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.
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 400 AD 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
Mainz Type b
Mainz Type Zwammerdam
models of other ship types
reliefs with representation of ships
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 am – 8:00 pm. The admission is free.
The Saalburg is a former Roman Cohort Fort located northwest of Bad Homburg in Hesse and belonging to the Limes Germanicus. This fort served for 150 years as a base for frontier troops. The Saalburg is the most completely reconstructed Roman fort in Germany and serves as a research institute and open-air museum. It is part of UNESCO‘s “Upper-German Raetian Limes“ World Heritage Site.
Towards the end of the 1st century AD, the Romans occupied the area of the Taunus and erected a simple wood-and-earth fort at the Saalburg Pass to house a numerus (units of barbarian allies) and control traffic on this important route. It had a rectangular ground plan, corner towers, intermediate towers and two gates and was surrounded by a ditch.
Around AD 135, the old timber fort was converted into a larger cohort fort measuring about 147 x 221 m and consisting of walls built from a solid combination of stone and timber beams. The cohort fort was occupied by the Cohors II Raetorum civium Romanorum equitata, an auxiliary unit made of about 480 foot soldiers and 120 cavalrymen. The troops were tasked with monitoring the Limes which can still be seen today north of the Saalburg. In the fort’s interior, wooden barracks were built to accommodate the troops, their animals and supplies. A civilian settlement (vicus) developped along the road leading to Nida (present-day Frankfurt-Heddernheim).
In the middle of the 2rd century, the cohort fort was extended and rebuilt in stone. An earthen ramp reinforced the inner side of the defensive walls and the four gates took their final shape. Inside the fort, the original half-timbered buildings were partly replaced by massive stone structures. Around AD 200, the village reached its greatest extent. As many as 2000 people may once have lived in the fort and the vicus.
In the early 3rd century, the situation along the limes became increasingly unsettled. The fort and the vicus fell into disrepair after an attack by Germanic tribes. Campaigns in the East of the Empire and the Germanic threat to the Roman frontier after AD 260 forced Rome to abandon the limes and with it the Saalburg. After the abandonment of the Upper Germanic Limes, the fort was used as a quarry.
The first archaeological excavations at the Saalburg began in the middle of the 19th century. In 1897, Kaiser Wilhelm II initiated the reconstruction of the ancient Roman fort. Between 1897 and 1907, the fort was rebuilt on its stone foundations; the stone defense wall with the earth embankment behind it and the four gates, the principia, the horrea, parts of the conjectured praetorium, two troop barracks were erected. However, with the insights gained by the field of archaeology over the past 120 years, a different conception of some aspects of Roman military architecture has developed. The buildings erected since 2004 (the praetorium, the fabrica) reflect the modern understanding of the fort.
The Saalburg also houses the Saalburg Museum, one of the two most important institutions dedicated to the study of the German Limes (the other being the Limesmuseum of Aalen). Today, the remains of the 550 kilometre-long frontier complex stretching from the Rhine down to the Danube comprise the largest ancient monument in Europe.
Source: Carsten Amrhein, Elke Löhnig und Rüdiger Schwarz, “Saalburg Roman Fort – Tour of the Archaeological Park“, Nünnerich-Asmus Verlag & Media (2014).