Ancient Anti-Roman ‘Minefield’ Discovered In Denmark
In 2013 a team of archaeologists from the Museum Lolland-Falster in Denmark discovered a vast ancient “hole belt”: a defense land work featuring over 1000 long lines and rows of small holes dug into the ground. According to archaeologist and Museum Inspector, Bjørnar Mage, talking to TV2 EAST, this hole belt was designed to slow down hostile advancing armies from the south coast of Lolland and it was built during the reign of the Roman Empire in Europe, and while 770 meters of the belt have been measured, museum staff estimate it may be up to twice as big.
The hole belt is thought to have been located about a kilometer from the coast between two impassable wetlands meaning attacking enemies advancing into Lolland, would have been seriously hampered, says Bjørnar Måge. Since 2013, two smaller excavations have studied the hole belt but this recent excavation was the first to illustrate how large this ancient military feature actually was, and revealed that it had built at one time in a major constriction project.
The massive structure may have stretched 1.5 km across Lolland. (Museum Lolland-Falster)
Tomb of the Pagan Prince
The hole belt might have been built in the days leading up to a major battle, but maybe it was a reaction to a concrete threat where you “wanted to make sure you had time to defend yourself against an advancing enemy,” says Bjørnar Mage in a Nyheder article. And this apparent immediacy in the building of the structure is supported in the fact no evidence has been discovered that the belt was ever maintained after its construction and it appears that it had been left to lapse.
So far, three hole belts have been found to the east of the main belt, but a number have been found in Jutland. However, this belt is much wider than any of the Jutland examples. Bjørnar Måge believes the building of the hole belt required “considerable strength and hinterland” and that it was beyond the abilities of the average local farmer, leading him to suspect that “a local warlord or prince” was behind the construction.” He said it takes “time and a lot of manpower” to build such a large defense force and this is only something that would make sense if there was a “major man behind it.”
Perhaps lending weight to this line of thinking, not far from the hole belt in the town of Hoby near Dannemare, archaeologists discovered a stone built tomb dating from the Roman Iron Age but the researchers have not yet been able to associate the two sites yet.
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Hundreds of markers map out the elements of the hole belt. (Museum Lolland-Falster)
Imagine For A Second, The Horror Of Being Trapped In A Hole Belt
The coasts of Denmark during late Iron Age were invaded by armies from Norway and Eastern Europe but no historical records exist pertaining to military activities in the north of the country, but the belt indicates a major battle was prepared for.
Putting ancient hole belts in context, Bjørnar Måge compares them with “modern minefields” designed specifically to delay advancing enemy forces. According to writers J.E. and H.W. Kaufmann’s 2018 Classical to Medieval Fortifications in the Lands of the Western Roman Empire, “Caesar's Lilies”, were Roman built ditches about 1 meter (3.3ft) deep containing a sharpened wooden spikes and Bjørnar Måge, said Viet Cong soldiers used “ Caesar's lilies” against American soldiers as recently as the Vietnam War.
Example of Roman Lilia at Rough Castle, Antonine Wall. (Kim Traynor / CC BY SA 2.0)
The archaeologists in Denmark believe the hole belt was designed to delay advancing armies so that the native army could get into the most tactically suitable positions, from where they could “shoot the attackers with arrows from towers” arranged behind the hollow belt. But at this time no archaeological remains of such towers have been found, says Bjørnar Mage, however, towers were not needed to seriously hamper an advancing Roman army, for example:
Imagine you are on the front line of a Roman army. You’ve just spent eight months advancing into Denmark, sleepless and weary having defend your camp from native guerrilla attacks every night. Your sword is blunted chopping the skeletons of Denmark’s indigenous peoples and you are standing amidst your 6000 brothers in arms when you are deafened with the war cry “We Are Legion” as your field commander signals you to advance into the hole belt.
Tip-toeing around thousands of wooden spikes and deep pits your advance is slow, but you are almost at the other side and stop to take breath, and to prepare your psychology for another mass-slaughter. But then, your accumulated worst fears arrive in one nightmarish moment as the Danish infantry begin to thin, making way for their special forces who ride forward through the morning mist: 200 mounted cavalry armed with bows who fringe the hole belt. Realizing their destiny, panic spreads among your men and most are reduced to whimpering as the sky quickly darkens with thousands of heavy oak, iron tipped arrows, and for a last time your thoughts turn to your family and the swaying wheat fields from whence you came, and to where you will now return, courtesy of the hole belt.
Unfortunately, due to its environmental circumstances the Lolland hole belt is rapidly disappearing and Bjørnar Mage said that if the site had been left for as little as five more years “there would probably be nothing left” and he says only the bottom five centimeters of the belt have been preserved in many areas of the structure.
Top image: Stuck in the hole belt, ancient equivalent of a minefield discovered in Lolland, Denmark Source: Leif Plith Lauritsen /Museum Lolland-Falster
By Ashley Cowie