15. Rome’s hunger for metals

15. Rome’s hunger for metals. Roman mining in and outside the provinces and the part of the Roman military

Session Chairs: Markus Scholz & Daniel Burger-Völlmecke
Affiliation: Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, Germany
Affiliation of co-organiser: Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, Germany

Session Abstract: The development of raw material sources, especially mineral resources, was one of the main motives of Roman expansion plans. This is exemplary by the conquests of Britainnia (tin) and Dacia (gold). Rome had a special requirement of raw materials, especially shortly before or during the establishment of a province. Especially at those times it was necessary to guarantee the supply of the extensive military juggernaut and to establish the infrastructure and, of course, to stabilise the state finances.

Isotope analyses on lead finds from the early military sites of the Augustan occupation in Germania revealed, the Eifel and Sauerland as regions of origin for example. For this reason, prospecting must already have been carried out in advance of military operations. Further examples are known from the Iberian Peninsula (e.g. Las Medulas ESP, Três Minas PRT), from Britain, from the Balkan region, from eastern Egypt or the foreland of the Germanic provinces, e.g. along the river Lahn (D).

This session looks at the development of Roman provinces from the perspective of exploitable resources and Roman mining. Archaeological, (in)written and scientific sources will be used for this purpose. What role did the military play in the exploitation of the deposits? Were the mining areas militarily secured? In addition, the question must be asked to what extent and under what circumstances Roman troops and state institutions became directly active. When or under what circumstances was the actual mining of raw resources carried out directly by Roman soldiers or organised through contractual partners of the indigenous population? Are there examples where the military was initially active and later took over indigenous contractual partners, in the sense of “start-up production”? Can increased mining activity also be seen in times of strained state finances?

Time Presenter (s) Presentation
09.00 Introduction
09.20 Brais X. Currás Roman military activity in the gold mining areas of Hispania: an approach from landscape archaeology
09.40 Mark Tucker Roman mining in the territory of the Dumnonii, an exploration of continuity and control
10.00 Felix Teichner Die Erschließung des antiken Amselfeldes (Dardanien, Kosovo) durch Rom unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Metallbergbaus


10.50 Alexander Rubel The Hunt for Yellow and White Gold: Gold Mines and Salt Domes in Dacia and the Roman Army
11.10 Lorenzo Boragno Missing Links. The production of iron-made equipment on a provincial scale: the case of Roman Dacia
11.30 Joan Oller Guzman The “Emerald legio”: involvement of the III Legio Cyrenaica in the development of emerald mining in Roman Egypt
11.50 Peter Rothenhoefer Roman military and mining: the evidence of lead ingots


13.30 Gabrielle Rasbach Von Bergleuten, Händlern und römischem Militär im Lahntal (D) / Of miners, traders and Roman military in the Lahn Valley (D)
13.50 Markus Scholz Under the eyes of Roman army: Early Imperial mining on the Lower Lahn river (D)
14.10 Adjournment


Roman military activity in the gold mining areas of Hispania: an approach from landscape archaeology
Brais X. Currás, F. Javier Sáchez-Palencia, Almudena Orejas, Inés Sastre, IH – CSIC

Northwest Hispania was one of the main gold-producing areas during the Roman Empire. The new mining activity brought by the increasing need for gold from the Principate of Augustus generated deep changes in the territorial and political structure of the local communities. These transformations are part of a broader process of organization of the conquered territories. In this communication, we present the relationship of the Roman army with the organization of the provincial territory, paying special attention to the exploitation of gold. Throughout the Northwest of the Iberian Peninsula, abundant evidences of temporary camp structures are documented, showing the intense activity of the army in the area. Some of these camps are directly related to mining activities and sometimes even appear within the mines themselves. The analysis of the epigraphy also reveals a clear relation between the military presence and some of the main gold mining areas, which is clearly observed with the Legio VII units. The management and organization of the imperial gold mines was undoubtedly one of the tasks carried out by the Roman army. His technical training was necessary for the prospecting of gold, the design of the mining operations, the layout of the hydraulic network, etc. The results of the research projects carried out by our research group in different mining areas show that military activity is closely connected to the exploitation of gold. In this communication we defend the need to understand the diversity and complexity of military activity in the Northwest of the Iberian Peninsula, and its diachronic dimension. The Roman army took part in the mining tasks on a technical and administrative level. But the organization of gold mining was just one more of the different tasks carried out after the end of the conquest, consisting on the control, organization, administration, inventory and delimitation of the subjugated territories.

Roman mining in the territory of the Dumnonii, an exploration of continuity and control
Mark Tucker, University of Kent

Metals from the territory of the Dumnonii are well attested in continental and Mediterranean contexts for well over a millennium preceding the Roman conquest of the region, both archaeologically with the Nebra Sky disk and the Haifa ingots, and in literature as the probable location of the mythical Ictis and Tin isles. Dumnonii metal deposits would have been a major factor in the decision to invade Britain, with the thrust west in the period after the initial landings and the occupation of Dumnonii territory point to the value placed on this by the Roman state. The density and placement of Roman forces in the region imply state control of mineral reserves, much as occurred in the Charterhouse lead mines in neighbouring territory. This initial military role in extraction lasted less than half a century and was clearly a phase of initial prospection and extraction followed by a military withdrawal. Finds associated with mining sites show continued activity in the following centuries, long after military activity in the immediate vicinity is proposed to have ended. The cluster of villa sites around tin rich Camborne region, and the possible villa sites surrounding the Exmoor Iron reserves are of particular interest when we consider how these mines were controlled. In this paper I will explore the increasing corpus of evidence for an increased investment in related infrastructure during periods of unrest, in particular during the 3rd century, and how the late coastal cordon blurs the contrast between military and civilian control. I will also explore how the control of these mines changes from military to civilian and finally to a symbiotic relationship between the two, and how these mines initially came into Roman control and the effects of the end of Roman rule in Britain affected the mines.

Die Erschließung des antiken Amselfeldes (Dardanien, Kosovo) durch Rom unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Metallbergbaus
Felix Teichner, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Gabriele Körlin, Deutsches Bergbaumuseum Bochum, Guntram Gassmann, Deutsches Bergbaumuseum Bochum

The central Balkan region – in other words, today’s Kosovo – was of great importance to the Roman Empire because of its rich polymetallic deposits with high silver contents, as a source of valuable raw materials. Previous research opinion, however, held that the administrative and urban development of the region of Moesia Superior and Dardania was only fully achieved at the beginning of the 2nd century AD, with the founding of the municipium Ulpianum on the eastern edge of the Kosovo karst field. Owing to the ongoing exploitation of precious metal resources in the region and to its situation on the important Balkan trade route between Lissus/Leshë and Naissus/Niš, the town became the administrative centre of the Dardanian mining region (metalla Dardanica).  Between 2008 and 2012, the Römisch-Germanische Kommission and the German Mining Museum (Bochum), in collaboration with the Archaeological Institute of Kosovo and further institutions, carried out a pilot project in the city of Ulpiana and the Dardanian Mining district. From 2012 to 2015 and 2017-2019, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) founded the mining archaeological and archaeometallurgical research. Further investigations, especially mining archaeological/ archaeometallurgical surveys took place not only in the hinterland of Ulpiana, but also in the vicinity of Novo Brdo in the southeast of Kosovo and the famous mines around Trepҫa in the north. The aim was to characterize the ore deposits and to find old mining, smelting and processing remains to get an impression of the supply of the ancient city of Ulpiana. Datable remains spread from the Hellenistic and Roman period to younger periods. The field work was complemented by magnetometer prospection, Electrical Resistivity Tomography, and “Pürckhauer” drillings. Some selected sites from several archaeological periods – shafts and smelting places – could be excavated.

The Hunt for Yellow and White Gold: Gold Mines and Salt Domes in Dacia and the Roman Army
Alexander Rubel, Universität „Alexandru Ioan Cuza“ Iași

It was probably first and foremost the mineral resources, especially the gold, that persuaded the Roman Emperor to incorporate Dacia into the empire and make it a province. The rich gold deposits in the Dacian ore mountains (munţii Apuseni) but also the salt domes were intensively mined in Roman times. Researchers have already devoted a great deal of attention to the mining history of Dacia (especially V. Wollmann and H.-C. Noeske), focusing primarily on questions of the history of technology and administration (based on the epigraphic evidence). In recent years, extensive excavations at Roşia Montana have provided new insights into the colony of Dalmatian miners there and the mining district as a whole (P. Damian). The role of the military, its direct and indirect involvement in the processes of mining the mineral resources and in the issues of transport and security of the mines and storage towns has only recently become the focus of research (L. Bîrliba). This paper provides an overview and the basis for further comparative analyses in the context of the section topic. In addition, the castrum of the ala I Batavorum milliaria in Războinei Cetate, which has recently been researched more intensively by the author, will serve as a case study. The fort was built in the immediate vicinity of the salt deposit “Salinae” (today Ocna Mureş). Using the new results from the geomagnetic survey, the findings of the recent excavations (2018) and the (few) inscriptions associated with mining at Salinae, we would like to explore the relationship between the military unit(s) and salt mining (and distribution) and what other, concrete connections there were between mining and the Roman army in Dacia. summary to be submitted.

Missing Links. The production of iron-made equipment on a provincial scale: the case of Roman Dacia
Lorenzo Boragno, Le Mans Université/ laboratoire CReAAH

Network or centralised system? While it is without doubt that the imperial army consumed an immense quantity of iron to produce weapons, armours and other pieces of soldiers’ equipment, the identification of metallurgic facilities is often complex. Because Roman military workshops had no unique plan, consultation of secondary evidence, such as half-finished pieces, crucibles and slugs (sure signs that metals were worked in situ) is necessary. The distribution of this kind of evidence in Dacia attests to a low-intensity network of fabricae: not every castra in the province has shown consistent traces of workshops, but evidence of metallurgic activities is fairly widespread and relatively frequent in the province’s military sites. However, a remaining issue is the implausibility that those small workshops were able to fully supply the army with tools and weaponry. Dacia presents some characteristics that make the region a very suitable case study for this topic. The area was rich in natural resources and iron mines, and extracting sites were under the firm control of the provincial administration and often overlooked by the army. Imperial administration controlled the road network as well through a capillary distribution of military camps and installations along the main roads and along the borders, where soldiers guarded the most important accesses through the Carpathians. Legionary bases and the seats of local governors were at the very heart of this immense “fan,” as described by M. Macrea of the province’s entire military and administrative system. With this peculiar organization, a state control over the productive chain is theoretically possible, and it is presumable that some centralization was implemented in the area. The paper aims to open a debate on this topic, drawing from results produced from the author’s doctorate at Le Mans Université, written under the joint supervision of Alexandru Avram (Le Mans) and Radu Ardevan (Babes Bolyiai University of Cluj Napoca).

The “Emerald legio”: involvement of the III Legio Cyrenaica in the development of emerald mining in Roman Egypt
Joan Oller Guzmán, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Recent discoveries of the Sikait Project in the Roman emerald mines of Wadi Sikait (Eastern Desert of Egypt) show that the Roman legions were directly involved in the development of the region known by the classical authors as the “Smaragdus”, the only source of emeralds within the Roman Empire, currently corresponding, grosso modo, with the Wadi el Gemal National Park. The epigraphic data recovered from some mines in Wadi Sikait concretely shows that the III Legio Cyrenaica had an important role in the extractive process, a hypothesis also supported by the archaeological evidence. This finding has relevant implications in our knowledge about the organization of the Eastern Desert in Roman times, as this legio was one of the three initially established by Augustus in Egypt after the conquest. This paper will analyse the importance of the Roman military in the creation of the emerald mining network in the Egyptian Eastern Desert, trying to determine when this military presence started, which was the exact role of the Roman army, until what extent were they involved in the management of the emerald mines and how they lived in the desert.

Roman military and mining: the evidence of lead ingots
Peter Rothenhoefer, Department of History (Zhuhai Campus), Sun Yat-Sen University, China, Michael Bode, Deutsches Bergbau Museum, Forschungsbereich Materialkunde, Norbert Hanel, Institut für Archäologische Wissenschaften, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Roman military units are also attested on Roman lead ingots. Compared with the total number of Roman lead ingots (ca. 2800) their number – about 20 specimen – is very modest. Nevertheless, they provide highly useful information about the role of the Roman military, its supply with raw materials, and the presumed involvement of military units into mining activities. The earliest one can be dated to shortly after the mid 1st century BC, the youngest specimen to the 4th century AD. These ingots will be presented and discussed, taking into account their epigraphic, archaeometallurgical, and archaeological data.

Von Bergleuten, Händlern und römischem Militär im Lahntal (D) / Of miners, traders and Roman military in the Lahn Valley (D)
Gabriele Rasbach, Römisch-Germanische Kommission

Since Caesar’s time, the Lahn Valley has been the target of Roman initiatives east of the Rhine. Archaeological evidence for this includes newly discovered military camps near Limburg as well as the late Augustan settlement of Waldgirmes or the military camps of the 1st century above the estuary of the Lahn. In addition to the military protection of the empire’s territory, the ore resources in this region played a major role in the Romans’ actions. Since the pre-Roman Iron Age, the ore deposits (especially iron, copper and silver) were extensively exploited, as evidenced by slag heaps above ground. Geologically, but also in terms of settlement structures (Oppidum on the Dünsberg, which ended around 35/30 BC), burial customs (e.g. burial gardens), but also in terms of small finds, the area is easily comparable with the North Gallic region on the left bank of the Rhine. The Rhine was therefore not a dividing border here. This situation offered the best conditions for direct military or economic influence by the Romans. The “Alteburg” near Weyer-Oberbrechen was long considered a Roman military camp. However, recent investigations show that the area, which was enclosed by a system of ramparts and ditches, is more likely to have been a production site and trading station. Metals were mined and refined in the immediate vicinity. Other sites bear witness to the unbroken tradition of metal processing (Wetzlar-Dalheim). The Roman finds from Weyer-Oberbrechen show far-reaching connections; however, there is no evidence of regular supplies from the provinces there, just as in the civilian settlement of Waldgirmes. Apparently, neither place survived the pioneer generation. Due to the use or the possibility of siphoning off local metal production until the consolidation of the Limes as a linear boundary in the 1st century, various archaeobotanical and palynological investigations show only minor landscape changes. Rather, the Lahn valley with its various small basin landscapes was an open and accessible landscape from the beginning of the Iron Age. It thus offered the best conditions for a cooperative economy between local miners, traders and the Roman military.

Under the eyes of Roman army: Early Imperial mining on the Lower Lahn river (D)
Markus Scholz, Frederic Auth, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, Daniel Burger-Völlmecke, Stiftung Stadtmuseum Wiesbaden, Peter Henrich, Generaldirektion Kulturelles Erbe Rheinland-Pfalz

The lower Lahn valley and its significance in the early imperial period for Roman-Germanic relations is marked by the Roman military camps at Lahnstein, Limburg, Oberbrechen and Dorlar, as well as the urban foundation at Waldgirmes. They can all be dated from the late Republican to the late Augustan Period. Since 2017, the Goethe University Frankfurt and the Directorate General of Cultural Heritage Rhenano-Palatinate (GDKE) have been working near Bad Ems as part of a joint research project. An 8-hectare earth-and-timber camp and a fortlet with a stone-founded central building have been researched so far. They date around 40–70 AD. The fortlet is located on a hill at an altitude of about 320 m, the earth-and-timber camp is situated 2 km away on a spur dominating the Lahn valley. Both fortifications had direct visual contact. In the immediate vicinity of the fortlet, the LIDAR scan reveals several ping fields, which are presumably connected to the Roman presence on site. Lead ore and iron-bearing slag were found as admixtures in the mortar of the stone foundations. They can be interpreted as indirect evidence of smelting work in the surrounding area. According to the current state of research, both military installations are considered in connection with the mining traces. Probably, they were part of a military security system for mining. The evaluation of the LIDAR data also revealed several structures that can probably be identified as gallery mouth holes and shafts. Their arrangement could provide evidence of Roman mining activities.