Illustrated Travel Journal with Essays about Roman and Mediaeval History


22/09/2010
  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.
 
Comments:
I love that church! I've been through Boppard, ages ago, but we didn't have time to stop and look around. Looks like I missed a heck of a lot. :-(
 
Really interesting post, Gabrielle. The scale of the defences shows just how tough a job they had holding the frontier lands. It's made me hanker to read Eagle in the Snow again
 
Those are very impressive walls! Thank you for posting.
What does the name Baudobriga mean?
 
Kathryn, it's a pretty church. Next time you better stop in Boppard - the important sites (Roman wall, St.Severus, another church, the market square with some pretty houses) are all close to each other.

Doug, yes it really got bad in 4th century. The German tribes merged into larger groups, there was the migration pressure from the east, and the Roman army was stretched out along too many borders. Add to that the inner troubles and the increasing amount of - not always reliable - mercenaries in the army, and you get a mess. :) Heh, I should reread Eagle in the Snow myself.

Carla, the name is Celtic but I don't know what it means. It's not mentioned in the booklet and websites about (Roman) Boppard.
 
Yet another fascinating post :) It's interesting how people always make the most of abandoned buildings - either recycling the stonework or the buildings themselves- in this case actually including the walls in the church.

Because I'm cursed with curiosity I just had to look - according to Adrian Room's "Placenames of the World ", "Baudobriga" means 'Bouduos's fortified place", but who Bouduos was I can't tell you!
 
Bouduos probably was the name of some Celtic prince / warlord then. At least the name sounds more Celtic than Germanic, and the majority of the tribes on that side of the Rhine were Celtic (albeit not all of them; the Treveri at the Moselle were a mixed Celto-Germanic one, for example).
 
I've just come across an alternative meaning for Baudobriga. As it's also possible that there was a Celtic chieftain named Bouduos whose name derived from the Gallic word for victory, and hills naturally lent themselves to becoming fortified places, I guess AdrIan Room's version may not necessarily be wrong.

Alternative meaning:
From Gaulish "Boudobriga", "hill of victory". Containing the elements *boudo- 'victory' (Welsh budd 'gain, benefit') + *briga, 'hill'.
 
There are some Celtic burial mounds on the hills above Boppard and the Hunsrück Forest. One of those has been excavated in the 1930ies and brought to light some pretty Celtic shinies (bracelets, rings and such) and a Celtic chariot that are now in a museum in Berlin. Whoever was buried there must have been a chieftain or prince.

There is an ancient road over the Hunsrück hills, and there were settlements as well, but oddly, no fortified Celtic seat of a chieftain like we find in southern Germany, though there were some rich leaders around.

The first Roman settlement with the name of Baudobriga was situated in the niche that's formed by the valley between the hills in the background of this pic. Since there were ways that connected the high road with the river, it's possible there already was a Celtic settlement on the shore, but the name can also have been derived from a hill settlement.

Hill of Victory - well, two rival Celtic chieftains at war and one won? :) Could well be. The problem is we know so little about the Celts pre-Caesar, except for their cultur represented in burials.
 
That was interesting. Thanks for including the sketch, helps me visualize. Love the photo from atop the wall, does my little engineer heart good. :)
 
Heh, I knew you'd like those walls. :)
 
We do know much more about the Celts post-Caesar, but of course, thanks to Caesar's operations, there were a lot less of them to know about! I've seen numbers mentioned (not sure how accurate) like one million Celts killed and another million injured and enslaved following Caesar's campaigns.
 
Excellent post and information. I wish I'd been able to spend more time there. I got a few photos of the town, though they're perhaps not as interesting as yours:

http://kristabrownlee.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/boppard/
 
I have been in Boppard this year...I wish I had known this information before...thank you very much, quite interesting!
 
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The Lost Fort is a travel journal and history blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and other places. It includes essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, as well as some geology, illustrated with my own photos of old castles and churches, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes.

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I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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Winter 2010

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A Ghost Cruise on the Ouse River
West Highland Railway

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Staffa
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Land of Light and Darkness - Scandinavia

Norway

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Along the Coast - North of the Polar Circle

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Wildlife
Bearded Seals
Dog Sledding With Huskies
Eagles and Gulls in the Trollfjord


Shores of History - The Baltic Sea

Baltic Sea Cruise

Lithuania

Nida and the Curonian Spit
Beaches at the Curonian Spit




Historia
Geologia
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- Roman History
- Mediaeval History
- Other Times and Miscellanea


Roman History

Wars and Frontiers

Maps
Romans in Germania

Traces of the Pre-Varus Conquest
Roman Camp Hedemünden
New Finds in 2008

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
Museum Park at Kalkriese

The Battle at the Harzhorn
Introduction

Along the Limes
Limes Fort Osterburken
Limes Fort Saalburg

Roman Frontiers in Britain
Hadrian's Wall

Rebellions
The Batavian Rebellion

Roman Militaria

Armour
Early Imperial Helmets
Late Roman Helmets
The Negau B Helmet

Weapons
The pilum
Daggers
Swords

Other Equipment
Roman Saddles

Life and Religion

Religion
The Mithras Cult
Isis Worship
Curse Tablets and Good Luck Charms

Everyday Life
Bathing Habits
Children's Toys
Face Pots
Styli and Wax Tablets

Public Life
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Roman Transport - Amphorae and Barrels
Roman Water Supply

Roman villae
Villa Rustica Wachenheim

Miscellaneous
Legend of Alaric's Burial


Mediaeval History

Feudalism
Feudalism, Beginnings
Feudalism, 10th Century
The Privilege of the deditio
A Note on handgenginn maðr

The Hanseatic League
Introduction and Beginnings
Stockfish Trade


Germany

Geneaologies

List of Mediaeval German Emperors

Geneaology
Anglo-German Marriage Connections
Heinrich the Lion's Ancestors

Biographies

Kings and Emperors
King Heinrich IV
Emperor Otto IV, Introduction

Princes
Otto the Quarrelsome of Braunschweig-Göttingen
The Dukes of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen
Otto of Northeim
The Ludowing Landgraves of Thuringia
Albrecht II and Friedrich I of Thuringia

Counts and Local Lords
The Marshals of Ebersburg
The Counts of Everstein
The Counts of Hohnstein
The Lords of Plesse
The Counts of Reichenbach
The Counts of Winzenburg

Famous Feuds

Local Feuds
The Lüneburg Succession War
The Thuringian Succession War - Introduction
The Star Wars

Royal Troubles
Otto IV and Bishop Adalbert II of Magdeburg


England and Normandy

From the Conquest to King John

Normans, Britons, and Angevins
The Honour of Richmond and the Dukes of Brittany


Scotland

Kings of Scots

House Dunkeld
Malcolm III and Northumbria
Struggle for the Throne: Malcolm III to David I
King David and the Civil War (1)
King David and the Civil War (2)

Houses Bruce and Stewart
Robert the Bruce and Stirling Castle
The Early Stewart Kings

Scottish Nobles and their Quarrels

Clan Feuds
MacLeans and MacDonalds
A Scottish Wedding


Wales

Princes and Rebels

The Princes of Gwynedd
The Rise of House Aberffraw

The Rebellions
From Llywellyn ap Gruffudd to Owain Glyn Dŵr


Scandinavia

Kings and Vikings

Kings of Norway
King Eirik's Scottish Marriages

Famous Nobles and their Feuds
Alv Erlingsson of Tønsberg


Other Times and Miscellanea

Post-Mediaeval History

Discoveries
Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)

Explorers
Fram Expedition to the North Pole
Fram Expedition to the South Pole

History in Opera and Literature

Opera

Belcanto and Historicism
Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

Historical Ballads

Ballads by Th. Fontane, translated by me
About Theodor Fontane
Archibald Douglas
Gorm Grymme
Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
The Tragedy of Afghanistan


Geological Landscapes

The Baltic Sea
Geology of the Curonian Spit

The Harz
Karst Landscape
Karst - Lonau Falls
Karst - Rhume Springs

Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
Blue Dome near Eschwege
Diabase and Basalt Formations
Karst Formations

Solling-Vogler
Raised Bogs
The Hannover Cliffs

The Shores of Scotland
Staffa

Paleontology

Fossils
Ammonites


Fun Stuff

Not So Serious Romans
Aelius Rufus Visits the Future Series
Building Hadrian's Wall
Playmobil Romans

Royal (Hi)Stories
Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

Historical Memes
Charlemagne meme
Historical Christmas Wishes
New Year Resolutions
Aelius Rufus does a Meme
Rules for Writing Scottish Romances

Funny Sights
Tourist Kitsch in St.Petersburg

My Novels in Progress / Planning

I'm a bit of a writer, too; here are the novel projects on which I'm currently working

Roman Novels (Historical Fiction)
The Saga of House Sichelstein (Historical Fiction)
Kings and Rebels (Fantasy)


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History Blogs - Ancient

Roman History Today
Ancient Times (Mary Harrsch)
Bread and Circuses (Adrian Murdoch)
Following Hadrian (Carole Raddato)
Mike Anderson's Ancient History Blog
Mos Maiorum - Der römische Weg
Per Lineam Valli (M.C. Bishop)
Judith Weingarten

Digging Up Fun Stuff
The Anglo-Saxon Archaeology Blog
Arkeologi i Nord
The Journal of Antiquities (Britain)
The Northern Antiquarian
The Roman Archaeology Blog

History Blogs - Mediaeval

Þaér wæs Hearpan Swég
Anglo Saxon, Norse & Celtic Blog
Casting Light upon the Shadow (A. Whitehead)
Norse and Viking Ramblings
Outtakes of a Historical Novelist (Kim Rendfeld)

Beholden Ye Aulde Blogges
A Clerk of Oxford
Historical Britain Blog (Mercedes Rochelle)
Magistra et Mater (Rachel Stone)
Michelle of Heavenfield (Michelle Ziegler)
Senchus (Tim Clarkson)

Royal and Other Troubles
Edward II (Kathryn Warner)
Henry the Young King (Kasia Ogrodnik)
Piers Gaveston (Anerje)
Lady Despenser's Scribery
Simon de Montfort (Darren Baker)
Weaving the Tapestry (Scottish Houses Dunkeld and Stewart)

A Mixed Bag of History
English Historical Fiction Authors
The Freelance History Writer (Susan Abernethy)
The History Blog
History, the Interesting Bits (S.B. Connolly)
Mediaeval Manuscripts Blog
Mediaeval News (Niall O'Brian)
Time Present and Time Past (Mark Patton)

Thoughts and Images

Reading and Reviews
Black Gate Blog
The Blog That Time Forgot (Al Harron)
Parmenion Books
Reading the Past
The Wertzone

Imaginations
David Blixt
Ex Urbe (Ada Palmer)
Constance A. Brewer
Jenny Dolfen Illustrations
Wild and Wonderful (Caroline Gill)

German Travel Blogs
Alte Steine
Blickgewinkelt
Meerblog
Reiseaufnahmen
Sonne und Wolken
Teilzeitreisender
Travelita
Unterwegs und Daheim

Highland Mountains
The Hazel Tree (Jo Woolf)
Helen in Wales
Mountains and Sea Scotland

The Colours of the World
Shutterbugs


Research

Archaeology
Past Horizons
Archaeology in Europe
Orkneyar

Roman History
Deutsche Limeskommission
Internet Ancient Sourcebook
Livius.org
Roman Army
Roman Britain
The Romans in Britain
Vindolanda Tablets

Not so Dark Ages
Burgundians in the Mist
Viking Society for Northern Research

Mediaeval History
De Re Militari
Internet Mediaeval Sourcebook
Kulturzeit
The Labyrinth
Mediaeval Crusades
Medievalists.Net

Castles
Burgenarchiv
Burgerbe.de
Burgenwelt
Exploring Castles
The World of Castles

Miscellaneous History
Heritage Daily
The History Files

Mythology
Ancient History
Encyclopedia Mythica

Online Journals
Ancient Warfare
The Heroic Age
The History Files

Travel and Guide Sites

Germany - History
Antike Stätten in Deutschland
Burgenarchiv
Strasse der Romanik

Germany - Nature
HarzLife
Naturpark Meissner
Naturpark Solling-Vogler

England
English Heritage
Visit Northumberland

Scotland
The Chain Mail (Scottish History)
Historic Scotland
National Trust Scotland

Books and Writing

Interesting Author Websites
Bernard Cornwell
Dorothy Dunnett
Steven Erikson
Diana Gabaldon
Guy Gavriel Kay
George R.R. Martin
Sharon Kay Penman
Brandon Sanderson
J.R.R. Tolkien
Tad Williams

Historical Fiction
Historical Novel Society
Historia Magazine

Writing Sites
Absolute Write
TheLitForum.com
National Novel Writing Month


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