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The Rampart on the Oberesch

An Archaeological Highlight

The first sections were excavated on a parcel of land named »Oberesch.« Almost the entire site is covered by Plaggen soil, i.e. by pieces of sod (so-called »Plaggen«), which were put there as fertilizer during the Middle Ages and in early modern times. Yet many Roman coins and military artifacts were found in their original positions on today’s earth surface, besides a few individual, partially relocated artifacts underneath the Esch.

A long section cut shed light on the reasons for this pattern of finds. Apart from Roman artifacts (among them the impressive facial mask of a Roman cavalrist), a meaningful discovery was made: an earthen wall which indeed proved to be what archaeologists had suspected: It was a man-made fortification, as analyses by soil scientists confirmed. While the rampart was first interpreted as a Roman construct, it is now safe to assume that this fortification was built by Germanic people to create an ambush for Roman troops. This assumption is backed up by the actual finds, the layout of the wall and the construction method used for the rampart.

It is believed that the rampart had been planned carefully, but erected shortly before the arrival of the Romans. The composition of the artifacts as well as the type of their fragmentation and damage indicate that Roman troops were successfully attacked and beaten here. The fact that the finds have been dated to the time around Christ’s birth, plus the high number of coins from the years 7 to 9 AD, make it more than likely that these finds are to be placed in the context of the Varus battle.

Due to numerous section cuts that served to examine about 12,000 square meters of this parcel of land until 2014, we know of the existence of an about 400-meter-long rampart located above the hillside toe. It covers the Oberesch, it is limited by two creeks, and it is curved in various places. Originally the rampart, which today measures less than half a meter’s height, but more than 10 meters width due to erosion, was three meters wide and almost two meters high. It was built from sand and pieces of sod, blended with the odd piece of limestone. All of these materials could be found nearby and put to use with relatively little effort. At least one section of the rampart appears to have been reinforced in the front by a wooden parapet.

Behind the rampart, pits as well as stretches of ditches were found. These probably served to collect surface water that could drain away in the pits, thus preventing the rather loosely constructed wall from being washed out. Openings and gates in the rampart allowed the Germanic defenders to strike fast on the battlefield, but they could also retreat immediately if Romans tried to attack the rampart. Since the rampart was limited by one creek to the East and another one to the West, the Germanic people took precautions to keep the Romans from circumventing the wall. At the rampart’s ends, short ditches of about two meters width and one meter depth were dug out to prevent the Romans’ intrusion.

Even though some details of the construction evoke the use of Roman building techniques, we can now be certain that the rampart is of Germanic origin. After all, Germanic men had been trained to serve as members of Roman auxiliary troops. Their skills were probably put to use during the rampart’s construction.