Rheinbrohl: Wp 1/1, the caput limitis

Starting on the Rhine near Rheinbrohl, the Limes UNESCO World Heritage site runs for a length of about 550 km through Germany on the right of the Rhine up to the Danube west of Regensburg. The beginning of the Upper Germanic Limes, the caput limitis, is marked by the watchtower Wp 1/1 and information boards in the territory of Bad Hönningen in Rhineland-Palatinate.

Unfortunately, the first stretch of the Limes and the small fort at Rheinbrohl have been completely destroyed due to gravel extraction. Similarly, the Limes tower 1/1, the first watchtower which was presumably located at the beginning of the Limes near the bank of the Rhine, no longer exists. In 1974, Wp 1/1 was reconstructed between Rheinbrohl and Bad Hönningen with Roman quarry stones. It stands about 120 m south east of its original location. Unfortunately, the construction of this tower does not correspond to the scientific findings on the appearance of Limes watch towers.

The beginning of the Limes on the Rhine near Rheinbrohl.

The small fort Rheinbrohl was discovered and excavated in the autumn of 1899. It was a square stone fort, about 26 meters in length, with a total area of ​​about 0.07 hectares. It was surrounded by two ditches with widths of 6 m and depths of 2 m. The interior of the camp was occupied by a single building with a well in the courtyard.

The fort was built during the reign of Commodus (AD 180-192) on the site of an older Roman building. However, the full extent and former function of these buildings could not be clarified by the excavations. At an unspecified date, probably in the late construction phase of the Limes, it was destroyed by a fire. Nothing is known about the garrison. The fortlet may have housed the vexillatio of a larger auxiliary unit stationed nearby.

Floor plan and cross sections of the small fort at Rheinbrohl.
Source: E. Fabricius, F. Hettner, O. of Sarwey (ed.): The Upper Germanic-Raetian Limes of the Roman Empire . Dept. A, Volume 1, Lines 1 and 2 (1936). Plate 3, Figure 2

Rheinbrohl is also home to the official Limes visitor centre for the Rhineland-Palatinate, the RömerWelt (website). The museum opened its doors to the public in August 2008 and introduces the visitor to the broad topic of the Romans and the Limes in an interactive and playful way. It’s where Roman history comes alive.

The entrance to the RömerWelt.

In the main building, a large exhibition room has many exhibits and information boards about everyday life and trade on the Limes.

The exhibition room.

In the outdoor area are several small exhibition rooms including a reconstructed barrack room for a contubernium (a squad of eight soldiers), a reconstructed latrine as well as blacksmith and stone-masonry workshops. In addition, two functional ovens are regularly used for bread making events. There is also a replica of a Roman pile driver used at the construction of Caesar’s Rhine bridges (55 BC).

Barrack room.

Ovens for baking bread.
A blacksmith workshop.
It was the use of these early pile drivers which allowed the ancient Romans to construct large, sturdy bridges very rapidly (sometimes in less than 10 days) during their military conquests. This allowed for transport not only of troops, but steady supply lines for equipment and provisions.

In the courtyard of the RömerWelt, a section of the border fortifications of the Limes was reconstructed. The fortifications of the Limes consisted of a ditch, a rampart and about 3 m high oak palisades. Wherever possible, the Romans used natural boundaries such as rivers, mountain ranges or the coastline. However, when necessary, they also created artificial barriers such as the Limes in Germany.

Reconstructed palisade and ditch.

The RömerWelt offers many events and hands-on activities. There are regular events related to the life of the Romans during the opening period from March to mid-November, as well as theme Sundays with workshops.

Opening hours: Tuesday-Friday from 10 am to 5 pm / Saturday-Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm

Another Limes palisade was erected in the vicinity of the RömerWelt. It has an information board showing the four phases of construction of the Limes and marks the entrance to the Limes hiking trail through the Rheinbrohl forest (the RömerWeltWeg).

The information board at the RömerWel showing the four phases of construction of the Limes.
  • From AD 98-100 (Trajan’s reign) it was a guarded border way on a treeless strip of land. It was watched from wooden towers which were placed in marked positions on the land, and had visual contact between them.
Phase 1 of the development on the limes, c. AD 100.
Illustration: Heike Wolf von Goddenthow
  • Around AD 120 (Hadrian’s reign), a 3 metre high palisade was erected in front of the road and the wooden watchtowers. In this way a closed border was made. It was possible to cross it where the Romans had left passages for trade routes.
Phase 2 of the development on the limes, c. AD 120.
Illustration: Heike Wolf von Goddenthow
  • From around AD 150 (Antoninus Pius’ reign), the wooden towers were gradually replaced with stone towers. The palisade remained.
Phase 3 of the development on the limes, c. AD 150.
Illustration: Heike Wolf von Goddenthow
  • Around AD 200, the Limes between the palisade and the towers, was replaced was a ditch 6-8 metres wide and up to 3 metres deep, and the earth excavations behind, were heaped up into a wall around 3 metres high.
Rather than expand, secure… the Limes Emperors

The course of the western section of the Limes as it is today, i.e. in Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse, was established by the beginning of the 2nd century AD, while the outer line to the south (Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria) was not completed until at least 60 years later.

The RömerWeltWeg at Rheinbrohl is 8.4 km long circular path (duration approx. 2.5 hours) and starts at the car park of the RömerWelt. En route visitors will reach interesting places with reconstructions, but also original finds from the Limes. A wooden tower replica was built as a lookout tower for Wp 1/9. Its viewing platform offers great views over the Rhine valley.

The restored stone watchtower 1/8.
Timber reconstruction of watchtower 1/9.
Views over the Rhine valley.
The Limes ditch near watchtower Wp 1/10

The map to the RömerWeltWeg can be downloaded here.

Museum of Ancient Seafaring (Mainz, Germany)

The Museum of Ancient Seafaring (German: Museum für Antike Schifffahrt) in Mainz opened in 1994 in the former 19th century repair shop of the Hessian Ludwig Railway, near the Mainz Roman theatre, as a branch of the Romano-Germanic Central Museum (Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum). The exhibits include the wooden remains of five Roman military ships from the 4th century AD together with full-scale replicas, many reliefs with representations of ships, model reconstructions as well as a gallery dedicated to the history of shipbuilding and construction techniques.

Coordinates: 49° 59′ 38.75″ N, 8° 16′ 49.51″ E

After the establishment of the military castrum (fort) of Mogontiacum (modern Mainz) in 13–12 BC, ships of the Classis Germanica (the Roman fleet in Germania Superior and Germania Inferior) became stationed at its harbor. Mogontiacum soon became the capital of the Roman province of Germania Superior and an important naval base of the Roman fleet on the river Rhine. In November 1981, as workmen dug the foundation of an extension of the Hilton Hotel in Mainz, the remains of at least 10 military wooden ships dating from the last days of the Roman Empire were discovered still in situ on their gravel beds. These survived more than 1,500 years only because they were buried under 7 metres of clay and sand, which kept them away from the destructive effects of oxidation. The ships, all made of German oak, were waterlogged but otherwise fairly well preserved.

The area seemed to have been a part of the ancient harbor where old ships were abandoned by the Romans around AD 400 when their empire had grown weak and they could no longer maintain their garrison at Mogontiacum.

The wrecks were cautiously dismantled, documented, and, in 1992, brought to the Museum of Ancient Seafaring for further preservation and study. They were dated by the use of dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) and were termed Mainz 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and generally referred to as the Mainzer Römerschiffe, the Mainz Roman ships. They were identified as military vessels that belonged to the Roman flotilla in Germania, the Classis Germanica. The vessels could be classified into two types, namely small troop transporters (Mainz type A – Mainz 1, 2, 4, 5) termed navis lusoria and a multinational patrol vessel called navis actuaria (Mainz type B – Mainz 3). A little later, the remains of two flat-bottomed ships of type Zwammerdam came to light close to the findspot.

The museum has a workshop, where visitors have the opportunity to watch the staff working on the production of antique ship models. A further section of the exhibition is devoted to the explanation of Roman ship construction.


Mainz Type A

The replica of a Roman military troop transporter ship (navis lusoria), Type Mainz A (based on wreck 1 and wreck 5) dating to the 4th century AD. This vessel was 21,6 m long, 2,79 m wide and roughly 1 m high.
Slim, flat-bottomed hulls with flaring sides are characteristics of the Mainz A Type vessel. They were very narrow, fast rowing boats with a row of oars on either side. She had a crew of 30 oarsmen.
The remains of the Mainz Wreck 1. Dendrochronological analyses of wreck 1 date her to 385 AD. She was used until around AD 400 as a bronze coin struck in the years 388-392 under Emperor Theodosius I was found between the hull and frame 2. The preserved hull with a length of almost 8.3m consists consisting of seven rows of planks up to the gunwale on the port.
The remains of the Mainz Wreck 2. Like all ships discovered in Mainz, Wreck 2 was constructed of oak. She was constructed in the beginning of the 4th century AD and represents a flat-bottomed vessel with flaring sides. It comprises the rear section and part of the midship section of an open plank boat. Her original dimensions were at least 16 me in length, approx. 3 m in width and approx. 1 m in height.
The remains of the Mainz Wreck 4. Only the five uppermost port rows of planking aft survived. Its dendrochronolgical examination revealed only she was constructed at the end of the 3rd century AD. This boat was originally larger and heavier than the other three troop transporters.
The remains of the Mainz Wreck 5. Originally 18 m long, only the front 9 m long section from the bows to just aft the mast-frame was able to be recovered. According to the dendrochronological analyses the oaks employed in the building were felled in AD 390.
The full scale replica of a Roman military troop transporter ship (navis lusoria).

Mainz Type b

Full scale replica of a transport ship used by the Roman navy (navis actuaria), Type Mainz B. As opposed to reconstruction Mainz A, which represents a troop transporter, reconstruction 2 is a patrol vessel used for border control on the Rhine.
Type Mainz B is a more compact vessel that could also be propelled by oars and had a much better power sail than type Mainz A. The technical reconstruction of the ship is based on the archaeological results of the investigation into wreck 3.
The remains of the Mainz Wreck 3. She was a flat-bottom ship with curved, flaring sides and a sharp stern. The dendrochronological analysis of the oak dated the ship from the end of the 3rd century AD.

Mainz Type Zwammerdam

1:10 model of a flat-bottomed ship with ramp-like sloping ends of the Zwammerdam type. These ships have often been recorded north of the Alps and could measure up to 40 m long, as documented by the ships Zwammerdam 4 and Mainz 6. They were used for transporting heavy loads on rivers.
The remains of the pram of the Mainz Wreck 6. During house-building in early 1982, some 500 m south of the site of the late Roman ships, the remains of two prams were discovered. Analysis of the wood revealed a felling date of AD 81. Her original dimensions were of approx. 40 m long and 5 m wide.

models of other ship types

1:10 model of the Ships of Fiumicino that came to light during the construction of the Leonardo Da Vinci international airport on the site of the ancient harbour basin built in 42 AD by the emperor Claudius. The goods that arrived at the seaport of Portus were unloaded and then transported by smaller inland navigation vessels along the Tiber to the city of Rome. These type of ships are also known from several pictorial representations dating from the 2nd to the 4th century AD such as the Vatican fresco and the Piazzale delle Corporazioni mosaic in Ostia.
1:10 model of a Roman ship as shown on Trajan’s Column.
1:10 models Roman ships.
1:10 models Roman ships, 1: cargo ship based on the London-Blackfriars wreck dated to about 150 AD, 3: model based on the Oceanus mosaic fom Bad Kreuznach.
1:10 model reconstruction of a quadrireme (four-banked gallery) according to a graffito from Alba Fucens in Italy. The vessel, dated to the mid-1st century AD, carried 200 oarsmen with two oarsmen operating each oar. The oars were arranged in two rows of 25 per side.
1:10 model reconstructions of Roman ships, 5: Dromon of the Byzantine navy (10-12th centuries AD), left: Bireme of the Neumagen Type (AD 220 / 230).

reliefs with representation of ships

Tombstone from Mainz-Weisenau depicting a warship from the 1st century AD (original at the Generaldirektion Kulturelles Erbe, Direktion Landesarchäologie, Mainz).
Relief depicting soldiers on a ship of the Neumagen type (original in the National Museum in Naples), 1st century BC / 1st century AD.
Relief of a Mediterranean cargo ship, 1st – 3rd century AD.
Tombstone of the ship owner (naukleros) and sailor Aurelius Theogeiton from Arados in Syria, early 3rd century AD.
He seems to have been one of those ship owners who navigated their vessels by themselves between the Eastern Mediterranean and Italy.
Relief of a marble coffin depicting a crewship raising the sails of two cargo ships in front of a harbour (original in Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam), 3rd century AD.
Museum für Antike Schiffahrt, Mainz.
Museum für Antike Schiffahrt, Mainz.
Museum für Antike Schiffahrt, Mainz.

The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 am – 8:00 pm. The admission is free.