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Model of fort Aalen. Limes Museum, Aalen (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Model of fort Aalen.
Aalen: town in Germany, known for a Roman limes fort.

Aalen was the largest cavalry fort (castellum) along the limes of the Roman province of Raetia (map). The ancient name of the settlement has not been recorded, but we know that it was occupied by the Ala II Flavia Miliaria Pia Fidelis. The first three words mean that this was the Second squadron recruited by the Flavian emperor Vespasian; miliaria means that it was a thousand men strong (five hundred was common); and the last two words are the common surname "faithful and loyal". The modern name Aalen appears to be derived from Ala., the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
The Praetorium. Photo Marco Prins.
The Praetorium.

Above the entrance of the ancient settlement was an inscription, of which three fragments survive. Because the contents of this type of inscription are fairly stereotypical, almost the entire text can be reconstructed (three fragments in color, reconstruction in gray):

Remains of the gate. Limes Museum, Aalen (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Remains of the gate.

IMPeratori CAESari Marco AVRELIO  ANTO-
NINO AVGusto Pontifici Maximi TRIBVNICIA 
  POTestate XVIII  IMPerarori II COnSuli IIII Patri Patriae ET
IMPeratori CAESari Lucio AVRELIO VERO AVGusto
 ARMENIACo TRIBunicia POTestate IIII IMPeratori II
TIS PROCuratoris PER ALAM II FLaviam Miliariam Piam Fidelem
FECIT [....]IVS LOLLIANIVS PRAEFectus (more...)

The hypocaustum in the praetorium. Photo Marco Prins.
The hypocaustum in the praetorium. The reddish columns to the left are modern reconstructions; the right hand side is original.

Overseen by procurator Baius Pudens has prefect [...]ius Lollianus ordered the Second Flavian thousand-man squadron, faithful and loyal, to build this for the emperor Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, high priest with tribunicial powers for the eighteenth time, twice imperator, four times consul, father of the fatherland, and for Caesar Lucius Aurelius Verus Augustus Armeniacus, with tribunicial powers for the fourth time, twice imperator, two times consul.

The headquarters (praetorium) of Aalen have been excavated. Like all other limes forts, this building consisted of a square that was surrounded by several buildings. On one side, there was a basilica (hall); on the opposite side, there were several official rooms, the central one being the sanctuary of the unit's standard.

Shrine of the standards. Photo Marco Prins.
Shrine of the standards; the statue of Marcus Aurelius is modern.

As always, the soldiers enjoyed some comfort, and the headquarters were even luxurious. For example, they had a
hypocaustumor floor heating. Hot air was blown through the space between the little columns that supported the floor. Among the other excavated parts belongs the sanctuary of the unit's standard. Beneath the houses in the neighborhood, archaeologists may one day find ancient barracks or stables.

Reconstruction of a cavalry man. Limes Museum, Aalen (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Reconstruction of a cavalry man.

On the site of the ancient fort is now the Limes Museum, one of the first of its kind. A full-scale reconstruction of a cavalry man is part of the exposition. It does not show the man's battle dress, but a uniform that was used by the hippica gymnasia, a kind of sport match in which two teams of beautifully decorated horsemen showed their expertise in horse riding, and threw blunted javelins at each other. Everything in these tournaments was meant to look impressive: the large plumes on the helmet, the dragon standard, the painted shield, and the spectacular armor, which is not unlike some gladiatorial armor. The mask that was added to the parade helmet was necessary to protect the actor against javelin injuries. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus mentions a parade of soldiers during the siege of Jerusalem; it must have been a truly awe-inspiring sight when the cavalry, dressed like this, galloped in front of the walls. Just imagine the thousand horsemen from Aalen!

To the northeast of the museum is the church of Sankt Johann, close to the gate of the fort. The cemetery is exactly within the walls of the fort. As a place of worship, the site has been used for more than eighteen centuries. An inscription survives with a dedication to the war goddess Minerva, whose attribute is also shown: the little owl.

A dedication to Minerva. Limes Museum, Aalen (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Dedication to Minerva.

Beyond the sanctuary was the civil settlement, which occupied the slopes east and southeast of the fort. Some 3,000 people appear to have lived in this town. Had a village of these dimensions been excavated in Italy, archaeologists would certainly have called it a city. Like the fort, the town was evacuated in c.260, when the Alamans occupied the triangle between the Rhine and Danube.

To the west of Aalen was the limes fort of Böbingen, and to the east was Rainau-Buch, where the remains of several ancient Roman fortifications can now be seen in the open air. Visits to Aalen's Limes Museum and Rainau can easily be combined. In fact, they supplement each other.

A satellite photo of the area near the Limes Museum can be found here.

© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2005
Revision: 14 Nov. 2008
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