Massive Roman military camp in Germany

Massive Roman military camp unearthed in Germany

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Archaeologists have discovered a massive Roman military camp covering 18 hectares near the town of Thuringia, Germany, which would have been used by a legion of up to 5,000 troops, according to a news report in Science. The finding gives credence to rumours that the Romans campaigned in Germany after their defeat against Germanic tribes, probably to punish them for raids on Roman territory.

Researchers discovered the long-lost Roman military base near the town of Hachelbich in Thuringia, hundreds of kilometres deep in German territory. Its location suggests it was a stopover on the way to invade territory further east.

The first contacts between the Romans and the Germanic tribes happened by the late 2nd century BC, when Gaul, Italy and Hispania were invaded by migrating Germanic tribes. This culminated in military conflict with the armies of the Roman Republic.  As Rome expanded to the Rhine and Danube rivers, it incorporated many societies into the Empire. The tribal homelands to the north and east emerged collectively in the records as Germania.

In 9 AD a revolt of their Germanic subjects and surprise attack on the Romans at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest ended in Rome’s decisive defeat and the destruction of 3 Roman legions, resulting in the withdrawal of the Roman frontier to the Rhine. After this defeat, Rome largely abandoned hope of conquering the fractious German tribes north of the Rhine River. Yet written sources suggest that the Romans occasionally campaigned in Germany, probably to punish German tribes for raids on Roman territory. Nevertheless, this was largely dismissed as bravado and mere rumour.

Battle of Teutoburg Forest

Artist’s representation of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest. Image source.

The latest discovery shows that the reports had some truth to them and that the Romans were willing to cross their frontier when needed. “People have been searching for evidence of the Romans in this part of Germany for 200 years,” says team leader Mario Kuessner, an archaeologist working for the state of Thuringia.

The encampment was first discovered in 2010, during road works, but since then further excavations have revealed the extent and size of the site. More than 2 hectares have been excavated so far, while geometric surveys have revealed that the site extends much further.

Archaeologists have uncovered metre-deep trenches around the camp, perimeter trenches (each 400 metres long), eight makeshift bread ovens, four nails from the bottom of Roman boots, a piece of horse tackle, and part of a scabbard. Radiocarbon dating has established that the camp dates to somewhere in the first 2 centuries AD, period which is not associated with any known events in Roman history.

The archaeological team are continuing with excavations and are now hoping to find Roman coins with the legion number written on it, which would help piece together the details of the historical events that took place there.

Featured image: The camp at Nijmegen. Drawing by Kelvin Wilson.

By April Holloway


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