Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Roman Victory in the North German Woods

The remains of a battle fought between Romans and Germans, far beyond the Roman frontier, are being interpreted as evidence of a punitive campaign waged by a usurping emperor named Maximinus Thrax in AD 235:
The Roman historian Herodian says that Maximinus laid waste to the whole country, destroying crops, burning down villages after allowing the army to plunder them, and stealing cattle from the Germanic 'barbarians.' . . .

An archeological dig there this summer turned up 1,800 artefacts. A single spot on the hill had been pounded by torsion catapults, one of the most advanced weapons in the Roman arsenal, and 70 bolts from these armour-piercing weapons were still lying in the ground.

The catapults, mounted on wagons, had a range of up to 200 metres, said Michael Moosbauer, an archaeology professor at the Harzhorn site. The iron points weighed 200 grams apiece.

Among the techniques used by the archaeologists to sketch a map of the battle is tracking the studs that fell off Roman sandals as the troops climbed the Harzhorn on foot. They are believed to have overcome their opponents before continuing on their way. That belief is partly based on the absence from the soil of buckles, which were typically left behind on battlefields when victors ripped armour off slaughtered Roman legionaries. If any imperial troops did fall on the Harzhorn, they were buried elsewhere, since there has been no sign of dead Romans. . . .

Nine coins that have been found - one minted in AD 228 - also fit the date.

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