An officer’s residence at the Oberaden legionary fortress
In Kees Peterse’s reconstruction of an officer’s house in the legionary fortress of Oberaden it can be seen how the spacious urban houses in Roman Italy served as a model for this residence. The reception area (atrium) and the garden surrounded by a colonnade immediately catch the eye.
The remains of an enormous Roman fortress, large enough for two to three legions, are located in Oberaden, in the municipality of Bergkamen in Germany. This fortress was built deep in enemy territory towards the start of the Augustan Roman Wars, in 11 BC. Three or four years later it was abandoned and dismantled. Between the commanding officer's house (praetorium) and the headquarters (principia) in the middle of the fortress and the south gate lie the remains of several large houses intended to be occupied by high-ranking officers
With their north-facing façades, four houses were located on a side road that ran parallel to the front of the headquarters. The floor plans of all four were similar, with living quarters at the front of the residence and a peristyle garden at the back. However, differences in the dimensions and floor plans also show that they were not built all at the same time according to a standard design. Together with a comparable, much larger house closer to the gate and rampart, these houses have many characteristics of the masonry-built country villas and urban residences of the elite of the same period in Italy.
Map of the fortress at Oberaden, with a group of houses at the southern entrance gate at the bottom centre (in the red frame), and a detailed plan of the houses and the rampart gate. Drawing, LWL-Archäologie für Westfalen/D. Jaszczurok, graphic rendering by PANSA BV.
In 2012, Kees Peterse was commissioned by the town of Bergkamen to work on a digital reconstruction of the easternmost of the four houses opposite the headquarters, a commission he was unfortunately unable to complete.
Thanks to the accurate excavation data, in the reconstruction it was possible to take into account the fact that the house, covering 27 by 47.5 metres, was built on a sloping site. From the entrance to the rear wall, the site declines by more than 3 meters, with the greatest decline at the front part of the house
Floor plan of the two easternmost houses at the southern entrance gate of the Oberaden fortress (drawing by LWL-Archäologie für Westfalen/D. Jaszczurok) and sketch of a cross-section through the easternmost house (drawing Kees Peterse).
Most of the elements of a traditional Roman house from this time can be seen in this house. From the entrance a passage (fauces) leads directly to the central hall (atrium) that gave access to the rest of the house. The lack of a reception area (tablinum) opposite the entrance on the other side of the atrium is notable. This space played an important role in the social interaction of the Roman elite in civil society, but had no significance in a military context. Behind the house was the peristyle, a large, almost square garden enclosed on three sides by a colonnade and on the south side by an enclosed corridor.
In the reconstruction, all wings around the atrium have been given an upper level. The hip roof that extends over the four wings has an opening in the middle to provide natural light and air from outside. Incoming rainwater was collected in a shallow basin (impluvium) located in the centre of the atrium. The six columns that surrounded this basin and supported the roof are still missing in the digital reconstruction.
Reconstruction of the easternmost house at the southern entrance gate of the Oberaden fortress and of the decline in the ground from north to south. Still renderings by Kees Peterse.
Reconstructed top view of the ground floor. Still rendering by Kees Peterse.
Reconstructed view of the front of the house. Still rendering by Kees Peterse.
Following the example of houses in Pompeii, in the reconstruction the two large rooms on either side of the entrance passage (fauces) are only open to the street and not accessible from the atrium. Stairwells are projected in two narrow spaces on either side of the atrium.
In the reconstruction, the closed wall on the south side of the peristyle has been given large windows that can be closed with shutters. In a corner of the garden, close to the house, was a well.
Reconstructed view of the atrium, looking towards the entrance. Still rendering by Kees Peterse.
Reconstructed view of the peristyle and the well. Still rendering by Kees Peterse.
Reconstructed view of the house from the south west. Still rendering by Kees Peterse.
Kees Peterse, Pompeii. De bouwgeschiedenis van een antieke stad, Kunstschrift 4, 1991, 18-24 (over het Romeinse woonhuis). [PDF]