The Igel Column is a multi-storey Roman sandstone funerary monument located on the left bank of the Moselle some 8 kilometres south of Trier. It is one of the best known Roman burial structures in Germany and the only Roman mausoleum north of the Alps still standing exactly where it was built some 1,700 years ago (“in situ”). Measuring 23 metres in height, it was richly decorated with mythological scenes and motifs from everyday life. The monument has impressed famous visitors such as Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Victor Hugo. Today the Igel column is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site which includes the Roman Monuments, the Cathedral of St. Peter and the Church of Our Lady in Trier.
Coordinates: 49° 42′ 33.12″ N, 6° 32′ 57.84″ E
The funerary monument was erected around 250 AD by two wealthy merchants of Celtic origin, the brothers Secundinius Aventinus and Secundinius Securus, for themselves and their deceased relatives. The monument of red and red-grey sandstone was richly adorned with reliefs depicting mythological scenes dealing with immortality (Achilles being dipped in the Styx, Perseus and Andromeda, the apotheosis of Hercules, Mars and Rhea Silvia, the Rape of Hylas), and the everyday life of the brothers who were engaged in the cloth trade (inspection, transport and sale of cloth, family meals). The originally coloured monument had the purpose to advertise the cloth business of the Secundinii family in the city of Augusta Treverorum (Trier). For the Secundinii, their social status was directly connected to their success in the textile industry. The monument was crowned by a sculpture showing Jupiter and Ganymede taken to Olympus by an eagle.
The Igel Column escaped destruction after the decline of the Roman Empire due to a misconception in the Middle Ages. A family scene depicted on the grave was interpreted as showing the marriage of Constantius Chlorus to Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. This mistake ultimately prevented the Roman monument from being torn down.
The reliefs on the four sides show traces of painting. A polychrome reconstruction of the column can be found in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Trier. The excavations did not reveal any human remains at the foot of the tomb.
The Saarland and Mosel Valley’s ancient Roman heritage has a lot to offer to tourists and scholars alike. More than 120 antique sights along the Moselle and the Saar rivers, the Saarland and Luxembourg are a testament to the Gallo-Roman era north of the Alps (further information here).
The tomb area is not fenced and can, therefore, be visited around the clock. Admission is free.
- The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites
- UNESCO: Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier