12. Legionary fortresses along the Rhine

12. Legionary fortresses along the Rhine. State of research

Session Chairs: Jürgen Trumm & Steve Boedecker
Affiliation: Kantonsarchäologie Aargau, Switzerland
Affiliation of co-organiser: LVR-Amt für Bodendenkmalpflege im Rheinland, Germany

Session Abstract: During the last decades, countless rescue excavations and other investigations have taken place at the roman legionary fortresses along the Rhine and the surrounding regions of Germania Superior and Germania Inferior. This is true not only for well-known sites like Vindonissa (Windisch CH), Argentorate (Strasbourg F), Mogontiacum (Mainz D), Bonna (Bonn D), Vetera (Xanten D) and Noviomagus (Nijmegen NL), but also for short-existing sites like Arae Flaviae (Rottweil D), Haltern (D) or Mirebeau (F). The aim of the session is to provide an overall overview to the actual state of research, to mention the most important publications and to discuss open questions for further research. Contributions should not only focus on the military complexe, but should also include civil settlements, cemeteries, roads, manufacturing sites and other aspects. Moreover, the historic significance of each site as well as questions of continuity and discontinuity should be taken into consideration.

Time Presenter (s) Presentation
09.00 Wouter Vos Valkenburg ZH – an unexpected Legionary Fortress near the mouth of the river Rhine (The Netherlands)
09.20 Paul Franzen The capital that was not
09.40 Vincent van der Veen Military equipment and horse gear from the Flavio-Trajanic castra and canabae at Nijmegen
10.00 Steve Boedecker No title


10.50 Matheus Morais Cruz Amphora Studies in Xanten: from the local Roman legionary occupation to the imperial supply system
11.10 Andreas Wegert The legionary camp Novaesium
11.30 Jens Wegmann No title
11.50 Salvatore Ortisi No title


13.30 Tünde Kaszab-Olschewski Hier auch: Webgewichte in den Legionslagern Bonn und Neuss
13.50 Daniel Burger-Völlmecke Das Legionslager von Mogontiacum/Mainz – Neue Erkenntnisse zur Umwehrung und Chronologie
14.10 Klaus Kortüm Rottweil – Ein flavisches Legionslager am oberen Neckar
14.30 Jürgen Trumm Vindonissa and its legionary fortress – state of the research


Valkenburg ZH – an unexpected Legionary Fortress near the mouth of the river Rhine (The Netherlands)
Wouter K. Vos, Vos Archeo / Saxion University of Applied Sciences, Edwin Blom, ADC ARcheoprojecten, Jasper De Bruin, National Museum of Antiquities (RMO) Leiden

During the autumn and winter of 2020/2021, the remains of a new legionary fortress in Valkenburg ZH at the mouth of the river Rhine near the North Sea coast were unexpectedly unearthed. Earlier excavations in Valkenburg ZH had already revealed much of the Roman past there. Around the Second World War an auxiliary fort was excavated, and later in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s parts of an extramural settlement, a fortlet, watchtowers and a huge cemetery together with – the connecting element – the Roman limesroad were discovered. The legionary fortress appeals to the imagination, not so much because of the archaeological remains (although some exceptionally good woodwork has been preserved in the wet soil of the gates and interval towers), but mainly because of its dating. It is dated to the reign of Caligula (AD37-41) and thus makes it very tempting to link its construction to the historical events we know from the ancient sources (Cassius Dio and Suetonius, for example). The idea is that the accommodation of this force has to do with the preparations for the conquest of Britannia. The fortress was in use for a short time, possibly up to and including the actions of general Corbulo, who we also know from ancient sources and who had his legionaries dig a canal between the Rhine and the Meuse in the late 40s and 50s. Here too, the Valkenburg fortress may have played a role. Whatever the case may be, the discovery of this new legionary camp opens a new window on Early Roman history, in which not only the story of the Dutch Rhine delta can be rewritten, but also offers openings to approach the landing and conquest of AD43 from a new military perspective.

The capital that was not
Paul Franzen, gemeente Nijmegen

During a short period at the end of the first century and the beginning of the second century AD, Nijmegen was on par with a select few other locations in the Empire, of which several would later become the capitals of several modern countries. Many others turned into major towns that continued through mediaeval times into the modern era. In Nijmegen this development was halted because the local legion left for the Dacian wars. It never came back and despite some on and off use by several different legionary detachments, and possibly for a short period by the legio VIIII Hispana, the fortress on the Hunerberg was never again the driving force that could have made Nijmegen the obvious capital of the Netherlands. The question is of course: why not? Why was Nijmegen abandoned and not Vetera 2, or Neuss or Bonn? In this paper we take a look at the local topography, the different phases in both the fortress and the surrounding military town (canabae legionis). We will also consider the size of the settlements and the diversity in buildings and compare them with other contemporary fortresses and towns. Does this provide us with the answer why Nijmegen never became what it could have been?

Military equipment and horse gear from the Flavio-Trajanic castra and canabae at Nijmegen
Vincent van der Veen, Radboud Universiteit

Decades of excavations on the Hunerberg at Nijmegen have yielded an uncountable number of features and finds, including well over 1,000 items of military equipment and horse gear. These items can be attributed to an Augustan military base, a Flavio-Trajanic legionary fortress (castra) and its extramural civil settlement (canabae legionis). This contribution aims to provide an overview of this fascinating assemblage. Some aspects that are addressed are the function and chronology of the objects, production and recycling of military equipment in both the fortress and its extramural settlement and the question whether military equipment and horse gear can provide evidence for the presence of auxiliary infantry or cavalry. Another important element is a distribution analysis of the items of military equipment and horse gear. Only rarely are a fortress and its civil settlement excavated to a degree that a comparison between the two is possible, which makes this assemblage an ideal candidate for the study of these two communities and the way in which they interacted. By mapping the distribution of various subcategories of the assemblage (weapons, armour, belt fittings and horse gear) we can gain an insight into the use of space in both the fortress and the civil settlement. Finally, by zooming in on the find contexts of the objects we can examine how and to what end objects were deposited and to what extent their distribution has been influenced by post-depositional processes such as erosion or site disturbance, and differing excavation methods.

Steve Bödecker, LVR-Amt für Bodendenkmalpflege im Rheinland (Bonn) Lisa Berger, Römisch-Germanisches Museum der Stadt Köln

Large-scale magnetometer surveys carried out from 2015 to 2020 at Vetera castra near Xanten-Birten, Germany, covered an area of about 200 ha and allow new insights into the structure of the different periods of the double-legionary fortress and the extramural settlement. In a recent project, a combined interpretation and documentation of archaeological features from aerial photography, magnetometer surveys, LiDAR and excavations has been undertaken. A new detailed plan of the site of Vetera castra provides a new insight in the general layout and development of the site and its landscape in the 1st century AD. In this lecture, the overall structure of this large complex will be explained and the role of the landscape for the position of the fortresses and its extramural settlement in the different periods will be discussed.

Amphora Studies in Xanten: from the local Roman legionary occupation to the imperial supply system
Matheus Morais Cruz, University of Sao Paulo

The city of Xanten (Germany) has great archaeological potential for understanding the Roman presence in the so-called limes germanicus. Despite the advance of research in the region, there are still many questions about the internal organization of the sites of Roman occupation, their relations with the surrounding Germanic tribes, and their insertion in the general context of Germania Inferior. One of the topics that have been gaining momentum in academic discussion is the influence of the legionary camp “Vetera I” and the “Civitas Cugernorum” (Colonia Ulpia Traiana) on the Roman military supply system from the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD. Motivated by this issue, this paper aims to discuss, based on reflections derived from the author’s master’s research under development at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology of the University of Sao Paulo, the current state of archaeological research on these sites, especially concerning the study of the Roman amphorae found in Xanten and its role in the organization of the military supply of the region and in mediating relations between Romans and natives of the most diverse Germanic tribes.

The legionary camp Novaesium
Andreas Wegert, Universität zu Köln

The legionary camp Novaesium today’s urban area of Neuss, covered an area of about 25 hectares and is the most extensively researched legionary camp north of the Alps. Since Constantin Koenen’s archaeological research at the end of the 19th century, there have been repeated excavations in the area of the former legionary camp. Both a detailed evaluation and a complete scientific review of these excavations are still missing today. If at all, new findings were only presented in short reports. As part of my dissertation project at the University of Cologne, excavations from the 1980s and 90s in the area of the north fence as well as in the areas of the legionary and calvary barracks and the are being evaluated. To this day, the Koenenlager stands as a symbol for a clear internal structure of Roman legion camps. The results of the excavation documentation, which is now more than 30 years old, show that the building history was a lot more complex than it appears according to Koenen’s exact plan. This results in a new understanding of the architectural history of the Koenenlager, which is still important for research.

Jens Wegmann, LVR-State Service for Archaeological Heritage

Brief overview of the state of research within the area of the legionary fortress in Bonn. Detailed abstract will follow asap.

Salvatore Ortisi, LMU Munich, Michael Schmauder, Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn, Jan Bemmann, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität

The large military centres on the Rhine have been intensively studied since the last quarter of the 19th century. Above all, the large legionary sites and vexillation camps such as Noviomagus – Nijmegen, Vetera I – Xanten, Novaesium – Neuss and Bonna – Bonn have been uncovered very early and often comprehensively. Many of the large-scale excavations that are central to the knowledge of the military history – not only – of Lower Germania have not been studied and presented until today. Within the framework of an 18-year corpus project applied for at the Union of the German Academies of Sciences, these archaeological sources, which are fundamental for understanding the Lower Germanic Limes, are to be made accessible to international research. A central desideratum of Limes research would thus be fulfilled. In addition to the “traditional” questions about the chronology and (structural) development of the individual fortifications, further aspects such as the spatial effect and the economic significance of the garrison sites as well as their cultural impact should also be discussed. The large camps and their surrounding settlements were of central importance as military, administrative and economic centers for the further development not only of the border area on both sides of the ripa, but also of the wider hinterland. Furthermore, it must be asked to what extent the impact of these sites extended beyond the withdrawal of the Roman military into the Early Middle Ages. The outstanding archaeological and historical data offers the potential to discuss the questions outlined above in selection on the basis of the source material from the four legionary camps in a certain synchronic range and, using the example of Bonn, also in a diachronic depth. The primary goal of the planned German-Dutch cooperation project, however, is the edition of the archaeological sources. In the contribution proposed for session 12 (Legionary fortresses along the Rhine. State of research), the scientific objectives and the organisational structure of the German-Dutch cooperation project applied for by the Universities of Bonn (Jan Bemmann) and Munich (Salvatore Ortisi) together with the Landesmuseum Bonn (Michael Schmauder) will be presented.

Hier auch: Webgewichte in den Legionslagern Bonn und Neuss
Tünde Kaszab-Olschewski, LVR – LandesMuseum Bonn

Die Webgewichtsfunde am Hauptquartier der Niedergermanischen Flotte (classis germanica) in Köln (CCAA), Stadtteil Marienburg, haben zumindest in Fachkreisen große Bekanntheit erreicht. Sie werden mit Textilproduktion, darunter auch mit der Segelherstellung für die Schiffe der Flotte in Verbindung gebracht. Darüber hinaus lassen Steininschriften aus Köln bzw. dessen Umland einen Zusammenhang zwischen den Webgewichten und der Segelherstellung als plausibel erscheinen. Deutlich weniger bekannt sind dagegen die Webgewichtsfunde aus den Legionslagern Bonn (Bonna) und Neuss (Novaesium), die dann auch zahlreiche Fragen aufwerfen, wie beispielsweise:

    • Kann der Verwendungszweck der Webgewichte, im Hinblick auf die Textilprodukte, konkretisiert werden?
    • Lassen sich hierbei Schlüsse über das verwendete Rohmaterial ziehen?
    • Ist der Produktionsort (Töpferei?) der Webgewichte einzugrenzen?
    • Können sie ferner typologisch aufgeteilt werden?
    • Sind hierzu ggf. auch chronologische Aussagen möglich?

Die Antworten sollen zur Klärung einer bislang kaum beachteten handwerklichen Tätigkeit im Zusammenhang mit den Legionen am Rhein beitragen.

Das Legionslager von Mogontiacum/Mainz – Neue Erkenntnisse zur Umwehrung und Chronologie
Daniel Burger-Völlmecke, City Museum Wiesbaden

Das Legionslager von Mainz gehört mit seiner fast 400jährigen Belegungszeit zu den am längsten genutzten Militärplätzen im Römischen Reich. Die Stationierung von zwei Legionen im 1. Jh. n. Chr. sowie deren Beteilung an Ereignissen von reichsweiter Auswirkung verdeutlichen die Bedeutung des Mainzer Lagers. Im Vergleich dazu ist über den Verlauf der Umwehrung, deren Bauabfolge und auch über die Innenbebauung erstaunlich wenig bekannt. Grabungen der letzten Jahrzehnte erbrachten neue Erkenntnisse, die das bisher Bekannte in vielen Bereichen revidiert oder in Frage stellt. Im Rahmen einer 2018 an der Universität Freiburg abgeschlossenen Dissertation zur Umwehrung konnten erstmals alle Lagergrenzen sowie ein bislang unbekanntes Vorgängerlager nachgewiesen werden. Neue Hinweise ergaben sich auch zu einigen chronologischen Eckdaten sowie zur frühen Besatzung der Mainzer castra. Darüber hinaus entstand erstmals ein digitaler Gesamtplan aller bisher bekannten Befundstrukturen des Legionslagers.

Rottweil – Ein flavisches Legionslager am oberen Neckar
Klaus Kortüm, Landesamt für Denkmalpflege im Regierungspräsidium Stuttgart (Baden-Württemberg/D))

Unter den Legionslagern an der Rheingrenze nimmt das ca. 16 ha große sog. Kastell I in Arae Flaviae / Rottweil eine Sonderstellung ein. Es ist das einzige, dass in der mittleren Kaiserzeit rechts des Rheins dauerhaft angelegt worden ist. Seine Gründung spiegelt die flavische Okkupation des Decumatlandes und die Etablierung der römischen Herrschaft am oberen Neckar. Die Besatzung stellte die legio XI Claudia aus Vindonissa / Windisch (CH), das als Basis weiterexistierte. Neben Legionären waren zumindest zeitweise auch Hilfstruppen im Lager I stationiert. Mittlerweile wird immer klarer, das Rottweil eine Art Außenposten von Vindonissa gewesen ist. Von hier aus wurden die Operationen im Vorfeld von Rhein und Donau geleitet und die aus dem Rückraum nach vorne verlegten Einheiten befehligt. In Rottweil waren die verantwortlichen Offiziere stationiert. Gleichzeitig mit dem Lager I dürfte Kastell III auf der anderen Flussseite bestanden haben, wodurch sich die Frage nach dessen Funktion bzw. Besatzung neu stellt. Über die letzten Jahrzehnte ist unser Bild von dem Lager dank einer konsequenten Denkmalpflege immer deutlicher geworden. Interessant sind vor allem die baulichen Veränderungen, die im Laufe der Zeit festzustellen sind. Sie deuten auf sich verändernde Aufgaben hin. Ungewöhnlich ist ein großer Hallenbau vor den principia der ersten Phase, die eher den bekannten Vorhallen der Limesastelle gleicht als den gromae anderer Legionslager. Entgegen früheren Vorstellungen war das Lager bis mindestens in die Regierungszeit Kaiser Nervas in Benutzung. Danach wurde ein neues, stark verkleinertes Steinkastell inmitten des alten Lagers errichtet. Diese Truppenreduzierung dürfte mit dem Abzug der legio XI Claudia aus der Provinz zusammenhängen. Dennoch wurde eine dauerhafte militärische Präsenz in Rottweil offenbar weiterhin für notwendig erachtet. Ein spannendes Thema ist auch, welche Bedeutung das Legionslager für die Entwicklung des zivilen Ortes besessen hat und welcher Zusammenhang mit den namensgebenden „Flavischen Älteren“ bestand.

Vindonissa and its legionary fortress – state of the research
Jürgen Trumm, Kantonsarchäologie Aargau (CH)

In ancient VINDONISSA (today: Windisch and Brugg, Canton of Aargau, Switzerland), extensive archaeological excavations have taken place every year for the past three decades. Since the last research overview, published in 2015, our knowledge about the only Roman legionary camp in Switzerland has therefore increased again. The paper summarizes the most important new facts and formulates future research perspectives. The time span ranges from the late Celtic oppidum to the castra legionis of the 13th, 21st and 11th legion and the castrum Vindonissense of late antiquity. New findings on the civil settlement outside the legion camp, on the cemeteries and streets complete the presentation.