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Roman Sites
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Limes Germany
Tuesday 17 July 1973
Limes
Roman Towers
Bad access for the disabledFree access to the monument
Roman name: -
Roman Province: Germania Superior/Raetia
Country: Germany
Province: Baden-Württemberg
Nearest town: Ellwangen
Nearest village: Gleichen
 

Yrs truly at age 9.Yrs truly at age 9.My very first visit to a Roman ruin. here's where the trouble started, so to speak. I had just turned 9, we were on holiday in a very small village in Germany by the name of Gleichen. To my brother, my sister and me this was very far from home, and everything was a big adventure. Today, memories sort of blur into each other and remembering all the details proves not so easy. Luckily, there's still the holiday scrapbook. We stayed in a house outside the village, which was only half a mile from the Limes, best translated as the Roman border with unoccupied Germany. For me, this was just sheer fantasy; wandering through the forest in search of the inevitable heap of stones (see last picture on this page), which I was told were the remains of Roman towers! Wow! What better for the vivid imagination of a 9-year old?

Yes, that's me above, I warned you of hideous pictures didn't I? Note the shining squamata, the tight-fitting Praetorian cassis and the accurate sagum with the safety-pin fibula..

Map of the area north of MainhardtThe first site, which I completely forgot about in the meantime, is the reconstructed Limesturm of which I'm lucky to have that picture of my brother, my sister and me, on a reconstructed tower. As kids we loved to climb anything that even remotely looked like a playground, and such a reconstruction like this attrackt kids like a flower does butterflies.. We had a great time.

The tower lies just north of the village of Gailsbach, next to the gasthof 'Römergraben'. It was my brother who after 30 years (almost to the day) still remembered that and set me on the right track in re-discovering ancient memories. Thanks, bro. On the map (right) I've marked the site with a purple marker. Anyway, here's a few of the old pictures with some modern ones as well:

The three of us on a reconstructed tower.
The three of us on a recon- structed tower.
The tower as it looks like today.
The tower as it looks like today.
View from the tower. WP9/64 has a grand view across the countryside.
View from the tower. WP9/64 has a grand view across the countryside.
The tower as it looks like today.
The tower as it looks like today.
The tower as it looks like today.
The tower as it looks like today.

The tower, by the way, is pure conjecture. A tower is expected, but no remains were ever found - most probably were the stones re-used. The wooden reconstruction of the tower that was built here presents a nice view of the surrounding countryside, but it is a fake - there never were any completely wooden towers on this section of the border, all had stone ground floors. Also, the ground-floor door is wrong (there was none, the entrance was reached by a ladder), and the concrete base I won't even spend words about. Of course, for a 9-year old those things don't matter one bit..

We went on that day along the section of the Limes from Öhringen to south of Mainhardt, but we did not see most of the remains along the way. Apparently we took the wrong road and missed the museum as well as the remains of the fort in Mainhardt itself. South of the town we took again to the Limeswanderweg (the Limes long distance footpath) and into the forest just north of Grab. This area lies just south of Mainhardt, near the ruins of the Hankertsmühle (Click to enlarge the map). There were more pictures of that visit, just not of any Roman ruins. And there were plenty! Not only the remains of several smaller forts, the woods are littered with the foundations of the earlier and later phases of many a watchtower. once in a while a section of up to hunderds of metres can still be traced quite nicely through the woods. I've included two modern ones below to give you an idea. Some ruins have been carefully conserved or reconstructed, even up to a height of 6 metres! The wall and ditch of the border itself have long gone in most places, but every once in a while a section of up to hunderds of metres can still be traced quite nicely through the woods. Hankertsmühle, not a Roman castellum, but a 19th-century mill.

Walking along the Limeswanderweg, north of Mainhardt.
Walking back to the car along the Limeswanderweg, north of Mainhardt, 1973.
WP 9/75 south of Mainhardt.
The remains of WP 9/75 south of Mainhardt, today.
Remains of the WP9/51 nar the hamlet of Gleichen.
Remains of WP9/51 near the hamlet of Gleichen, today.

The last picture of WP9/51 show the modern remains of the only 6-sides tower on the Limes. When it was excavated in 1893, it still stood 1.4 metres high, but the extraordinary constructing has experts speculating that it's original height may have stood way above the normal 8-9 metres. Views from here may have extended to 45 kilometres in both directions of the border. A curious change of direction at this point has led to the conclusion that this was one of the measuring points. Also, it was close to the house where we stayed that holiday!

The picture right is from what we assumed to be a Roman column. However, it's from the Hankertsmühle, not a Roman castellum, but a 19th-century mill...

Anyway, this is a good area to visit the Obergermaniche Limes, as there are large sections which are very well preserved. The bank runs south in an almost straight line, with many towers guarding it (or rather, their sparse remains). Very beautiful countryside as well. At Graben, just south of the ruins of the small castellum Hankertsmühle, is a reconstructed tower with a few metres of palissade, showing how it could have looked in Roman times. The Obergermaniche Limes was the northern part of the frontier, and this section, known as the Odenwaldlimes, was the last to be completed in about 150 AD. This frontier was built as a bank-and-ditch, with a low palissade in front of the ditch, and wooden or stone towers behind it at intervals. The Limes was not a defended wall, but rather more like a guarded frontier and a clear statement. That statement continued to tell until the mid-3rd century, when civil unrest within the Empire made a continuous defence of the Limes impossible. Although the German tribes, the Alamanni in front, moved in quite slowly and hesitantly, and retained much of Roman agriculture and money, the lands lost by 260 AD were never recovered and the Empire drew back beyond Rhine and Danube.

Bibliography

  • 80 Kilometer Limesfaszination, at: http://www.limesprojekt.de/
  • Baatz, D. (1993): Der Römische Limes, Archäologische Ausflüge zwischen Rhein und Donau, (Berlin).
  • Fischer, Thomas (1999): Die Römer in Deutschland, Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart.
  • Oelwein, Cornelia (1998): Römer in Deutschland, (HB Bildatlas 20).
  • Planck, D und W. Beck (1987): Der Limes in Südwestdeutschland, (Stuttgart).
  • Rabold, Britta, Egon Schallmayer, Andreas Thiel (2000): Der Limes, die Deutsche Limes-Straße vom Rhein bis zur Donau, Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart.

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