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Sequens

Battlefield at Harzhorn Hill - interpretations

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Hi, I haven't been here in a while, but have continued to study the Roman - Germanic conflict on and off. I only recently found out about the recent discovery of a battlefield near Kalefeld on the Harzhorn Hill. I looked for an exsisting thread on the subject, assuming it must have been much discussed, but could not find a recent one, so hope you do not mind another.

 

More up-to-date information is now being posted on some german sites associated with the excavation, and pictures of the finds and site.

 

I was mainly interested in what people here thought of the interpretations so far coming from the excavation group and if they had any ideas at variance or supplementary in nature. Also since this is not a well documented event in roman histories much remains in question. A rare feast for delightful spectulation.

 

Some questions I had about it were:

 

- If a roman legion, and auxillaries was involved, why do the excavators estimate the roman force at 1000 ?

 

- Why are most of the sandal nails, so far found concentrated at the base of the slope leading to the Germanic tribes position on the top of the hill ?

 

- How did the romans have enough time to get their 'artillery', that is ballista, up the hill and into position if this was an ambush ?

 

- Why are their no Germanic artifacts found ?

 

- Why did the Romans not collect their used arrows and ballista projectiles after the battle ?

 

- If it was a Roman victory why was it not more recorded ?

 

- Which Legion(s) were involved ?

 

- Is the similarity to the opening battle in the film 'Gladiator' purely coincidental ?

 

...

Edited by Sequens

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This article from December 2008 referring to finds which started in 2000 in De Spiegel may be what you were referring to:

 

Archaeologists in Germany say they have found an ancient battlefield strewn with Roman weapons. The find is significant because it indicates that Romans were fighting battles in north Germany at a far later stage than previously assumed.

 

 

The wilds of Germany may not have been off-limits to Roman legions, archaeologists announced on Monday. At a press conference in the woods near the town of Kalefeld, about 100 kilometers south of Hanover, researchers announced the discovery of a battlefield strewn with hundreds of Roman artifacts dating from the 3rd century A.D.

 

Finding evidence of Roman fighting forces so far north is surprising, the archaeologists say. Germany was once considered prime territory for Roman conquest. But in A.D. 9, thousands of Roman legionaries were slaughtered in a forest near modern-day Bremen.

 

"We thought that with the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, the Romans gave up on this region and pulled back behind the limes," or frontier fortifications further south, says Henning Hassmann, the Lower Saxony Conservation Department's lead archaeologist.

 

But evidence found in woods outside the small town of Kalefeld may force historians to take a new look at the Roman presence in Germany. More than 600 artifacts, ranging from axe heads and wagon parts to coins and arrowheads, have been found on a forested hill called the Harzhorn. So far, the artifacts indicate that Roman soldiers fought a battle on top of the hill.

 

The site first came to light in the summer of 2000, when local metal detector hobbyists found some pieces of metal while looking for a medieval fort. The fragments languished for years, until the men finally decided to turn them in to Petra Loenne, the Northeim area archaeologist......

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Yes, that is one of the initial reports, but there are more recent ones now, with the artifact count up to around 1500.

 

One point I think can be laid to rest is on the curious similiarities to the battle in the movie 'Gladiator'

 

The discovers, at first kept their discovery secret and did not inform authorities... for about 8 years. I wondered if the film makers or screenplay writer had somehow caught whiff of the story.

 

But if the reports are correct, they discovered the first artifacts in the summer of 2000, and 'Gladiator' came out in May 2000. So it is coincidental it seems.

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- If a roman legion, and auxillaries was involved, why do the excavators estimate the roman force at 1000 ?

This was a punitive raid, not a campaign of conquest. The forces were not required to be any larger and given what had happened in AD9, perhaps the Romans could be forgiven for not risking their entire legion!

 

- Why are most of the sandal nails, so far found concentrated at the base of the slope leading to the Germanic tribes position on the top of the hill ?

Most likely that was where the Roman casualties fell.

 

- How did the romans have enough time to get their 'artillery', that is ballista, up the hill and into position if this was an ambush ?

They didn't. The bolts were fired onto the hill from the north.

 

- Why are their no Germanic artifacts found ?

Either looted from the Germans at the scene by Roman soldiers or revovered later by tribesmen

 

- Why did the Romans not collect their used arrows and ballista projectiles after the battle ?

They wanted to move on, plus there was no guarantee the spent projectiles were usable.

 

- If it was a Roman victory why was it not more recorded ?

The Romans might have mentioned the campaign in the Historia Augusta, telling us that in the summer of 238 Maximinus Thrax marched troops north from Moguntuacum (Mainz) for three or four hundred miles on a mission to revenge some damaging raids mounted by german tribesmen over the previous five years, though the plan had been prepared by his predecessor, Severus Alexander. That concurs with the approximate date of this battle.

 

Unfortunately the Historia Augusta is widely regarded as inaccurate and thus the distances have always been in doubt. As for the scale of the batttle, it's a minor engagement. The Germans occupied a hill blocking the route of march so the Romans dealt with it and moved on quickly to avoid further encounters - they were limited in numbers.

 

Estimates reckon it was all over in thirty minutes - and that's quick work by ancient standards - thus I doubt the records of the time paid much attention to it. Also there were other larger campaigns during the period the Romans probably found more interesting to write about. In any case, not all records survive.

 

- Which Legion(s) were involved ?

"Summer 238...Maximinus led out his entire army and crossed the bridge (over the Rhine) fearlessly, eager to do battle with the Germans. Under his command was a vast number of men, virtually the entire Roman military force, together with many Moorish javelin men and Osrehenian and Armenian archers; some were subject peoples, others friends and allies, and included, too, were a number of Parthian mercenaries and slaves captured by the Romans.

 

Entire Roman military force? I don't think so. That sounds like a mistake by the Roman authors rather than an exaggeration. What was meant was that Maxminus took almost the entire force raised to attack the Germans, not the empires forces as a whole.

 

- Is the similarity to the opening battle in the film 'Gladiator' purely coincidental ?

Yes. But the film does not portray the forces engaged at Harzhorn Hill, but legions in Marcus Aurelius's campaigns of fifty years earlier.

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- Is the similarity to the opening battle in the film 'Gladiator' purely coincidental ?

Yes. But the film does not portray the forces engaged at Harzhorn Hill, but legions in Marcus Aurelius's campaigns of fifty years earlier.

 

If the 2000 date of discovery is correct then I would go slightly further, given the script's first draft is dated April 4, 1998 and the film shot between January and May 1999, there is no way any 'similarites' can be anything but coincidence. :)

 

BTW a link to the more recent articles mentioned may be of general interest to anyone wishing to follow up on this story.

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- Is the similarity to the opening battle in the film 'Gladiator' purely coincidental ?

Yes. But the film does not portray the forces engaged at Harzhorn Hill, but legions in Marcus Aurelius's campaigns of fifty years earlier.

 

If the 2000 date of discovery is correct then I would go slightly further, given the script's first draft is dated April 4, 1998 and the film shot between January and May 1999, there is no way any 'similarites' can be anything but coincidence. :P

 

BTW a link to the more recent articles mentioned may be of general interest to anyone wishing to follow up on this story.

 

Yes Medvadius, I will try to post some links tonite.

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- Why are most of the sandal nails, so far found concentrated at the base of the slope leading to the Germanic tribes position on the top of the hill ?

Most likely that was where the Roman casualties fell.

 

Hey Caldrail, Good stuff. I wanted to just look at this point at the moment.

 

I agree with you that is the most likely. The excavators do not yet mention fighting at this point, but only as an area the romans massed prior to assaulting the Germans on the hill top.

 

But the Legionaries massing alone does not seem to explain so many hob-nails coming loose here. So far I can only think of 3 possibilities.

 

- The Germans made an assault on the Romans who were formed at the bottom of the slope first. Hand to hand fighting is a bit of a misnomer as combatants kick as much as anything else, and plenty of sandal nails could come loose then. Very possible.

 

- It was, or had been raining, and the Legionaries scraped the mud off the soles of their sandals (removing some nails) prior to their assault uphill, as they formed at the bottom. Possible

 

- The Legionaries stamped their feet in some sort of chanting prior to making the assault. Unlikely.

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- Why are most of the sandal nails, so far found concentrated at the base of the slope leading to the Germanic tribes position on the top of the hill ?

Most likely that was where the Roman casualties fell.

 

Hey Caldrail, Good stuff. I wanted to just look at this point at the moment.

 

I agree with you that is the most likely. The excavators do not yet mention fighting at this point, but only as an area the romans massed prior to assaulting the Germans on the hill top.

 

But the Legionaries massing alone does not seem to explain so many hob-nails coming loose here. So far I can only think of 3 possibilities.

 

- The Germans made an assault on the Romans who were formed at the bottom of the slope first. Hand to hand fighting is a bit of a misnomer as combatants kick as much as anything else, and plenty of sandal nails could come loose then. Very possible.

 

- It was, or had been raining, and the Legionaries scraped the mud off the soles of their sandals (removing some nails) prior to their assault uphill, as they formed at the bottom. Possible

 

- The Legionaries stamped their feet in some sort of chanting prior to making the assault. Unlikely.

 

Would the nails have had to come loose?

 

If casualties fell there, couldn't the nails be the remains of sandals that biodegraded over time?

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This was a punitive raid, not a campaign of conquest. The forces were not required to be any larger and given what had happened in AD9, perhaps the Romans could be forgiven for not risking their entire legion!

 

They had fought succesfully in Germany under Germanicus, few years after Teutoburg, defeating Arminius himself. Since Teutoburg was actually an a series of ambushes against an undeployed roman army marching in a forest rather than a real battle, then I guess that the successful Germanicus' campaign restored roman military confidence against the germanics.

Edited by Late Emperor

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I don't think it was quite that simple. Whilst I agree that Germanicus won a measure of victory against Germanic tribes after the Varian Disaster, it had limited obectives, such as recovering the lost 'eagles' and punishing the Germans enough to dissuade them from further such incidents. However we need to remember the shock the Romans felt when they discovered the slaughter site, burying the bones of man and animal together because they were inseperable. Also, and perhaps mist importantly, Roman colonisation of the German forests was all but abandoned, and former Roman towns deserted.

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we need to remember the shock the Romans felt when they discovered the slaughter site, burying the bones of man and animal together because they were inseperable.

 

True but they had felt worse shocks in republican times against carthage and always fought back.

 

Also, and perhaps mist importantly, Roman colonisation of the German forests was all but abandoned, and former Roman towns deserted.

 

It seems to me that it was abandoned because of Tiberius' conservative attitude about roman borders which decided to settle the limes on the very defensible Rhine river: his followers probably just realized that Germany wasn't worth the effort to conquer it (like Ireland). IMHO Tacitus in Germania describes very well how the romans viewed Germany: as a useless place. Augustus was a good emperor but trying to colonize the forested and swampy germany wasn't a great idea and it wouldn't have been (economicaally speaking) even if the germanics had been more peaceful since it wasn't a land dotted with "cities" and semi-civilized people like Gaul.

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yet Germany was also known to provide some rare ressources (especially in metals) and to be on the road to amber, so their was some economic incentive.

...also, a third of what makes up modern Germany actually was colonised and included in the Empire, much of it for around 400 years.

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This battlefield keeps getting more interessant by the day ! A german article (http://www.sueddeutsche.de/wissen/roemer-schlacht-in-niedersachsen-angriff-von-mehreren-seiten-1.1461586) mentions that the roman force could have been of a size to compare with Teuteburg Vald (Varus' defeat) with up to 20 000 roman soldiers engaged in the fight... I have'nt found a translation yet, but I'm sure Viggen can provide us with one :)

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