11. Roman military activities during the Republic

11. Recent research into the Roman military activities during the Republic. Archaeological evidence

Janka Istenic & Angel Morillo Cerdan

Affiliation: National Museum of Slovenia, Slovenia

Affiliation of co-organiser: Universitad Complutense de Madrid, Spain

Session Abstract: The Roman army played an important, often pivotal role in the expansion of Roman supremacy. Evidence of Roman military activities abounds, though the military sites from the Republican are far less well researched than later ones. Over the last two decades, significant progress has been made in this field and it is the aim of the proposed full-day session to get an overview of the most recent archaeological research in the Roman military activities during the Republican period. Most of all, the session is intended for papers presenting new archaeological evidence. Papers on the already published evidence will be accepted only if giving a distinctly new interpretation. The session would also include contributions addressing general questions such as the impact (the danger/cases of overuse) of ancient written sources on the dating of Republican military sites.

Time Presenter (s) Presentation
09.00 Introduction
09.20 Esther Rodrigo Requena No Title
09.40 Oriol Olesti Vila The Roman army in the Oriental Pyrenees (2nd-1st c. BC): territorial control and management of provincial resources in the High Lands
10.00 Federico Beernardini Grociana piccola Roman military fortifications (north-eastern Italy, second-first centuries BC)


10.50 Loïc Buffat The battle of Arausio (105 b. C). State of research
11.10 Carlos Pereira The Roman-Republican camp at Cáceres el Viejo (Spain): old theories and new perspectives
11.30 Feliciana Sala Sellés A maritime frontier in Citerior Hispania during the Sertorian civil wars: a geostrategy story
11.50 Magalie Kielb Zaaraoui L’organisation interne d’un camp militaire romain au milieu du Ier s. av. J.-C. : à propos du camp F de Lautagne (Valence, Drôme)


13.30 Romain Andenmatten Roman troops in high mountains / The challenge of establishing Roman hegemony in the Poenine Alps
13.50 Domagoj Perkic Archaeological Traces of the Roman Attack of Grad at Nakovana during Octavian’s Illyrian War (Pelješac, Croatia)
14.10 Domagoj Tončinić No title
14.30 Janka Istenic & Bostjan Laharnar Ulaka–Nadleški hrib site complex in Loška dolina valley (south-western Slovenia)


Esther Rodrigo Requena, Joaquim Pera Isern, Cèsar Carreras Monfort, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Núria Romaní Sala, Autonomous University of Barcelona/ ICAC

This paper presents the military settlement of Puig Castellar de Biosca (Catalonia, Spain) a Republican castellum dated in the earliest moment of the Roman conquest in the Iberian Peninsula. The site is settled on the top of a low hill at the confluence of three fluvial courses. From the top of the hill, there is a complete visual control a wider area of the river Llobregós valley, which constitutes the natural pathway between this region and the Segre river, which is the main affluent of the Ebro river. This privileged location gives the site an exceptional strategic function to control the natural corridors in a broad area in the central Catalonia. After a first period the military control, the region was so peaceful that the Roman administration founded the city of Iesso (5 Km away from Puig Castellar) in the last decades of the IInd century BCE. The excavation of the plain upper part of the hill records a distinctive building of 30 by 30 meters, which seems to be the commander’s headquarters. The plan of this construction reminds us other buildings of the Principate such as a principia or praetorium, which were common in the Limes military camps. The archaeological excavations at Puig Castellar of Biosca, provide us a very precise dating between the second and third quarters of the IInd century BCE (circa 180-120 BCE). Its organised abandonment coincides in time with the foundation of the Roman city of Iesso in the last decades of IInd century BCE (120-110 BCE).

The Roman army in the Oriental Pyrenees (2nd-1st c. BC): territorial control and management of provincial ressources in the High Lands
Oriol Olesti Vila, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

In the last 15 years, archaeological excavations have convincingly identified the presence of the Roman army in the Roman Pyrenees (Cerdanya region, Cerretani Iberian tribe), during the 2nd-1st century BC. As happened in northeast Hispania, also in this high mountain areas a significant part of the Roman army seems to have been settled in a number of key indigenous settlements (some of them oppida, others just roadside sites), such as garrisons (praesidia), controlling the most important roads, territories and resources. These patterns of control can be correlated not only with some war episodes where the Pyranean key passes were strategic (Sertorian War, Civil war), but also with the interest on the exploitation of some key ressources, as minerals, cattle or forest products. This paper will analyze some key Pyrenaean sites, all of them from iberian origen, where the Roman army was deployed from the middle of the 2nd c. BC. The erection of new walls or new buildings allow to identify the Roman military presence, but also we will point out the identification of some materials -as writing instruments or signet-rings- that could help us to understand the new role of the Roman army managing some key ressources (metals, salt, auxilia).

Grociana piccola Roman military fortifications (north-eastern Italy, second-first centuries BC)
Federico Bernardini, Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia

Recent investigations identified early Roman military fortifications close to Trieste. They include a main camp – San Rocco -, flanked by two smaller structures, those of Grociana piccola and Montedoro. This paper presents the results of the excavations carried out at Grociana piccola which shows two sub-rectangular ramparts with different orientations. The inner rampart was about 1.5 m large and composed of two revetting walls and a core of smaller stones. An additional line of large stones was discovered about 50 cm away from the northern line of the rampart. In the inner terrace contiguous to it, abundant pottery, including possible late greco-italic and Lamboglia 2 amphorae, was discovered. The low elevation of the rampart suggests it was used as a protected walkway. Such fortification, dated to the second century BC by associated pottery, provides one of the earliest and smallest examples of Roman fort but, despite its small size, the rampart was built using the same building technique of much larger contemporary military camps. The north-eastern corner of the external rampart was curve and made of an inner wall and an external irregular line of large stones located at about 2 m from the inner structure at a slightly lower altitude. Interestingly enough, just inside the corner of the fortification, a rectangular platform was found. It shows the same height as the internal wall alignment and has been interpreted as a probable tower or artillery platform. The rampart could have been used as a walkway, perhaps defended by wooden structures, housed in the rampart filling and supported by the external irregular alignment. The absence of buildings and pottery, the rough building technique, the abundance of hobnails mostly belonging to the Alesia D type, the clavicula entrances, its regular plan agree with a temporary use of the camp during the mid first century BC.

The Battle of Arausio (105 b. C.). State of research
Loïc Buffat, Yahya Zaaraoui, Matthieu Guintrand, Mosaïques Archéologie

Since 2014, a collective research programme has been working on late-Republican remains of the Lampourdier hill, near the city of Orange (Vaucluse, France). These investigations have uncovered several thousand metal artefacts, mainly militaria, and structures related to a Roman military settlement. These include a defensive earthen embankment nearly 900 m long following the hill’s ridge line, projectile piles (i.e. sling pebbles), and pits containing equine skeletons mixed with human remains. South of the plateau, a group of buildings that may be the ruins of a burnt-out fort has been discovered. A large number of weapons were also found: pila, arrowheads, catapult points, helmet fragments, caligae nails, spur points and bridle bits. Few objects of everyday life are also worth mentioning. The important coinage (430 specimens discovered between 2014 and 2020), in particular silver denarii, has made it possible to link the site with one of the great defeats of the Roman army in Gaul against a Germanic-Celtic coalition: the battle of Arausio (6 October 105 BC).

The Roman-Republican camp at Cáceres el Viejo (Spain): old theories and new perspectives
Carlos Pereira, UNIARQ, University of Lisbon, Ángel Morillo, Complutense University of Madrid

Since the work done by A. Schulten and R. Paulsen in the legionary Fortress of Cáceres el Viejo (Cáceres, Spain), in the 20’s, that this settlement has been important on the military knowledge. Accepted by ones and denied by others, the proposals of Schulten opened the debate about roman military activities in this area, relating this camp with the Castra Caecilia of the classical resources. Against the certainty of Schulten some claim a more antique construction of the settlement and its eventual relation with Lusitanian wars while others argued about its eventual relation with post-war control of the territory. Later, G. Ulbert made a wider study on the artifacts collected, but likewise he was unable to clarify a precise interpretation of Cáceres el Viejo camp. The chronology was established on the first quarter of the first century BC, corresponding with Sertorian War (80-72 BC). After several years, the advance of knowledge of artifacts and Roman Military subject in general justifies the return to this important settlement, reason why two of us are leading a project in order to (re)analyse all the data and publish an monographic study. This has made possible to gather an international team (Portuguese and Spanish researchers) that is reviewing the artefactual set (placed in three institutions: Museum of Cáceres, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum and Archäologische Staatssammlung München). In fact, almost half of the set assembled by Schulten was unpublished and Ulbert did not observed it. This work will make possible to build a new and solid understanding of this site, which has already proven to be relevant to the knowledge of Roman Military activities during the Late Republican Period. Here we present some of the results already obtained during the course of the research carried out by this team, which is not restricted to the names presented, in a prelude for the monographic study that will be published. We will advance some outcomes about the chronology, the castrametation techniques, the military supplies (imports and local productions) or about troop’s origin.

A maritime frontier in Citerior Hispania during the Sertorian civil wars: a geostrategy story
Feliciana Sala-Sellés, LVR-Amt für Bodendenkmalpflege im Rheinland – Aussenstelle Titz, Sonia Bayo-Fuentes, Archaeologist, Ph Doctor in Humanities Archaeology and Historical Heritage Research Team, University of Alicante, Jesús Moratalla-Jávega, Institute of Research in Archaeology and Heritage (INAPH), Department of Prehistory, Archaeology, Ancient History, Greek and Latin, University of Alicante (Spain)

Around 77 BC, Q. Sertorius’ army decided to build a chain of forts when the Roman civil wars were still favourable. These forts were located on coastal hills at Cabo de la Nao, situated on the southeast coast of Hispania. These forts were located on peaks and had a reduced extension with a simple but well thought of defensive system which was adapted to the local orography. They constituted a reliable surveillance system against senatorial ships sailing between the ports of Ebusus and Carthago Nova. With the help of the Cilician pirate fleet, the fortification of this coastal stretch was designed to prevent possible attacks on the naval headquarters of Sertorius, situated at the port of Dianium, and the looting of senatorial ships sailing along the coast and thus supplying the Sertorian troops.

L’organisation interne d’un camp militaire romain au milieu du Ier s. av. J.-C. : à propos du camp F de Lautagne (Valence, Drôme)
Magalie Kielb Zaaraoui, Loïc Buffat, Yahya Zaaraoui, Mosaïques Archéologie

Among the various Roman military camps identified since the 1990s on the Lautagne plateau (Valence, Drôme), Camp F is the one whose surface has been most extensively explored. The excavation carried out between 2014 and 2015 uncovered not only the south-eastern corner of the enclosure ditch and the eastern entrance to the camp, but also numerous remains enclosed within the fortification. These remains have provided essential information on the life of a Roman army stationed in northern Narbonnaise during the middle of the 1st century BC, and about the internal layout of this temporary camp. Indeed, these many archaeological structures, mainly small earthen ovens, were organised in large alignments and dedicated areas could be materialised, in particular major arteries and privileged zones for the installation of Roman soldiers’ tents. The various studies and analyses carried out on the archaeological material uncovered from the kilns fillings have also provided a glimpse into the daily life of Roman legionaries.

Roman troops in high mountains / The challenge of establishing Roman hegemony in the Poenine Alps
Romain Andenmatten, Cantonal Office of Archaeology of Valais / RAMHA, Michel Aberson, UNIL (retired), Alessandra Armirotti, Soprintendenza per i beni e le attività culturali, Tristan Allegro, UNIL

The interdisciplinary and archaeological research program around the Site know as Hannibal Wall allows each year to highlight and investigate new high altitude positions (between 2350 and 3100m above the sea) occupied by Roman military (auxiliaries or legionaries) during the establishment of Roman hegemony over the Poenine Alps (between 57 BC and 25 BC). This work is carried out by a joint group made up of the scientific group of the RAMHA association and staff members of the Soprintendenza per i beni e le attività culturali. This paper will be an opportunity to present a synthesis based on the data acquired over the past fifteen years, the latest news, and to discuss the state of the studies in progress. A group of about fifteen researchers from various disciplines is currently collaborating on the preparation of a first volume of synthesis on this work. The sometimes extraordinary state of conservation of the archaeological material on these sites allows studies that are difficult to envisage in other terrestrial contexts (like dendrochronology on wooden artefacts). The comparison with historical sources finally opens up interesting discussions both from a methodological point of view and on the interpretation and dating of certain events which were admitted for a long time (for example the course and the late dating, 16-15 BC of the entry of Valais into the zone of Roman hegemony). Based on the study of a site, research currently in progress has made possible to inventory twenty five positions, of which eleven have been investigated. Are they isolated positions, positions occupied successively or a network of tactical positions in order to occupy a territory? What events or series of events could it be linked to? Are there any links or hierarchies between these positions? These are some of the questions that will be addressed but this research will have to continue…

Archaeological Traces of the Roman Attack of Grad at Nakovana during Octavian’s Illyrian War (Pelješac, Croatia)
Domagoj Perkić,Archaeological Department, Dubrovnik Museum, Croatia, Marko Dizdar, Institute of Archaeology, Zagreb, Croatia, Hrvoje Potrebica, Archaeological Department, Faculty of Humanities, Zagreb, Croatia, Ivan Pamić, Croatian House Viganj, Croatia

One of the most important archaeological sites on the southern part of the eastern Adriatic coast is the settlement of Grad, near the village of Nakovana, on the western side of the Pelješac peninsula. The discovered finds, together with the results of field surveys and trial excavations, indicate that Grad was inhabited during the Bronze and Iron Ages, and then again in Late Antiquity. The continuity of human presence at the site testifies to its exceptional location in the Mediterranean landscape, on communication routes that passed along the coast, and also those linking the coast with its hinterlands. Field surveys conducted at Grad have resulted in a number of finds testifying to the dramatic end of the settlement in the 4th decade of the 1st cent. BC. A great number of lead slingshots have been discovered from around the main entrance to the settlement, while a somewhat smaller number of such projectiles have been found within the settlement itself. Furthermore, the catapult bolts have been discovered. Finds discovered from the access roads to Grad and the neighbouring prominent position of Nakovanić include lead slingshots and a fibula of the Alesia type, suggesting that the most intense attack probably came from this direction. The positions of the finds suggest that the Roman army attacked the settlement, which can probably be associated with the operations conducted during the Octavian’s Illyrian War (35–33 BC). Historical sources convey brief information about the defeat of pirates on the neighbouring islands of Korčula and Mljet, and about the population having been killed or sold as slaves (App. Ill. 16). Given its location above the Korčula Channel, the settlement of Grad at Nakovana was probably attacked at the same time.

Domagoj Tončinić, Domagoj Bužanić, Mirjana Sanader, Filozofski fakultet Sveučilišta u Zagrebu, Odsjak za arheologiju

Im Küstenhinterland der Provinz Dalmatien standen zwischen den Flüssen Krka und Cetina zwei römische Legionslager, nämlich Burnum und Tilurium, zwischen denen die Existenz der Hilfstruppenlagern Promona, Magnum und Andetrium angenommen wird. Es wird sogar die Existenz einer durchdachten und absichtlich gebauten Verteidigungslinie, des sogenannten Dalmatischen Limes, vermutet, der bereits in die Zeit der späten Republik, spätestens ins frühe Prinzipat datiert wird. Diese Hypothese beruht vor allem auf literarischen Quellen, Inschriften und zufälligen Funden. Die Existenz der zwei Legionsfestungen steht nämlich schon lange außer Frage, aber die Kastelle sind nur aus den Quellen bekannt, und wurden nie archäologisch untersucht. Aufgrund der Notwendigkeit, endlich festzustellen, was im Küstenhinterland zwischen den Flüssen Krka und Cetina geschah, haben wir seit 2018 an einem archäologischen Projekt zu arbeiten begonnen. Als Ausgangspunkt wurde die Hypothese aufgestellt, dass nur ein umfassendes Projekt die Lücken im aktuellen Wissen in Bezug auf diese Grenzlinie schließen kann. Zur Identifizierung möglicher römischer militärischer oder anderer historischer Strukturen wurden zuerst verschiedene zerstörungsfreie Forschungsmethoden eingesetzt. Dabei wurden nicht nur nicht nur literarische Quellen analysierten und interpretierten, sondern auch Luft- und Satellitenbilder, historische und moderne Karten sowie LiDAR-Scans. Unser Ansatz, der über den Rahmen literarischer und epigraphischer Quellen hinausgegangen ist, war erfolgreich, da wir die Existenz mehrerer römischer Militärlager erfasst haben, deren Existenz zuvor nicht bekannt war. Wir wollen bei dieser Gelegenheit die Resultate, die wir aus der archäologischen Untersuchung des adriatischen Hinterlandes zwischen Krka und Cetina erhalten haben, vorstellen. Diese Ergebnisse haben deutlich gezeigt, dass einige der Behauptungen der alten Historiker überprüft werden müssen. Nämlich die Quellen informieren, dass Veränderungen in der eroberten Region stattgefunden haben, aber die ganze Wahrheit ihrer Erzählungen, der tatsächliche Verlauf der Ereignisse, kann nur durch die Archäologie bestätigt werden, und zwar nur dann, wenn die Archäologie über relevante materielle Beweise verfügt.

Ulaka–Nadleški hrib site complex in Loška dolina valley (south-western Slovenia)
Janka Istenič & Boštjan Laharnar, Narodni muzej Slovenije

Ulaka–Nadleški hrib site complex had an important role in the Late Iron Age, late Republic and Early Principate within the wider geo-political context of the region between north-east Italy, western Balkans and Pannonian plain.Hillfort Ulaka was the central Iron Age settlement in the region. It has a long history of research. The same applies for the Roman fort at Nadleški hrib, approximately 500 meters south of Ulaka hillfort. Our research suggested the fort had two occupation phases, the earlier from the Caesarian/Octavianic period and the later from the Augustan period (Laharnar, B. 2013, Arheološki vestnik 64, 123–147; Laharnar, B. in: Horvat, J. 2016 (ed), The Roman Army between the Alps and the Adriatic, Ljubljana, 85–97). In 2017 another Roman fort has been discovered at Ulaka-tabor at the northern slope of Ulaka hill. Small finds indicate a Roman military attack from the fort on the Ulaka hillfort in the Caesarian/Octavianic period, i.e. contemporaneous with the earlier occupation phase of the fort at Nadleški hrib hill. Airborne LiDAR data analyses and field survey indicate linear features leading from the corners of both Roman forts. We assume these features show Roman military earthworks related to the siege and conquest of the Ulaka hillfort in the Caesarian/Octavianic period. Ulaka–Nadleški hrib site complex is therefore an excellent case study of a conflict landscape from the period of Roman conquest of the region east of the province of Gallia Cisalpina (Italy after 42 BC).