The earth and timber rampart and gate of the Haltern legionary fortress
Based on Kees Peterse’s reconstruction, the rampart and gate of this fortress was reconstructed in 2016, full scale and in situ. An important discovery was made during the reconstruction process: an extra wall was added to the exterior of the gate and served a double function.
Map of the Roman legionary fortress at Haltern. Drawing, LWL-Archäologie für Westfalen/D. Jaszczurok; graphic rendering by PANSA BV.
During the Augustan German Wars (between 12 BC and 16 AD), the Romans likely had military posts at Haltern on the Lippe river from the beginning, for their fleet for example. After abandoning the fortress at Oberaden in 8 or 7 BC, Haltern became their main camp and settlement in the Germanic territories. At this location the Romans built a large legionary fortress, which was still in use in 9 BC when the Roman army was soundly defeated during the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. There are increasing indications that the fortress was only abandoned for good after Emperor Tiberius ceased hostilities in 16 AD.
The legionary fortress initially covered 16.7 hectares but was at some point expanded by an additional 1.6 hectares by moving the eastern section of the rampart forward. The fortress was surrounded by two V-shaped ditches – approx. 4.5 and 5 metres wide and 2.5 metres deep – and a 3-metre-wide earth and timber rampart with wooden panelling on both sides. Towers were erected at regular intervals along the rampart.
In 2011, Kees Peterse was commissioned by LWL-Archäologie für Westfalen (the archaeology section of the Regional Association of Westphalia-Lippe) to create a reconstruction of the rampart on the west side of the fortress, including the west gate and several towers. The intention was to create a full-scale reconstruction of a part of the rampart at its original location. Construction was completed in 2016.
For the reconstruction of the rampart and towers, Kees Peterse was able to build on the knowledge he had gained in the reconstruction of the ramparts of the slightly older Oberaden fortress. The rampart in Haltern also consisted of two parallel wooden walls, with the 3-metre space between these filled with material excavated when digging the surrounding ditches. Each wall had opposing posts set deep in the ground, with each pair connected with tie beams to form a truss. Planks were then attached to the posts on the inward-facing side of the resulting ‘corridor’.
Reconstructed rampart and gate in the Römerpark Aliso open air Roman museum in Haltern am See, based on the model reconstruction by Kees Peterse.
Unlike in Oberaden, the posts used here were round, with a diameter of 18 to 20cm. Furthermore, in Haltern the trusses were set much further apart along the course of the rampart, about 3 metres on average compared to the 1.2m intervals in Oberaden. According to Kees Peterse, this greater distance resulted from the Roman’s desire to complete more of the fortress in less time. As a consequence, thicker planks had to be used to withstand the outward pressure of the infill of excavated earth between the walls over a greater distance.
A height of 3 metres (10 Roman feet) has also been used in the reconstruction for the rampart of Haltern, that’s to say, that’s the height at which the uppermost tie beams of the trusses, those which would support the parapet walk, were secured. Following the example at Oberaden, the upper tie beams are reconstructed as anchor beams, attached to the posts using mortise and tenon joinery, with the tenons extending through the posts.
The posts rise above the level of the parapet walk where, on the exterior of the rampart they support the parapet and on the interior a simple railing. In the reconstruction, the parapet is clad with planks on both sides of the posts. The merlons, high enough to protect a standing soldier, and the crenels between these follow the intervals of the trusses, meaning that between two trusses (3 metres) there is always one merlon and one crenel.
Reconstructed view of the rampart as seen from the north looking towards the west gate, showing a cross section of the rampart. Still rendering by Kees Peterse.
Reconstructed exterior view of the rampart and ditches. Still rendering by Kees Peterse.
Left: reconstructed view of the parapet walk from the north, with rampart tower and beyond this the towers of the west gate. Still rendering by Kees Peterse.
Right: towers on the rampart at a Roman fortress depicted on Trajan’s Column (scene 51) in Rome. Photo: www.trajans-column.org.
Simplified map of the traces of the ramparts on the west side of the fortress, with the post holes for the posts of the rampart (orange) and the gate and a tower (red). Drawing by Kees Peterse based on the archaeological plan published in Die römischen Militäranlagen bei Haltern: Bericht über die Forschungen seit 1899 by S. von Schnurbein (Aschendorff, Münster 1974)..
Towers were situated along the rampart at intervals of about 23.5 metres (80 Roman feet), the same spacing used for the towers at the fortress at Oberaden. But unlike in Oberaden, they were formed by four posts from the rampart itself, which were buried deeper in the ground and were also about 10cm thicker than the other posts. As a result, the towers in Haltern were aligned with the rampart. The towers themselves have also been reconstructed based on the depiction of similar towers in the relief on Trajan’s Column in Rome. The posts supported a 3-by-3-metre (10-by-10-Roman-foot) platform, uncovered and with an open railing, at a height of 3 meters (10 Roman feet) above the parapet walk.
At the gates, the rampart jutted inward enough to create a space outside the gates enclosed by the rampart on three sides, where attackers could be bombarded with projectiles from three sides. On either side of the gate were two L-shaped gate towers, through which the parapet walk continued above the gateway. As with the towers along the wall, thicker posts were used around the gateway, which were also buried deeper in the ground. In the reconstruction, the posts for the gate towers support a platform of the same shape and at the same height as that of the rampart towers.
Unlike in Oberaden, the rampart under the gate towers was not filled with earth. This made the wooden panelling in this section vulnerable to attack with battering rams and artillery, as well as fire. To counter this, in the reconstruction, for reinforcement, the gate towers are given additional support by a plank-lined wall of posts mounted close together in a sill plate. Because the gate towers also jutted outward in relation to the rampart, this made it impossible for attackers to enter the area between the ditch and the rampart from the road leading to the gates.
The rampart with tower, reconstructed in 2015 and 2016, is now part of the Römerpark Aliso open air museum (Am Römerberg 1, Bergkamen-Oberaden, Germany).
Reconstructed rampart in the Römerpark Aliso open air Roman museum in Haltern am See, based on the 3D reconstruction by Kees Peterse. Photo by Kees Peterse.
To learn more
K. Peterse, Die Rekonstruktion der Holz-Erde-Mauer des Römerlagers Oberaden, BABesch 85, 2010, 141-177. [PDF]
R. Aßkamp & S. Brentführer, Die Rekonstruktion von Westtor und Holz-Erde-Mauer des Hauptlagers von Haltern, in: Archäologie in Westfalen-Lippe 2016, 297-302.
K. Peterse (†) & B. Tremmel, Holz und Erde. Die Holz-Erde-Umwehrungen der römischen Militärlager Bergkamen-Oberaden und Haltern-Hauptlager, in: E. Claßen, M.M. Rind, Th. Schürmann & M. Trier (Hrsg.), Roms fliessende Grenzen. Archäologische Landesaustellung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Darmstadt 2021, 465-473.