Frontiers of the Roman Empire
Since 1987 • Cultural
The ‘Roman Limes’ represents the border line of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent in the 2nd century AD. It stretched over 5,000 km from the Atlantic coast of northern Britain, through Europe to the Black Sea, and from there to the Red Sea and across North Africa to the Atlantic coast. The remains of the Limes today consist of vestiges of built walls, ditches, forts, fortresses, watchtowers and civilian settlements. Certain elements of the line have been excavated, some reconstructed and a few destroyed. The two sections of the Limes in Germany cover a length of 550 km from the north-west of the country to the Danube in the south-east. The 118-km-long Hadrian’s Wall (UK) was built on the orders of the Emperor Hadrian c. AD 122 at the northernmost limits of the Roman province of Britannia. It is a striking example of the organization of a military zone and illustrates the defensive techniques and geopolitical strategies of ancient Rome. The Antonine Wall, a 60-km long fortification in Scotland was started by Emperor Antonius Pius in 142 AD as a defense against the “barbarians” of the north. It constitutes the northwestern-most portion of the Roman Limes.
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.
The "re-discovery" of the Upper German Raetian Limes was linked to 19th interest in humanistic research.
A central institution for the research of the Upper German- Raetian Limes, called "Reichs Limeskomision", was founded in 1892 and chaired by the Noble Prize winner for literature, Theodor Mommsen. The work of this commission relied heavily on previous research by the Kingdom of Wurttemberg, the Grand Duchess of Baden and Hessen and the Kingdom of Bavaria. Other earlier research was carried out by different associations concerned with the study of Roman remains, such as the Commission for the research of the Imperial Roman Limes, active in the first half of the 19th century, or by individuals like Wilhelm Conrady from Hanau, Friedrich Kofler from Hesse, and Friedrich Ohlenschlager and Karl Popp from Bavaria.
The last of the 14 volumes of the research of the Limes, carried out by the Imperial Commission, was published in 1937. More than 90 forts and some 1000 watchtowers, as well as all line segments, were identified and recorded.
Only after World War II and the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, was new impetus given to the research of the Limes. Open questions and new issues were addressed from 1959 on, by the Roman Germanic Commission, providing continuous publication of results, with the series "Limesforschungen". Increasingly not just military issues were addressed, but also other topics such as the civilian settlements and relationships with border provinces.
The 1950s and 1960s development boom caused the loss of many of the sites and elements of the Limes, while at the same time contributed considerably to the knowledge and research. New research techniques as well as air photography helped in the completion of the picture of the extent and characteristics of the Roman Limes in Germany.
From the 2nd century BC, Rome began its territorial expansion beyond the Alps, towards Gaul and Germania. Caesar was the first Roman general to cross the English Channel and to stay temporarily in the south-east of present-day England (55-54 BC). Several of his successors planned to settle the lands across the English Channel, but did not succeed in their aims.
It was Claudius who succeeded in conquering Britannia. The process started in 43 AD, but it took a few decades until Roman power was stabilised. Though Agricola fought successfully against the Caledonians in Scotland, in 85 AD the offensive was halted and one legion together with some auxiliary forces were ordered to the Danube. After withdrawing the troops the boundary was fixed in the line of the road called Stanegate.
Despite repeated offensives, Rome did not succeed in occupying the northern part of Britain. Hadrian had the first massive wall built as the limes, the most impressive Roman defence line ever built. The stone wall was built slightly north of the Tyne-Solway line in the 3rd and 4th decades of the 2nd century AD.
The next emperor, Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD) decided to move the frontiers to the line of the Firth of Forth and Firth of Clyde. The new wall was built in the years after 142 AD. It was occupied for a generation but abandoned in the 160s AD. The withdrawal decision may have been made as early as 158 AD.
A new limes similar to the Antonine Wall was later ordered to be built by Antoninus in Germania. Both can be interpreted as occupying new territories and as a shortening of the length of the defence line.
During its existence of less than two decades a high, stone-based turf wall, a row of fortifications and fortlets were built. The Antonine Wall created a frontier line of the Roman Empire. Its primary tasks were to prevent any infiltration or invasion of the northern tribes into the province Britannia and, like other sections of the Roman frontiers, to enhance economic and social connections with people outside of the empire. It may be assumed that at certain places there was controlled traffic in and out of the province.
The Antonine Wall was the last built linear barrier of the Roman Empire. After its abandonment Roman troops only continued to occupy certain posts north of Hadrian's Wall, but none on the Antonine Wall. The last effort to reoccupy the region was made by Septimius Severus (193-211 AD), but as he died during the campaign this aim was given up forever. The empire lost its strength in the middle of the third century, but then became stronger again, and survived until the second half of the 5th century AD.
Over its history, after its abandonment by the Roman troops in the 160s AD, the wall quickly fell victim to natural deterioration, beginning with the many wooden parts. The forts built of masonry were used as sources of stone by local populations, while the wall and its ditch were undermined and destroyed as needs dictated.
In the Middle Ages much of the stone material of the forts was used to construct farm houses and other buildings, and the agricultural revolution seriously affected the earthen remains by intensive ploughing. In the 19th century, intensified coal mining left its marks on the nominated site and its buffer zone. Industrial activity considerably increased the population in the region, and more settlements extended their territory towards or over the Wall, except where the Wall ran through estates such as Callendar House and Bantaskine House. Building continued and housing from the 1960s occupies most of the area between the forts of Bearsden and Castlehill. Due to the increasing activity in quarries some remains of the Wall have been damaged and an entire fort (Cadder) vanished as a result of excavation.
The Antonine Wall was mentioned first by the Venerable Bede (c. 730), but it is not sure whether he actually saw it. The first representation of the Antonine Wall was drawn in the 13th century on Matthew Paris' map of Britain. In 1755 William Roy drew the wall with its Military Way from one end to the other.
There are references to the Wall at various historical periods, and its old name of Grymisdyke and Grahamsdyke has survived up to the 21st century. The first inscription of Lollius Urbicus, Antoninus Pius's governor at the time of the construction of the Wall, was found in 1699, which provided a key to the explanation of the origin of the earthwork. The first detailed descriptions of the Wall go back to the 18th century, and archaeological investigations to the 19th century. The most comprehensive publication on the Antonine Wall was the monograph of Sir George Macdonald in the first half of the 20th century.
Since the Second World War intensive investigations have been carried out using aerial archaeology. New papers and monographs have given an account of these investigations.