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Feldberg Limes Castle


The fossa, east of Fort Feldberg. Photo Jona Lendering.
The fossa and agger, west of Fort Feldberg.
Feldberg Limes Castle: Roman fort, north of modern Frankfurt am Main, part of the limes.

In 83, the Roman emperor Domitian attacked the Chatti, a tribe living in the Taunus mountains, north of modern Frankfurt am Main. To defend the conquered area, the fertile valley of the Main, a line of fortifications (limes) was built along the summits of the mountain range. On many places, you can still discern the remains of the wall (agger) and the ditch (fossa). Although not impassable, it was a formidable obstacle that made it clear where the Roman army ended.

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Map of Fort Feldberg. Design Jona Lendering.
Map of Fort Feldberg.

One of this castles, with a size of about 0.7 hectare, has been identified on the Little Feldberg, between modern Glasshütten and Königstein im Taunus. Today, it is an open place in the mountain forest, but in Antiquity, it was of course open country. The map of the Feldberg Limes Castle shows the normal components of any Roman fort: principia (headquarters), a horreum (granary), and a praetorium - the mansion of the commander. (The remains of these buildings can be discerned also on this satellite photo.)

It was built during the reign of the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161), who is also known for the fortifications he built in southern Scotland: Antonine's wall.
North-East Gate of Fort Feldberg. Photo Marco Prins.
Northeast Gate.

This was an important stretch of the limes, because there was a gold mine in the neighborhood. An inscription from the end of the reign of Severus Alexander (222-235), shown below, informs us that the fort at the Feldberg offered accommodation to an auxiliary unit of mounted scouts, recruited in what is now Hungary. There may have been 100 to 150 of them.

The next castle to the west was discovered at Heftrich. Between the two military settlements was an important pass -still a local road of some importance- and it would have been more logical to build a fort on that site, but there was no water over there. At the Feldberg, the Roman soldiers had access to two sources, which were also used by the inhabitants of the small village that has been found to the south of the fort. The next castle to the east was the Saalburg,which has been fully rebuilt by archaeologists and is one of the oldest museum parks in the world.
Inscription from the Feldberg limes castle, mentioning Julia Mamaea. Saalburg Museum (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Inscription from the Feldberg limes castle (Saalburg).
One of the finds from Fort Feldberg was the inscription that is known as CIL XIII.7495:

IVLIAE MAMA-

EA AVvstae MATRI
SEVERI ALEXAN-
DRI AVGvsti Nostri CAS-
TRORVM SE-
NATVS PATRIAEQVE EXPLoratio
HALICanensivm ALEXAN-
DRIANA DEVO-
TA NVMINI EIIVS

To our empress Julia Mamaea, the mother of our emperor Severus Alexander, the mother of the camps, the mother of the Senate, and the mother of the fatherland, by the Exploratio Halicanesium Alexandriana, dedicated to their majesty.

The Bathhouse northwest of the fort. Photo Jona Lendering.
The bathhouse.

Between the northwestern gate and the limes wall -which was some hundred meters away- was a bathhouse (thermae), which was once known to the local population as the Heidenkirche ("Pagan church"). There is nothing exceptional about it. Even very small forts like Freimühle or forts in the desert like Bu Njem, where wood and water were precious, had a bathhouse. And always, archaeologists are able to identify a cold bath, a tepid bath, and a warm bath. Roman soldiers lived in considerable luxury.
Map of the bathhouse. Design Jona Lendering.
Map of the bathhouse.

To the south of the fort, on the slopes of a hill, was the vicus, the civil settlement that was occupied by the traders who brought food supplies to the fort, a handful of farmers, an innkeeper or two, and the soldiers' girlfriends and wives. Among the other residents may have been miners, because there was a gold mine in the neighborhood.
The northwest gate of Fort Feldberg. Photo Jona Lendering. The southwest gate of Fort Feldberg. Photo Jona Lendering. The horreum of Fort Feldberg. Photo Jona Lendering. The northwest wall of Fort Feldberg. Photo Jona Lendering. Model of the Feldberg Bathhouse, Saalburg (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
The northwest gate of The southwest gate The horreum The northwest wall Model of the Feldberg Bathhouse (Saalburg)
An Altar from Fort Feldberg. Archäologische Museum, Frankfurt am Main (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering.
An altar from Fort Feldberg
One of the women living in the vicus seems to have erected the little altar that is now in the Archäologisches Museum in Frankfurt am Main.

DeAe PR
OSERPInae
PRIMITIVA

Primitiva to the goddess Proserpina (more).

There was a lot of snow when we visited the site for the first time. To us, this meant a lot of additional fun, but these pictures contain less information than you might have been hoping for. On the other hand, in Antiquity, there must have been snow too. During the winter, the Italian officers of the garrison must have cursed the day on which they were sent to the Little Feldberg.

© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2005
Revision: 9 August 2009
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