RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Rhine

Julius Caesar’s Trapped Legion

Posted on

Part of a display seen at Old Sarum in Wiltshire, 1998. Click for credits

54 BC, November. A typical grey rainy day in eastern Belgium. One of Julius Caesar’s legions plus 5 additional cohortes are wintering in the land of the Eburones, a German tribe. The other Roman legions are scattered far away in Gaul in their fortified camps, as was Caesar’s habit during winter. Caesar is heading towards Italia in order to take care of political matters.

The Eburones, commanded by their two kings, Ambiorix and Cativolcus, wipe out with a sudden attack a small group of Roman soldiers foraging for wood not far from their camp.

A parley thus began. Ambiorix (see below a statue dedicated to him in Tongeren, Belgium) told the Romans that a revolt was occurring in Gaul and that many Germans were about to pass the Rhine ready to join the Gauls against the Romans. He offered a safe passage towards other Roman camps fifty miles away.

The two Roman commanders, Quintus Titurius Sabinus and Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta, began a heated discussion within the council. Cotta was for staying: they had enough food and the legion was well entrenched. Sabinus was instead for leaving. Caesar would never arrive in time, he said, and their only opportunity was following Ambiorix’s advice. Around midnight Cotta had to give up since Sabinus’ opinion had prevailed in the council and even the soldiers were for leaving the camp.

These soldiers were the least experienced among Caesar’s legions, enrolled just a few months earlier and used only as baggage guards in important battles.

At break of day the Roman force, more than seven thousand men, quit the camp marching not in battle order but in a very extended line and with a very large amount of baggage. This showed that Sabinus’ idea, that the Germans must be trusted, had prevailed among the Roman commanders except Cotta. The Eburones were concealed in a thick wood waiting for the Romans. When the Romans entered the wood they let them pass through and descend to a deep valley where they abruptly showed up on either side of it. The Romans realised they were encircled and trapped.

Statue of Ambiorix, on the Great Market of Tongeren in Belgium. Click for credits

Statue of Ambiorix, on the Great Market of Tongeren, Belgium. Click for credits

The Eburones, fearing to attack the Romans directly went high above them on both sides and started pouring down missiles and rocks on the heads of the Romans. Sabinus lost his head, since he knew he had led the Romans into a mortal ambush. But Cotta kept his cool and quickly had the column pulled into a square. The Roman force held on for an extraordinary 8 hours though the casualties augmented.

At this point Sabinus tried to parley with Ambiorix, but was slaughtered by the king himself during talk. The Eburones then charged down en masse and many other Romans died, including Cotta.

Some still kept formation and succeeded to get back to the camp fighting.

“There the survivors kept the Eburones out until nightfall, and then, to a man, committed suicide rather than fall into the hands of the enemy.”

“If the baggage guard would fight all day with no hope of success and commit mass suicide rather than surrender, Rome’s enemies were going to be in serious trouble.”

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

Note. Freely inspired by the The Fall of the Roman Empire – A new history, by Peter Heather, Macmillan 2005, where the last two paragraphs are taken from; the episode is narrated by Julius Caesar in chapt. V of his De Bello Gallico. Here the English Gutenberg text)

Roman Limes. Between Two Worlds

Posted on

In some posts we tried to identify the cultural traits common to the people whose ancestors were subjects of the Roman Empire. One of the themes of this blog is in fact any possible remnant of the Ancient Roman world still surviving today.

The borderline or Limes of the Roman empire meant also the separation between what was Roman and what was non Roman. Particularly interesting is the central European Limes along the Rhine and the Danube, a sort of natural frontier of the empire since 7 C.E. onwards.

Ok, Roman and non Roman. Where are hence the traces of this disjunction in today’s societies?

Well, a lot of traces are there, since for example when Christianity breaks in two during the XVI century C.E. “is it by chance – argues French historian Braudel – that the separation of the fields occurs exactly along the axis of the Rhine and the Danube, the double frontier of the Roman Empire?” Really a good point, not many doubts about it.

Protestants and Catholics Split along the Limes

Luther in 1529 by Lucas Cranach.jpg

In 1517 the Protestant Reformation began with Luther nailing his 95 theses that will split West Christianity into Protestants and Catholics. “From 1545 (Wikipedia) the Counter-Reformation began in Germany ….Central and north-eastern Germany were by this time almost wholly Protestant, whereas western and southern Germany remained predominantly Catholic”.

This has to do with the Roman Empire border: namely the descendants of the romanized Germans mostly stayed with the Roman Catholics, which is amazing, while the descendants of the non romanized ones, plus other northern folks, left. From this fracture sprouted Lutherans, Dutch Reformed, German Reformed, Presbyterian, Calvinists, Puritans etc.

Above you can see Luther in 1529 portrayed by the German painter Lucas Cranach.

The Ultimate Roman Border.
Attachment to a Heritage

UNESCO World Heritage LIMES logo

Some land reconnaissance now. First a nice map of the Roman Empire and its provinces. Then Wikipedia infos on the German Limes (Wikipedia is always a good initial info source, but nothing more). Also this map of the Roman provinces of Raetia and Germania Superior is not bad. And finally some info on the German Roman Limes, ultimate protection against the external Germanic tribes (Limes is Latin for Limit, border). A web site that now is no more was kept by those German federal states that actually were/are inside the Roman Empire. In it we did read:

“The Upper German-Raetian Limes (“Obergermanisch – Raetischer Limes” = ORL = Limes of the Roman provinces of Raetia and Germania Superior: see a map) marked the ultimate Roman border line in the north of the Roman Empire. It was erected against the Germanic people who were a constant threat to the antique world. Over a length of 550 km from the river Rhine in the northwest to the river Danube in the south-east the Limes extends across the four German federal states Rheinland-Palatinate, Hesse, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria.”

Kastell Welzheim, near the Limes, Porta Praetoria

These people are greatly attached to this heritage and have succeeded in getting a certain number of UNESCO-world heritage recognitions, like Regensburg (Ratisbona), and even the Projekt Weltkulturerbe Limes (project for the world heritage recognition of the German Limes) seems to have been accepted.

In the web site of the Deutsche Limes-Strasse Verein (the German Alliance For the Limes Roads) we read:

“the outer Upper Germanic-Rhaetian boundary wall (“Limes”) is one of the most outstanding archaeological monuments in Central Europe and has recently been put on the world cultural heritage list of the UNESCO. Many of the installations associated with the wall were unearthed as the result of excavations recently carried out by the different Regional Offices for the Protection of Ancient Monuments and have been conserved because of their excellent state of preservation.”

“They include forts, baths and towers together with parts of the fortifications themselves such as ramparts, ditches, walls and palisades. Also taken into consideration are museum-like facilities such as protective structures covering Roman ruins which are explained by plans, photographs and finds as well as archaeological parks located in the neighbourhood of boundary wall structures with reconstructed or restored exhibitions. Many of these areas are called “archaeological reserves” ….

“The German Limes Road runs close to the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes from the Rhine to the Danube. Most of the forts were founded at the beginning or middle of the 2nd century and existed until the end of the Roman occupation 260/270 A.D.. The “Limes” runs from Rhein-brohl to Regensburg ……We hope that you will get …a better understanding of the Roman past of this country and have a relaxing holiday …on the former borders of the Roman Empire.”

The Initial Battle of the Gladiator

For Roman-movies fiends (I am one of them) the Roman fortress Castra Regina (thence Regensburg) was founded in 179 A. D. for the Third Italic Legion during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (we are in the ancient Roman province of Raetia). Marcus Aurelius fought battles along the Limes against German (and non German) tribes.

Sounds like The Gladiator initial astounding battle scene doesn’t it? Well, that scene probably referred to the Marcomannic wars fought during the reign of Marcus Aurelius with battles mostly fought further north and beyond the Danube.

It doesn’t matter though since the area well corresponds to that film battle and its marvellously recreated atmosphere (see Regensburg in this map of Raetia and Germania Superior).

Pilgrimage

We are mentioning Raetia because we were there last August on a sort of pilgrimage along the Limes, and found out that Castra Regina is more or less the core of Regensburg‘s Old City or Altstadt. Thischarming city is located in north-eastern Bavaria, Oberpfalz.

Pfalz is German for Latin Palatium, which refers to the Palatine Hill in Rome (Latin Mons Palatinus). It is the hill where Rome started (according to legend and now also archaeology: first huts, then the town, on this and other hills) and where the Roman Emperors much later lived (the English palace, indicating an important building, comes from there).

From Palatinus derives Palatinate (Latin: Palatinatus), the area of the later German Holy Roman Empire, a sort of Middle Ages continuation of the Roman Empire. So it all fits together, as one can see.

The Last Italian City

Regensburg (Latin and Italian Ratisbona)

In Regensburg – right at the extreme (German) line of all this, the Limes going well beyond Germany – the population will later become Protestant, even though it has inherited this sort of Italian merry character, with people sitting in open-air cafés etc., like us in Rome.

“We are the last Italian city”, they say, which sort of angered some Munich friends of ours who said they were the real last Italians, not only because of the Catholic faith but also because of their even merrier festas with people dancing on tables in Oktober Fest.

They certainly said this to please us, but there is some truth, I believe: their elegance, their incredible love for Opera (more than us today alas) and good wine (like us) etc.

More on Regensburg arriving, which is a good observation point, and more of course on Bavaria and all, so to say, romanized Germany.

Ψ

Marcus Junkelman clad as a RomanPS. We cannot leave this topic without mentioning an incredible person:
Dr. Marcus Junkelmann from Munich (*), world-famous pioneer of experimental archaeology, living in a castle and speaking fluently Latin, we heard. Historian of Roman Legions and Army, he has reconstructed Roman weapons, infantry & cavalry techniques.

We see his picture on the left, this is his web site and Dr. Wilfried Stroh is one of his colleagues and possibly friend. People like them are getting numerous also in parts of the UK, who is also becoming very pro-Roman (also the organisation Nova Roma, “dedicated to the restoration of classical Roman religion, culture and virtues”, shows how Roman mania can be both weird and fascinating).

References. The Braudel quote is from La Mediterranée, Fernard Braudel, Flammarion 1985. Translation by Man of Roma. Fernard Braudel is one of the greatest French intellectuals. Here a few links, just to give an idea of his work:
A nice synthesis on Braudel in English, plus the Fernand Braudel Center, at Binghamton University, State University of New York (“founded in September 1976 to engage in the analysis of large-scale social change over long periods of historical time”).

Ψ

Other related posts:

Music, Politics and History
From the two Sides of the Roman Limes

Permanences. Rome and Carthage

Kastell Welzheim, near the Limes, Porta Praetoria

Civilisations are not Mortal.
Rome and Carthage

The French historian Fernand Braudel argues in “La Mediterranée” (see note below):

“That Rome has deeply marked Europe it is evident, but nevertheless there is room for some amazing continuities. Is it by chance that, when Christianity breaks in two during the XVI century, the separation of the fields occurs exactly along the axis of the Rhine and the Danube, the double frontier of the Roman Empire?

And is it also by chance that the astonishing conquest of Islam was easily accepted by both the Near East and the two areas formerly dominated by Carthage, i.e. Northern Africa and a portion of Spain? [see map below]

We have said it before: the Phoenician world was more inclined, deep inside, to welcome the Islamic civilization than it was to assimilate the Roman law, for the reason that the Islamic civilization didn’t only represent a contribution, it represented a continuity as well.”

[Extensive note to text]

Carthage’s zone of influence in the III B.C.

Italian version

ψ

See also the above note later become a post:

Roman Limes. Between Two Worlds

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 161 other followers