XXIII. Limescongress 2015

The Roman Frontier in Germany

The Roman Frontier in Gerrmany


In the territory of modern Germany, the Roman Frontier reached its greatest extent around the mid 2nd century.
At this time, the lower and middle Rhine served as a river frontier until Rheinbrohl. Here the frontier became a land frontier, consisting of a ditch and/or palisade that ran along the Westerwald and Taunus mountain ranges and encircled the fertile Wetterau plain until meeting the river Main between Groß Krotzenburg and Seligenstadt. The Main formed a second stretch of river frontier up to Miltenberg. From here, the Upper German land frontier (“Obergermanischer Limes”) ran in a practically straight line to the modern town of Lorch, the Roman boundary between the provinces of Germania Superior and Raetia. At this point, the land frontier ceased to be demarcated by a palisade and ditch system and was, in its final phase, replaced by a stone wall (“Raetischer Limes”). This ran eastwards in a wide arch encircling the Franconian Alb up to Gunzenhausen and back to the Danube at Hienheim near Regensburg. From here onwards, the river Danube acted as frontier.

While Germany boasts large stretches of Roman Frontier along Europe’s largest rivers, the 550km of land frontier that connect them have been studied in much more detail. Termed the “Obergermanisch-Raetische Limes” (ORL), this sector with its c. 900 watchtowers and approximately 120 forts in various sizes was mapped, excavated to a large extent and analysed in detail by the Reichslimeskommission from 1892 to 1937; the legacy of this undertaking can still be seen in the prominent role of frontier studies in German university departments and research institutions dealing with the archaeology of the Roman provinces.

In 2005, the "Upper German-Raetian Limes" became part of the transnational World Heritage Site “Frontiers of the Roman Empire”. A joint application between the Netherlands and Germany to include the Rhine frontier in the World Heritage Site is currently being prepared, and there are plans to include the German Danube frontier sector in future.

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