguards - usually attached to the helmet by leather straps or hinges - may have disappeared.

Roman helmet (Weisenau type?); Xanten

There's not always a type identification of a helmet in a museum display beyond the approximate date (calibrated according to the place of the find and the layer of dateable material like coins), and the distinction between they various types lies often in details not immediately visible - or lost during the centuries in the earth. The one above looks like a Weisenau helmet to me because of the long neckguard, but it lacks decorations (and cheek pieces). But the shape is very elegant which caught my eye.

Now look at this beauty, and the others above. Why on earth would someone change such a helmet into this?

This is a reconstruction modeled after a find at Krefeld-Gellep (Gelduba) and today shown in the Museum Burg Linn. The helmet, of Roman craftmanship, showed traces of fur and feathers. A member of the reenactment group Classis Augusta Germanica I met in the Archaeological Park Xanten had that helmet on display outside his tent. The rest of the group, featuring auxiliaries of Germanic origins, had adapted Roman military gear, tools, clothes and all, but this guy kept to his barbarian ways. *grin*

The 'improved' helmet was found in a place that connects it with the Batavian rebellion. The Batavians were a Germanic tribe that separated from the Chatti in 38 BC; and Augustus' general Agrippa allowed them to settle west of the Lower Rhine, on the Roman side, in what is now part of the Netherlands (the Rhine delta and Betouwe insula).

The Batavians were exempt from paying tributes and taxes in exchange for military service as infantry and cavalry soldiers. They were brave warriors and moreover, able to swim rivers in full armour and with their horses without breaking formation - the Batavian Mounted Amphibian Corps. *grin* Batavians formed the Emperor's personal guard in Rome, Batavian contingents fought at the side of Germanicus against Arminius (their chief Chariovalda fell at Idistaviso in AD 16), accompagined Claudius to Britain (battle at the river Medway AD 43), fought at Mons Graupius AD 83, and were stationed at the Hadrian's Wall and at the Danube. They soon became regular auxiliaries led by their own nobles who received the Roman citizenship.

(Batavian auxiliary soldier with Gallic Imperial A (Nijmegen) helmet, spatha, and shield boss; Xanten)

One of those leaders was Julius Civilis. He had partaken in the conquest of Britain where he may have met the future emperor Vespasian who served as legate of the II Adiutrix. But in AD 68, Civilis was arrested for treason (he may have been involved in Vindex' ill-fated insurrection, but we don't know for sure) and sent to Rome in chains; his brother was executed. Here's the short version of how things got downhill from there:

Nero committed suicide (AD 69) and his successor Galba, a friend of Vindex, acquitted Civlis and sent him home. Galba also disbanded his Batavian bodyguard, an act that offended them greatly. Back at the Rhine, Civilis was arrested again, this time by the governor Aulus Vitellius. Galba meanwhile was assassinated by the Praetorian Guards in Rome (he should have kept that Batavian bodyguard), and Otho took over. At that point it became clear that the job of emperor was open for grab. Vitellius released Civilis and marched to Italy to fight Otho, eight Batavian cohorts in tow. He won the battle of Bedriacum; Otho committed suicide. The Batavians were sent back to Moguntiacum (Mainz).

But meanwhile in the east, Vespasian had been hailed Emperor by the legions he commanded. AD 69 is called the Year of the Four Emperors, and there were still two left to fight a nice little civil war.

Vitellius needed more troops and pushed the conscriptions among the Batavians too far. The Batavian units stationed at the Lower Rhine, led by Civilis, revolted. They won over the Cananefates as allies and conquered several Roman forts on Batavian territory, most of which where undergarrisoned. The Batavian cohorts in Moguntiacum fought their way through the Romans to reach Civilis.

Vitellius next dispatched two legions - the V Alaudae and the XV Primigenia - and more auxiliary troops against Civilis, but the battle near Nijmegen ended in a disaster. The auxiliaries either switched sides (the Batavian horse led by one of Civilis' personal enemies, and a cohort of Tungrians) or fled, and the legions were forced to retreat to Castra Vetera (Xanten). Vespasian sent Civilis a letter that he didn't mind him keeping some of Vitellius' forces busy at the Rhine. *grin* Civilis himself dyed his hair red and swore he'd grow his beard until his lands were free from Romans. Says Tacitus. Civilis' motives are not known - revenge for his brother, personal ambition (he came from and ancient noble family, after all) ... we can only guess.

Display of the Batavian helmet

Maybe that's the moment our Batavian friend decided he wanted a more Germanic looking helmet. He took off the cheek pieces and neckguard, as well as the brow reinforce. Then he trimmed the rim with leather and glued a weasel or marten fur and some feathers to the remaining skull. Some Germanic helmets with fur decorations dating to the early Middle Ages have been found, but the Gelduba helmet is a rare example of an early German one.

Civilis laid siege to Castra Vetera where the two legions had fled. He could not take the place by storm, but he tried to starve them out. The troops stationed in Moguntiacum and Bonna (Bonn) were too few to lift the siege. By that act he went beyond anything Vespasian could have tolerated in an auxiliary officer supporting his claim.

And now the Gallic tribes of the Treveri and Lingones under the leadership of Julus Sabinus who claimed to be a great-grandson of Caesar, rebelled as well. Two legions (I Germanica, XVI Gallica) joined Sabinus and his 'Gallic Empire' in Trier.

Germanic tribes east of the Rhine joined Civilis, among them the Bructeri (who'd once been members of Arminius' coalition). The starving legions in Castra Vetera surrendered and were allowed to leave, but things got out of hand and they were massacred on the march, the fort put to fire.

(Decorated cavalry helmet type Weiler; Xanten)

There was a lot of marches back and forth, skirmishes between the Romans and Batavians, Romans and Gauls, the assassination of an officer, and other fun. I spare you the details; it's all very complicated and Tacitus' account not always clear.

Vespasian had won the war against Vitellius and could now put the provinces of Gallia Belgica and Germania Inferior back to order. He sent Quintus Petilius Cerialis with five legions and vexillationes of two more to put out the flames. They first dealt with the Treveri and Lingones, and Cerialis made them return to the Empire. Julius Sabinus was brought to Rome and executed. Civilis' Batavians had come to the aid of the Gauls at the battle of Trier despite their different goals, but could not defeat the Romans.

Civilis and his troops retreated to the insula between Rhine and Waal and cut a dyke to flood more land. The last battle between the Batavian rebels and the Romans took place in knee deep water, but the Batavians lost nevertheless. Civilis met with Cerialis to negotiate surrender. The Batavians were received back in grace and continued to provide auxiliary troops. We don't know what happened to Civilis, though, because the manuscript of Tacitus' Histories, the main source for the Batavian revolt, breaks off here.

The destroyed fort of Castra Vetera I was abandoned and a new one built closer to the Rhine. Due to the river changing its course, it is today buried under water and sediments. But the civilian settlement near the fort would become a Roman town - Colonia Ulpia Traiana / Xanten. Finds from the battles during the Batavian rebellion are displayed in the new museum in the Archaeological Park.

Face mask; Haltern

Among them is the beautifully decorated Weiler type parade helmet to the left above. Patterns of stylised hair were only one form of decoration; there are some rare examples of helmets that used braids of real hair. They may have been more common than the amount of finds suggest because real hair usually decomposes.

The cavalry in particular used to wear such decorated helmets on parades. They were not used for battle, though. The parade helmets could be worn with face masks like the one found at Kalkriese. That's not the only find, though, there's one in the LWL Museum in Haltern as well, and as in Kalkriese, the silver foil is missing. I was surprised how small those masks are.

There are discussions whether the masks were worn during battle as additional protection. I've been wearing a Weisenau helmet with cheek pieces and from my experience, a face mask would limit the vision too much - the cheek pieces already can get in the way a bit. Cheek guards and the brow reinforce ridges should keep off most blows, moreover the rim of the helmet goes down to the eyebrows. The only bit in some danger may be the nose.

2nd century Weisenau helmet with crossbars; Saalburg

The final step in the development of the Weisenau helmet was the addition of an iron cross ridge on the skull. This was invented in the early 2nd century during the Dacian wars. The Dacians lived in the Pannonian Basin and the Carpathian mountains north of the Danube (modern Romania and parts of Hungaria) and kept causing trouble. Emperor Traian had to fight several wars against them and in the end made Dacia a Roman province. The Dacians used the falx, a two handed pole-arm sword that consisted of a three foot long wooden pole with a curved iron blade of another three feet attached. The cross ridges on Roman helmets, often welded or riveted to helmets already in use with no regard to existing embossements, were a reaction to the damage those swords could cause.


Sources:
Frank Ausbüttel, Germanische Herrscher von Arminius bis Theoderich. Darmstadt 2007
Brone Bleckmann, Die Germanen. München 2009
Marcus Junkelmann, Die Legionen des Augustus – Der römische Soldat im archäologischen Experiment. Mainz 2003
Marcus Junkelmann, Die Reiter Roms, Teil III. Mainz 1992
 


9.1.11
  Limes Fort Osterburken - Part 4: The Annex Fort

The Osterburken main fort (the cohort castellum) was built about AD 155. As a feature unique to the forts of the Limes, an annex fort was added some time between AD 185-192, during the reign of Commodus. A building inscription mentions the Legio VIII pia fidelis constans, a legion stationed in Strasbourg (Argentorate). It got the honour denomination constans (=steadfast) after it withstood a siege of a rebel force in AD 185. Another interesting aspect of the inscription is a scratched C with several following letters missing. The name could have been Commodus (of 'Gladiator' fame, though the movie got more things wrong than I want to think about). He was condemned to damnatio memoriae after his death, that means his statues were destroyed and his name ereased from inscriptions. Someone obviously took a chisel to the building inscription in Osterburken.

View from the west gate down into the valley

One reason to build an annex may have been the geographical situation of the fort. The Limes runs in a very straight line here with no consideration for the terrain. Osterburken lies on an alluvial sand depository in the Kirnau valley; behind the fort the terrain slopes upward the Hundsrück hill and thus gives an advantage to possible assailants who could throw pointy things into the fort from above. Although no traces of ancient roads have been discovered so far, Osterburken must have been a major knot the road and relais network, as the cove of the beneficarii proves. Thus there were good reasons to build the fort here and not somewhat further south where the Kirnau valley broadens and the terrain would have been more suitable.

Another reason to erect an annex fort on the slope may have been the need for a larger garrison. There was an interesting find in the southern trench of the main fort: two burnt layers, one dating prior to the buidling of the annex (coin finds from the time of Trajan to Marc Aurel, AD 161-180) so the annex could have been an immediate reaction to an attack; the second one dates to after AD 244 (Gordianus III, see below).

The trench in front of the south wall

The rock of the hill is shelliferous limestone (Muschelkalk), a geological formation typical for Middle Germany. It forced the Romans to go for an irregular trapezoid layout of 186 metres (adjoining the south wall of the main fort) x 86 (west wall, with an incline of 22 metres) x 99 (south wall) x 143 (east wall, with an incline of 20 metres) that covered 1.35 hectares. The three sides had gates protected by towers, and there were additional towers in the corners. One trench surrounding the annex has been proven, but there may have been a second one, at least along the most vulnerable south wall.

The walls were built in the usual bivalve technique with two walls of hewn stones, filed with a mix of pebbles and opus caementicium. The east and west walls are about 2.40 metres deep, the south wall only 1.60 metres, but it had several additional towers.

Remains of the east gate

The gates were single winged and less than four metres wide; a significant difference to the double gates of main fort, though they still had two towers each. But the most interesting discovery is a burnt layer on the way into the east gate, and traces that both the east and south gate had been walled in at some point. So the fort must have been attacked though not conquered (because the burnt layers are only local and don't cover the entire area). The gates probably were walled in as a result, or, if you prefer a more dramatic scenario, during the siege by using stones from the interior buildings.

The connection with the cohort castellum is a bit of a puzzle. The trench remained; it only was walled in at the sides, but there is no trace of a dyke or stone bridge crossing the trench. A wooden bridge thus is the most likely connection. There must have been such a connection at least after the doors of the annex fort were walled in.

Annex fort, foundations of the upper east wall

Almost no traces of the interior remain though there may still be some foundations underneath the park and the WW1 monument that today cover the place. Some foundations on the north side I had thought to be a gate but Neumaier lists them as unidentified. The annex fort was an independent unit and must have had its own headquarter, albeit a smaller one considering the fact that the numerus garrison was led by a praepositus, a seasoned centurion, not by an officer of equestrian rank with a larger staff. Neumaier thinks the middle part of the annex was free of buildings because of the steep slope, but examples like Housesteads show that the Romans built according to their layout no matter the terrain. Neumaier/Schumacher did not interpret the northern foundations as part of the principia (they surely are not barracks or granaries because those are easy to identfy), thus the location of the principia remains unknown.

Guard room in the south gate
(The stones are laid out in a decorative herringbone pattern)

The second layer of burnt material in the main fort trench I mentioned above includes coins from Julia Mamea († 235) to Gordianus III (†244), the latest coin found inside the fort had been issued by Philippus Arabs (244-249). During that time the second baths outside the fort belonging to the annex had been reduced in size which may infer a reduced garrison. The walling in of some the gates (both the annex fort, and wings of the cohort castellum gates) could point in the same direction; less men are required to guard them.

The age of the Soldier Emperors which started with Maximinus Thrax AD 235 was a mess with several civil wars, and most of the emperors stayed in job shorter than the coach of a losing soccer team. Troops were called off the borders to be used in those fights for power and the Germanic tribes, most notably the Alamanni, attacked the undergarrisoned Limes.

South wall

We can't say for sure if the burnt layer at the east door of the annex is the result of the same attack that also caused a layer of burnt material along part of the south wall of the cohort castellum. Since the trench was connected to the annex by walls on both sides, the latter would imply that the Alamanni somehow climbed or destroyed that wall in which case there should be more damage in the annex (which would have been unprotected from the north) than has been foud. But as mentioned, the interior of the annex has never been thoroughly researched. It could well have been that the annex was abandoned and the main fort still held against the assailants.

What we do know is that the Alamanni used the fort in the 4th - 6th centuries. Several Germanic fibulas, two swords, and a number of agricultural tools have been found as hoard hidden in the south trench of the annex. One can therefore assume that the Roman defense structures were in sufficiently good condition to attract some thane of the Alamanni to make the annex fort his seat. So even a scenario that connects the burnt layer at the east gate of the annex, together with the deposit find, to some strife between different groups of Germans - fe. Alamanni against Franks - is possible.
 


4.1.11
  Limes Fort Osterburken - Part 3: The Cohort castellum

The cohort fort has been researched by Karl Schumacher before it was built over in mid-20th century, so we know the lay of the walls, the position of the gates and some interior buildings. The fort was somewhat smaller than the Saalburg; the walls of 186 (north/south) x 115 (east/west) metres enclosed 2.14 hectares. The foundation of the north wall was much broader (2.50 m) than the south wall (1.5 m) which is due to the fact that the north wall was built on the sandy ground just above the flood level of the Neckar river while the ground beneath the south wall was rocky. The original height of the walls is estimated to be about 4 metres with an additional chemin de ronde and battlements that added another 1.80 metres. The walls had been chalked and decorated with red lines in a stone pattern.

View from the annex fort over the part of Osterburken where the main fort has been

A V-shaped trench can be proven - and is still visible along the south wall where the cohort castellum connects with the annex fort - but not two like often are found at Limes forts (cfr. the Saalburg trenches). The fort had four gates, with the north and the south gate being situated slighty off the middle. This may be due to the terrain which forced the Romans to chose a rectangular shape with too long north/south sides compared to the standard layout of 2nd and 3rd century forts.

Connection of the forts across the trench
(The south wall foundations are the only surviving part of the main fort)

Schumacher had researched the east gate, the porta praetoria (the one facing the Limes), more closely, and we can assume the other gates followed a similar pattern. It was a double gate flanked by two towers. The interior of one tower held the remains of an altar. There is a layer of burnt material with the inclusion of a Migration Time fibula which proves that the fort has been attacked and damaged at least once. After that, one door of the double gate seems to have been walled in (and another gate of the fort as well) and towers were added to the corners of the fortifications, albeit only one of those has been excavated.

Annex fort, foundations on the north side

The principia has been more closely researched though the efforts were hampered by a modern building covering part of it. The principia included a cellar where the money for pay and funds was locked in. We can see an example of this in Segontium (Caernarfon, Wales; photo below). The principia was built in stone, and stone foundations of a granary have been found as well, but the barracks seem to have been built in half-timbered style. Neumaier* makes some efforts to reconstruct the possible interior buildings and their positions by using discoveries from other forts at the Odenwald Limes. His drawing looks slightly different than in the model in the introductory post about Osterburken except for the position of the principia.

Segontium, Wales; the cellar under the principia

There are no traces of a prior timber construction of the fortifications and the principia, which adds to the signs that the forts and turrets of the Outer Odenwald Limes were erected directly in stone. We remember that the Saalburg started out as smaller timber fort with turf walls.

I've posted about the garrison of the main fort, the cohors III Aquitanorum equitata civium Romanorum, here. The next post will be about the annex fort.

*Sources:
Helmut Neumaier, Die Kastelle von Osterburken - Eine Grenzstation am obergermanischen Limes. Osterburken 1991
 


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 and Scandinavia.

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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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