UNESCO World Heritage Site #213: Frontiers of the Roman Empire

UNESCO World Heritage Site #213: Frontiers of the Roman Empire
UNESCO World Heritage Site #213: Frontiers of the Roman Empire

From the World Heritage inscription:

At its height the Roman Empire extended into three continents. Its borders reflected the waxing and waning of power over more than a millennia. In what is now Germany there were several military campaigns into the area north of the Alps and east of the River Rhine from 55/53 BC to 15-16 AD, but the area was not brought under direct control until around 85 AD when the oldest part of the Limes was created between the River Rhine and the high Taunus Mountains. This frontier followed the contours of the landscape. Later the courses defined were much straighter and the first forts established. Similarly in the area of the Raetian Limes the border was secured first under Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD), probably moved north across the river under the Emperor Domitian, and then under Emperor Trajan forts were established.

The early Limes barrier seems to have been a cleared stretch of forest monitored by wooden towers. Under the Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD) the Limes was additionally secured with a palisade fence. In the 2nd century AD the Limes was in part straightened, and also strengthened with embankments or stone walls and numerous forts, and fortlets.

The nomination acknowledges that the chronology of the creation and expansion of the Limes is under researched and more work needs to be done to establish firm dates and sequences.

The Upper German-Raetian Limes was given up during the second half of the 3rd century AD, probably abut 260AD. After the end of Roman rule, many Romanised Celtic- German peoples moved away from territory within the Limes and other new Germanic settlers moved in. Although the walls survived for many centuries as an impressive landmark, gradually facts about its rationale and use were replaced by myths and legends.

This is a serial site with locations in both Germany and in the United Kingdom. The UK portions of the site, Hadrian’s Wall and Antonine’s Wall, are better know. The walls still exist today in a form which tells you what they were.

The Germany portion of the site is longer, but less well known. I visited the Saalburg Roman Castle and Archeology Park which is just outside the city of Bad Homburg, north of Frankfurt. The fort is a reconstruction from the 19th century based on the foundations of the roman buildings which originally stood there. It houses a museum of roman artifacts found in the area as well as being near one of the limes (not pronounced like the citrus fruit. It somes from the latin root of the word for ‘limit’).

The limes extend up the Rhine river for several hundred kilometers. Unlike the walls in the UK, however, they aren’t as dramatic or obvious. The only thing which exists is most places are some earthen mounds that you might not even notice if you don’t know what you are looking at.

From all the research I’ve done, the Saalburg fort is probably the best place to experience the limes in Germany in terms of a museum and interpretative center, however they can be found in many locations. There is also a trail which follows the route of the limes.

I plan to visit the walls in the UK and when I do I will update this post accordingly.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.