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


30.12.12
  Happy New Year

I wish everyone a happy New Year 2013.

Here's a bit of Russian golden splendour to enjoy.

Isaac's Cathedral, detail

It's a ceiling decoration of a side chapel from the Isaac's Cathedral in St.Petersburg. And not the only gilded bit in that one. But other than the kitschy souvenirs, it's real gold this time.
 


22.12.12
  Merry Christmas

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, or Fröhliche Weihnachten.

No candles as illustration this time; I found something a bit different on the Orbit Publisher website.


Not exactly a Roman lorica segmentata dear Santa's wearing, but let's not be picky about the pointy stuff in that bag. My characters will need some, and the picture made me smile.
 


15.12.12
  The Unfinished Gate - The Porta Nigra in Trier, Part 1

Salvete amici, it's me, Aelius Rufus. Yes, it is quite some time you last saw me, and I had to have a word with Gabriele about the lack of Roman posts. She's always traveling to those barbarian places, first the Mare Suebicum and then into the lands of the Hermunduri and other, more obscure tribes. Really, no sane Roman goes there. And those posts about old rocks - not even the Greek philosophers believe the world is that old. And when she's not traveling, she's writing. Fiction, of all things, and not even trying to disguise it as a true account. ;-)

But well, I got her to transfer what I told her about the Porta Nigra in Augusta Treverorum into this funny thing with the screen which everyone everywhere can read, she says. Oh, and she also tells me she has not many pictures this time, because it was the first time she used that little picture box and didn't take as many magic drawings as she does now.

Porta Nigra, the town side

Ok, so here we go. The Porta Nigra is one of the best preserved gates from Antiquity and the people in Augusta Treverorum are still proud of it; not to mention visitors who want to see the gate leave some money in the town.

Like most other buildings, the gate dates to the 2nd century AD and was planned as part of the expansion program under the Emperor Antoninus Pius. At the time, the town was walled in and got five flashy gates of which only the Porta Nigra survived. I've already mentioned Tony's construction activities in this post.

The Porta Nigra wasn't black back then, though instead the nice cream colour of sandstone, but all the smoke tinted it dark (environment problems are not a 21st century thing). Of course, it wasn't called the Black Gate back then, either (and why does Gabriele now murmur something about Mordor?) - the name is first mentioned in 1041. The original name was likely Gate to Confluentes (Koblenz), and for a time it was called Porta Martis, Gate of Mars.

It looks huge, but the size is actually Standard Roman Din-A-Gate: 36 metres wide and 21.5 metres deep in the centre of the oblong towers; the towers were 32 metres high (the west tower has still almost the original size), the middle building, the gate proper, 24.5 metres. The foundations are 4 metres wide, the walls up to 3.4 m. The gate was integrated into the town wall (which - another number for Constance *grin* - was 6.4 km long), the battlements of the walls ran at 6 metres above ground and were accessible from the gate towers.

From the landside, the Porta Nigra with its protruding towers must have looked impressive to visitors and enemies alike.

The inner yard between the two towers is framed by two galleries which could be reached by timber staircases - one of those has been repaired for visitors to get to the galleries. The landside gates could be locked by a portcullis. The inner gates should have been protected by wooden doors but those were never installed. If finished, the whole contraption would have kept enemies who breached the outer gate locked inside the yard where they could have been shot by missiles from the galleries. But as it is, the inhabitants of Augusta Treverorum could be glad no enemy ever made it through the gate because else they'd just have run onward into town.

They might even have found shelter from the rain, since the main roads in Trier, including the one leading off the Porta Nigra, were framed by pergolas. That's more than you get today in the way of comfort.

The arcades around the yard (first floor)

The missing doors are not the only unfinished part of the Porta Nigra. A lot of the large sandstone squared stones (weighing up to 6 tons) that were used for the facing have only been roughly hewn on the outside. The ground facets where they fit together have been well smoothed, though, so that the stones stay put without mortar or opus cementitium. The stones had been worked with water powered bronze saws as some traces show. Iron clamps babbitted in lead had been added nevertheless, but those have been plucked out during the Middle Ages; it made no difference to the walls.

From the town side, the gate would almost have looked like a palace, but most of the decorative pillars, capitals and bases are only roughly hewn as well, which is surprising in a grand building like the Porta Nigra which was clearly intended to impress visitors and show off the wealth of the town magistrates.

The town walls, of which almost nothing remains save some traces only the archaeologists from Gabriele's time can read (how do they do that; some sort of time traveling?), had been erected on a grand concept, too, with two facing walls filled by the usual Roman mix of mortar and ashlar. The care taken with those walls clearly shows that they had been built in a peaceful time. One part of the wall (45 metres in the south side) remained unfinished to give access to the area of potteries outside town, and that part was later built in a much more haphazard manner. Some of Gabriele's ancestors were milling outside Trier then. The walls were additionally protected by a series of trenches.

So the question remains why the Porta Nigra has never really been finished. That includes trying to find the exact date when it was built, which seems to be a bit of a puzzle for those archeologists. But there are a few hints. The gate is connected to the town walls, and among the rubble pottery shards from the second half of the second century AD have been found. That puts the date in the time of the reigns of Antoninus Pius (138 - 161; more likely the second half), Marcus Aurelius (161-180), Commodus (180 - 192) and maybe Septimius Severus (193 - 211; likely the first years). A few statistics have been calculated about the time it would have taken to erect the gate, but I'm prone to go for one of the longer estimates; governmental projects were never finished in time. I see Gabriele nods.

One of the reasons could have been that the magistrate of Trier ran out of money and none was forthcoming from the emperors, either (Marcus Aurelius was busy fighting the Marcomanni at the Danube among others, and Septimius Severus had to fight contenders for the position of emperor).

The arcades around the yard, closeup

But it's not impossible that inimical actions got in the way of fine-tuning those stones and pillars. In 162, the Chatti crossed the Rhine and raided the province of Germania Superior (around Mainz, for those who slept during their geography lessons), in 175, the Chauci in northern Germany did the same and raided the provinces of Germania Inferior and Gallia Belgica, to which Trier belongs. The inhabitants of the town may have thought it more prudent to dig another trench and fill in that gap in the wall than polishing a few decorative pillars. If the Chauci ever laid siege to Trier, they didn't succeed; siege warfare was not the strength of the Germanic tribes. (I know, Aelius, we would have needed Constance and her trebuchets, lol.).

The man to repel the Chauci was the governor of Gallia Belgica, Didius Julianus, who was made consul for his gallant defense of the province. He would later become emperor for nine weeks by paying for the job during the Year of the Five Emperors after Commodus' death in AD 192. He was executed by the victorious Septimius Severus.

Another contender for the imperial purple at the time was Clodius Albinus, governor of Britannia. At first, Septimius Severus, who had another rival in the east to deal with, made an agreement with Albinus, offering him the position of caesar and heir, but when he had defeated the rival, he wanted to establish his own sons (the brothers Geta and Caracalla) as heirs. As a consequence, Albinus, who had some support in the Senate in Rome, took his three legions from Britannia and crossed over to Gaul where he was acclaimed emperor by the troops, defeated the legionary legate Virius Lupus, and made his headquarter in Lugdunum (Lyon).

But he failed to gain the alliance of the Rhine legions. The XXII Primigenia stationed in Mainz came to the relief of Trier when Albinus besieged the town in AD 196, and the following year, Albinus was defeated at the Battle of Lugdunum, and either fell or was executed upon orders of Septimius Severus, and condemned to damnatio memoriae, oblivion of memory. Severus also executed some senators who had supported Albinus, and from that time on he was the uncontested emperor.

A sidenote from my time-travelling friend Merlinus: When Albinus took most of the Roman army with him to Gaul, the tribes north of the Hadrian's Wall promptly raided the province, and Severus sent the same Virius Lupus who had been defeated in Gaul, to restore order which he did by buying peace. Not exactly Severus' idea, so he would later come to Britain himself and show those northern tribes what an army looked like.

For some reason, the gate was not finished after those wars, either. Maybe money was indeed the issue then.

And now Gabriele mutters something about 'damn plotbunnies'.
Yes, I do, I don't need a prequel to my story set at the Hadrian's Wall during the time of Septimius Severus, about the wars in Gaul.

Source:
Klaus-Peter Goethert, Römerbauten in Trier. Burgen, Schlösser, Altertümer Rheinland Pfalz, volume 20. Landesmedienzentrum Rheinland-Pfalz, 2005

 


9.12.12
  Advent in Germany

With some winter wonderland to boot. Though I don't think it will last long; snow seldom does around here.

View from my balcony a few minutes ago

Inside, it's nice and warm, the candles are burning and I got some hot tea and ginger cake. The writing still goes reasonably well though not at Nano speed. And of course, there are plotholes you can drive a truck through which I now have to fill in.

Christmas decoration from the Ore Mountains

The balcony is snowed in, too, but there is not enough to make a miniature snowman. Well, the winter isn't over yet and maybe we will get some more snow. With that backdrop I should write winter scenes, but no, right now I have a character fleeing through the Syrian desert; those damn Romans got around too much. ;-)

Snow on the winter plants on my balcony

I put up some decoration in the sleeping room as well. I know I blogged about these things before, but they are pretty every year and I got some new readers. Like Kasia, and Annika, another War of the Roses and Other Medieaval Fun-afficionado whom I met during Nano and who started a blog in November. *waves hello*

Christmas decoration from Sweden

The flip side of this time is that the town is always crowded with people and grocery shopping is even less fun than the rest of the year.
 


1.12.12
  Nano 2012 is Over

I finished with a whopping 26,507 words which is a bit more than a half-Nano, and I admit I'm proud I got so much. I thank everyone for their comments and encouragement during November.

Now I can only hope that the impetus will carry on beyond November and I'll get back into a habit of writing regularly again, albeit not fully that many words.

Here's one last fun post before I get back to more serious stuff, brought to you by the Tourist Management St.Petersburg. *grin*

Kiosks with kitsch

At every important stop of the tour busses, every place listed in the guide books, the Russians have managed to squeeze in a row or two of vendor booths selling all sorts of pseudo-folkloristic Russian kitsch. You don't even need rubel, they accept euros and dollars as well.

Musical boxes with little cathedrals and matrioshka dolls with Michael Jackson

That stuff is low quality, too, often plastic and with lots of fake gold colour. There were fake fur caps, too. If you want the real thing, you better find a genuine store. The whole display was so horribly kitsch-y it was fun, so I snapped a few shots.

Christmas decoration

Fitting the time, here are some really overdecorated Christmas trees. *grin* You can buy them year round in St.Petersburg.

I put out some of my Advent / Christmas decorations today, but those are the nice, handcrafted items from the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) and Sweden I've blogged about a few times.
 


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.

My Photo
Name:
Location: Germany

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.


e-mail

Twitter