18. Reconstructing the Limes

18. Reconstructing the Limes. Roman archaeology as national and transnational heritage

Saskia Stevens, Richard Hingley & Chiara Bonacchi

Affiliation: Utrecht University, the Netherlands

Affiliation of co-organiser: University of Durham, United Kingdom

Affiliation of 2nd co-organiser: University of Stirling, United Kingdom

Session Abstract
: This session focuses on the ways the borders of the Roman empire have been brought back to life and appropriated as meaningful cultural heritage in the various limes countries, since the rediscovery of Roman “civilization” in the sixteenth century. Taking the recent “critical turn” in heritage studies (Laurajane Smith, Use of Heritage, 2006) as a starting point, the session will reconsider the meaning and value of Roman heritage. The limes is constructed as a living past by the actions and interests of people, rather than on the basis of any intrinsic archaeological and historic value. Limes sites have not only been used as archaeological monuments, but also played significant roles in the construction of broader meta-narratives regarding the historical development of nations, regions and borders. For example, in the Netherlands the “Batavian myth” was invoked to legitimize the Dutch revolt, informed Patriots during the Enlightenment, and fed into constructions of Dutch exceptionalism. In the UK, Hadrian’s Wall has been used as an allegory for potential British disunity during the recent debates about Scottish independence. In addition, the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site has been used to communicate ideas about European and transnational identity (Richard Hingley 2018).

We invite speakers from the various limes countries to participate in this session. By exploring examples from different countries, a transnational insight can be gained of how Roman frontier sites influenced our modern perceptions of boundaries, from the deep past to the present.

Time Presenter (s) Presentation
09.00 Introduction
09.20 Konrad Ottenheym Reception of the Limes in Cities along the Rhine and Danube in the 16th and 17th Centuries
09.40 Catherine Visser The Romantic Limes – The current visualisation of Roman archaeology of Forum Hadriani in historical and cultural perspective
10.00 David van Oeveren Educating the masses. National Antiquity and education in the Low Countries (1800 – 1945)


10.50 Richard Hingley Performing diversity on Hadrian’s Wall
11.10 Sebastian Ristow Cologne Praetorium, new findings: The bath of the Governor
11.30 Adjournment


Reception of the Limes in Cities along the Rhine and Danube in the 16th and 17th Centuries
Konrad Ottenheym, Utrecht University

With the renewed interest since the late 15th century in Roman antiquity in the Low Countries and the German Empire, the notion of the ancient Limes also grew in these regions. Most important was the correct identification of the antique cities and fortresses along the great rivers. Seniority determined the social and political hierarchy, and a family tree with roots in Roman antiquity was a powerful argument in justifying privileges and claiming territory. This was also true for cities. In the Dutch Republic as well as in the German empire, many cities invoked an age that would go back to Roman antiquity. The reasons behind this, however, differed in both territories: the cities in the Republic were quasi-independent city-states. Within the provincial organisations, especially in Holland, there was, however, a strong competition: the formal hierarchy was determined by the dates of the medieval city rights, but in the background there was another competition about the (fictitious) dates of the foundation of these cities, which were often looked for in the Roman past. In Germany, the interest in a possible Roman city foundation was particularly important for the free imperial cities. These were under the direct control of the emperor and not formally subject to the authority of local or regional princes. As the imperial central authority declined, the pressure of the regional dukes increased accordingly, and some former imperial cities were simply confiscated. From the 16th century onwards, the explicit reference to the ancient foundation of an imperial city by a Roman emperor was used as an authority argument for the claim to urban autonomy. Both in the Netherlands and in the German Empire, these ambitious connections to the past of the Limes were also visualised in new architecture and art.

The Romantic Limes – The current visualisation of Roman archaeology of Forum Hadriani in historical and cultural perspective
Catherine Visser, DaF architects, Marie-France van Oorsouw, Weleer Heritage Communication, Peter van der Ploeg, Swaensteyn Museum, Huygens’ Hofwijck

Arentsburgh in Leidschendam-Voorburg, one of the WHS, has an interesting spatial and cultural-historic context. This lead to a design approach different from other visualisations, where the military rigour and monumentality are represented in a tabula rasa. Our layered approach has been attained through contextual and historical analysis, taking into account the afterlife of the Roman urban infrastructure and cultural presence. Discussion: We are confronted with a complex historical infrastructure represented by fragmentary finds. The Dutch planning tradition responds through systematic and standardised fit for all-solutions. This has resulted in a certain type of narrative and visualisation. We plead and work at a more diversified and engaging practice, looking at the archaeology and landscape itself, but also at the afterlife and cultural reverberations of the Roman legacy. The 17th and 19th century adopted other attitudes towards the Roman past, with Roman history presented as a metaphor (Revolt of the Batavi) but also as example of willpower and taming of the landscape. In that context the Roman past was also interpreted in a moral way (sic transit gloria mundi) as many Dutch antiquarians describe the annihilation of the mighty Rhine landscape. Political and cultural elite who built estates in Voorburg collected Roman residues and texts out of fascination with that narrative; among them Constantijn Huygens who even arranged his garden according to Vitruvius’ principles. Enters a new figure in Voorburg: Caspar Reuvens, bridging between the position of the old antiquarian and the modern archaeologist. Looking at the imagery he produced we see both: picturesque staging of ruins in modern landscape and scientific drawings based on measurements. Using the word Romantic as a frame, we want to inscribe our visualisation in this long discourse fostering transparency and multiple interpretation. Therefore fragmentary, in dialogue with surroundings, staged as a route (voyage), presenting different narratives.

Educating the masses. National Antiquity and education in the Low Countries (1800 – 1945)
David van Oeveren, Utrecht University

A significant number of schoolbooks, novels, and schoolboards dating from the long nineteenth century contain illustrations and imaginations of the Roman Empire. In my presentation, I will show how these illustrations were tactically used for nationalistic purposes and to create analogies for contemporary developments in The Netherlands and Belgium. Similar work has already been done in British context (see Hingley 2016). I aim to complement this research on educational illustrations by comparing such findings this other nationalistic context, and by including a broader cultural-political contextualisation. Namely, I will supplement my analysis of Dutch and Belgian schoolbooks and schoolboards with additional source materials such as teacher manuals. These show the more complex institutional web and forms of knowledge practices that were necessary for the limes to be ‘reconstructed’.

Performing diversity on Hadrian’s Wall
Richard Hingley, Durham University, Archaeology Department

This paper explores how ideas about diversity have been used to communicate the cultural significance of England’s grand Roman Wall over the past two decades. Frontiers in the modern world are often seen as the tangible elements in divisive measures of control, constructed to limit human movement across their lines. A counter narrative has developed that seeks to communicate particular frontier works, including Trump’s Wall, as creative landscapes of engagement that help support human connectivity and encounter. These art and cultural projects seek to counter deeply divisive nationalistic narratives by communicating more inclusive concepts. Heritage initiatives and art works along Hadrian’s Wall have also drawn upon such counternarratives since the 1990s by communicating these monumental remains as the locus for celebrations of past and present cultural diversity. Such works have drawn upon population mobility on the Roman frontiers and the cultural complexity of frontier communities to communicate messages that seek to contradict the divisive roles played by tangible frontier works in both past and present. These initiatives help to communicate ideas that support UNESCO’s aims to encourage peace and tolerance across the world today. However, such narratives seem directly counter the violent tactics that the Romans often used to conquer and control their empire in the ancient past. The Roman empire, as a transnational entity raises interesting issues about the value of the frontiers as a means of communicating ‘postnational’ perspectives in a world in which we are deeply challenged by increasingly extreme perspectives about mobility in past and present.

Cologne Praetorium, new findings: The bath of the Governor
Sebastian Ristow, University of Cologne / MiQua, LVR-Jüdisches Museum im Archäologischen Quartier Köln

Since the 16th century, traces of the Cologne governor’s palace have been found in the immediate city center, right next to and under the Cologne town hall. The main part of the praetorium was excavated in 1953 and its northeastern section was immediately preserved under the current protective structure. There were follow-up examinations in 1955/56, 1964, 1967/68, 1971 and 1998. The most extensive work is the dissertation by Felix Schäfer, published in 2014 at the Cologne Institute for Classical Archaeology. Schäfer reorganized the findings from periods I–III according to Precht and differentiated them purely in terms of architectural history into his periods A to H. Not included are the late antique phase and the finds, but the building decoration. The first results of the new excavations since 2007 are now being added. The features of the thermal baths presented here have not yet been identified as such. They came to light towards the end of Otto Doppelfeld’s excavations in 1953 and were dug relatively quickly and not documented in detail. When viewing the findings as part of their presentation in the new MiQua Museum, which is currently under construction, some rooms in the northwestern area, presumably assigned to the governor’s private area, were reconstructed as remains of thermal baths. These “governor’s thermal baths” were well equipped, as evidenced by the remains of two mosaic floors, probably from the 3rd century. The features also include a separately heatable octagon. Thermal baths of the same period with central buildings can also be found in Aquincum and Alba Iulia. The lecture presents these findings and gives an insight into the restoration and presentation of mosaics and wall paintings in the new museum in Cologne, which is scheduled to open in 2025.