Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


14.7.14
  Living With Horses - Roman Cavalry Barrack in the Limes Fort Aalen

Salvete carissimi lectori, it's Aelius Rufus again. Gabriele told me I should tell you a bit about the Limes fort in Aalen since that's from my time.

Gabriele has also added two maps about the Limes to her post with Roman maps so our dear readers won't get lost in the German forests.

Remains of the cavalry fort in Aalen

The German Limes, or as it's usually called, Upper German-Raetian Limes (Obergermanisch-Rätischer Limes) has a few things in common with Hadrian's Wall where my friend Gaius Fannius lives.

After Gabriele's ancestors had kicked the Romans out in the aftermath of the Varus battle, the Rhine in the west and the Danube in the north remained the borders of the Roman Empire. But her ancestors kept to that bad habit of crossing the Rhine, looking for shinies and cattle in the hinterland, so the Emperor Domitian (AD 83) pushed them back a bit further and established a road along the Neckar river and across the Swabian Alp from Moguntiacum at the Rhine to Augusta Vindelicum (Augsburg) at the Danube. That road was protected by watch towers and some forts were built. It was the same time when Domitian's general Agricola took a closer look at those tribes in the mountains of Caledonia who didn't leave the Romans alone, either. Only he got his big battle while Domitian didn't, because the German tribes knew better than to face the Roman army in a pitched battle.

Aalen, partly reconstructed cavalry barrack

At the same time the deified Hadrian decided to set the border between Romans and barbarians at the line now known as Hadrian's Wall, the emperor also proclaimed the fortified roads that cut from the Rhine to the Danube as border between the Romans and Gabriele's ancestors. But our dear Tony isn't content with those borders, so he pushed further into Caledonia with the Antonine Wall, and expanded the Limes border a bit east and north (AD 150/155). The fort at Osterburken dates to that time, as does the cavalry fort in Aalen.

Aalen was the main seat of the military administration of Raetia from about AD 150 until the fall of the Limes in the 250ies, and garrison of the Ala II Flavia pia fidelis milliaria. Its praefect also was the second in command of the entire province. No wonder they got such a big headquarter building.

View from the side

The fort in Aalen is quite a sight, I can tell you. With 277x214 metres it covers an area of ~6 hectares. It is surrounded by no less than four trenches. I'm glad I wasn't there for the digging. The fort as I've seen it has mostly buildings of timber or half-timbered walls on stone foundations, but Marc Aurel had most of it rebuilt in stone in about AD 170. Else it shows the usual pattern with walls, double-gates on each side and towers in the corners.

Gabriele says not much is left of those today, only the foundations of two of the gates and a bit of one of the trenches. Those stone filching locals from the future again, is my guess. Another remaining feature are the foundations of the principia, and excavations have shown the site of some of the barracks and granaries.

A room in the barrack

Today, one third of the fort lies under the old cemetery, another third is covered by houses, though when the first digs were made by the Reichlimeskommission in the 19th century, some of that space was still fields. Yeah, after the wars, building houses was more important than preserving the foundations of some Roman walls and barracks. The buildings usually found outside a fort, like the vicus settlement south of the fort and the baths are covered by houses as well.

Luckily for Gabriele and other Roman ... what does she call them, geeks? the foundations of the principia were never built over but made accessible for the public in the 1980ies. A museum has been around since 1964 and was recently modernised.

The fun bit, Gabriele tells me, is the partly reconstructed garrison barrack from 2005. Since it was a cavalry fort, those looked a bit different from the infantry barrack reconstructions you can find in Arbeia or Caerleon (where only the interior is shown). She should be able to time travel into the past and look at the fort in Aalen during the time of its splendour, when I visited the place.

The stable

Several sources say that an ala milliaria (a unit of 1,000) had 24 turmae of 32 men, but that would only bring it to 768 men. Well, I counted and Gabriele checked more sources*. We got another, more realistic number: 24 turmae of 42 men, that makes 1,008, not counting the decurions who lead the units (same as centurions for the footsloggers). The fort in Heidenheim where the Ala II Flavia had been stationed before moving to Aalen shows a size and number of barracks that would house a thousand.

They got a lot of horses, too. One of those research guys estimated a minimum of 1,200, but there may have been as many as 1,900 because of the need of extra horses as remounts and packhorses. You'll understand that I didn't count them.

Display of the fort layout Aalen

When you compare the reconstructed barrack part with the sketch of the fort layout Gabriele caught with her little picture box, you'll notice those barracks were a lot bigger. Well, there's no space to set up a full one, and I suspect no money either. Some things never change. The reconstructed barrack sits in the wrong spot, too, at my time there were two agricultural buildings, a magazine and a workshop for repairing horse stuff.

Since the barracks are under the cemetery and they won't dig up the bodies and make their ghosts angry, the fort in Heidenheim / Aquileia was used as foil for the reconstruction. The Ala II Flavia milliaria had been stationed there prior to moving to Aalen, and the Romans, practical lot that they are, dismantled the barracks and moved the parts, much like a prefabricated house in the future.

Roofed gallery at the outside of the barrack

The barracks in Heidenheim had been constructed of timber or in half-timbered style. Excavations in 2000-2004 showed the foundation groves and post holes of seven barracks. The results from the digs and surveys in both forts made it possible to reconstruct the ideal layout of a cavalry fort for an ala milliaria. It's the only way for the people from the future, though Gabriele sometimes mutters about how time travel would make research so much easier as long as you stayed out of the actual battles. I won't be surprised if she tried to bring one of those aviation machine thingies for that.

So we get 24 barracks - most of them combined to double barracks - with 13 rooms plus stables. Tacitus had no reason to be snarky about the Germans living in the same house with their cattle; the Roman soldiers do pretty much the same. That wattle and daub wall between living rooms (papiliones) and stables (stabula) doesn't keep the smell out, I can tell you. And there's always someone walking into the living room with his horse pooped sandals. But the advantage is that the guys got their mounts real close in case they had to go on an urgent mission.

Upper storey / gallery, maybe used for sleeping

The horse lads do have more space. 3 to 4 share a room of about 20 square metres, instead of our 15 square metres plus anteroom for eight men, and their rooms have a second storey. Each double barrack was about 80 metres long and 18 metres wide. The individuals stables could house 3 to 4 horses. Extra horses were kept in additional stables.

The bad thing about timber is that it's seldom preserved for those archaeologists from the future, but they can make some guesswork from post holes and such, like the basilica structure of the barracks.

The upper storey may have been supported by extra posts and crossbeams as in the reconstructed barrack, but one can't be sure whether the upper floor was a full storey or more like a gallery or loft. That the upper floor was used for sleeping is an assumption of course, it could also have been used for storage - those horses need a lot of fodder.

The decurio's quarter

The inner walls were half timbered with loam-covered wickerwork and roughcast, while the outer walls may have been a plank construction. All units were prepared in a way that they could be moved around. During summer, the front planks of the stables could be taken out so that they would be open towards the porch.

The roofs were covered by wooden shingles, and remains of glass point at glassed windows and transoms lights. A nice luxury in the German climate. Each papilio had a fireplace / stove facing the stable wall, probably made of bricks, with a brick or timber chimney taking the smoke out through the roof of the upper floor.

Those barracks used up a lot of wood. Mostly oak, but then, the German forests had a lot of those in my time. All the barracks in Aalen together would have used some 3,000 oak and about 400 pine trees.

Decurio's quarter from another angle
The wall segments / partitions have not all been inserted, and the view to the roof left open;
there would have been planks to add that second floor.

The decurios (decuriones), the commanders of a turma, got their own rooms, of course. A hundred square metres and a second floor. Though I have to be honest; the ground floor rooms were partly taken up by offices - tables and shelves - and I don't envy them the paperwork. They also had to make space for slaves. Hey, that's still more than I got for a flat, says Gabriele. And I have too many books; I could do with some more shelves.

The double barracks had living quarters for the decurios at one side, and for the lieutenants, the duplicarii at the other. They got some colour on their walls and their own loos. Though they still had to use the shared baths, heh.

A cavalry soldier and his mount in the museum

We know for sure that the Ala II Flavia pia fidelis milliaria was garrisoned in Heidenheim from AD 90/110* and moved to Aalen in AD 155/60 where it stayed until the midst of the 3rd century. But where the ala comes from is more difficult to trace. The name 'Flavia' points at an assembling under Vespasian (AD 70-79) or his sons (Titus AD 79-81, Domitian AD 81-96). The earliest mention is on a military diploma from AD 86 where it already got its full name pia fidelis milliaria. It is possible that the unit was created in the aftermath of the Batavian rebellion in AD 70; that would make it the oldest ala milliaria we know of.

Another scenario is that the basis of the unit was the Ala II Flavia Gemina stationed in Germania Superior which indeed was assembled after the rebellion but disappears from military diplomas before AD 90. It could have been expanded to 1,000 men, renamed and deployed to Raetia. The byname pia fidelis - pious and faithful - points at some special distinction; possibly during Domitian's war against the German tribe of the Chatti AD 83-85. But that doesn't solve the problem whether it was newly created then or expanded from the Ala Flavia Gemina.

An 'Ala II Flavia' can be traced in the fort at Günzburg (Gontia) at the Danube in AD 78 due to tile stamps, but it is not clear if that is the old Gemina (à 500 men) or the ala II Flavia milliaria. I think the most likely scenario is that of the expanded Gemina which was then moved to Heidenheim under the new name.

The reconstructed barrack seen from the shrine of the standards in the principia
The statue shows Marc Aurel

It definitely is a special troop, Aelius Rufus grins. And it got special, big headquarters for another post.

Sources:
Junkelmann, Marcus. Die Reiter Roms, Vol. II Der militärische Einsatz. Mainz 1991
Kemkes, Martin; Scheuerbrandt, Jörg; Willburger, Nina. Am Rande des Imperiums - Der Limes, Grenze Roms zu den Barbaren. Schriften des Limesmuseums Aalen, Stuttgart 2002
Kemkes, Martin; Scholz, Markus. Das Römerkastell Aalen. Schriften des Limesmuseums Aalen, vol. 58, Stuttgart 2012
Klee, Margot. Germania Superior - Eine römische Provinz in Deutschland, Frankreich und der Schweiz. Regensburg 2013

Note
* The number of 24 turmae à 42 men comes from Junkelmann.
* Kemkes/Scholz date the move to Heidenheim to AD 110 while Junkelmann dates it to AD 90. I agree with Junkelmann because it coincides with the disappearance of the Ala Gemina from the documents.

 


28.6.14
  Room Sharing, Roman Style

Hi, it's me, Aelius Rufus. Gabriele has taken an old post of me and added some of those little pictures and more information, so I have to retell a few things. I got to see the cavalry fort at Aalen which dates to the time of Antoninus Pius, and she thought it would be fun to compare the soldiers' barracks of the standard Hadrian's Wall / Limes forts to the cavalry ones (in another post to come).

A reconstructed barrack in Arbeia

That's the place where my friend Gaius Fannius commands a unit of the 5th cohort of Gaul auxiliary, sometimes visited by the mysterious, time traveling Merlinus. Well, he's a centurion and gets some more space to his own.

One barrack has been reconstructed, though there were several, of course, depending on the size of the garrison.

Interior of a room in a fort barrack (Caerleon Museum)

When I travel I usually get better places to stay than my living quarters in the Saalburg castellum. Thanks to Merlinus and the ongoing interest in Romans that leads to Rebuilding the Past projects, I can show you how our room looked. Pretty much like in the picture above.

(Oven for a contubernium, Caerleon Museum)

Eight of us, called a contubernium, share a room of 15 square metres plus a little anteroom with shelves for our equipment, and a kitchenette. You see it's pretty dark and sparsely furnished - not that there'd be space for anything more than bunk beds, one table, and a few pegs in the wall. When on campaign, we also share a tent.

Roman soldiers and auxiliaries don't have a central dining hall and no chefs (Asterix got that one wrong); we have to do our own cooking and can be glad if one of the chaps gets a bit of a hand for it. The ingredients, grain, beans, bacon, sometimes dried figs or other fruit and a bit of fish, as well as beer and wine are distributed by the command. There is always enough to keep us fit, but it's not roasted venison in a creamy juniper berry sauce, and potato gratin (ops, that's Gabriele chiming in, I have no idea what potatoes are).

Usually ten contubernia, a centuria that is though it only comes to 80 men, not a full hundred, share a barrack in the fort. Sometimes we get lucky and a bunch of the guys is commissioned elsewhere, like manning the mile forts and watch towers, accompagnying some tribune on some mission or whatever, and then we can spread out a bit more. The cavalry guys have more space, too.

Modell of a fortress (Birdoswald Museum)
In the lower part you can see the barracks with the attached houses for the centurions

We're led by a centurion, and those guys don't live in such crowded and dark quarters. No, centurions are special and have their own house at the end of the barrack and slaves to cook for them, and us poor soldiers to clean their armour.

Yes, dear Gaius, you know complaining about the centurions is part of the job.

Bedroom of the centurion, Arbeia

They also get ten times the salary we get. It's a damn injustice - invented by Augustus, I've been told. He wanted a gap between the ordinary soldiers and the officers so the army wouldn't stick together and turn against him or some such. And indeed, when there were mutinies like the time Tiberius became Emperor while the legions prefered Germanicus, it was the centurions who got killed during the mess, and in the end the mutiny came to nothing and Tiberius stayed put.

(Anteroom to the bedroom, Arbeia.
The centurion's anteroom was larger and also used as office.
)

There's one good thing, though, and that's the fact the centurions are ranked according to the place of the centuria they lead, and half of them spend their time ogling the place of the centurion ranking above them. It's even worse in the regular legions where there are sixty of the lot and the structure is even more complicated.

There was another good thing to being a centurion, Gaius Fannius told me. He could order some of the guys to slap a fresh layer of paint on the walls of his rooms in Arbeia. The reconstruction needs a house makeover; it gathered a fair bit of dirt and cobwebs.

Yeah, I could try to rise to the centuriate - I'm a Roman citizen thanks to my father - but I'm not sure I really want that. I doubt I could have so much fun traveling around when I had the responsibilty for some 80 lads. No way I could claim the whole lot as personal guard and take them around with me. Not to mention we'd create a stir in the Future. One or two guys in Roman attire get away with it, but a centuria would have people think they're making what Gabriele calls a movie.

Another interior shot of the soldiers' quarters

And here's the other layout. Kings size beds for four. Even worse, if you ask me; I prefer the bunk beds. Especially the way Gaius Incitus keeps trashing around at night, dreaming of fighting Germans. I don't want to get his arm in my face. Creating an earthquake in the bunk bed is bad enough.

Soldiers' quarters in Arbeia

But now I must go and fix the hobnails on those damn sandals. I swear they'll use lost nails to track the ways of the Roman army one day. *

Oh noes, Crispus and Buccio are playing at dice again. Which means the rest of us can listen to Buccio complaining that he's lost a weeks worth of pay. Again. He should know better and not play against Crispus, that man has some uncanny luck.

Barrack foundations at Caerleon

* They have in fact done that in Hedemünden where those nails mark the way from the south to Hedemünden Camp and the further route north on the hills along the Visurgis valley. A smaller camp (sort of a mile castle) also was discovered along that way. Sandal nails also helped showing the way the Romans retreated after the battle at Kalefeld.
 


14.6.14
  Pretty Things That go Boom

Yesterday, I promised Brian McClellan* on Twitter that I would post some photos of historical guns and rifles I took in the museum in Coburg Fortress. So here we go.

*BTW, go check out his Flintlock Fantasy novels, they're a lot of fun. A revolution, guns, magic, a divine chef, and things blowing up.

Coburg Fortress; the Blue Tower to the left and the High House to the right

The history of Coburg Fortress (Veste Coburg) goes back to the 11th century, but I'll leave that for another post. It is one of the castles that has never fallen into ruins, but was altered significantly over time. Albeit some old features still remain, like the Romanesque lower part of the Blue Tower or the Gothic High House, the most striking ones today are the fortifications from the 16th century.

The name Coburg likely will ring a bell for those interested in history. The town and fortress are today in Bavaria, bordering Thuringia, but once the land belonged to the Dukes of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Want some geneaology again? I'll try to make it easy, I promise.

Coburg Fortress, the outer curtain wall and bastions

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) was the daughter of Prince Edward Duke of Kent (the 4th son of King George III of House Welfen/Hannover) and Princess Marie Louise Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1786-1861, House Wettin).

Marie Louise Victoria's father was Franz (Francis, 1750-1806), the eldest son of Ernest I Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1724-1800) and Sophia Antonia of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, of one of the several Welfen lines (1724-1802).

Marie Louise's brother Ernest (1784-1844) would become the first duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1826 because of some shifts in the heritage. He is the father of Prince Albert (1819-1861), later Consort of Queen Victoria. Albert's mother was Princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg whom Ernest divorced in 1826.

Outer defenses of the castle

Ernest's older son, another Ernest (1818-1893) Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, would add significantly to the collection of arts and weapons in Coburg Fortress his grandfather Francis had started in Saalfeld.

The family lived in Ehrenburg Palace in the town, though the last Duke, Carl Eduard (1884-1954) lived in the fortress which had become the possession of the county Bavaria in 1920.

One of the vitrines with guns

The collections displayed in several rooms in the castle include copper engravings, paintings, glassware and coins, as well as lots of weapons and amour, including historical guns, rifles, and pistols - that part encompasses about 10,000 pieces. I had a field day there, though of course, I took even more pics of the swords and other pointy things and the armour than of the guns. There are also some parade coaches and sleighs.

A flintlock gun

There is one room full of vitrines of guns, rifles, pistols and a few crossbows, mostly used for the hunt and sport shooting; some 300 pieces.

My father's friends from the shooting club would likely get lost in that room for hours. Well, the museum is couple friendly; you can leave the spouses to look at the glassware instead. ;-) Though personally I still prefer the guns.

Closeup of the trigger meachnism

Since it's not one of my special areas, I concentrated on the prettily decorated - and mostly older - pieces. If someone wants high resolution versions of some of the photos to better see the ivory inlays and other decorations, feel free to contact me.

Another vitrine with guns and pistols

This one looks like an early version of a flintlock. There's a video showing how the mechanism works, and the difference between various ways of firing a gun. I'm not a specialist on the variants of wheel locks and flint locks and their dates, but some of the older mechanisms look intriguing. Though I wonder how often those things blew off in the wrong direction.

Duelling pistols

Taniel gifts duelling pistols to his father in McClellan's Promise of Blood. Maybe they looked a bit like the ones above.

Wheel lock pistols

The collection is one of the most important ones in Europe. The weapons date from the late 16th century until present time and geographically reach from Russia to Spain and Sweden. Some famous gunsmiths are Zacharias Herold in Dresden (~ 1580), Lazarino Cominazzo, Brescia (~ 1680), Bertrand Piraube, Paris (~1700) and Ivan Permjakov, St.Petersburg (late 18th century).

Matching gun and pistol

The weapons and armour were mostly collected by Duke Ernest of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. He also obtained part of the contents of the arsenal of the town Coburg and brought Francis' collction of glass and copper engravings to Coburg. He had the rooms renovated and the castle and its collections opened for the public in 1839, which was a suprisingly modern decision.

Racks with guns

There is another room with racks full of armour and guns from the 16th and 17th century, the Rüstkammer, and those were actually used to equip armies. They are much more utilitarian and some of the armour sets, swords, halberds and guns show signs of use. Most of those come from the town arsenal.

Bulletproof armour

One of the things I found interesting was a group of armour sets that were supposed to be bullet proof. The sign of quality was a bullet shot or several that would leave a dent but not go through. You can see one in the left armour and there's a smaller dent at the junction between the right (left on the photo) leg and the body part in the middle one.

That armour was heavy, though, 20-30 kg. It was mostly used by the cuirassiers, the heavy cavalry which obviously got its name for a reason, lol.

Boxed set

Other exhibits include the stuff that is part of using a gun or rifle, like powder kegs, rammers, fuses and magazine boxes. They're mostly distributed among the guns and pistols in that various vitrines.

Organ mortar

There are also some cannons. I really liked this one, the predecessor of the magazine gun. It's called an 'organ', a sort of mortar that can shoot 49 bullets in salvas of 7 (one row). Nasty thing to have on a battlefield.

Some modern guns

Of course, there were several vitrines with more modern guns, pistols, and air guns as well, but I found those less interesting. Weapon fans may disagree, *grin* The above display shows some development of the trigger.
 


8.6.14
  British Coasts and Beaches, or: It's Way too Hot

34°C this afternoon. That's just mad.

And so I looked for some photos with nice, cool water. :-)

On the way to Dunstanburgh Castle

Sunshine and pretty green grass is a bonus. I would have loved to walk barefoot, but there were too much sheep droppings.

A cliff at the castle

The fun thing about British coasts is that they never get boring with their mixture of sandy beaches and imposing cliffs.

Lindisfarne at low tide

The tide adds to the interesting atmosphere. In the distance, you can spot Bamburgh Castle.

Lindisfarne

And the other side, with the sun sparkling on the pools of water.

Scarborough, north beach

Or there will be mists coming in, drawing a cold veil over everything. Including the ruins of Scarborough Castle.

The beach at Alnmouth in the evening sun

I especially love evenings at the beach. That one was so calm and relaxing; I just sat in the sand and watched the waves.

The tide coming in at sunset

And then I walked a bit through the cold water - barefoot this time. A sweet change to rocks and pavement.

Tynemouth, wave breakers at the harbour entrance

Or we get all wind and waves and drama. I love that, too.

View from Dunottar Castle

I like this shot of the calm, mysterious water between the cliffs at Dunottar Castle.

More cliffs

All those photos are from the east coast, but I got some nice series from the west coast - mostly Scotland - as well. Those who are new(er) to my blog may check out these posts.

 


25.5.14
  Bloggiversary

This month it's nine years since I started my blog. That makes The Lost Fort if not a dinosaur so at least a mammoth of the blogsphere, though with the difference that it hasn't become extinct. And I plan to keep that prehistorical animal alive for a long time to come - I got enough material for another 500something posts. :-)

The Danube; the southernmost part of my travels

I wanted to celebrate the occasion with a slightly altered layout that takes into account the increasing number of wide screens, and add a second sidebar to the left. But the new templates are all ugly as sin and not really editable, at least not to an extent I wanted to change things (not to mention tons of extra code for display on mobiles and stuff). And my old template from 2005 is an unholy mix of HTML and CSS to begin with and my tampering with it hasn't made it any cleaner, I admit. There's just no way to add a second sidebar; I've tried for hours.

The Barents Sea, the northernmost part of my travels

So I decided for the second best option and split my existing sidebar with some tags usually used to insert tables. That took some code fumbling as well, but I finally got it to display nicely on Firefox (though the display on IE8 sucks, but who's using that one still, lol?). So I got sort of what I wanted: a new look that's not fundamentally different from the old one - I definitely wanted to keep the colour scheme and some other features.

Iona, the western extent of my travels

I've added some photos to this post that illustrate the extent of my travels during the years I've been blogging. I did go further west than Iona during a school trip to Avranches in France, but that's really long ago. That there's water on all of the photos is no chance; I love water and if I can't get to the sea, I try to at least have rivers or lakes on my trips.

From the Danube to the Barents Sea, from Iona to St.Petersburg, encompassing 11 countries (if you count Wales and Scotland as part of the UK), albeit some only for a short visit; going farther east and north than the Romans - not a bad result for nine years of traveling and blogging. :-)

St.Petersburg, the eastern extent of my travels

Some of my readers have followed me from the beginning as I followed their blogs, many have joined me during time. I've met a few of my readers in real life, but what I really gained are a number of online friends from places even beyond my travels. I cherish you all and hope you will stay with me for another nine years.
 


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

My Photo
Name:
Location: Germany

I'm a writer of Historical Fiction and Fantasy living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


e-mail

Twitter