Adopt a Roman Watchtower

My colleague discussing the history of the Limes excavations.

For the last few months I have wandered the trails near our house passing by numerous signs for Limes this or Limes that.  I noticed it on maps and saw trail guides in the bookstores.  I wondered what this Limes business was all about.  And today, I finally got the chance to discover what this word Limes really means.

Limes means limit.  The Limes was the fortified northern limit of the Roman Empire.  The Palisades and Towers were built in the first century when the Romans moved beyond the natural borders of the Rhine and the Danube.  This series of towers, guard stations, and larger camps extended from the Black Sea all the way to the North Sea.

Limes map supplied by Wikipedia. Our towers are located near the fort called Kl. Feldberg and the Saalberg.

The towers and camps were once occupied by the Auxiliary forces of the Roman military.  These were peoples who lived within the borders of the empire but were not Roman citizens.  If they served in the Roman military for 25 years, they were granted citizenship, given land, and even health care.  So don’t think that these were Romans suffering in the cold winter months high up into Barbarian territory.  These were most likely British, Hungarian, or other European soldiers used to the harsh and rugged conditions.

With my colleague and students,  I ventured into the wilds of the Taunus to help maintain a few of the Roman watchtowers along our stretch of the Limes.  Our school has adopted, as one of their service projects, three towers in this area.  It is our job to clear away brush, pick up rubbish, and keep the trails marked leading to the ruins.  The students involved get to count the hours for their Service requirements, but they also go because they enjoy learning about the local history of our area.

We are standing in the ditch in front of what would have been a wood palisade. In the distance you can see the foundation of the watchtower.

It was a cold blustery day, but the hiking and adventure kept us going.  We pondered what life was like for these souls who spent their days here.  As we stood in the thick evergreen forest, it was hard to believe that the towers communicated with each other via torch signals.  It was hard to imagine our Feldberg treeless.  Every tree had been cut down in order to build long wood fences, forts, to supply heat, and cooking fires.  And as we stood in the ditch of where this wood wall once stood, it was unfathomable to think that we were walking in the footsteps of these Roman soldiers.  Were they bored up there, high on the hill?  Did they miss their families?  Did they enjoy being on this great adventure away from home?  Were they scared?  When things went bump in the night, did they panic?

Our day finished with a picnic lunch at the Römerkastell Altes Jagdhaus.  We sat on the remains of a barn from the Renaissance, which sits inside the foundation of a Roman Guardhouse.  The area was said to be used as a customs house.  Here soldiers monitored those entering and leaving the empire.

I feel very lucky to teach in a place where I can take students to where it all happened.  Whether it be Roman fortifications, a Medieval town center, or a factory which built the Red Baron’s airplane engine, I live in a town rich in history.

Today was a good reminder of the importance of getting our students out of the classroom and to where it all happened.  You may be thinking, what does my town have to offer?  Well you just need to go out and discover it.  Your town’s history might have prehistoric significance, or it might have played a minor role along the Transatlantic Railroad only a few hundred years ago.  Whatever it might be, go out and discover it; share your local history with your students.

If you would like to read more about the Limes, click here.  This brochure is in both German and English.

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