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The Romans in the Nahe Valley and the Hunsrück

Relief with Roman students at school from Neumagen (Nahe Valley & Hunsrück)

After Caesar's conquest of Gaul between 58 and 51 B.C., which was a devastating defeat for the Celts, wide reaches of Europe were united for almost 500 years. This was the Roman Empire under "Pax Romana" (Roman peace) with its own monetary and administrative system. Rome's historical and cultural influence with its progressive technology, high standard of organization and well developed writing system had a fundamental and enduring effect upon the western world. How quickly the Romanizing process progressed after Caesar's conquest can be seen in the artefacts found in the graves of the Celtic Treverians of the Hunsrück. The newly founded Roman towns and villages did their best even when the heavy tax load they bore resulted in many uprisings.

Settling of Roman veterans was undertaken systematically in order to ensure continued provision for the military personnel and civil population. The most common type of settlement was the individual farmstead (Latin: villa rustica). These varied greatly in size and were usually surrounded by a wall. A farmstead of this type normally included a main residential building and a bath house as well as numerous other farm buildings. In addition to agricultural activities and cattle keeping crafts such as metal and woodworking were practiced. As the economy grew more prosperous, pottery and ceramic workshops sprang up all over the country at places on roads with good clay deposits nearby ("Terra-Sigillata-Manufactories"), for example, south of the Nahe valley near Germersheim in the Pfalz. The centre of a town was the Forum where the business people had their shops (Latin: tabernae).

Education and Schools

Although the Celts of the Latène age knew the Greek alphabet, it was the Romans who put writing to real use (Latin alphabet) making it a part of everyday life. As a result, it was not only the upper class that could read and write, but a majority of business people, craftsmen, soldiers, landowners and even slaves. This was the only way that the daily business with local and state institutions could be managed efficiently.

Regular school attendance was part of daily life for children although private schooling was a privilege only for the upper classes. Citizens of any wealth at all would probably have had a small private library of the "classics" of that time. Archaeological finds have confirmed this. Moreover, in the larger towns such as Trier, there were public libraries. From this we can assume that widespread standardized education was important to the unity of the Roman empire. The illustration of a relief shows a scene of instruction from Neumagen (Latin: Noviomagus) on the Mosel directly on the old Roman road Via Ausonia which led from Mainz and Bingen over the Hunsrück to Trier.

Roman Baths

Completely conserved floor mosaic of a Roman Villa Suburbana in Bad Kreuznach (Nahe Valley)

After taking over the concept of baths from the Greeks in the 3rd century B.C., it was developed into a defining aspect of Roman lifestyle and culture. No garrison or settlement was without its public thermal baths and every Roman villa that would have at least two baths. They were seen as important both for hygiene and for medicinal purposes. The numerous medicinal spas which were built near legionary posts affirm this. These baths were also open to the public for their therapeutic needs.

The bathing process consisted of various phases of warming, heating and cooling of the body. All baths had the same procedure: (1) the removal of clothing in the dressing room (Latin: apodyterium), (2) the removal of dust and dirt in the cold bath (Latin: frigidarium), (3) oiling and massaging in the warming room where there were usually warm water sitz-baths, (4) the sweat bath (Latin: caldarium), which was kept at a temperature of over 50 degrees Celsius. (5) Afterwards one returned to the cold bath to shock the heated body with cold water. (6) Finally, a visit to the swimming pool (Latin: piscina) where one was available.

The bathing process began in the afternoon. It lasted two hours and varied from bath to bath. Baths were not only places for leisure, recreation, health, and physical training, but were also centres for political and social life. The rich upper classes had evening meals and social events there. The illustration shows a part of a mosaic floor of a Roman villa from the 2nd century A.D. It was excavated near Bad Kreuznach (Latin: Cruciniacum) and shows the sea god Oceanus as well as sea animals, ships and harbour scenes.

Wine Growing

In the Nahe valley and in the Hunsrück region, archaeological proof has been found that wine from the Mediterranean area was already being imported in Celtic times. This was in connection with the trade in raw materials such as copper, pewter, and iron with the Etruscans of Vulci who lived in the Hallstatt era (800 to 475 B.C., and so-called because of the important archaeological finds made at Hallstatt on the lake of Hallstatt in Austria). They developed and expanded the European trade in raw materials. Mediterranean eating habits changed after the conquest of the Romans, and wine trade became increasingly important. However, legal limitations upon wine growing meant that it did not develop as an independent branch of the economy until the 3rd century A.D. The firm establishment of wine growing in the Mosel valley began with a decree by the Roman emperor Probus (278 to 280 A.D.), which allowed general cultivation of vineyards.

Germanic Wars

After Caesar's occupation of Gaul (51 B.C.), and the systematic exploitation and consolidation of the areas west of the Rhine, Drusus (12 to 9 B.C.) conquered the area right of the Rhine all the way to the Elbe. Due to continuous skirmishes with the Germanic tribes living there and the devastating defeat of the Romans at the battle of Varus, the Rhine became the border of the Roman empire (7 to 9 A.D.). Only under Emperor Vespasian (69 to 79 A.D.), was the land east of the Rhine again largely conquered. The provinces of Germania Superior and Germania Inferior were created in the years 83 to 85 A.D., with their capitals of Mainz and Cologne.

There was constant danger of attacks by the Germanic tribes in the occupied areas. During the reign of Trajan (98 to 117 A.D.), the Romans built frontier fortifications with watch towers and battlements at regular intervals —the so-called Limes. The fortification project was completed in the year 150 A.D. It was built in a line from Eining north of Neustadt on the Danube, Gunzenhausen, Dinkelsbühl, Böbingen east of Schwäbisch Gmünd, Jagsthausen, Miltenberg on the Main river, Gross-Krotzenburg near Hanau, Arnsburg south of Giessen, Butzbach, Großer Feldberg in Taunus, Arzbach near Bad Ems, Niederbiber near Neuwied, and Bad Hunningen near Linz on the Rhine.

The Marcomannic wars with their heavy casualties towards the end of the 2nd century A.D., were the first high points for the Germans in the armed conflicts between the Romans and the Germanic tribes. Beginning in the 3rd century, the Germanic tribes began invading Roman territory increasingly often in their quest for land and plunder. Because the Romans were withdrawing troops for the defensive wars against the Persians, security in the area right of the Rhine deteriorated dramatically around the year 250 A.D. The provincial reorganization by Diocletian around 297 A.D. no longer took the Limes area into account. Frankish and Alemannic peoples began a continuous push into imperial territory. Only in the middle of the 4th century A.D. under Valentinian (364 to 375 A.D.), did the province's defence system become more secure with the expansion of the Rhine line.

The constant movement of Germanic tribes into the area eventually brought Roman rule to an end in the 5th century. In the process, the Romans were not eradicated or chased out but were gradually assimilated into the Germanic people who outnumbered them greatly. As a rule, the towns and villages continued to be used although the economic system of the villa rustica ended abruptly.

Selected Key Dates

58-51 v. Chr.Cäsar erobert Gallien mit dem Rhein als Grenze
17 v. Chr.Trier wird gegründet
13 v. Chr.Mainz (Moguntiacum) wird Garnisonsstadt
12-9 v. Chr.Drusus unterwirft Germanen bis hin zur Elbe
7-9 n. Chr.römische Legionen werden in der Varus-Schlacht aufgerieben, der Rhein wird wieder Staatsgrenze
73-74 n. Chr.erneute Eroberung rechtsrheinischer Gebiete unter Vespasian
83-85 n. Chr.die Provinzen Germania Superior und Germania Inferior mit den Hauptstädten Mainz und Köln entstehen
um 100-110 n. Chr.Bau des Odenwald-Neckar Limes unter Traian
um 150 n. Chr.die letzte Ausbaustufe des Limes ist beendet
212 n. Chr.Constitutio Antoniana: römisches Bürgerrecht für alle Provinzbewohner
213-486 n. Chr.beständige Kriege gegen Franken und Alamannen
259-273 n. Chr.gallisches Sonderreich mit der Hauptstadt Köln, ab 271 Trier
260 n. Chr.Fall des Limes
um 275 n. Chr.Franken überfallen das Nahegebiet und brennen die römische Luxusvilla in Bad Kreuznach nieder
392 n. Chr.das Christentum wird Staatsreligion
406 n. Chr.Vandalen, Alanen und Sueben überschreiten den Rhein und verwüsten Gallien
451 n. Chr.Schlacht auf den Katalaunischen Feldern gegen die Hunnen
455-459 n. Chr.die Franken erobern Köln
479 n. Chr.Trier wird fränkisch
486 n. Chr.der Frankenkönig Childerich besiegt den letzten Repräsentanten römischer Macht in Gallien


Ludwig Wamser, in Zusammenarbeit mit Christof Flügel und Bernward Ziegaus: Die Römer zwischen Alpen und Nordmeer. Zivilisatorisches Erbe einer europäischen Militärmacht. Mainz: von Zabern, 2000


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