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


23.2.11
  Chapter Church Fredelsloh - Another Romanesque Church at the Weser

After all those Roman posts, it's time for some Romanesque architecture again and I got a pretty church in spring sunshine for you.

Fredelsloh is a village not far from Göttingen. There had been an important chapter in the Middle Ages, belonging to the famous Weser abbeys I have mentioned several times. Fredelsloh isn't situated directly at the river like the other abbeys and chapters but it belongs in the same historical context.

Like Lippoldsberg Abbey, Fredelsloh was founded by an archbishop of Mainz, Adalbert I, in 1132. The abbey lies in the north-western outskirts of the fomer archdiocese and was intended as chapter following the Augustine rules. Fredelsloh gained importance very fast thanks to donations and privileges from popes, emperors and great feudal lords. Soon (I could not find an exact date) a ladies' chapter was added and some 150 people would meet during the liturgy of hours.

The Romanesque church in Fredelsloh, seen from the south

The counts of Dassel acted as reeves of the abbey (until 1322 when the family died out in the male line). During the feud between Welfen and Staufen, Fredelsloh managed to play both parties and get the best out of the situation. The provost Bertram was liege of the archbishop of Mainz who sided with the Welfen, while one of the chapter members, Johannes of Dassel, supported the Staufen. I'd have liked to sit in at the chapter meetings during the years of the fallout between Friedrich Barbarossa and Heinrich the Lion. I can imagine they were quite lively.

But Fredelsloh lost its importance as pawn after Duke Heinrich's exile, and material support ceased. Since the ground was clay and didn't support much agriculture, the abbey had problems to keep up its standard on a self supporting level, and the men left the chapter. The canonesses took to trading the pottery made of the clay (pottery is still done in Fredelsloh).

The Welfen family managed to rise again after the fall of Heinrich and the unhappy emperorship of his son Otto and regained much of its former lands, among them the grounds around the Weser on which Fredelsloh is situated. But the abbey had declined to a minor provincial monastery in the 14th century.

The church seen from the north

A big fire in 1290 destroyed most of the convent buildings and damaged the church. The pope gave some money for repair but not all buildings seem to have been reerected. Two years later a murder happened in the monastery but due to lack of a Cadfael it was never solved. Though the provost paid the relatives of the victim a lot of money (some sort of weregild). To keep them silent?

The Lutherian Reformation was introduced in Fredelsloh in 1542. Duchess Elisabeth of Calenberg-Göttingen sent Antonius Corvinus to the canonesses who told him they were fine with the Reformation but he should please, not introduce too many new rules because they were old and could not cope. A Reformation Lite, so to speak. But somehow the chapter still managed to hold on until 1652 when the last canoness left the place.

The church served as granary for several generations and survived while the other buildings fell into ruins. Today the church and land belong to the Klosterkammer Hannover which paid for a renovation of the church that restored the Romanesque layout and interior (1968-73). It's used as parish church.

The choir from the outside

The St.Blasius and Mary Church in Fredelsloh is an example of pure 12th century Romanesque architecture. The floor plan is cross shaped with a main nave and two side naves, transepts, a three-apsidal choir on the east side and a westwork with two towers. The main nave has double the width and height of the side naves which are also lower, which makes the church a basilica.

The decoration is very sparse, nothing like most of the Romanseque cathedrals at the Rhine (for example Mainz). There's a plinth running along the foundatins and tiny blind arcades directly under the roof - you can see them best on the apsis of the westwork (photo below). But this austere style is typical for several of the Weser abbeys; Lippoldsberg fe. has even less decorative elements on the exterior.


(Westwork with staircase apsis)

I already mentioned that Fredelsloh Abbey was a mixed chapter for both men and women. Of course, the genders needed to be kept apart and that included not only separate living quarters but also two different entrances to the church because services and the liturgy of the hours would be held together. The men entered the church by the south gate (their living quarters were south of the church).

The canonesses' quarters lay to the west, and they got a separate entrance from the westwork. The architect added a tower with a winding staircase and a small gate at the bottom so the ladies could access the nuns' quire on the second floor of the westwork. From the outside the tower is visible as apsis. Another cool aspect is the double row of steps around the spindle; the space between them was said to have been used as hiding place for valuables. The entire feature is unique for Fredelsloh..

The matroneum of the westwork has three storeys with an arcade system that narrowed in relation of 4:3:2; the nuns' quire took up the middle storey while the uppermost one was a 'blind' storey only serving to increase the impression of harmony. Most other Saxon westworks only have two galleries.

Unfortunately, this part of the church can only be seen from the outside today because there had been problems with the statics (sinking ground) and an additional wall that distributed the pressure away from the pillars of the main nave had to be erected about 200 years ago. Nowadays the eastern part of the church is sufficiently large for the parish and the interior of the westwork is locked off for visitors. It's also the reason I took few photos of the interior; that wall kept getting in the way.

Interior with view to the choir

The defining feature of Romanesque architecture is symmetry. Starting point for a church was the crossing: its side length served as scale for the rest of the building. The whole building thus gives the impression of great harmony in contrast to the disorderly world outside the church, an antimony between the House of God and chaos as seen by people in the Middle Ages. Like the outside of the church, the interior was sparsely decorated as well.

The arcades separating the naves originally were supported by alternating columns and pillars (simple Stützenwechsel; the other version is the double or Lower Saxon one with one column and two pillars - it's interesting that it wasn't used here because geographically Fredelsloh belongs to the area where that was the fashion) but after the fire in 1290, the columns were replaced with pillars


Source:
Die Stiftskirche St.Blasii und Marien in Fredelsloh - Eine romanische Basilika. Avaliable as pdf file from the website of the village.
 


14.2.11
  The Roman Bridge in Augusta Treverorum (Trier)

(This is another of those posts that needed to be rewritten. So here's a better version - with more photos as well.)

Oh, and I asked Aelius Rufus to give us a tour. Hallo Aelius.

Salvete, Gabriele and dear readers. Or 'long time no see' as they say in your time.

You're some friend, making me dig out those dusty old history books so I can fill your readers in on the two bridges that were there before the one they built in my time.

Well, let's get started. Augusta Treverorum, what is now called Trier, is situated on the right side of the Moselle though today its spreads to the other shore as well, Gabriele tells me. The river, widens into a valley here, framed by hills which are mostly wood covered, sprinkled with the occasional vineyeard - not enough of them for my taste - or grazing ground. But already the Roman town encroached up the hills looming behind it; the arena is situated on one of them, for example. Some guy names Ausonius wrote a Latin poem about the Moselle, though I should not know that one; it's from the 4th century AD.

The Roman bridge seen from the direction of Koblenz upriver
(The photos were taken during a Moselle river cruise.)

Trier was founded in 17 BC, and the first bridge spanning the Moselle dates to that time. The deified Augustus had just made the last of his enemies fall upon their swords or snakes and won the civil war. He now could concentrate on the neglected provinces. He sent his friend Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa to kick some German marauders out of Gaul (what is the matter with those ancestors of yours?) and bring the infrastructure up to Roman standards. You know, us soldiers want nice roads to march on, not tree roots, swamps and undergrowth.

We also don't mind bridges instead of splashing through fords, but I suspect the merchants were the main reason to set up a dry crossing of the Moselle. The old ford was on the interstate from Marseille to Mainz, a very important road, and already guarded by some soldiers stationed in a fort on the Petersberg hill on the east side of the river. Now Agrippa not only ordered a bridge to be build but also founded the a new town in the name of Augustus - Augusta Treverorum (after the tribe of the Treveri living in the area) - on the right shore where the valley widens.

Getting closer to the bridge

The town was planned on the drawing board and has a very regular street pattern, not very different from our forts. Same everywhere in the Empire, but the good thing is you can't get lost in an unknow town or castellum once you've memorised the standard Roman street map. Augustus had guessed right; the town lies in an excellent spot where a major road and a river cross, and prospered.

That first bridge was a wooden pile bridge. The Romans still make those sometimes so I know how it's done. Long, massive poles, usually of oak, were rammed deeply into the soil beneath the bridge until the grip of the soil around the piles would support the load of the superstructure; that is, the supporting beams and the deck. Gabriele tells me that remains of those poles have been found in the riverbed in AD 1963, and were dendrochronologically dated to 17 BC (and you tell me Latin is complicated; that word is worse than those languages they speak around Caerleon up in Britain). But it's fascinating that you can tell such things from an old, wet oak bole.

(Closeup of one of the Roman pylons, seen from downstream. Notice the sharp wedge that was intended to break ice shoals in spring, and prevent flotsam like broken trees from cluttering up and damaging the bridge.)

In the long run, wooden bridges aren't good enough for real Romans, though. The first stone bridge, about 8 metres downriver from the present one, dates to AD 71. There is an earlier date (AD 45) floating around on that place called internet, but that looks like the result of several website scribes copying an outdated manuscript. The date of AD 71 is dendrochronologically confirmed now.

That puts the construction of the stone bridge to the time of the Emperor Vespasian, shortly after the Batavian rebellion, the big mess along the lower Rhine that eventually spread to parts of Gaul. You may remember that one of the battles of that uprising - after the Treveri joined the fun - took place around and on the bridge of Trier. Took the Romans their sweet time to defeat the rebels, too, but they managed in the end, thanks to Cerialis. I admit I had to read Tacitus' account twice to make sense what legion was where and who was fighting whom. That guy never heard about 'linear writing', I suspect. Or maybe the Romans indeed didn't know where their legions were and whom they supported. But that's something us auxiliaries only talk about when no Roman centurion is around. So don't tell the wrong people I said that.

The wooden bridge survived, but it fit well with Vespasian's rebuilding program (remember the Isis temple in Moguntiacum), to sponsor a new and better bridge to show the inhabitants of Augusta Treverorum that being part of the Roman Empire had its advantages. The town got a pretty new forum with a stone basilica as well and some new insulae with water flushing, so everyone said they were very sorry about the mess and would not revolt again.

The bridge seen from the direction of Luxembourg downriver

If you wonder how a stone bridge can be dated with a method in need for timber, there's an explanation: timber was used during the construction process of the pylons. The same method would be used for the second stone bridge which I helped building - as far as the Romans trust us auxiliaries with the job; it was mostly shoveling mud and carrying stones. So I know how it's done.

The Romans first erected a casing of double cantilevered retaining walls filled with clay, then pumped the water out of the encased area, dug out enough soil to reach the rock beneath and set up a solid stone foundation on which the pylons rested. The whole was fixed with opus cementitium. The bridge had 13 stone pylons with a timber superstructure. Remains of those wooden retaining walls, together with the stone foundations, have been found in the Moselle riverbed where they can still be seen at low water.

The third bridge, constructed in the same technique, can be dated to AD 144-157. The town had expanded considerably to about 5000 inhabitants and the old stone bridge was too small to deal with the increasing traffic (that's a very modern problem, Gabriele says). So our venerated Emperor Antoninus Pius decided to have an even larger bridge built. It was ten metres wide (the old one 'only' 6.5 metres).

Another photo of the bridge in the evening twilight

Those photos Gabriele took look a bit different from the bridge I know. Not the entire bridge spanning the Moselle is Roman, ony the pylons - the pillars made of the grey stone supporting the reddish brick archs - are still Roman and almost 1850 years old. Originally there had been nine pylons but only five remain; the others fell victim to the training of the Moselle after the Second Great War (what they call WW2). The Porta Inclyta, the bridge gate, had already been dismantled in the 19th century. Stupid people from the Future.

The pylons have a kernel of a mix of quarry stones and opus cementitum (a typical Roman technique) that is faced with large lava basalt cuboids we got from a nearby inactive volcano. They are connected by iron clamps; the whole thing, foundations and pylons, is 14 metres high and carries a wooden superstructure. That makes the bridge high enough so that the ships don't have to take down their mast when the water level is normal. The ships use sails for the voyage downriver; upriver they need to be hauled because of the strong current.

Closeup of a pylon

I've been told that the wooden superstructure was replaced by brick archs in the 14th century, and later some Gauls tried to blow up the bridge with some odd black powder, but they only got the brick stuff down, not the part we built, neiner, neiner. Our pylons were still good to support another set of brick archs, and the bridge is still in use today.

The Roman Bridge in Trier is today part of the Unesco World Heritage, a list of famous historical buildings. Obviously being on that list involves getting a bit money, too, and with no emperors around to fund repairs that might be a nice thing.

Well, my friends, I've told you everything I know about the Roman Bridge in Augusta Treverorum, and I'll now cross that bridge into town and visit the baths. Tony .... oops, the venerated Antoninus Pius has sponsored a new and large bath, and you know how much I like those.

Oh yes, dear Aelius, I do know. At least I'll also know where to find you next time.

Aelius' Raetian cohort probably wasn't involved in the construction of the bridge, but Aelius gets around a fair bit. *grin*
(To save the interesting comments on the older post, I edited it and reposted with a new datum.)
 


7.2.11
  The Riddle of the Negau Helmet B

The helmet below is considerably older, predating even the Montefortino. It's an Etruscan design from 500-450 BC called Vetulonic or Negau helmet. These helmets are made of bronze, with a comb-shaped ridge across the skull and a protruding rim with a groove right above the rim. They were no longer worn in battle since about 300 BC though. The term 'Negau helmet' goes back to a depot find of 26 such helmets in Negau (today Ženjak in Slovenia) that was discovered in 1811. The proposed time of the helmets' burial is 55-50 BC, some 35 years before the territory was conquered by the Romans.

The 23 remaining helmets can be found in museums all over the world. Several of them have inscriptions on the rim. Now, inscriptions aren't that rare; we got a number of examples from Roman helmets, mostly owner names, numbers of the legion and cohort to classify a helmet as army issue, unspectacular things like that.

Most of the Negau inscriptions were added to the helmets at a later time, assumedly in the 2nd century BC or even later, about 50 BC, and are written in a Celtic language, using a northern Etruscan alphabet. The area where the helmets were found, part of the later Roman province Noricum, was settled by Celtic and Celticised Illyrian tribes in the 2nd century BC, and Etruscan alphabets were still in use then. There are more finds of Celtic texts written in Etruscan alphabets from that time in the Alpes and the Balkans.

Helmet from the Negau find with Germanic inscription
(Exhibition Imperium in Haltern 2010; loan from the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna)

But one helmet, classified as Negau B and today in possession of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, has a Germanic inscription, also in Etruscan letters. That one's puzzled historians and linguists since 1811 and it's still doing so. The fact that the letters are Etruscan and not Runes is today undisputed (though some similarities between both make the Etruscan alphabets a possible candidate for one of the sources of the Runes). The letters read.
harigastiteiva

The first part most researchers agree on; it's a Germanic name before the first sound shift took place: *Harigasti(z). It consists of two parts: hari (= army, host; the word can be found in Old Norse herjan - to make war, to plunder, hernað - warfare; or in German Heer - army) and gasti(z) (= guest). The name lives on in Hergest and similar forms.

The second part is more tricky. A widely if not unanimously accepted interpretation has been presented by Tom Markey in 2001 (1). He reads it as *teiwa(z) (= god; Indoeuropean *deiwos, also to be found in the Norse Tyr, Anglosaxon Tiw). Thus the inscription would read: "Harigasti, [the priest of] the god".

One argument in favour of this reading are the Celtic inscriptions on the Negau A helmets. Several of those are of the structure: name + 'the diviner', name + 'astral priest of the troop', etc. (since I don't know any Celtic, I've to accept those readings; their Celtic nature at least is undisputed). So the Germanic inscription would follow the same pattern.

Closeup of the inscription

Those helmets were long out of use as armour so a reason they were kept could be a ritual one; maybe as headgear during ceremonies, as status symbol of a chieftain or priest, something like that. It is also known for both the Celts and Germans to sacrifice weapons and armour, so a deposit find of 26 helmets neatly stacked into each other clearly points at some ritual sacrifice. But were the names carved in by the first owners who decided to use the helmets sometime in the 3rd or 2nd century BC (which would make it difficult to explain the German name), or by the ones who deposited the helmets? The inscriptions then could be interpreted as something like: "X, priest of Y, [gives this to the gods]".

The question remains what a helmet with a Germanic inscription and - in case we accept the reading - a German priest were doing among a bunch of helmets with Celtic inscriptions, and Celtic priests, sharing their ritual sacrifice. It must have been someone respected well enough to be trusted with a (sacred?) helmet, but independant enough to keep his German name and religion; not adapting to Celtic culture.

If we assume the date for the burial of about 50 BC to be correct (though I haven't found bullet proof arguments in favour of that date), there could be an explanation because there was some contact between the Celtic kingdom of Noricum and the Germanic Suebi at the time.

Another view of the Negau B

Geographic and even more ethnographic distinctions are not always clear because the Roman sources tend to be vague about, or simply didn't understand, some of the tribal differences and migration patterns. The Suebi, apparently a conglomeration of several Germanic tribes, are a good example for that. Well, at the time in question, one Voccio was king of Noricum (which had originated in an alliance of several Celtic tribes some 150 years prior), and he married his sister off to the Suebic chieftain Ariovistus because he needed his help against the Boii, another Celtic people that kept causing Voccio trouble. They duly got kicked out of Noricum and were obliged to pay tribute to Voccio.

The only source we have about Ariovistus is Caesar's De bello Gallico, not the most reliable text. But what seems clear is that Ariovistus invaded lands of Gallic tribes west of the Rhine - I guess after the fight against the Boii - that had a contract of friendship with Rome, and Rome had to intervene. Caesar managed to defeat Ariovistus in 58 BC; the remains of the Suebi fled back across the Rhine. Caesar mentions one interesting tidbit about Ariovistus: he had learned to speak Celtic (which was obviously unusual).

The next time we hear about the brothers-in-law is 49 BC, when Voccio sent Caesar troops to assisst him in the civil war. So his connection with Ariovistus hadn't hurt his relationship with Caesar, it seems.

So the Norici and the Suebi had contact at that time. There may have been an embassy to conclude the marriage conditions, and later a troop of the Suebi must have fought at the side of the Norici. One can imagine that a German priest may have been allowed to join the ceremonies; maybe he dictated some Celt his name to carve into the helmet, and thus 'Harigasti(z), priest of Teiwa(z)' left behind the oldest written example of a Germanic language. Though such a scenario must remain speculation.


Sources:
(1) Tom Markey, A Tale of Two Helmets: The Negau A and B Inscriptions. In, The Journal of Indo-European Studies, Volume 29, 2001
 


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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