Mini temple discovered in military camp

View of the excavation area with the traces of the cult buildings made of clay framework, which once had a small pillared porch. © LWL/C. Hentzelt

Surprising evidence of religious culture: Archaeologists have found the remains of two small cult buildings and a sacrificial pit on the site of the Roman camp in Haltern am See. The two buildings made of clay framework had typical features of Roman temple structures. Such cult buildings were not previously known from the interior of Roman military installations. The team is now hoping for further finds that will shed light on what the two mini-temples were all about.

Enormous military presence around 2,000 years ago: One of the Romans' most important bases in their plan to conquer Germanic territory to the right of the Rhine was once located near what is now the town of Haltern am See in North Rhine-Westphalia. One of the legions that were destroyed in the famous Battle of Varus in 9 AD was stationed on the banks of the Lippe River. Numerous finds discovered by archaeologists since 1816 testify to the fortified camp, which covered over 18 hectares. Today the Roman Museum of the Westphalia-Lippe Regional Association (LWL) is located there.

However, there are still exciting traces from the period of Roman military presence to be discovered on the site, as excavations in recent years have shown. This is where the current finds are listed. They come from an area of ​​over 2,000 square meters within the Roman camp, which had already been provisionally examined in 1928. At that time, archaeologists had identified traces of a building complex in the ground. What functions it once had, however, remained unclear. There was, among other things, the assumption that it was a meeting building for military personnel.

More detailed research

Due to a lack of time and money, many traces were left in the ground during the excavations around 100 years ago. “Fortunately,” says the Roman expert from LWL Archeology for Westphalia, Bettina Tremmel. According to her, further investigations at the time might have led to the destruction of archaeological structures in the area. Tremmel and her colleagues were now able to devote themselves meticulously to recording the trenches and post marks, which can be seen as discolorations in the ground. “It was often a Sisyphean task to find these traces from Roman times,” says the archaeologist. But the effort was worth it, because the remains of two particularly interesting buildings emerged, reports the LWL.

So far, archaeologists have been able to almost completely uncover the floor plan of the western building. It turned out that this approximately 30 square meter rectangular building had a five meter wide entrance at the front. There was a small portico in front of this building front: the entrance was architecturally highlighted by two wooden columns on the side. The findings so far show that the nearby second building had a largely identical structure.

Mysterious mini temples

From the structural features, the experts conclude that there were two cult buildings. “Although the two rectangular buildings only consisted of clay frameworks, they were modeled on the typical large podium temples made of stone that could be found in numerous Roman cities at the time of Emperor Augustus,” explains Tremmel. In addition, the remains of a pit surrounded by a small niche building were visible between the two buildings. Traces of charcoal were found in it.

“According to our current research, the buildings whose function has previously been a mystery are two small temples and a niche building with a burn pit,” summarizes Michael Rind from the LWL. The finding is extraordinary because such cult buildings have not been found anywhere else within Roman military installations.

Finally, LWL head of culture Barbara Rüschoff-Parzinger says about the ongoing investigations: “When you think of Romans in Westphalia, the first thing that comes to mind is complex logistics, large military facilities and shiny equipment. The beliefs of the Romans have so far played a subordinate role in our work. “In the coming months, the question of what secret lies behind this unique finding will be investigated,” says Rüschoff-Parzinger.

Source: Westphalia-Lippe Regional Association

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