Limes (border wall)

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Roman Limites in the 2nd Century AD
The legion sites around 125 AD
German special postage stamp "UNESCO World Heritage Site Limes" (2007)
Coin image Hadrian, under his rule the Limes took on its final shape
Phases of development of the Roman Limes on the northern borders
Limes in Britain: Reconstruction of Hadrian's Wall in Wallsend, view from SE
Diorama of the wall fort of Housesteads , state in the 2nd century AD
Lower Germanic Limes: Model of the Roman legion camp in Bonn
Upper German Limes: model of the Argentorate legionary camp (4th century AD)
Limes in Germania: reconstructed palisade and moat near the Saalburg
Limes in Germania: Palisade and watchtower at Zugmantel Fort
Upper German Limes: reconstructed watchtower in the Taunus (D)
Rhaetian Limes: A wooden watchtower reconstructed in 2008 based on the work of Dietwulf Baatz
Rhaetian Limes: Model of the Ruffenhofen Fort
Rhaetian Limes: attempted digital reconstruction of the Aalen cavalry fort
Rhaetian Limes: attempted reconstruction of the early wood and earth fort of Quintanis (Künzing, D): 1st barracks ( Contubernia ), 2nd command building (Principia) , 3rd house of the camp commandant (Praetorium) , 4th warehouse (Horreum) , 5th . Horse stables (Stabulum) , 6th camp hospital (Valetudinarium)
Rhaetian Limes: South view of the Limestore of Dalkingen in 2009, left and right of the passage a so-called "Opus reticulatum" masonry
Rhaetian Limes: The Rhaetian Wall at WP 14/77, the remains of which can be seen in the foreground
Rhaetian Limes: Pfünz Castle in Bavaria. Attempt to reconstruct the main gate, the Porta praetoria , based on an idea by Fischer (2008) and information from Johnson / Baatz (1987)
Norischer Limes: attempt to reconstruct the north gate of Fort Favianis based on the findings from 1996 to 1997 (variant B)
Limes in Slovakia: attempted reconstruction of the Iža-Leányvár fort, as it was in the 4th century AD.
Triumphal relief of the Sassanid Shapur I near Naqsh-i Rustam: The emperor Philip Arabs kneels in front of the Persian king (on horseback); Emperor Valerian stands next to Shapur, who has grabbed his arm as a sign of imprisonment.
The Augsburg victory altar , a consecration to the goddess Victoria , which was erected near the Rhaetian provincial capital Augusta Vindelicorum on the occasion of a Roman victory over a prey community of the Juthungen .
Upper German Limes: Reconstruction of the barbarian booty recovered from the Rhine by Neupotz
DIR-Limes: Findings plan of the excavations in the late antique fort Arbon (CH)
Reconstruction model of the late Roman Quadriburgus of Oberranna (A)
Norischer Limes: attempted reconstruction of a late antique horseshoe tower ( Mautern an der Donau )
Pannonian Limes: preserved remains of the Burgus of Rusovce / Gerulata , Slovakia
Pannonian Limes: attempted reconstruction of the late antique fort Contra Aquincum, view from the south-east
Pannonian Limes: The late antique Danube fort Visegrád-Sibrik
Limes in North Africa: Remains of the wall of the Bu Njem fort in Tripolitania
Limes North Africa: attempted reconstruction of a centenarium
Remains of a late Roman defense tower in Konstanz (excavation status 2004)
Rhaetian Limes: Eining Fort , model of the late antique reduction in the north-west corner of the fort
Limes in Germania: Miltenberg Fort (old town)
The forts under the command of the Dux Raetiae ; Representation from a medieval copy of the Notitia Dignitatum
The Justinian fortress wall of Dara-Anastasiupolis with passages for the river
Lower Germanic Limes: Model of the small fort Ockenburgh, 150–180 AD.
Attempted reconstruction of the timber-peat fort on Swarthy Hill on the Cumbrian coast in the 2nd century
Battle between Romans and Teutons, marble relief on the Ludivisi sarcophagus, the rider in general pose on the upper edge probably represents Emperor Hostilian (251/252)

Limes ( Latin originally "Querweg", "Schneise", especially "Grenzweg" in connection with the division of a space or the development of a site, later generally "border"; plural limites ) refers to the Roman Empire from 1st to 6th Border walls or military border security systems in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa were built in the 17th century AD. It is also used for later comparable border drawing ( Limes Saxoniae ) or monitoring systems at imperial borders. The term is originally derived from the Latin words limus "quer" and limen "door threshold". Initially, the Romans only understood this term to be a field or an acre, which was delimited with boundary stones (termini) , wooden posts or clearly recognizable landmarks (trees, rivers). From the time of Gaius Iulius Caesar , military roads with fortified sentries and marshals on a forest aisle (see also below) or quickly laid out roads in enemy territory were called Limes.

Where there were no natural border markings such as rivers or mountains, the Romans marked their imperial borders with limites . These showed different characteristics, they were dependent on the natural conditions, the settlement density and the threat situation on site. They were all watched over by Roman troops. In North Africa and the East, more or less loose chains of forts and watchtowers formed the Limes. On the Rhine, Danube, Euphrates and Tigris, the watercourses of these rivers marked the border. This Limes is now also known as the “river limes” or “wet limes”, the Romans themselves spoke of a ripa (Latin for “bank”). A section of the Rhaetian Limes in its last expansion stage and the British Hadrian's Wall even consisted of continuous stone walls with watchtowers instead of wooden palisades as in Upper Germany and Raetia. In late antiquity , however, the Romans usually gave up these closed ramparts and palisades and went over to securing the limits with forts of different sizes, as was customary in some other border sections from the beginning.

The Roman border fortifications were not intended to ward off major attacks and were mostly unsuitable for this. They should primarily ensure the control and channeling of the daily movement of goods and people and the rapid transmission of messages between the guards. The Limes was not only a military marker, but above all the border of the Roman economic area. In addition to their function as a military "early warning system", the limites served as customs borders and their border crossings as "marketplaces" for foreign trade with the Barbaricum . The border fortifications shaped numerous cultural landscapes in their almost five hundred year history and formed the nucleus of many important cities. The best known limits are the Upper Germanic-Raetian Limes in Germany, with 550 km the longest ground monument in Europe, and Hadrian's Wall in Great Britain .


The term limes generally stands for the development and division of a terrain or a paved path or free open path that traverses something, a field, a forest, but also the mass of enemies. In the military sense it is understood to be a road or a path that was laid out to develop strategically important regions for the Romans - such as open landscapes, forests, mountainous areas, etc. This also included areas in enemy territory. In this sense, most of the large road structures (e.g. the Via Appia ), which were built under military-political aspects during the time of the Roman Republic , could be referred to as limites . In a technical sense, it was understood to mean paths that were created when measuring fields (limitatio) .

The term limes was initially not used to define a land border in Roman antiquity. In the republican and early imperial era such a (fines imperii) was still unknown. It was not until Augustus' recommendation to his successors to secure the areas that had been won so far that fixed borders were gradually established. The Limes was mentioned for the first time by Sextus Iulius Frontinus , who used it to designate aisles that were cut into the woods in the course of Domitian's Chat Wars . The historian Tacitus called limes a border zone staggered in depth. How the courses of palisades, ditches and ramparts were called by the Romans is unknown. The great ideal of Rome, the unity of the city and the world, is embodied most succinctly in the city wall that surrounds and protects the citizens. Above all, Emperor Hadrian tried to realize this ideal with his new border policy. From his reign, the shape of the Limes, most familiar to us today, began to take on its shape with its system of countless fortifications lined up in a line - initially only made of earth and wood, later almost without exception made of stone. In 143 the Greek rhetorician Aelius Aristides gave a speech at the court of Antoninus Pius , which also contained some remarks about the Limes:

“[…] True, you haven't neglected the walls, but you have led them around your entire empire, not just around your city. You erected it as far outside as it was possible, absolutely magnificent and worthy of your name, worth seeing for those who live within this ring. […] (Chapter 80) […] You laid beyond the outer ring of the earth Similar to the walling around a city, there is another border line, which is more mobile and easier to guard. There you set up fortifications and built border towns, each in a different area. You called settlers into these, gave them craftsmen to support them and otherwise granted them everything they needed. "

- Aelius Aristides : Ice Rhomen ("Romrede") 80–81

Around the middle of the 2nd century, the Alexandrian historian Appian wrote in his Roman history that the Romans

"[...] surrounded their realm with large armies and encircled the whole country and even the sea with a mighty and strong fortress."

- Appian : prooimion 7

Under the soldier emperors, that section of a province that shared a border with the so-called Barbaricum was considered the Limes. Since Emperor Constantine I, it was mainly the armed forces newly formed by him, the Limitanei (border guards) and the Ripenses (bank guards), who were associated with the Limes .


Systematic and scientific research on the Limes began in Germany in 1892 with the work of the Reich Limes Commission (RLK) on the Upper German-Rhaetian Limes . This section of the Roman border fortifications is still one of the most famous Limites today. The studies of the Reichs-Limeskommission, which interpreted the Limes as a defensive bulwark from the start, were groundbreaking, but due to new scientific findings, some of their conclusions at the time must be critically scrutinized.

Even when British archaeologists carried out the first scientific excavations on Hadrian's Wall 100 years ago, the Limes still naturally thought of a fortification for trench warfare, in particular for defense against barbarians . As a result, there was long debate about the Romans' defense tactics: Did the soldiers fight the invaders from their forts and ramparts, or did they confront them in advance of the Limes? Later, the experience of the Iron Curtain prevented for a long time from going new ways in determining the true function of the Limes. The image of the Limes as a bulwark against barbarians is therefore still very widespread beyond expert circles. In addition, the Romanization of the indigenous population was to be promoted through the presence of the occupation troops. Through the soldiers even the most remote corners of the empire came into contact with Rome. In addition, they were the catalyst that enabled a new society to emerge on the border. Their goal was primarily political - to create roughly stable, city-centered local governments with Latin as the official language. At a much lower level, it was aimed at the tribal elites outside and in the border areas in order to reconcile them with the Roman occupying power in the long term. This was accomplished through contracts, financial donations and the granting of Roman citizenship as well as the import of goods and services. In this way, even closer cultural ties between the Romans and the indigenous peoples should be forged. The new subjects should not be completely transformed into Romans, but only induced to identify with the advantages of Roman civilization. Under normal circumstances, the Roman conquerors did not aim to impose the Italian way of life on a completely foreign culture. Their key to success was not the violent suppression of the initial resistance to the occupation, but the gradual and voluntary assimilation of the local population into a social system based on prosperity and oligarchic power. The opposition to Rome was often overcome or at least weakened by financial and economic incentives for the subjugated elites and opportunities for advancement in the army or imperial administration. The provinces therefore produced numerous centurions, procurators, senators, governors, praetorians and emperors. In the border zone, the elite's thirst for action was deliberately directed towards the accumulation of wealth. Beyond the border, Roman diplomacy focused on installing pro-Roman rulers within the tribal hierarchies.

Today the Limes is seen by most experts primarily as a population and economic policy control and control line, which also served to demonstrate Roman architecture and engineering. With the help of the barriers, the Roman administration was able to direct the flow of trade and population to the border crossings designated for this in times of peace. This enabled the empire to control trade in the provinces, to intervene if necessary and, above all, to raise tariffs. On the other hand, the influx of entire population groups could also be regulated - depending on requirements.

The fact that the Limes was viewed as an impermeable border for a long time is also due to a misinterpretation of a Tacitus text in the 19th century. This was in the context of finds of palisades and wall remains from the 2nd century AD, which at that time could not be precisely dated, and above all the modern view of the border as an absolute dividing line between nation states. Older research believed that this kind of border was also recognized in the Limes, which would certainly not have been in the spirit of the Romans or other ancient peoples. The Limes was anything but an iron curtain , but rather a membrane , on which a kind of osmotic exchange of people, goods of all kinds and ideas from over there was part of normal everyday life. Romans traveled to Barbaricum and went about their business there, Germanic tribes and many other tribesmen switched to the empire in return, and they by no means always came as prisoners or slaves. As a result of these numerous contacts, the political and military cards were completely reshuffled over time. Contacts and trade with the Romans had a massive influence on the social structure of the barbarian tribes. In the West this brought about a completely new and for Rome even existence-threatening constellation of rulers and tribal oligarchies. In the east, the Parthians were replaced by the Sassanids in 224 , who repeatedly troubled the Romans until the beginning of Islamic expansion in the 7th century. For this reason, the character of the Limites changed in the 3rd century.

Regardless of whether it is a wall or a palisade, it was not important to the Limes architects to create a standardized and absolutely seamless barrier. It was primarily intended to convey a simple message to the neighboring peoples: This is where mighty Rome begins with all its achievements (e.g. legal security); if someone wants to cross his borders, one has to do it at the checkpoints provided for this purpose and thus submit to the applicable laws of the empire. Anyone who does not accept this is breaking the law and will be punished for it. At the same time, it should be made unmistakably clear to the barbarian tribes that the Romans knew how to defend themselves effectively against attacks. Until the 4th century, the empire responded with brutal retaliatory campaigns if necessary. The aspect of illegally trespassing a visibly closed space (e.g. the individual dwelling house as a framed cult and ritual area) was also known to all neighboring cultures, where it was also viewed as a serious outrage and sanctioned accordingly.

Despite the technical and logistical achievements of the Romans in expanding the Limes into a closed barrage, it was also the first sign of their increasing weakness in this phase. The Romans had to admit that the expansion of the empire had, in the truest sense of the word, reached its limits. The official doctrine of the Augustan age, an ever-growing empire without end, had failed because of the political and military realities. The neighboring peoples, largely marginalized and less progressive, drew different conclusions from this than Rome originally intended. From their point of view, mighty Rome was apparently so afraid of the barbari from the vast and dark forests of Germania and the eastern steppes, which it despised , that it now holed up behind walls and palisades. At the same time, when threatened by other peoples or by scarce resources, the neighboring Teutons created the incentive to leave their original settlement areas and overcome the Limes in order to be able to participate in the better life in the empire in whatever way (see also Migration period ). The Limes stood for a clear demarcation from the non-Roman or barbaric world, but still conveyed a feeling of security (securitas) and togetherness to the peoples of the Roman Empire for a long time .

Surveillance system

To monitor the border, auxiliary troops ( auxilia ) were stationed in the forts , divided into cohorts (infantry) and alen (cavalry) who were recruited in the provinces. In addition, numbers for the occupancy of the small forts and watchtowers were recruited from the indigenous population. These were numerically smaller units and only lightly armed. They were mostly used for guard and patrol duty in the more difficult to access forest and mountainous regions, or in remote desert sections. The legions were mostly located in camps in the hinterland, somewhat separated from the Limes, and were only set on the march during major attacks or campaigns in the Barbaricum. In Europe, the Romans used natural barriers, especially the course of the great rivers Rhine and Danube, which they could monitor more efficiently with their naval units and their banks with infantry and cavalry troops. In the provinces of the Near East, the natural conditions of the desert determined border security. The rivers Euphrates and Tigris as well as key positions (e.g. water points) on oases and caravan routes were checked here. The same was essentially true of the provinces in North Africa. Where there was nothing of the kind, additional trenches or barriers (clausurae) had to be built. At some points in the southern and eastern regions of the empire it was completely abandoned. Such bases were more like today's police or border stations. Those who tried to cross the border illegally were treated as prisoners of war. Another important element of the Limes system was the well-developed road network, which was connected to the major roads and, if necessary, enabled troops to be quickly transferred to potential danger points.

The risk of being caught illegally crossing the border was relatively high on certain sections of the Limes (e.g. Britain and on the Rhine and Danube), because it was monitored with a sophisticated system here. The watchtowers placed directly on the forest aisles acted as outposts. They were always in visual contact with each other so that in the event of danger the soldiers could unhindered report the alarm with blows of trumpets (tubae) , mirrors, smoke or fire signals (torches) to the neighboring towers and the forts in the hinterland, a simple but well-functioning early warning system. Up to eight men lay as a crew in such a tower. They stayed at their posts for several weeks. Their most important tasks were to pass on the alarm signals in the event of an attack and to conduct continuous patrols in their section. In order to be able to clearly overlook the apron, an attempt was made to keep it free of vegetation over a width of a few meters . Approach obstacles were created in front of the fortifications (e.g. on the Antonine Wall ), such as B. placed in pits, pointed wooden pegs, the so-called Lilia .

Defense tactics

For centuries, Rome used a mixture of military deterrence, threats and alliances ( foedera ) with its neighbors with varying degrees of success in order to preserve peace and Roman influence across borders. An effective and complete defense of the Limes was logistically impossible, attacks by plundering groups could not be stopped in the long run, just as invasions of large armies could not be stopped. Politically, the empire had a number of instruments at its disposal to keep the tribes under control. His emissaries were in constant contact with the peoples beyond its borders, which in the course of time created a series of buffer zones around the empire, which were ruled by vassal kings and tribal leaders loyal to Rome. With their help, the surrounding, hostile tribes were to be monitored and kept away from the imperial territories. In return, they were provided with weapons and, if necessary, with military support and money. Still, she wasn't always reliable. An undesirable side effect was that it made them more and more powerful. If these tribal princes did not act in the way of Rome, the aid deliveries were stopped and an army was put on the march instead. Groups allied with Rome could easily cross the buffer zones on their way to the markets in the Roman settlements, less reliable groups were only allowed to pass under strict guard. Numerous barbarians also entered Roman service as soldiers and thus, after 25 years, acquired Roman citizenship and freedom of settlement on the imperial territory. However, some returned to their homeland and took their weapons with them, but above all their knowledge of the organizational structures and combat tactics of the Roman army.

In the cultures of most of the peoples who settled outside the borders of Rome, wars and raids on neighbors were part of everyday life. The leaders of successful forays even gained reputation among the tribes. The looted goods were usually distributed among the followers, attracting even more warriors for future ventures. Smaller attacks on the Reich territory were therefore on the agenda in the border area. In some sources, incursions by thousands of invaders are reported, who often penetrated deep into the provinces before they were either routed or destroyed. Most of the warlike actions of the barbarian tribes in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD had only very limited effects due to their inadequate logistics and organization and probably included no more than a few hundred warriors. These attacks were not yet threatening the very existence of Rome, but they had to be contained quickly in order to give the provincials a sense of security (for whom they paid their taxes) and not to encourage other barbarians to take further and even bigger actions. The activities of the army were not limited to the immediate area of ​​the Reich. The diplomatic and military influence of the Romans extended far beyond their borders. Army officers were often present at the tribal meetings of the northeastern peoples to secure the influence of Rome on decisions made there. Germanic aristocrats received financial donations in order to be able to further expand their power base and to enforce a Rome-friendly policy among the tribes. In this way, Roman diplomacy was often able to prevent a major run on the borders or was at least warned in good time.

The defensive capabilities of the Roman army were limited due to the huge size of the territory to be monitored. If the attacks could not be contained by conventional diplomatic and military means, an expeditionary force marched into the enemy settlement area and occupied it. After the consolidation of Roman rule, the newly conquered land was declared a province and incorporated into the empire. Economic development and Romanization did the rest over time and mostly pacified the new territory for the long term. However, such campaigns of conquest were expensive, tied up many troops and had to be closely monitored by the rulers. If the attacks could not be stopped, however, it had to be ensured that those responsible did not get away with it. Those attackers who were able to escape into their own territory without major losses enjoyed great prestige among their tribal members and were therefore soon ready to take new actions again. During the retaliatory attacks of the Romans, the barbarian settlements were therefore burned down, the crops destroyed, the cattle rounded up and confiscated. Although such measures could only be carried out to a limited extent, it was a serious warning to the surrounding tribes that the Romans were in a position to punish such incursions on their provinces anytime, anywhere. Since a smaller but well-run Roman troop was also superior to the often much larger tribal troops, the barbarians had to accept a military defeat in addition to the destruction of their livelihoods.

The Romans therefore concentrated almost their entire army on the frontier; the soldiers there carried out a far-reaching advance reconnaissance, which enabled Rome to assess the impending dangers for the border provinces in order to initiate countermeasures in good time. The only exceptions were the legions stationed in Syria and Egypt, whose bases were spread across the major cities. If signs of danger were recognized, the troops advanced into enemy territory and tried to rectify the situation there. If the intruders managed to break through the Limes, the tower guards alerted the crews of the rear forts. Mounted intervention troops from these forts, in which mostly 500-1000 men were stationed, then tried either to intercept the attackers or to push them back across the border. Mostly the procedure was that the units stationed at the danger point tried to hold their positions until the crews of the nearest forts had bypassed the enemy on both sides in order to fall in the rear. This interception system worked to a certain extent, but only as long as smaller prey communities attacked short sections of the border. The border troops could not withstand an onslaught on a broad front in the long term.

These inadequacies of the Limes were already evident after the death of Trajan, before he had finally established himself under his successor Hadrian. In the first half of the 2nd century z. B. all Sarmatian tribes for a major attack on Pannonia and burned down numerous camps and settlements. Even this invasion was nowhere near as devastating as the later Marcomann Wars, which were to shake the Roman border defense to its foundations for the first time. The counter-recipe of the Roman strategists to the steadily growing attacks was an even stronger apron control. It was decided to set up permanent camps in the enemy territory in order to be able to better control the approach routes to the Limes. Such forts are z. B. excavated in Moravia and Slovakia . Was devised from Marcus Aurelius , the creation of two new provinces ( Marcomannia and Sarmatia ) across the Danube to permanently for peace to ensure, through the long-established system of Romanization. His successor Commodus , however, rejected these far-reaching plans and tried to keep the tribes calm with cash payments, luxury goods and arms deliveries.

Reorganization in late antiquity

In the 3rd century, however, the increasingly coordinated forays of the Teutons across the Rhine and Danube and the endless attacks by the Persians in the east shook the Limes again. In addition to external pressure, the Romans fatally fought decades of civil wars, during which border surveillance was criminally neglected. As a result, after 235, there were no deterrent and retaliatory campaigns for a long time. All of this encouraged the neighboring barbarian peoples to plunder, often deep into the interior of the empire. Since the Roman army had largely been withdrawn from the border during this time, they were able to move almost undisturbed in the interior after crossing the Limes. Nevertheless, there was a good chance that they would be intercepted and destroyed when they returned to their tribal areas. Numerous hiding spots today allow an approximate reconstruction of the looting routes. When the Teutons, heavily laden with booty, which often included captured Provençals, began their way back to their home areas, they were already expected in some places by the border troops on the Limes and were pinned down. The Germans were well aware of this risk. There are clear indications in the relevant finds (e.g. chopped up metal objects) that the loot was still divided within the Reich territory. Further evidence of this is provided by the Augsburg victory altar , the establishment of the “Gallic Sonderreich” by Postumus and, in particular, the hoard of Neupotz on the Upper Rhine. In the latter case, it is assumed that a confrontation of the barbarians with the Roman Rhine fleet ( Classis Germanica ) led to his loss. A part of the booty was lost in the floods, some might have come into the possession of the Roman soldiers, but most of it probably ended up in the tribal areas.

The Romans responded with a gradual reform of the border security system. In the middle of the 3rd century almost all cavalry units were withdrawn from the border troops and relocated further back into the interior of the country, a preliminary step to the later separation into mobile and stationary troops. After the forts on the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes had been cleared as planned, a new line of fortifications was built on the banks of the Danube, Iller and Upper Rhine. In Britain and Gaul, the fortress chain of the so-called Litus Saxonicum ( Saxon coast ) was built on the coasts of the North Sea and the English Channel, which was supposed to repel landing attempts by Angles and Saxons. Along the Danube, in the east and in North Africa, either new forts were built or the existing ones were reinforced with projecting fan-shaped or horseshoe-shaped towers. All of these measures also made it possible to separate the troops in the rear. The larger cities and settlements were either walled or abandoned. In such a case, the population was resettled in fortified and less accessible hilltop settlements.

The old Limes in Germania was essentially a peace border. In the time of the tetrarchy , however, it became clear to those in charge that an army lined up on the borders no longer met the new requirements for the defense of the empire and, moreover, became unfinanced in the long term. There weren't enough soldiers available to do this either. The border therefore had to be completely reorganized. Areas that were too exposed, such as the Dekumatland or Dacia , were cleared and the lines of defense on the Rhine and Danube were relocated. Strongly armored cavalry units ( cataphracts ) were also stationed at particularly endangered focal points of the Limes (e.g. Britain, Pannonia, Middle East) to repel Sassanid cavalry and cavalry peoples. At the beginning of the 4th century, therefore, a move was made to reorganize the army. For this purpose, separate border troops, the Limitanei , and a field or movement army without fixed locations were set up ( Comitatenses ), which, if necessary, were to support the border units and above all to pursue and beat enemies who had already penetrated into the interior of the empire. Until then, this had also been the task of the border troops, which in turn led to the dangerous exposure of the Limes. In addition, the new field armies could also be deployed much more quickly in the event of usurpations , and Limes troops had to be deployed to fight them, which subsequently led back to the well-known problem of understaffed border fortifications and enabled barbaric invaders and looters to make new incursions into the empire. The Limitanei (or Ripenses at the river borders) were therefore not stationed in the hinterland, but in the Limes forts or near the border along important highways.

The defense strategy that developed from it was also new. The Limitanei had to ensure peace and order on the Limes and to ward off minor attacks on their own. In the event of a major burglary, they should try to defeat the most important forts and cities or key positions such as B. to hold pass crossings in order to later destroy the enemy together with the comitatenses . The greatest difficulty here was to track down the mostly small prey communities and then surprisingly attack them in order to be able to bring them down with the least possible loss. This required a precise approach by the explorators and the coordination of countermeasures by officers at all levels of command. Another promising concept for border protection on the Rhine and Danube was the decentralized forward defense by the Roman naval units. By abolishing the central massing of warships at a few large bases and distributing them to smaller forts and so-called Ländeburgi , numerous units could be brought together at focal points on the border within a few hours in an emergency. The neighboring forts or watchtowers also had to be alerted quickly. This was best accomplished with a new type of ship, the smaller and more agile Navis Lusoria , with which intruders could either be confronted directly on the river or in coordinated operations with the land army.

The fact that the army usually only became active when the opponents were already deep inside the provinces was not the result of a sophisticated strategy, but rather shows the inability of the Romans to stifle such breakthroughs at the beginning. Who had comitatenses but once tracked down the enemy in pursuit, they rushed with great stamina, the smallest group looters systematically to death. The Romans had a clear advantage in this type of warfare, as their well-organized logistics allowed them to supply the troops with sufficient supplies at any time of the year. This procedure was essentially retained until well into the 5th century, after the fall of the western half of the empire in East Stream it was further developed and finally replaced by the thematic organization in the Byzantine Empire of the 7th century .


1st century

The Roman Empire was economically and politically dependent on the steady expansion of its sphere of influence. The need to build fortified border fortifications only arose when the expansion of the empire reached its limits at the time of the beginning of the Principate. Between 58 and 50 BC BC the Celtic Gaul was subjugated to the Rhine. Up to 9 BC BC all areas to the right of the Danube in today's Hungary were annexed by the Romans, 15 BC. The legions also stood on the middle and upper Danube. Already Gaius Iulius Caesar was confronted on his campaigns in Gaul with the problem of dense and inaccessible forests, in which Rome's enemies who knew Rome could quickly withdraw and hide. In order to get hold of them, he had his soldiers cut long aisles in the woods for the first time, an approach which, in connection with his strategic skill, was ultimately successful. In the 1st century, the Roman territory in Northern Europe expanded into barely developed regions, some of which were overgrown with impassable primeval forests, with no transport routes and large settlements. These could no longer be secured by natural obstacles (rivers or mountains).

In the south of the empire, in North Africa, at the transition from the steppe to the desert, the Romans also found large, poorly productive and only sparsely populated areas. Under Claudius , with the establishment of the province of Mauretania Caesariensis, the last gap on the southern Mediterranean coast was closed, so that the Romans could now rightly speak of the “inner sea” (mare internum) . The same picture presented itself in the east, in the steppes and deserts beyond the rivers Euphrates and Tigris . In Germania, Asia Minor and North Africa, Rome had the same problem, namely to hold these large areas permanently and to dominate them politically and economically. The great rivers in the west and east were not only an obstacle to approach, but also served the Romans as supra-regional trade and traffic routes that also had to be kept under control and monitored. With the formation of a standing professional army after the transition from the republic to the empire, the prerequisite for the establishment of fixed borders was given. Augustus already transferred the legions to permanent garrisons on the borders. They not only had to repel barbarian incursions there, but also to wage wars of conquest.

Even after the loss of three legions in the Varus Battle of 9 AD , Rome did not completely abandon the plan to incorporate the areas of the Germanic tribes (Barbaricum) north of the Rhine and Danube into the empire . It was put into practice in Dekumatland and Dacia . In the thirty years that followed, attempts were repeatedly made to push the northern border as far as the Elbe . The generals Drusus , Tiberius and Germanicus carried out large-scale campaigns in the tribal areas east of the Rhine (Germania magna) . For this purpose, they also had extensive forests cut down and paved paths laid out so that the army and its large entourage could make better progress. The logs were piled up on the sides to form barriers, which also offered a certain protection against surprise attacks by the Germanic peoples and could later be used to build marshals. The corridors subsequently served as temporary traffic and signal routes and were secured by wooden watchtowers and forts. According to the historian Velleius Paterculus , they formed the most important Roman parade routes for years, even if they were mostly quickly overgrown by vegetation.

Despite great efforts, the Romans in the north failed in small wars with many losses due to the stubborn resistance of the Germanic tribes and withdrew behind the Rhine and Danube around 16 AD - after abandoning all settlements on the right bank of the Rhine ( Waldgirmes ) and most of the forts. The two great rivers, by and large, were to remain its frontier until the collapse of the Roman Empire. As an additional security measure, restricted and buffer zones were set up on its northern and eastern banks, in which neighboring barbarian tribes were not allowed to settle. In 43 AD Claudius' legions occupied Britain, three years later the kingdom of Thrace on the lower Danube. The strategy for subjugating the British island tribes was basically the same as in Germania. During their rule of Britain, which lasted more than 400 years, the Romans never succeeded in gaining complete control over the entire island. After the Chat Wars, people began to dense the line of forts and watchtowers and build them up within sight of each other as possible. This enabled the border troops to be deployed much more effectively. New recruits for the auxiliary troops (auxilia) were recruited to guard the Limes .

Under Claudius (41–54 AD) the first continuous chains of watchtowers and observation posts were built on the Rhine and Upper Danube, which secured the connecting routes between the settlements and forts. Cities that are still important today such as Cologne, Mainz, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade etc. can be traced back to legionary camps or auxiliary troop forts, which were now built in rapid succession on the banks of the two rivers and mostly placed at the confluences of other rivers . In the 1st century, the Flavian emperors also annexed the area between the upper reaches of the Rhine and Danube, the so-called Dekumatland . In the Chat Wars, the Romans returned there almost 70 years after giving up Germania on the right bank of the Rhine. For this purpose, the deployment area of ​​the invasion army was secured with a total of 177 km long aisles. In the course of the further consolidation of the Upper Germanic Province, the provisional camps there were set up permanently around the year 90 and strengthened. With the establishment of the Odenwald, Neckar and Albl lines, two birds were killed with one stone in the Rhine-Main-Danube area. The route between the Rhine and the Danube was shortened considerably and the fertile tracts of land in the forefront of the great rivers were gained for the empire.

At the time of the Roman Republic there was no fixed eastern border, the defense of the peripheral areas was left to the allied client kingdoms, which formed a buffer zone between Rome and Parthia . Rome initially contented itself with exercising indirect rule. The takeover of the supramat over these areas did not take place until the end of the republic and did not follow any fixed rules. 64 BC Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus founded the Roman province of Syria on the ruins of the Seleucid Empire . The new province was conveniently located on the eastern periphery of the Roman-ruled Mediterranean Sea and, with its river crossings, enabled direct access to Parthian and Asian trade routes. Their weak point, however, was the section of the border on the middle reaches of the Euphrates, which came dangerously close to the capital Antioch and thus offered no protection from the swift cavalry armies of the Parthians. The newly conquered area was made accessible by a road system over 1000 kilometers long and also secured with chains of watchtowers and fort. The city fortresses of Samosata , Zeugma , Hierapolis , Sura and Dura Europos , which combined several requirements such as strategic location, garrison location and trading center , offered additional protection . The course and the individual protective structures of the oriental Limes are not exactly known to this day. In contrast to the Rhine-Danube border in the west, the eastern Limes was never able to establish itself as a continuous protective wall due to the extensive desert steppes, the constantly changing territorial gains and retreat battles of Rome against the Persians. Nevertheless, the Romans managed to maintain their supremacy in the Middle East for the next 700 years.

2nd century

At the time of Trajan's death, in AD 117, the Roman Empire had reached its greatest extent, stretching from Britain to the Persian Gulf. His successor Hadrian soon realized that an empire of this size was difficult to control. He therefore gave up some of the newly conquered provinces. The campaigns no longer brought in enough profit to cover the logistical effort required. The most productive and best developed countries of the known world at that time were already in the hands of the Romans. Free Germania, Caledonia and the dry steppes in the east were only sparsely populated, without any infrastructure worth mentioning and thus economically unattractive. Hadrian moved to preserve the existing borders rather than extending his influence to even more underdeveloped territories. The army therefore began to establish itself permanently in permanent positions at the borders.

The basic idea of ​​the emperor was to secure the empire with permanent border installations in order to ultimately be able to save soldiers. Hadrians converted the Limes from a largely open chain of posts into a closed system. He did not want to dominate the border peoples, but primarily to keep them away from the empire. This restructuring was as radical as the change from the militia army of the early Roman Republic to the standing mercenary army of the empire. It was also an attempt to isolate the Roman world from the non-Roman world as much as possible. A passage in Historia Augusta essentially summarizes the emperor's measures as follows:

"During this time and later, in many places where the barbarians were not separated by rivers but by aisles, the barbarians were now separated with large piles that were deeply founded and connected like a wall."

It was now clear to every intruder that soldiers ready to fight were standing by day and night between the Barbaricum and the Roman Empire, although they could not stop every attack immediately. But especially for smaller bands of robbers (latrunculi) , the risk of being caught when crossing the border before they could cause any damage increased. Hadrian's reign was later seen as a golden age for the empire and thus his achievements for the continued existence and growing together of the empire were recognized. When he died in 138, a well-organized border protection system, consisting of an excellently developed network of forts, ramparts and roads, had developed along the imperial borders. The fertile plateaus and desert fringes of North Africa with their huge agricultural latifundia were one of the most important granaries of the capital Rome. Coin and ceramic finds confirm the construction of the rampart and ditch system there in the Hadrianic period (fossatum Africae ). In the late 2nd century, the Romans had managed in just two generations to pacify its peripheral zones through a further generous expansion of the Limes infrastructure and the stationing of almost the entire army on the border. These positive developments - also for the economy - were partly due to the reorganization of the Limes.

The golden age of Rome ended under Marcus Aurelius with the spread of the Antonine plague , which was brought in from the east , coupled with a massive incursion of the Marcomanni and Quadi into the empire. This emperor was to spend almost his entire reign fending off invaders, stabilizing the Limes again and getting the devastating effects of the epidemic under control, which he eventually succumbed to in his camp on the lower Danube. Mainly Germanic tribes settled on this side of the Rhine and Danube, many of them under the protection of Rome. Further to the north, however, the local peoples began to move and migrated south. In doing so, they drove the weaker tribes before them, which in turn now invaded the areas of the clientele of the Romans. The beleaguered tribes soon appeared on the Limes and asked for admission into the empire. The emperor held them out at first, because the settlement of such large groups of people was an incalculable risk. Thereupon they violently crossed the border, a first foretaste of future migrations. Numerous forts on the Danube Limes were destroyed and many of their crews, who had already been weakened by the failures as a result of the epidemic spreading across the empire, were completely wiped out. Marcus Aurelius crossed the Limes again with his army, but suffered a heavy defeat. Following this, the Marcomanni and their allies streamed unhindered across the imperial border and advanced to northern Italy. They were the first enemy warriors to reach Italy in 300 years. Other groups plundered the Balkan provinces. In Britain the Caledonians burned down some forts on Hadrian's Wall. An uprising broke out in Egypt too and desert nomads invaded the North African provinces. In 172 the fortunes of war turned in favor of the Romans. The barbarian tribes could now again be fought on their own territory, where the emperor and his generals pursued a ruthless strategy of scorched earth and terror against the civilian population. One tribal leader after the other then asked for peace. With some the emperor hesitated because many peace treaties were broken again. In the case of the Jazygen , Marcus Aurelius even spoke out in favor of their complete extermination. Nevertheless, in view of the later rapidly resurgent peoples in the north and east, the concept of isolation was outdated and no longer worked in the new, dangerous situation in which the empire found itself. The fact that he managed to pacify the borders after long struggles was also due to a policy that a later biographer described as follows: ... emit et Germanorum auxilia contra Germanos ("he also bought the help of Germans against Germans"). Since the treasury was empty, he allocated them settlement land in the border area. They were granted the status of semi-free farmers (coloni) and in the event of war they had to make themselves available as soldiers. The emperor thereupon had smaller tribal associations - which could be better controlled - settle in deserted areas of northern Italy. The new settlers soon provided first-class recruits for the army and defended the borders better than the long-established Roman citizens could ever have done. They were less and less willing to join the army anyway.

After the devastating Marcomann Wars, the only thing that reigned on the Limes was the proverbial calm before the storm. Marcus Aurelius's successor, Commodus, had more forts and watchtowers built on the lower Danube around 185 AD against the so-called "secret robbers" (clandestini latrunculi) . However, this designation was a trivialization of the threat that slowly but steadily built up across the border.

3rd century

Timeline for the " Limesfall " and the 3rd century

The long period of peace and steady pay increases under the Severan emperors had initially given the border provinces an enormous economic boom. Large-scale construction and foundation activities on public and private buildings are evidence of this. However, the prosperity gap to the Germanic neighbors was thereby considerably worsened and aroused great desires beyond the borders. For 150 years the fortified border had protected the empire from its enemies, but also hid the steady progress of a development that threatened its existence. In Rome there was little interest in what was going on in the tribal areas on the other side of the Rhine and Danube, as there was hardly anything to get there that was worth the effort. One was glad not to have to deal with the uncultivated "savages" more than necessary. New peoples such as the Goths called " gentes Gothiae " by Ammianus Marcellinus and Prokopios of Caesarea , who suddenly appeared on the Limes, were initially thought to be Scythians , as only these were known from tradition. But in the meantime great progress had been made in the Barbaricum - also with the help of the empire. Through various contacts with the empire, war elites emerged, who also gladly placed themselves in the service of the Romans in order to keep other tribes away from its borders. This also promoted social differences and internal conflicts. Old groups fell apart, new ones formed. It became more and more desirable for them not only to be supplied by the Romans or to plunder the border areas. They wanted to live in the provinces themselves. Those warriors who had served in the Roman army and returned to their home regions passed on their knowledge of weapons technology and military strategy to their tribal members. Extensive weapons finds from enemies who had apparently been defeated in some lakes and moors in northern Germany and in southern Scandinavia stem from internal Germanic conflicts, but at the same time testify to an increasingly better armament and the implementation of a military organization based on the Roman model since around 200 AD. With them, a previously unheard of wealth flowed into the tribal territories in the form of money, as pay, for goods delivered, looted goods and gifts. This only fueled the Germanic peoples' desire for new goods from Rome. The recruitment of Teutons for the Roman army had a long tradition, but was especially promoted from the 3rd century onwards. From this point on, the ethnic structure of the Roman army began to change significantly. It enabled the Germanic peoples to rise to higher and higher positions in the army in the 4th century and from the 5th century to the highest offices that the empire had to assign.

Also almost unnoticed, many tribes on the other side of the Limes had united and had grown steadily larger, whereby the practice of the empire of specifically promoting selected leaders in order to control the foreland through them now revealed its downside. The influx of other, hardly Romanized peoples from the areas on the Elbe and Vistula resulted in additional unrest. Even the constant punitive expeditions in the event of insubordination and the diplomacy of the Romans, which was designed to stir up discord among the tribes, never allowed them to rest and almost forced their leaders to finally unite against the superior Roman power. Tribal associations that otherwise never or rarely accepted outsiders merged with others and founded new peoples. Successful and charismatic warriors became army kings and in some cases gathered up to 10,000 armed men to follow them as long as they could meet their needs for battle and booty. If this was no longer the case, a new leader was put on the shield. These followers were well equipped and trained. Probably 50% of the fighters already had lances and swords made in Rome. Their goal was to share in the empire's wealth, either as paid allies to the emperor or as plunderers.

Until the 3rd century. Therefore, some large peoples' associations arose on the northern borders of the empire:

  • On the Middle and Lower Rhine, some tribes of indeterminate origin merged to form the Franconian people , the "brave" or "battle-ready".
  • Between the Main and Upper Rhine, the Semnones , Suebi and the long-established Chatti people of the Alamanni united , actually a term for a wild and unrestrained army, which was first mentioned in 213 by Cassius Dio . The historian Asinius Quadratus called them in the 3rd century "congregated and mixed men".
  • The vandals appeared on the central Danube .
  • Across the Danube, in the area between the eastern Carpathians , the Black Sea and the Don , the Goths appeared around 220 . These had either immigrated - they supposedly came from Scandinavia and had set out on their journey to the southeast many generations ago - or as part of an ethnogenesis on site, not far from the Roman border, through the amalgamation of several groups from Sarmatians , Bastarnen , Carps , Alans , Huns , Rugier and Herulers emerged. Both possibilities are discussed in research.

Their attacks on the empire became more and more threatening and forced the Romans to take sharp countermeasures. In the year 213 the inscribed files of the fratres arvales (brotherhood of the fields) in Rome praised a large-scale punitive expedition of Caracalla in Raetia:

“On the 3rd day before the Ides of August [11. August] the brotherhood of the Arvalen met in front of the temple of Juno Regina, because our Lord, the holiest, pious emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, Pontifex Maximus, is about to cross the Limes Raetiens (per limitem Raetia) into the land of the barbarians to penetrate in order to uproot the enemy (ad hostes extirpandos barbarorum terram introiturus est) [...] "

Both the term “Limes” and the crossing of the imperial border are uniquely documented here. On the occasion of this campaign, the emperor had a gate of honor with a magnificent facade and a bronze statue erected in today's Dalkingen to celebrate his campaign. The erection of this structure marks the height of the Limes' importance. The glorification of the crossing of the Limes (often common in earlier centuries) as a sign of extraordinary bravery gives an idea of ​​how strong the symbol of a fixed border is for the self-image of the empire and, in return, how strange and eerie the countries beyond the Limes are to the Romans in the In the meantime. This can also be seen in AD 212 in the granting of citizenship to all free residents of the empire by Caracalla ( Constitutio Antoniniana ). The Limes created the possibility of exact differentiation, i.e. H. who belonged where. But despite Caracalla's successful campaigns, only a few years later some forts on the Rhaetian Limes were destroyed by Germanic tribes. This was only to be the prelude to increasingly massive incursions by barbarian tribes. They could be driven out each time, but that didn't solve the problem.

During the Marcomannic Wars, the Limes section on the middle and lower Danube had proven to be particularly endangered. Now a new threat arose here, triggered by the arrival of the Goths on the periphery of the empire. As if that weren't enough, a new dynasty, the Persian Sassanids , came to power in the East, in the Parthian Empire, 224–226 . Their rulers soon raised property claims on most of the Roman eastern provinces, which should conjure up decades of wars with heavy losses. The tightly organized Sassanid Empire was on a par with the Romans in many respects. His second King Shapur I pursued an aggressive policy towards the West. As early as 231, while still under his father, Persian armies overran the Roman garrisons in Mesopotamia for the first time and temporarily advanced as far as Cappadocia. When the majority of the border soldiers in the north had to be withdrawn to fight the steadily advancing Persians in the east, Rome's opponents in the west could not escape this either; the almost defenseless borders in Germania, Raetia and Dacia immediately came into the focus of the resident barbarian tribes. When the Alamanni crossed the Limes on the Upper Rhine and Danube in 233 and, to their astonishment, found mostly sparsely occupied or even empty forts, the entire Upper German and Rhaetian hinterland was open to them for unhindered plunder. The conflicts also escalated on the other Limes sections: Sarmatians, Goths, Carpen and Gepids now threatened the lower Danube provinces.

Three trouble spots that flared up at the same time and were so far apart overwhelmed the military capabilities of the Roman army. In these decisive years, a young man, Severus Alexander , ruled the empire, weak in decision-making and presumably dominated by his mother Julia Mamea and her advisors. The disaster of 233 AD seems to have taken the provincial population on the Limes completely unprepared. Horizons of destruction from this time are archaeologically verifiable, especially in the Wetterau, on the Main Limes and in Western Council. The emperor felt compelled to break off the Persian campaign on extremely unfavorable terms of peace and to march quickly back to the north with his army. In the winter of 234–235 he gathered his army at Mogontiacum on the Rhine, but did not attack the Alamanni, instead relying on negotiations to restore peace and order by making payments to the princes allied with Rome without a costly war. His soldiers, outraged beyond measure, many of whom came from the castles on the Rhine and Danube and therefore thirsted for revenge, killed the emperor and his mother in March 235 and later elevated a high officer from the knightly rank, Gaius Iulius Verus Maximinus called "the Thracian", for the new emperor. With this murder the ominous era of the soldier emperors began for the empire , which was to plunge the empire into chaos and anarchy for almost 50 years.

The energetic and energetic Maximinus Thrax (235-238) was able to stabilize the Limes again by building a new bridge over the Rhine, attacking the Germanic peoples on their own territory and fighting there, among other things, a “battle in the swamp” that was victorious for him. The Roman troops apparently penetrated deep into enemy territory, as found in militaria found in 2008 from a battle between Romans and Teutons on the Harzhorn suggest. The Germanic danger could thus be averted for almost two decades. But the turmoil continued inside the Roman Empire. More and more often it was parts of the army who revolted and in rapid succession constantly raised new rulers. The soldiers were mostly afraid of not being paid enough or of being left in the lurch. They asked to be close to the emperor. Fatally, therefore, they usually raised their own candidates for the throne where the danger of war was greatest, especially in the camps on the Rhine and Danube and in the east. However, all these soldier emperors, deployed in rapid succession by the army , faced problems that they could hardly cope with on their own. They were threatened by their own soldiers, whose discipline continued to decline and who, with the slightest dissatisfaction, were unscrupulously dismissed or mostly eliminated through murder. Another great danger was the usurpers, who were supported by other legions and against whom war had to be waged almost constantly. Last but not least, they were also harassed by the constantly vigilant barbarians on the other side of the Limes, who immediately took advantage of any internal Roman conflict to invade the empire. The Romans were well aware of these connections, as Ammianus Marcellinus later noted in his work Res Gestae:

"The barbarians were like wild animals that got used to stealing their prey because of the carelessness of the shepherds".

Despite rapid reconstruction measures, the infrastructure of the northern Limes area did not recover from the extensive destruction. The civil settlements often seem to have either not been rebuilt at all or only to a reduced extent. Necessary repairs prove that the manors are still being used, but at a much lower level than before. The archaeologists can see that the standard of living in the border regions, which has meanwhile fallen far, is particularly evident from the downsizing or even conversion of thermal baths as residential or commercial buildings. But not only the destruction of production facilities due to the war, but also the consequences of decades of overexploitation of the forest, accelerated the collapse of important branches of the economy, because the main energy supplier, wood, became increasingly scarce.

Limes in Britain: The west gate of Aesica on Hadrian's Wall, as it was in the 4th century AD, during this time the passages of the medieval gates were walled up in many places due to a lack of soldiers

Only a few years after the inglorious peace agreement in the east, Emperor Gordianus III. (238–244) in 243 proposed a new great Persian campaign. Several hoards of coins from Limes forts and camp villages, which end with the coinage of this emperor, prove that the continued bloodletting of military resources made effective border defense impossible. The owners of the hoards, which were probably hidden in the forts before the troops left, were no longer able to raise them, because the Persian War ended in a severe Roman defeat. The resulting gaps in personnel in the Limes forts are therefore no longer likely to have been compensated for by returnees or new evacuations as is usual. The previous structure of the Limes slowly began to dissolve. Archaeological findings indicate that the top military command tried to compensate for the significantly reduced troop strengths on the Limes, among other things by building measures. The fortifications of some forts, especially those on the less acutely endangered border sections, were reduced for the considerably reduced crews. B. the camps of Kapersburg , Fort Eining and Miltenberg . Due to the reduction in the number of troops, the flow of coins into the border regions also ebbed. However, reliable conclusions cannot be drawn from this that the number of troops will be reduced. It should be remembered that from the 3rd century onwards, the Roman state reacted to the crisis with a form of forced economy. This included forced services, fixed prices and, above all, special charges for the army. The regularly paid wages had nevertheless guaranteed a consistently high purchasing power for many years and was the main indicator for the regional economic cycles. The camp villagers, who lived mainly from handicrafts, trade and services, lost the most affluent class of buyers. As a result of this, after 233 there was a noticeable decline in population, which was made even worse by death and deportation by the looters and, among other things, made it extremely difficult to recruit seasonal workers for agriculture. Apparently attempts were made to counteract these bottlenecks by resettling allied Germanic tribes, whose presence is also clearly reflected in the archaeological finds of this time.

In order to put down a rebellion, Valerian , the governor of Rhaetia, gathered troops on behalf of the Emperor Trebonianus Gallus in 253 , who promptly proclaimed him to be the anti-emperor. With this army, in which the bulk of the Limes troops were obviously again included, he marched first to the middle Danube to enforce his claim to power, one year later he started another campaign against the Persians in the east, which again failed with heavy losses. It is therefore unlikely that his soldiers would ever return to their traditional Limes fort. The Germanic peoples immediately used their withdrawal for new, extensive raids, with the Rhaetian Limes region being hit particularly hard again. These events, at the latest, must have made the civilian population and the remaining crews aware of their dramatic situation. The low point was reached when Emperor Valerian fell into enemy hands through treason during another Persian campaign in 260. With him tens of thousands of Roman soldiers were also taken into Sassanid captivity, from which most of them were no longer to return to their homeland. Under the sole rule of his son Gallienus (253-268), the border defense in Raetia now largely collapsed. As a result, the Alemanni were able to destroy Augsburg and Kempten and even penetrate as far as Milan. Once again, these raids hit the civilian population living on the Limes particularly hard. The Dekumatland could no longer be held and was gradually evacuated by the army and administration in the following period (see Limesfall ). Even on the Rhine Limes, in the legionary site of Mogontiacum (Mainz), a city wall was built in great haste, which, mainly made of Spolia, only included the core areas of the civil city. The inscription on the Augsburg Victory Altar gives us a brief insight into the catastrophic conditions on the upper Danube Limes in the second half of the 3rd century . She reports a victorious battle between a ragged troop of Rhaetian provincials and members of the army, supported by soldiers from the neighboring province of Upper Germany, against an army of Iuthungian looters who, along with their booty and numerous Roman prisoners , were arrested and destroyed near Augusta Vindelicorum (Augsburg). and April 25, 260). Apparently the Juthung were able to cross the severely understaffed Limes unhindered, penetrate as far as Italy, and after a defeat at Milan, return to the frontier with almost no problems. The spatial depth of this advance also suggests that the border areas were already largely looted.

With the formation of the Imperium Galliarum at the end of 260 and the later establishment of the partial kingdom of Palmyra, only Italy, the Balkans (including Greece), the province of Africa and parts of Asia Minor were under direct control of Gallienus around 267/68 . These centrifugal tendencies in the empire were probably also a direct result of the insufficient administrative efficiency, which later led to a significantly stronger centralization of the administration, as well as the overloading of the army. The emperors faced the same dilemma every time. Troops had to be withdrawn from one border zone, which was dangerously exposed, in order to combat enemy intrusions in another area, some of which also took place almost simultaneously. The military was soon hopelessly overwhelmed with a defense on all fronts, so that it was sometimes up to regional militias to take on this task. This happened on a large scale, especially in the east, after the defeat of Valerian (see Septimius Odaenathus ). In the middle of the 3rd century, almost all cavalry units were withdrawn from the border troops and relocated further inland, a preliminary stage to the later separation into mobile and stationary troops.

This was then initiated under Diocletian (284–305), with whom late antiquity can begin. The emperor carried out numerous fundamental reforms (see Roman Tetrarchy ), taking up approaches that his predecessors Gallienus, Aurelian and Probus had already developed. He succeeded in stabilizing the situation of the empire again, and from around 290 onwards numerous new fortifications were built on the Rhine and Danube (see also Danube-Iller-Rhein-Limes ). This new, late Roman Limes had a different character than before, as it was designed less as a peace border than as a military security measure. The pressure on the Roman borders did not ease, and the Romans had to realize that the previous border system was no longer appropriate to the new threat situation.

4th century

Late Antique Danube-Iller-Rhine Limes: The preserved remains of the east gate of Fort Divitia , Cologne (D)
Roman military leaders at the beginning of the 5th century AD
Late antiquity Danube-Iller-Rhein Limes: Marking of a gravestone from 1859 for the Roman cavalryman Lepontius, the soldier is depicted in the equipment of the 4th century (Strasbourg)

The late Roman Limes was supposed to fulfill essentially the same function as its predecessor in the early imperial period. Attempts were made to achieve maximum security at the borders with as little military effort as possible. The newly built fortifications, however, differed significantly from the military structures of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. The troop formations and diplomatic and military administrative structures used for them also changed. This was in response to the fact that the threat to the empire had intensified massively on two fronts, in Europe and in the Middle East. For the restoration and permanent stabilization of the Limes after the political turmoil of the 3rd century, enormous efforts were necessary.

The troop strength alone increased under Diocletian from 300,000 to an estimated 435,000 soldiers. This tendency continued even after his abdication, it is estimated that at the end of this development there were probably up to 600,000 men under arms, which indeed put enormous financial burdens on the state budget, but did not overstrain it. At the same time an attempt was made to lay out the new border fortification lines more rationally. Loss of territory was accepted, but in some cases - especially in the east - had to be accepted involuntarily. The forces thus released could be used again at other focal points. The far-reaching reforms of the Roman military organization around the year 300 also resulted in the final division into stationary and mobile units. The garrison troops were distributed to more locations than before, were now withdrawn from the authority of the respective governors and were placed under the command of duces (military leaders), whose jurisdiction could sometimes include several provinces. This new division of tasks in the army showed how significantly the situation had changed in the meantime. The fact that predatory barbarians now also roamed far inside the empire had been the exception until then. Now one also had to ensure peace and security with a permanent military presence. The border army only played a secondary role. Attempts were now made to use the troops no longer primarily to ward off the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, but rather to maintain the diplomatic and political prerequisites for long-term peace. But even in the later imperial era, which was not poor in crises, there was no noticeable deterioration in the political and military situation on large sections of the Limes for a long time. Many border fortifications in North Africa acted more as points of contact and not as a defense against the nomadic tribes living in the Sahara . The same picture was presented far to the north, on Hadrian's Wall. But even in the highly competitive regions on the Limes, the cultural and economic exchange with the neighboring peoples did not break off. Because the Roman military personnel were still an important source of income - also for the barbarians.

Constantine I (306–337) vigorously continued the wars to consolidate the Roman borders. In the early 330s he was particularly active with his army on the Rhine and Danube, where he was able to achieve significant victories for the empire. At the same time, the emperor initiated an extensive fortress construction program, which also reflected the redistribution and reorganization of the military (Danube-Iller-Rhine-Limes). After the fighting, contracts were negotiated with the defeated and new settlers - with varying degrees of success - obliging them to take over the border defense as semi-autonomous foederati in the sections assigned to them. This Germanic policy was intended to rekindle the fratricidal war on the borders again and again and at the same time to lessen the danger that the hostile tribes posed to the Romans. In order to prevent overpopulation in the border zones from the outset, some groups were allowed to settle further in the interior of the empire, while others were again expelled from the area in front of the Limes. Tribal federations that had grown too large were either smashed or their leaders replaced by leaders loyal to the Romans. In order to keep them calm, the tried and tested method of subsidy payments was used again. Nevertheless, there were always new raids. Many Roman settlements near the border therefore had to take their defense into their own hands and therefore surrounded themselves with massive defensive walls or were simply relocated to heights that were difficult to access. Large operations by the Roman troops on the borders were initially carried out regularly, but became rarer in the course of the 4th century and ultimately ceased entirely. The last known campaign across the Rhine took place in 378 under Emperor Gratian .

The inventory of the urn burial ground of Friedenhain- Straubing provided a good insight into the ethnic composition of the border troops in the 4th century, here specifically for the section of the Raetia secunda province . The pottery found there belongs to the Friedenhain-Prestovice find group, it was mainly used by the Elbe Germans and is otherwise only found on military sites in this province. This suggests that the border troops on this part of the Danube-Iller-Rhein-Limes were mostly provided by Elbe Germanic mercenaries. Judging by the sources, Germanic tribes were not only recruited for the army, but also used in the reconstruction of devastated border provinces. During the consolidation measures in Raetia, more and more Germanic tribes had to settle in the almost completely depopulated Alpine foothills and, of course, the Limes forts had to be manned by mercenaries from these tribal groups. The cemetery at Neuburg an der Donau was occupied by Elbe Germanic-Alemannic soldiers from around 330–390 and, from the last decade of the 4th century, mainly by East Germanic-Gothic soldiers. From all these grave finds it can therefore be concluded that along the border of the Raetia II there were probably almost exclusively Germanic units in the forts. Similar observations were also made on the Upper and Middle Rhine and Lake Constance.

Overall, however, the Romans largely managed to retain the military upper hand on the Limes in the 4th century. The situation in the east was less favorable, where the Sassanids continued to press the Roman Empire hard. Nevertheless, at the end of the century there was largely a stability that was rarely disturbed by attacks. Some border provinces were also able to recover economically, at least in part. On average, the three main sections of the European Limes - the Rhine, the middle and the lower Danube - only required a major campaign every 25 years. Northern Gaul and the Rhineland were massively plundered by Teutons after 350, taking advantage of an internal Roman civil war, but Julian was able to clear the situation again around 360 in favor of Rome. The officer and chronicler Ammianus Marcellinus reports that his successor Valentinian I strengthened the Limes in the west from 370 onwards with new buildings. He writes the following about the construction work on the Rhine:

“Valentinian made important and beneficial plans. He had the entire Rhine, beginning from Raetia to the Strait of the Ocean, fortified with large dams and erected military camps and forts at the top, and towers at close intervals at suitable and favorable locations as far as the Gaulish lands extended. Sometimes buildings have also been built across the river where it touches the land of the barbarians. [...] "

- Res gestae. 28.2

From this passage it can be concluded that Valentinian initiated an extensive fortress building program. Most of the time, however, it was only a matter of renovations or "modernization" of existing forts. Despite the laborious restoration of the balance of power, the fall of the Limes through the political developments beyond the border was already foreseeable. Apparently the relationship between the army and the local population had also deteriorated massively. Ammianus Marcellinus speaks of the "[...] tyranny of the army." (XXII.4, 7). Themistius (Or. X 137 e) writes that the soldiers oppressed the provincial residents and "[...] they were not soldiers, but bandits". In this context, the fact that the elite units of the Western Roman army was considerably weakened in the civil war between Eugenius and Theodosius I in 394 , so that after the division of the empire of 395, there were hardly any powerful troops in the West for the Germanic defense should prove to be particularly fatal greater extent were available.

5th century

Byzantine Kastron Ksar Lemsa, Tunisia
The Frankish King Childerich in the equipment of a late Roman officer of the 5th century (attempted reconstruction after the grave goods discovered in the 17th century)
Warrior figure on an Alemannic silver plate (Musee Archeologique, Strasbourg)

The political and military supremacy of Rome had long been a thing of the past in the 5th century. If the recruitment of Germanic mercenaries and peasants remained within a controllable framework in the 4th century, this practice slipped completely in the western Roman part of the empire with the onset of the migration of peoples. After the catastrophic defeat of the Western Army in the Battle of Frigidus against the Eastern forces under Theodosius I, entire tribal associations had to be established as federations in the empire, which ultimately led to the infiltration of state institutions and the tutelage or de facto disempowerment of the ruling emperor their Germanic army masters flowed.

Between 401/402, repairs and reinforcements were made to the western Roman border fortresses in many places . In the summer or autumn of 406, however, a large group of the Asdingen Vandals fled from the Huns along the Rhine to the north and encountered the Franks , allied with the Romans, on the Middle Rhine , whose resistance was soon broken. The regular Roman border troops were probably only weakly represented here at this point, because the army master Stilicho had to withdraw most of the units in order to defend the heartland of Italy against the rebel Alaric . Since the Alamanni had already established themselves in the south , the newcomers on December 31 of the same year chose the area around the old town and legion fortress Mogontiacum with its large bridge for their crossing over the Rhine . They plundered the defenseless city and then left a trail of devastation through Gaul. The border troops remaining at the Rhine border were apparently no longer able to offer effective resistance to the attackers. The usurper Constantine III. then crossed with an army from Britain to Gaul, attacked the Vandal and Alan invaders and drove them to Spain, where they were able to settle for a few years before finally founding their own empire in North Africa in the middle of the 5th century. In the years from 411 onwards, Constantius III succeeded. to stabilize the Rhine border once more.

With the conquest of large areas in North Africa by the Vandals and Alans under Geiseric , the end of the Limes in Africa was heralded. In 435, the Western Roman government signed a treaty with the conquerors, which granted them the right to settle in Mauritania (the two provinces of Mauretania Tingitana and Mauretania Caesariensis ) and Numidia . In 439, in breach of the treaty, Carthage was occupied, the largest city in the west after the ancient capital Rome , whereby the Vandals also got hold of a Roman naval unit stationed there. Geiseric established an independent kingdom in the rich African provinces of Byzacena and Proconsularis (roughly the territory of today's Tunisia), which was also founded in 442 by Valentinian III. was recognized. As a result, the government in Ravenna suddenly lost a considerable part of its tax revenue.

The end of the "classic" Limes therefore took place most visibly in the western part of the empire and here especially on the Danube-Iller-Rhein-Limes . It no longer held the Roman Empire together culturally or spatially, could no longer be adequately manned for financial reasons and was therefore no longer a serious obstacle for the barbarian invaders. The concept of static fortifications lined up like a string of pearls has long since ceased to do justice to the changed political and military conditions that this period brought with it. The Limes was never intended as an impermeable barrier, but it was no longer suitable as a border marker and control body between the empire and the “Barbaricum”, especially since the peripheral regions became more and more culturally similar through the establishment of the Germano-Romanic kingdoms in the former empire. One of the main reasons for the end of the Limes in the West, the ever-empty state coffers is, including in a passage of the Vita Sancti Severini of Eugippius cited:

“At the time when the Roman Empire still existed, the soldiers in many cities were paid for guarding the Limes from public funds (publicis stipendiis alebantur) . When this regulation ceased, the military units fell apart with the Limes. "

This fatal development began around 400, when Westrom had to recruit more cost-effective but factually independent and disciplined foederati to replenish its severely decimated border troops. The decline of his army probably accelerated massively from the late 460s, also as a result of two unsuccessful naval operations to recapture the provinces in North Africa, which are particularly important for the grain supply of the heartland of Italy: First, Emperor Majorian failed after the Western Roman fleet had already reached its assembly point at Carthago Nova ( Cartagena ) had been completely wiped out (perhaps by treason) by vandal squadrons . Some time later, a common Western and Eastern Roman invasion fleet was their Admiral Basiliskos near Carthage by Brander destroyed. After these disastrous failures, the reconquest of North Africa had become even more distant, because the military and financial possibilities of the Eastern Roman Empire were now exhausted. Since Ravenna's coffers remained empty as a result, the administration, army organization and discipline deteriorated, and the empire lost its last vestige of authority. In the final stages of the western empire, the military had taken over political control, which led to anarchic conditions. The commanders of the still operational armies, Romans and non-Romans, vied for power, land and access to the remaining resources. The members of the Romanesque civil population on the Limes, who had not been killed or fled, now had to ensure their own safety. They withdrew behind the walls of the legionary camps and castles that were still usable and set up their own vigiles to defend them . Since most of the former border guards probably had families and operated small farms for their survival, not all of them left, but continued to wait at their old stationing locations.

After evaluating new research results, the Rhine Limes existed in the area of ​​the Germania II province almost certainly well after the disaster of 407. The - probably only temporary - withdrawal of the border troops under Stilicho, 401/402, changed little at first. The remaining Roman troops were initially reinforced by federated Burgundians , then increasingly by Frankish mercenaries from around 435 onwards. Many forts remained manned. Around 420 they checked the entire length of the Rhine again together with regular units. Around 450, however, the collapse of Roman rule north of the Alps accelerated, and in 459 Cologne was occupied by the Franks. At the latest with the defeat of the " Rex Romanorum " Syagrius against the Franks in 486/87, Roman control over Gaul ended. The units of the Rhine Army should then have placed themselves in the service of the Frankish King Clovis . The illustration on the left comes from an Alemannic silver plate from the 7th century. The emphatically classical form of the representation is possibly only an artistic concession, but it could show one of those Gallo-Roman soldiers who were cut off by the Germanic conquest and who managed to preserve their culture and traditions until the 6th century. Many of the Limes forts also outlived the end of the Western Roman Empire by several decades, which is evidenced by the archaeological analysis of fort cemeteries and coin finds, especially by solidi . The garrisons on the Limes therefore certainly did not disappear from one day to the next, but over time they became weaker and weaker and finally became part of civil militias, whose loyalty was only to their immediate commanders or local kings.

The greatest threat to the Limes on the lower Danube came from the Huns of Attila in the first half of the 5th century. Repeatedly they invaded the Danube provinces and demanded ever higher tributes in return for their withdrawal from the Eastern Romans. When Emperor Theodosius II finally refused them, the Huns plundered further areas. As a result, most of the forts in Moesia secunda and its neighboring provinces were destroyed or abandoned. The region recovered only very slowly from the devastation.

6th century

In the east, the Roman border defense continued to exist even after the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476. Emperor Anastasius (491-518) had several fortifications repaired or rebuilt on the Danube and on the border with the Sassanid Empire. In 534, Ostrom succeeded in retaking North Africa; to ward off the Moors, Justinian (527-565) ordered the building of numerous fortresses here. The last major fortress building program on the Limes was initiated under this emperor; in the Danube region, for example, a large number of forts were built, which are also archaeologically verifiable and whose names Prokopios of Caesarea lists in De Aedificiis . The oriental Limes, which comprised the fortress belt in Armenia and northern Mesopotamia, including the Strata Diocletiana , was again massively strengthened under Justinian.

However, all these efforts could no longer prevent the defenses of the lower Danube Limes from collapsing a few years after Justinian's death. The Romans continued to control the river, but not the hinterland, which was traversed unhindered by looters and eventually was increasingly lost to Slavic immigrants. Around 600 and from 602 the Limes on the lower Danube was overrun by Avars, Slavs and other migrant peoples. The Eastern Roman army had to evacuate all of its bases between the Danube and the Balkan Mountains and retreat to what is now southern Bulgaria. That meant the final end of the Danube Limes. Limites of late antiquity existed in East Current until the 7th century. Their downfall begins with the beginning of Islamic expansion . It shrunk the eastern Roman Empire to the rump Byzantine state , which brought with it a complete military reorganization and strategic reorientation.


The fortifications on the Limes did not follow any strict nationwide norms in terms of their location and architectural design. No tower or fort was exactly alike and no section of the border was exempt from minor or major deviations. In the Odenwald (and also on the Feldberg im Taunus) one found z. B. a 120 m long and 2.20 m high stone wall, in the middle of the usual wooden palisades. The stones of the Odenwald wall were carefully hewn and smoothed on the inside, but on the outside they were left largely unworked. The wooden towers were replaced by stone towers, palisade barriers were either renewed, replaced by double rows or completely rebuilt as a stone wall. On the banks of the great rivers (Rhine, Danube) people were content with forts and watchtowers (so-called “wet Limes”), but in the stony and sandy soil of the Sahara , ditches stretching over hundreds of kilometers were dug. An intended side effect of the structures was their visibility. For this, tactical disadvantages were even accepted in some places, in that they were not built on ridges, but shifted into the valleys, apparently accepting that they were easier to negotiate. With this visible limitation, a kind of feeling of security (securitas) should also be created. According to the historian Géza Alföldy , the Limes in Upper Germany in particular shows the abundance of power and majesty (maiestas imperii) of the Roman Empire. No other empire (except China with its Great Wall) had the expertise and resources to build such an imposing work on its fringes.

The height, construction and strength of the most remarkable barrage on the Limes, Hadrian's Wall in Britain, also change in its course. This fastening and signal line was originally based on a uniform overall plan, which, however, had to be changed several times during its construction. The eastern section consisted entirely of stone over a length of approx. 45 Roman miles, in the west, however, initially only of turf , only the towers were built in stone. The western wall was also rebuilt in stone under Marcus Aurelius. According to the width of the foundations of the rampart, it was originally around 4.5 m high. It is unclear whether a parapet made of battlements and a battlement were also present, but it is very likely. At a distance of one Roman mile there was a small fort (milecastle) with two watchtowers in between. A trench nine meters wide in the north and a somewhat narrower ditch in the south, which could only be crossed at strictly guarded checkpoints, was used to prevent approach. The southern moat was also flanked on both sides by earth walls. A well-developed military road ran between the southern ditch and the ramparts, which was supposed to enable troops to move quickly and unhindered between the ramparts. In its final stage, the vallum Aelium was almost 120 km long (approx. 80 Roman miles) and equipped with numerous larger forts, mile forts and watchtowers (a total of 80 wall gates, 14 forts and 320 towers).

While in the west a number of camps with a mid-imperial floor plan have only been reinforced by horseshoe-shaped gate towers and there are hardly any real fort buildings, at the same time on the eastern border forts with semicircular protruding towers and pointed corners, such as the fort of Ain, are being built in the west Sinu in Arabia. The border fortifications went through a continuous change in late antiquity and for most barbarian tribes in the early 4th century it was still difficult and risky to besiege a Limes fort if it was resolutely defended by its garrison. There were now fewer forts and watchtowers, the complexes, some of which were reminiscent of medieval castles, were much smaller than their predecessors, but more strongly fortified and could be successfully held against a superior force with just a few soldiers. The vast majority of them had meanwhile been equipped with massive U-shaped, projecting intermediate towers and fan-shaped towers at the corners, which made it possible, with the help of very efficient artillery (balistae), to take potential attackers into a devastating crossfire well in advance.

The Limes in Western Europe

Animation of Terra X

Britain and Gaul

Map of ramparts and forts in Northern Great Britain (around 155 AD)

This section of the Limes existed from the 1st to the 5th century AD and extended to the territory of the provinces

  • Britannia Inferior
  • Britannia Superior

The Limes in Britain ( Limes Britannicus ) lies on the territory of what is now the United Kingdom in England, Scotland and Wales. Initially, the Gask Ridge and the Stanegate, with their chains of fort and watchtowers, marked the northern border in Britain until the transition from the 1st to the 2nd century AD . Later the isthmuses in the north between the Firth of Forth and Firth of Clyde were secured by the barriers of the Antonine Wall and those between the mouth of the Tyne and Solway Firth by Hadrian's Wall . The ramparts on Hadrian's Wall were secured by forts in the Lowlands, which were built along the main connecting roads to the north. The security and control on the coasts in the west and south-east was carried out by chains of forts, guard towers and signal towers and along the main roads in the interior.

The occupation force (Exercitus Britannicus) consisted largely of auxiliary troop cohorts . Three legions - stationed in Eburacum / York, Isca Silurum and Deva - served as a strategic reserve . The control and monitoring of the waters around the British Isles were the responsibility of Classis Britannica ( Rutupiae / Richborough headquarters ). Legions, auxiliary cohorts, and navy were commanded by the provincial governors. From the 3rd century onwards, Comitatenses , Limitanei and Liburnarian units (members of the navy) were under the command of two military leaders:

Saxony coast

Map of the British and Gallic forts on the Saxon coast

This Limes section existed from the 3rd to the 5th century AD and extended to the territory of the provinces

  • Britannia Inferior
  • Belgica
  • Lugdunensis ,
  • Aquitania

This late antique Limes was on the territory of today's United Kingdom and France . In the 3rd century a separate military district, the Litus Saxonicum , was established on the British side of the English Channel, between the mouths of the Wash and Solent , to ward off Anglo-Saxon pirates and looters. The Gallic English Channel and Atlantic coasts were also included. Control and surveillance of the coast was carried out by a chain of watch towers and signal towers, forts and fortified port cities (Gaul). Most of the Saxon coastal forts probably also served as naval bases.

The crew of the forts consisted of infantry and some cavalry units, control and surveillance of the English Channel were the responsibility of the Classis Britannica and the Classis Sambrica (headquarters Locus Quartensis / Port d'Etaple), which secured the mouth of the Somme . The Comitatenses , Limitanei and Liburnarian units on this section were under the command of three military leaders:

Lower Germany

Map of the legionary camps and forts in Germania inferior

This section of the Limes ( Ripa Rheni Germaniae inferioris ) existed from the 1st to the 5th century AD and extended to the area of ​​the Germania Inferior province .

It lies on the territory of what is now the Netherlands and Germany . It was a river border (ripa) on the north bank of the Rhine secured by forts , which stretched from the North Sea (Kastell Katwijk-Brittenburg) to the Vinxtbach (opposite the small fort Rheinbrohl of the Upper Germanic Limes), which at that time was the border between the Roman provinces Germania inferior and Germania superior formed. In contrast to the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes, it was not marked by a continuous palisade or wall line, nor could a ditch or wall be detected. The guards were stationed in the forts and watchtowers, mostly located directly on the banks of the Rhine. The Limes was opened up by a well-developed military road. Each fort had its own river port or landing stage as well as a storage area, as the Rhine was not only a border zone, but also the most important transport and trade route in the region. In the first section, between the Rigomagus (Remagen) and Bonna (Bonn) camps , there were only a few forts. In the second, middle section between Bonna and Ulpia Noviomagus Batavorum (Nijmegen) their concentration was much greater. The large legionary camps and - with one exception - all the cavalry fort were located here. The landscape of the third section between Ulpia Noviomagus Batavorum and the Mare Germanicum (North Sea) was characterized by numerous small watercourses and marshy marshland. That is why there was only one cavalry fort in this area. The border security here consisted mainly of relatively small cohort forts lined up closely together.

The occupation force (Exercitus Germaniae Inferioris) consisted largely of auxiliary troop cohorts . From the 2nd century AD three legions - stationed in Bonna / Bonn, Novaesium / Neuss, Vetera / Xanten and Noviomagus / Nijmegen - served as strategic reserves . The control and monitoring of the waters of the North Sea, the mouth of the Rhine and the Lower Rhine was the responsibility of Classis Germanica (headquarters Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium / Cologne). Legion, auxiliary and fleet units were commanded by the respective provincial governor. From the 3rd century onwards, the Comitatenses , Ripenses (bank guards) and Liburnarian units stationed here were under the command of a Dux Belgicae secundae .

Upper Germany and Raetia

Map of the Upper German-Rhaetian Limes

This section of the Limes existed from the 1st to the 5th century AD and extended to the territory of the provinces

It lay in the area of ​​today's German federal states of Rhineland-Palatinate , Hesse , Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria and delimited the parts of the Roman province of Raetia north of the Danube to the north and the parts of Germania superior to the east on the right bank of the Rhine . In Upper Germany, the border wall initially consisted of a post route, from around 162/63 it then consisted of a border barricade fortified with guard / signal towers, palisades , trenches and earth walls; on a short section, as on the Rhaetian Limes, a continuous stone wall had even been built. In the final stage of expansion, the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes was about 550 kilometers long and stretched from Rheinbrohl ( Neuwied district , northern Rhineland-Palatinate) to Hienheim an der Donau. Between the villages of Osterburken and Welzheim , the Limes ran for 81 kilometers in an almost straight line to the south. In research this unusual structure is taken as further evidence that this type of border rampart was never used for defensive purposes. The Dekumatland secured by this Limes had to be evacuated by the Romans between 260 and 285, who then took up their positions again on the banks of the Rhine and Danube, which were much easier to secure militarily. The exact course of the Limes on the border between Upper Germany and Raetia has not yet been fully explored. At the end of the 4th and beginning of the 5th century, the Rhaetian Limes was reorganized and divided into three sections. The northern border of Raetia formed the pars superior (upper part), the western border formed the pars media (middle part) with the fortified city of Cambodunum and bases from Vemania to Cassilacum , the pars inferior (lower part) included the section between Regensburg and Passau.

The occupation force (Exercitus Germaniae superioris and Exercitus Raeticus) consisted mostly of auxiliary troop cohorts . From the 2nd century onwards, three legions - stationed in Mogontiacum / Mainz, Argentorate / Strasbourg and Castra Regina / Regensburg - served as strategic reserves . The supervision of the Upper Rhine fell into the responsibility of the Classis Germanica , that of the Rhaetian Danube to that of the Classis Pannonica (Headquarters Aquincum / Budapest). Legions and auxiliary cohorts were under the command of the governors. From the 3rd century onwards, the Upper German-Rhaetian border troops (Comitatenses, Ripenses and Liburnarians) were commanded by three military leaders:

Danube-Iller-Rhine-Limes (DIRL)

Location of the forts on the Rhine-Bodensee line and in the hinterland, province of Maxima Sequanorum and Raetia I , 3rd century AD.

This Limes section existed from the 3rd to the 5th century AD and extended to the territory of the provinces

It lies on the territory of what is now France , Germany , Austria , Switzerland and Liechtenstein . Already in the years between 15 BC The border between Romans and Germanic peoples ran essentially along the line of the late antique Danube-Iller-Rhine-Limes before the Romans advanced further north to the Dekumatland . Due to troop withdrawals and massive barbarian incursions, the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes had to be abandoned in the late 3rd century and the border had to be taken back to the banks of these three rivers. Especially around the year 300 new fortifications were built here under Emperor Diocletian either directly on the river banks or on important road connections in the hinterland. The fortress line was then considerably reinforced against the Alamanni , who were constantly advancing southwards under Emperor Valentinian I, around 370 AD, especially on the Upper Rhine between Lake Constance and the knee of the Rhine near Basel. In contrast to the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes, the DIRL primarily served for defense and defense purposes; his forts had much stronger and higher walls than their mid-imperial predecessors, and in most cases they were adapted to the local topographical conditions so that they could no longer be built in the classic playing card shape. Between them, as an additional security measure, a dense chain of guard and signal towers (burgi) was created .

Patrol boat flotillas were stationed on the great lakes in this region.

Comitatenses , Ripenses and Liburnarians in this section of the Limes were under the command of four military leaders:


Map of the Noric Limes

This Limes section ( Ripa Danuvii Proviniciae Norici ) existed from the 1st to the 5th century AD and extends to the area of ​​the province of Noricum .

It lies on the territory of today's Austrian federal states of Upper and Lower Austria . It ran - always along the Danube - from Passau / Boiodurum via Enns / Lauriacum to Zeiselmauer / Cannabiaca . This is also a ripa (river boundary), which could be secured by a loose chain of cohort forts. The main connecting road on the Limes in Norway was via iuxta amnem Danuvium . The initially simple wood and earth buildings were systematically converted to stone bearings under Emperor Hadrian and in the 4th century they were once again brought up to date and massively reinforced. All these systems were renewed over the old wall plan and brought to late antique building dimensions. The walls were considerably reinforced, the intermediate and corner towers were converted into horseshoe and fan towers. However, in the entire scope, including the interior, the building dimensions of the mid-imperial period were essentially retained. Between the camps there were watchtowers or signal towers (in late antiquity burgi ) at strategically favorable places or viewing points . In the middle section between the camps at Favianis and Melk there were only a few watchtowers. Here the narrow valley of the Wachau with its densely wooded steep slopes made access to the river bank difficult . Each fort had its own river port or landing stage, as well as a storage area, as the Danube was not only a border zone, but also the most important transport and trade route in the region. In the course of time civil settlements ( vici ) emerged right next to the forts ; Walled cities ( municipia ) were founded in the immediate hinterland of the Limes - e.g. B. Aelium Cetium or Ovilava (Wels) - they were the administrative or commercial centers of the region. In late antiquity, the Noric surveillance area was split into two parts ( pars superior and pars inferior ). Presumably, a second, rear line of defense was built (Fort Locus Felicis ).

The occupation troops (Exercitus Noricus) consisted largely of auxiliary troop cohorts , a legion stationed in Lauriacum served as a strategic reserve . The Classis Pannonica was responsible for monitoring and securing the Danube and its tributaries . Legion, naval and auxiliary units were commanded by the respective governors. In late antiquity - according to Notitia Dignitatum - four newly established flotillas took on this task. From the 3rd century onwards, the Norican Comitatenses , Ripenses and Liburnari were under the command of two military leaders:


Location of Claustra Alpium Iuliarum

The more than 80 km long wall system of the Claustra Alpium Iuliarum secured the core area of ​​the Roman Empire. It extended over the territory of the provinces

The Claustra Alpium Iuliarum lay on the present-day territories of Austria , Slovenia , Croatia and Italy . It was a system of ramparts, forts, watchtowers and burgi in the Julian Alps , which was supposed to protect the pass roads to Italy, above all the Via Gemina , from invaders. The first entrenchments and signal towers were built in the 1st century AD. As the barbarian attacks on the Roman Empire intensified in the course of the 3rd century  , the barrier walls were massively expanded and strengthened towards the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th century - under the rule of Emperors Diocletian and Constantine I. The center of the defense system was the castle of Ad Pirum in the Birnbaumer Wald , which secured the pass to Italy. It had a permanent crew of 100 to 500 men. The Claustra also included the military stations of Nauportus (Vrhnika) and Castra ( Ajdovščina ) on both sides of the Birnbaumer Pass. The Claustra were in use until the 5th century.

In late antiquity, the occupation troops ( Limitanei ) were part of the Tractus Italiae circa Alpes military district and were under the command of a Comes Italiae .


Map of the Pannonian Limes with its apron protection

This Limes section ( Ripa Danuvii provinciae Pannoniae ) existed from the 1st to the 5th century AD and extended to the territory of the provinces

  • Pannonia inferior
  • Pannonia Superior

The Pannonian Limes is located in what is now Austria, Slovakia and Hungary . Although this section of the imperial border was also relatively well protected by the Danube (ripa) , the Roman military presence was always exceptionally strong here (three legionary camps in Upper Pannonia, but only one in Lower Pannonia), especially after the abandonment of Dacia in the late 3rd century Pressure from migrant peoples from the east on this section of the Limes increased significantly. The rivers that flow into the Danube also offered favorable traffic routes, but also good approach routes for invaders and looters. The legionary camps were therefore built at the most important fords or river mouths and road endpoints. The legionary and auxiliary troop camps are mainly located in the immediate vicinity of the Danube bank. The initial wood-earth structures were systematically converted to stone bearings under Emperor Hadrian and in the 4th century they were once again adapted to the new strategic requirements and massively reinforced. The gaps between the forts were closed with a chain of guard and signal towers. In late Roman times, a second line of defense was created through the construction of huge inland forts and the fortification of civil cities in the Limes hinterland. In addition, units of the Danube Fleet were stationed at particularly endangered points. Since Emperor Marcus Aurelius , one hears for the first time in Pannonia about stone watchtowers (burgus) , fan-shaped towers and small forts (praesidia) . In late antiquity, the Pannonian surveillance area was split into two parts ( pars superior and pars inferior ). The apron was secured by means of bridgehead fort (e.g. Fort Contra Aquincum or Fort Iža-Leányvár ) and military stations on important main roads in the Barbaricum (e.g. near Musov).

The occupation force (Exercitus Pannonicus) consisted largely of auxiliary troop cohorts , four legions - stationed in Vindobona , Carnuntum , Brigetio and Aquincum - served as strategic reserves. The Classis Pannonica was responsible for monitoring and securing the Danube and its tributaries . Legion, naval and auxiliary units were commanded by the respective governors. The Classis Pannonica probably merged with the Classis Histrica in late antiquity . From this time five more flotillas are known for Pannonia from the Notitia Dignitatum . From the 3rd century onwards, the Pannonian Comitatenses , Ripenses and Liburnari were under the command of four military leaders:

Limes Sarmatiae

Wall systems in Pannonia and Dacia

These barriers to secure the apron of the Pannonian Limes were built in the 4th century AD.

These barriers are located on the territory of today's Hungary and Romania. They consisted of several rows of kilometer-long earth walls and ditches that were supposed to shield the great Hungarian lowlands around the river Tisia (Tisza = Tisza ). They stretched from the Danube Bend to Aquincum , eastwards along the foothills of the northern Carpathians to the vicinity of today's city of Debrecen and met again in the south at the Viminatium / Stari Kostolac legionary location on the Danube Limes . Its endpoints were secured by the Danube fort. The earthworks also served to protect the Jazygens , a tributary sub-tribe of the Sarmatians who also settled in the Tisza plain and were supposed to defend Pannonia in advance against the invasions of the Goths and the Gepids who lived on the upper Tisza . The Limes Sarmatiae was primarily intended as a buffer zone and to relieve the Danube Limes , as was the so-called Constantine Wall in today's Wallachia , which in turn joined the Limes in Moesia . Both ramparts were overrun at the end of the 4th century and had to be abandoned.

The Limes in Eastern Europe

Map of the Dacian Limes
Map of the Mösian Limes
Map of the Roman ramparts in Pannonia, Dacia and Moesia
Map of the Anastasius Wall


This Limes section existed from the 2nd to the 3rd century AD and extended to the territory of the provinces

  • Dacia Inferior
  • Dacia Superior
  • Dacia Porolissensis

The Limes Dacicus was almost entirely on the territory of today's Romania . Due to the topographical conditions of Dacia (high plateau), the layout of the defense lines in Dacia was somewhat different. On the Transylvanian highlands, the forts stood directly on the edge of the Carpathian Mountains and secured the pass crossings on the Dacian side. They formed an almost complete circle, which was additionally covered by a chain of fortresses at the rear, which were laid out along the main approach routes to the Carpathian passes. Two legionary camps were set up in the center of the province, near the economically important gold and silver mines. In the southeast and southwest of the Transylvanian highlands, the forts and watchtowers were built either on the banks of the Olt and Mures rivers or on important overland roads (in the west) and an approx. 235 km long earth wall (in the east). These fort chains probably only played a subordinate role in the Dacian Limes system. All elements of this complex system were coordinated and functionally interlocked. Research in recent years has also been able to shed some light on some problems with the advanced watchtower and signal tower line. Over a distance of about 75 km between the forts Bologa in the south and Tihäu in the north, the traces of 66 towers, eight small forts (Burgi) and five dams (earthworks or walls, [clausurae] ) were observed and examined more closely. The organizational principles were similar to those in other provinces, which is why the Dacian Limes is still viewed as a unit in research. Nevertheless, it is beginning to become increasingly clear that each of the three Dacian provinces had its own military organization or its own army. The complicated manner in which the fortifications and troops were distributed gives the impression that the Roman administration also drew clear boundaries here. Dacia formed a forward bastion of the Roman Empire in the Barbaricum for about a century and a half. The Dacian Limes, the northern section of which was 300–350 km from the Danube, thus also protected the neighboring provinces to a high degree and, in the event of war, enabled flank attacks and encircling movements against opponents marching north of the Danube. Although the Roman military presence in the Carpathian region was always considerable, it was ultimately no longer possible to secure the Dacian provinces permanently against the constant barbarian incursions from the northeast. In 275 AD the region, which is coveted for its rich natural resources, had to be cleared again after almost 170 years of Roman rule under Emperor Aurelian.

The occupation force ( Exercitus Dacicus ) consisted largely of auxiliary troop cohorts . From the 2nd century onwards, two legions stationed in Apulum and Potaissa served as a strategic reserve . Legion and auxiliary units were commanded by the provincial governors.


This Limes section ( Ripa Danuvii provinciae Moesiae superioris et inferioris ) existed from the 1st to the 7th century AD and extended to the territory of the provinces

  • Moesia Superior
  • Moesia Inferior

The Limes Moesicus lies on the territory of today's Serbia and Bulgaria . This section of the Limes was not a border wall fortified with palisades or walls, but a river border secured by eight legionary camps, numerous auxiliary troop forts and guard / signal towers, which stretched from Singidunum (Belgrade) to the mouth of the Danube in the Black Sea . It was divided into two larger sections, which were divided by the Iskar River near Oescus , which also marked the border between the provinces of Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior . The bottleneck of the river at Djerdap formed a barrier between the north-west and north-east of Moesia that was difficult to overcome, which initially made communication between the Pannonian and Moesian armies much more difficult. This problem was only solved by building a three-meter-wide road under Trajan, which had legionnaires of Legio VII Claudia chiseled into the rock walls and thus replaced a towpath construction made of wood that was susceptible to damage from drift ice. The construction of a canal near Sip , with the help of which one could bypass the dangerous rapids and shallows there, was one of the further improvement measures for shipping traffic . Both ends of the canal were secured with forts. The most famous building on the Mösian Limes was the Trajan's Bridge near Drobeta / Turnu Severin from the early 2nd century AD, the first permanent bridge connection over the lower Danube , which was also guarded by fort buildings on both banks. In Moesia superior (Upper Moesia ) the section between Lederata and Dierna was particularly threatened by barbarian invasions. At the Iron Gate , the bank of the Danube was lined with steep cliffs and dense forests, which is why you could be content with a few watch / signal towers. After the establishment of the Dacian provinces, many of the Danube fort were either abandoned or left to civilians. The entire Upper Moselle Limes east of Viminatium was probably shut down by the end of the 2nd century AD and only partially reactivated again in the Severan period. With the abandonment of Dacia under Aurelian in the late 3rd century, the entire middle Danube became the imperial border again. After the reorganization phase under Aurelian and Probus, in the course of the military reforms under Diocletian and Constantine I near Djerdap, the Upper Mossian Limes was divided into two surveillance sectors - upstream: pars superior (Singidunum - Viminatium) and downstream: pars citerior (Iron Gate). In the period from Diocletian to the late 4th century, extensive construction work was started again on the Mösian Limes, the forts were renovated and the Danube bank was reinforced with stronger and larger watchtowers, so-called Burgi and Quadriburgi (small forts with four round corner towers) . Some river islands were also secured with fortifications (e.g. near Sapaja, Ostrvo). The last construction work took place in the time of Valentinian I, who also had camps and towers built partly on the right bank of the Danube and in the east, in the Dobrudscha , which once again brought about a brief consolidation of the border. After the Battle of Adrianople (378) the classic Limes system finally dissolved. Most of the Mösian forts were destroyed by the Hunnic invasion from 441 to 444 and remained abandoned for almost a century. Only Emperor Justinian I had them repaired and manned in part between 527 and 565. After the conquest of the Danube region by the Avars in the early 7th century, the last remnants of the Limes on the middle and lower Danube also dissolved.

The occupation force (Exercitus Moesicus) consisted largely of auxiliary troop cohorts . Five legions - stationed in Singidunum , Viminatium , Novae , Durostorum and Troesmis - served as a strategic reserve . The control and surveillance of the northern Black Sea coast and the Danube was the responsibility of the Classis Moesica (Headquarters Tomoi Constantiana / Constanța ) and the liburnarian associations of the Legio I Italica in Lower Saxony . From the 4th century, the Classis Scythiae took over their tasks. Legion, auxiliary and naval units were commanded by the provincial governors. According to the military and administrative reforms in the 3rd century were comitatenses - Riparenses - and naval units under the command of four generals:

Upper and Lower Trajan's Wall

The barrage was probably built in the 2nd century AD.

His remains lie on the territory of the former Bessarabia , today's states of Moldova and Ukraine . The construction of this rampart system north of the mouth of the Danube is attributed to Emperor Trajan and was supposed to make it more difficult for steppe nomads to penetrate the Roman Empire. The earth walls ran in a west-east direction over 120 km from the Prut to the coast of the Black Sea or to the mouth of the Dniester . Their origin in antiquity is controversial, according to the results of archaeological studies in the 20th century, they date to a period from 200 to 1400 AD.

Anastasius Wall

The barrage existed from the 5th to the 7th century AD and was located in the territory of the province of Thracia .

The remains of this wall ( vallum ) are on the territory of today's Turkey . It was a continuous barrier wall from late antiquity, reinforced with towers, small forts and moats, which was named after its builder, the Eastern Roman Emperor Anastasios I , (491-518). It served to protect the Eastern Roman capital Constantinople and extended from the Marmara Sea to the Black Sea . Since 46 AD, the Classis Perinthia (headquarters Perinthus / Marmaraereglisi) secured the Thracian Black Sea coast, the Marmara Sea , the Bosporus and the Dardanelles . The guards were provided by the Eastern Roman army, which was commanded by a Magister militum Praesentalis .

The Limes in the Middle East

Pontus, Cappadocia and Armenia

Map of the Pontic Limes in the 5th century AD

This section of the Limes existed from the 1st to the 7th century and extended to the territory of the provinces

The Limes Ponticus was on the territory of today's Turkey and Armenia . The coasts of the Black Sea were monitored from smaller bases and fortified port cities, and two naval associations were responsible for securing the shipping routes and supplying the coastal protection. The Crimean peninsula was ruled by a semi-autonomous client state, the Bosporanum regnum , in which, however, a permanent Roman garrison had been placed to be on the safe side. Since Armenia was geostrategically very central, it soon became a buffer state and thus automatically a constant bone of contention between Rome and the Parthians : The Parthians succeeded in putting representatives of their own ruling house, the Arsakids (Arsakuni), on the Armenian throne. For a short time, Armenia was integrated into the Roman Empire as the province of Armenia , but was given up again after just three years. The region remained a constant source of conflict between the successors of the Parthians, the Sassanids, and Rome throughout late antiquity . In 387 the country was divided, with four-fifths falling to the Sassanids ( Persarmenia ); thereafter the course of the Limes, secured by numerous fortresses, remained essentially unchanged here for 200 years. In the 6th century, Emperor Justinian I placed the Roman part of Armenia under its own magister militum per Armeniam , who from then on led its own army group, which underlines the growing military importance of the area at that time. In 591 the Romans were able to annex Persarmenia, in 629 the old border was restored after a major exchange of blows. With the Islamic expansion, the ancient phase of Armenian history ended a little later. The sovereignty over the area later changed back and forth several times between east current (Byzantium) and the caliphate . Cappadocia became a Roman province in 17 AD, with two legions permanently stationed in Melitene and Satala . The latter was at the crossroads of the most important main roads in the northeast of Asia Minor. The east-west road connected Ankyra , Nikopolis and Satala with northern Armenia and the Caucasus. The second north-south route led along the eastern border from Trebizond to Antioch . Control of this intersection was therefore of critical strategic importance. The city and the military camp only lost their importance in the 7th century.

The occupation troops consisted of auxiliary troops and the two legions stationed in Satala and Melitene . The control and surveillance of the Black Sea coast was the responsibility of the Classis Mosesica and the Classis Pontica ( Trapezus headquarters ) . Legion, auxiliary and naval units were commanded by the provincial governors. According to the military and administrative reforms in the 3rd century were comitatenses - Limitanei - and naval units under the command of two generals:

  • Comes per Isauriam
  • Dux Armeniae


Map of the late antique oriental provinces

This section of the Limes existed from the 1st to the 7th century and extended to the territory of the provinces

It lies on the territory of present-day Syria , Iraq , Southeast Turkey, Jordan and Israel . The Limes Orientalis developed mainly on the banks of the great rivers Euphrates , Tigris and Chaboras and was primarily directed against the second ancient great power in Eurasia , the Parthian Empire and later its successor, the Sassanid Empire . Similar to North Africa, it stretched in the Levant as a largely open line, protected only by strongly fortified cities and forts, stretching from the steppes of Mesopotamia to the Red Sea along the transition from the fertile land to the desert areas. There was no continuous wall or wall ( vallum or clausurae ) here. Fleet units patrolled the coast of the Mediterranean and the major rivers. The main task of the crews was to show a military presence and to monitor the agriculturally usable areas, fords, bridges, water points and the caravan routes that are important for long-distance trade. These particularly sensitive areas were secured by forts or watchtowers. Roman camel rider groups often penetrated into the Hejaz and the Nefud desert on their patrols . In northern Syria, the aprons were secured by the Kommagene , which was finally annexed by the Romans , the semi-autonomous oasis city of Palmyra and the fortress city of Dura Europos . In the outskirts of the deserts of Syria and Arabia, the Limes facilities were supposed to protect the settled arable farmers from raids by predatory nomad tribes. In addition, Parthian / Sassanid invading armies should be prevented from crossing the border unnoticed. Here, too, well-developed road connections were indispensable, as the border did not always run exactly along the river banks (ripae) . It was mainly about military roads that were secured by watchtower and fort chains. The Limes in Arabia ran along an army road that had been built under Trajan and led from Bosra to the port of Aqaba and via Gerasa to Petra . Around 290 AD, the strata Diocletiana leading from Damascus via Soura to Palmyra was built, a well-developed military road that was protected by a long chain of watchtowers and forts and connected the most important border fortresses. It is mentioned in the sources as early as the 6th century. Since the great Jewish uprisings in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, a legion was permanently stationed in Judea , which was primarily concerned with monitoring the local population.

During the imperial era, the main burden of defense rested on five legions stationed in Samosata , Zeugma , Raphaneia , Bosra and Jerusalem . They were supported by contingents of auxiliary troops, which included a particularly large number of armored cavalry units ( cataphracts ) . In an emergency, the Orient Army was reinforced by units from Egypt. The control and surveillance of the Mediterranean coast was the responsibility of Classis Syrica (headquarters Seleucia Pieria , mod. Samandağ ). In times of crisis, naval units were repeatedly stationed on the Euphrates and Tigris (main base Samosata ). Legion, auxiliary and naval units were commanded by the provincial governors. According to the military and administrative reforms in the late 3rd century were comitatenses - Ripenses - and naval units here until the 7th century under the command of the magister militum per Orientem , which were subordinate to turn six commanders:

  • Dux Foenicis
  • Dux Syriae
  • Dux Palestinae
  • Dux Osrhoenae
  • Dux Mesopotamiae
  • Dux Arabiae

The Limes in North Africa

Map of Egypt in Roman times


This Limes section existed from the 1st to the 7th century AD and extended to the area of ​​the province of Aegyptus .

The border in Egypt was a special case due to its topographical and geographical conditions and not comparable with the limits in the other parts of the empire. The fortifications did not follow an east-west line that protected the north from the barbarian peoples of the south - especially the Blemmyans - as one would actually expect here. The Roman occupation troops were mainly concentrated in a large camp near Nikopolis , near the capital Alexandria , and were primarily supposed to ensure that the grain was shipped to Rome. The other camps lined up in a north-south direction along the great Nile road or secured observation posts on the edge of the desert and the oases on the most important caravan routes.

Under Augustus , the Roman army in Egypt still numbered three legions; from the reign of Trajan only one legion, auxiliary troops and a fleet were stationed here. The control and surveillance of the Mediterranean coast was the responsibility of the Classis Alexandrina (Alexandria headquarters). Legion, auxiliary and naval units were commanded by the provincial governors. According to the military and administrative reforms in the 3rd century were comitatenses - Limitanei - and naval units under the command of two generals:

  • Dux Thebaidos
  • Comes limitis Aegypti

Tripolitania and Cyrenaica

The Limes in Tripolitania
The clausura of Bir Oum Ali in Tunisia

This section of the Limes existed from the 1st to the 5th century AD and extended over the territory of Tripolitania .

The Limes Tripolitanus lies on the territory of today's Libya and Tunisia . It included the border fortifications in the area between the Tritonis Lacus and Leptis Magna . The Limes facilities formed a deeply tiered defense system and mainly comprised small forts and barriers (clausurae) , individual watch and observation towers, but also customs posts that were supposed to control and bundle trade and travel. Above all, his crews secured the fertile highlands near the Mediterranean coast. In addition, the Romanization of this region should be further promoted and intensified. The facilities also marked a kind of dividing line between two cultures and economic areas. In addition, defensive villages and fortified farms were established whose residents were supposed to ward off minor nomad attacks. The Limes was expanded around 202 to 211 AD, in particular by Emperor Septimius Severus . The chain of fortifications extended from Ghadames in the west to the border fort Gholaia / Bu Njem . As the pottery spectrum from the small fort Bezereos, which is important for the administration of an important Limes section, shows, the Limes Tripolitanus seems to have been abandoned around 430/440 AD with the changed political and military situation. Around this time the rule of the Vandals established itself in Africa.

The occupation force consisted exclusively of auxiliary units. When necessary, legions were brought in from the neighboring provinces. The control and monitoring of the Mediterranean coast was the responsibility of the Classis Alexandrina and the Classis nova Libyca ( Ptolemais headquarters near Toqra ). Auxiliary and naval units were commanded by the provincial governors.

After the military and administrative reforms in the 3rd century, Limitanei and naval units were under the command of the Dux provinciae Tripolitanae .

Africa and Numidia

Map of Roman Africa and Mauritania

This section of the Limes existed from the 1st to the 5th century AD and extended to the territory of the provinces

  • Africa Proconsularis
  • Numidia

It lies on the territory of today's states Libya , Tunisia and Algeria . The occupation troops stationed here were primarily intended to protect the agriculturally productive zones and their peripheral areas. The two provinces were the most populous and wealthiest in Roman North Africa after Egypt. They also contributed significantly to the grain supply of the city of Rome. Continuous barriers were found in Tunisia and Algeria. On the southern flank of the Aurès Mountains there was an almost 300 km long but not connected system of walls and ditches (Seguia bent el-Krass), which was monitored from forts (fossatum Africae) . It was built in the 2nd century AD, ended in the south at Oued Djedi and was provided with watchtowers, an upstream moat and forts, which were connected by a road network. The shape of the trenches was reminiscent of the specimens on Hadrian's Wall. The further expansion of the Numidian border fortifications under Septimius Severus had complete control over the Aurès Mountains and the subjugation of some of the nomadic tribes resident there. Further forts were found on the border zone to the desert, which was unattractive for agriculture, on the caravan routes to the Sahara and in the north. Some outposts had been pushed into the desert, such as B. Messad and Ghadames .

The occupation troops consisted mainly of auxiliary troop units. The only legion base was Lambaesis . The control and supervision of the Mediterranean coast was the responsibility of the Classis Alexandrina and the Classis Mauretanica . Auxiliary and naval units were commanded by the provincial governors. According to the military and administrative reforms in the 3rd century were comitatenses , Limitanei - and naval units under the command of Comes Africae .


This section of the Limes existed from the 1st to the 5th century AD and extended to the territory of the provinces

  • Mauretania Caesariensis
  • Mauretania Tingitana

The Limes Mauretaniae lies on the national territory of Algeria and Morocco . It included the border fortifications between Anzia (Anmale / Algeria) and Numerus Syrorum (Lalla Marnia / Morocco). The priority in this region was only the protection of the economically attractive coastal areas - on average 50 km wide. Most of the Mauretania Caesariensis camps were concentrated on the great east-west coast road. Since Trajan, the border line ran from Oued Chelief to Ain Temouchent and Amale / Sour el-Gelozane. A chain of castles established under Septimius Severus extended along a road leading south from Tarmount (on the northern Chott el-Hodna) to Tempcen and Marnia . Mauretania Tingitana , which is difficult to access by land, was oriented towards Hispania . Some researchers believe that there was not even a land connection between the two Mauritania in ancient times. Most of the camps were grouped around the provincial metropolis of Volubilis . Six kilometers south of Rabat , the remains of two stone walls with watchtowers and a moat were discovered, the remains of which could be traced twelve kilometers to the east. Presumably it served to protect the Colonia of Sala .

The occupation forces of the two provinces consisted exclusively of a few auxiliary troop cohorts, who were mainly stationed on the coasts around Cherchel and Volubilis . The coastal protection was carried out by the units of the Classis Alexandrina and the Classis Mauretanica (Headquarters Cherchel). Auxiliary and naval units were commanded by the provincial governors. According to the military and administrative reforms in the 3rd century were comitatenses , Limitanei - and naval units under the command of two generals:


Total Roman limits

  • Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe (ed.): Heirs of the empire. The Kingdom of the Vandals. Catalog of the Baden-Württemberg State Exhibition 2009. Ph. V. Zabern, Mainz 2009, ISBN 978-3-8053-4083-0 . (In particular: Wolfgang Kuhoff: The Sick Man on the Tiber. A realm between crisis, stabilization and decline. Pp. 35–46.)
  • Mario Becker , Egon SchallmayerLimes. In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde (RGA). 2nd Edition. Volume 18, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2001, ISBN 3-11-016950-9 , pp. 403-442. (introductory article)
  • Yann le Bohec: The Roman Army , Nikol VerlagsgmbH, Hamburg 2009 ISBN 978-3-86820-022-5 (earlier edition 1993)
  • Jutta Frings, Helga Willinghöfer (ed.): Rome and the barbarians. Europe at the time of the mass migration , catalog for the exhibition from August 22nd to December 7th, 2008 in the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bonn, Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, Palazzo Grassi, École française de Rome, Hirmer, Munich 2008 (in particular: Peter Heather: Die Konsolidierung des Limes , pp. 125–129).
  • Adrian Goldsworthy: The Wars of the Romans . Brandenburgisches Verlagshaus, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-89488-136-4 .
  • Peter Heather: Der Untergang des Römischen Weltreiches , Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, 2nd edition, Reinbek 2011, ISBN 978-3-499-62665-4 .
  • Sonja Jilek (Ed.): Limits of the Roman Empire . Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 2006, ISBN 3-8053-3429-X .
  • Margot Klee : Limits of the Empire. Life on the Roman Limes. Konrad Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-8062-2015-8 .
  • Wolfgang Moschek: The Limes, border of the Roman Empire . Primus Verlag, Darmstadt 2010, ISBN 978-3-89678-833-7 (story told) .
  • Dieter Planck , Andreas Thiel: The Limes Lexicon. Rome's borders from A to Z. Beck, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-406-56816-9 .
  • Egon Schallmayer: The Limes: History of a Border , 3rd edition, C. H. Beck Verlag, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-406-48018-8 (earlier edition 2006)
  • Michael Sommer: The soldier emperors . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2004, ISBN 3-534-17477-1 (compact history) .
  • Files of the International Limes Congresses (title changes). Last:
    • Zsolt Visy (ed.): Limes XIX. Proceedings of the XIXth International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies held in Pécs, Hungary, September 2003 . University of Pécs, Pécs 2005, ISBN 963-642-053-X .
  • Jürgen Oldenstein: Alzey Castle. Archaeological investigations in the late Roman camp and studies on border defense in the Mainz ducat . Habilitation thesis University of Mainz, 1992, PDF, 14.9 MB
  • Hubert Fehr, Philipp von Rummel: The Great Migration. Theiss Wissen Kompakt, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-8062-2283-8 .
  • René Ployer, Marinus Polak, Ricarda Schmidt: The Frontiers of the Roman Empire. A thematic study and proposed World Heritage Nomination strategy. Phoibos Verlag, Vienna 2019, ISBN 978-3-85161-207-3 .

Saxony coast

  • Nic Fields: Rome's Saxon Shore Coastal Defenses of Roman Britain AD 250-500. Osprey, Oxford / New York 2006, ISBN 978-1-84603-094-9 ( Fortress . 56).

Upper Germanic-Raetian Limes

  • Dietwulf Baatz : The Roman Limes. Archaeological excursions between the Rhine and the Danube. 4th edition. Gebr. Mann, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-7861-2347-0 .
  • Martin Kemkes : The Limes. Rome's border with the barbarians. 2nd edition. Thorbecke, Ostfildern 2006, ISBN 978-3-7995-3401-7 .
  • Andreas Thiel : Paths on the Limes. 55 excursions to Roman times. Theiss, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-8062-1946-X .
  • Hans Ulrich Nuber : The end of the Upper German-Raetian Limes - a research task. In: Archeology and History of the First Millennium in Southwest Germany . Thorbecke, Sigmaringen 1990, ISBN 3-7995-7352-6 , pp. 51-68.
  • Marcus Reuter : The end of the Raetian Limes in the year 254 AD. In: Bavarian prehistory sheets . No. 72, 2007, pp. 77-150.
  • Marcus Reuter: The reconstruction of the Upper German-Raetian Limes under Maximinus Thrax. In: Nicolae Gudea (Ed.): Roman Frontier Studies. Proceedings of the XVIIth International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies, Zalau 1999, pp. 533-537.
  • Hans-Peter Kuhnen (Ed.): Stormed - Cleared - Forgotten? The Limesfall and the end of Roman rule in southwest Germany. Stuttgart 1992.
  • Egon Schallmayer (Ed.): Niederbieber, Postumus and the Limesfall. Stations in a political process. Report of the first Saalburg colloquium. Saalburg-Schriften 3, Bad Homburg 1996.
  • Bernd Steidl : The Wetterau from the 3rd to 5th century AD.Materials on the prehistory and early history of Hessen 22, Wiesbaden 2000.
  • Bernd Steidl: The loss of the Upper German-Raetian Limes areas. In: Ludwig Wamser, Christoph Flügel, Bernward Ziegaus (Hrsg.): The Romans between the Alps and the North Sea. The civilizing legacy of a European military power , Mainz 2000, 75–79.
  • The Romans in the Alps, historians' conference in Salzburg, Convegno Storico di Salisurgo, 13. – 15. November 1986, therein: Erwin Kellner: The Germanic politics of Rome in the Bavarian part of the Raetia secunda during the 4th and 5th centuries, pp. 205–211, series of publications of the Arge Alpenländer, publisher: Commission III (Culture), reports of the historians' conferences, New part 2, publishing house Athesia Bozen, 1989, ISBN 88-7014-511-5 .

Noric and Upper Pannonian Limes (Austria)

  • Verena Gassner, Andreas Pülz (Hrsg.): The Roman Limes in Austria. Guide to the archaeological monuments. 2nd Edition. Publishing house of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna 2018, ISBN 978-3-7001-7787-6 .
  • Office of the Upper Austrian Provincial Government, Directorate Culture (Ed.): The return of the Legion. Roman Heritage in Upper Austria , accompanying volume for the Upper Austrian State Exhibition 2018, Linz 2018, ISBN 978-3-99062-298-8 .
  • Herwig Friesinger, Fritz Krinzinger: The Roman Limes in Austria. 2nd Edition. Publishing house of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna 2002, ISBN 3-7001-2618-2 .
  • Franz Humer (ed.): Legionary eagle and druid staff. From the legionary camp to the Danube metropolis. Ferd. Berger & Sons, Horn 2007, in it Kurt Genser: The development of the Upper Pannonian Limes to Emperor Hadrian.
  • Manfred Kandler (Ed.): The Roman Limes in Austria. A guide. 2nd Edition. Publishing house of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna 1989, ISBN 3-7001-0785-4 (= International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies 14, Petronell, Deutsch-Altenburg 1986).
  • Peter Pleyel: Roman Austria. Pichler, Vienna 2002, ISBN 3-85431-293-8 ( History of Austria . Vol. 1).

Pannonian Limes

  • From Augustus to Attila, life on the Hungarian Danube Limes. Theiss, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-8062-1541-3 . In it: Zsolt Visy: On the Roman history of Pannonia / historical overview.
  • Jenő Fitz (ed.): The Roman Limes in Hungary. Fejér Megyei Múzeumok Igazgatósága, Székesfehérvár 1976 ( Az István Király Múzeum közleményei. A, Sz. 22).
  • Sándor Soproni : The late Roman Limes between Esztergom and Szentendre. Akademiai Kiado, Budapest 1978, ISBN 963-05-1307-2 .
  • Sándor Soproni: The last decades of the Pannonian Limes. C. H. Beck, Munich 1985, ISBN 3-406-30453-2 .
  • Zsolt Visy: The ripa Pannonica in Hungary. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest 2003, ISBN 963-05-7980-4 .
  • Zsolt Visy: The Pannonian Limes in Hungary. Konrad Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart 1988, ISBN 3-8062-0488-8 .

Dacian Limes

  • Nicolae Gudea: The Dacian Limes. Materials on its story . In: Yearbook of the Römisch Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz . Volume 44, Part 2, Mainz 1997. ( PDF file )

Mösischer Limes

  • Miroslava Mirkovic: Orbis Provinciarum, Moesia Superior, A Province on the Middle Danube. Zabern's illustrated books on archeology, special volumes of the ancient world, Zabern, Mainz a. R. 2007, ISBN 978-3-8053-3782-3 .

Oriental Limes

  • Jörg Wagner: The Romans on the Euphrates and Tigris. History and monuments of the Limes in the Orient. Zabern, Mainz 1985 (special issue Antike Welt No. 16).
  • Hans-Peter Kuhnen (ed.): Desert border of the Roman Empire. The Roman Limes in Israel and Jordan. With contributions by Johanna Ritter-Burkert and Stefan F. Pfahl and texts by Dennis Becker, Cathrin Ohrmann, Sven Mietzsch, Kolja Richter, Hanne Spitzlay and Ute Wahl, Nünnerich-Asmus Verlag Mainz 2018 (=  Archaeological Guide to the Middle East 2 ).

Limes in North Africa

  • Sebastian Matz: Fortification in nowhere. In the area of ​​tension between Romans and nomads, the African Limes was created between 146 BC. And 429 AD shifted further and further south. In: Ancient World . Journal of Archeology and Cultural History. 38th year, 2007, issue 1, pp. 55–59.

Limes Tripolitanus

  • David Mattingly : Tripolitania. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 1994, ISBN 0-472-10658-9 / Batsford, London 1995, ISBN 0-7134-5742-2 .
  • David Mattingly: Libyans and the 'limes': culture and society in Roman Tripolitania. In: Antiquités africaines 23, 1987.
  • Erwin M. Ruprechtsberger : The Roman Limes Zone in Tripolitania and the Cyrenaica. Tunisia Libya. A line of defense like the Limes between the Rhine and the Danube. Stuttgart 1993 ( publications of the Limes Museum Aalen . 47).
  • Pol Trousset: Recherches sur le limes Tripolitanus, du Chott el-Djerid à la frontière tuniso-libyenne. (Etudes d'Antiquites africaines). Éditions du Center national de la recherche scientifique, Paris 1974. ISBN 2-222-01589-8 .

new media

  • Saalburg Museum (ed.): The Limes. An ancient border . CD-ROM. Saalburg Museum, Bad Homburg 1998.

Web links

Commons : Limes (frontier)  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Web publications


  1. ^ W. Gebert: Limes. Studies to explain the word and its use . In: Bonner Jahrbücher . Volume 119, No. 2, 1910, pp. 158-205.
  2. Egon Schallmayer: 2011, p. 11 .
  3. a b Plank / Thiel: 2009, p. 79.
  4. Ovid , Fasti 2, 684f .: gentibus est aliis tellus data limine certo: / Romanae spatium est urbis et orbis idem ("Other peoples have an area with fixed borders: only with the Roman does the city coincide with the globe").
  5. Wolfgang Moschek: 2010, p. 95.
  6. Wolfgang Moschek: 2010, pp. 7–8 .
  7. ^ D. Mattingly 1987, p. 82
  8. Egon Schallmayer: 2011, pp. 9-10 .
  9. Wolfgang Moschek: 2010, p. 9 .
  10. Michael Sommer: 2004, pp. 71–72.
  11. Wolfgang Moschek: 2010, p. 57.
  12. Wolfgang Moschek: 2010, p. 93.
  13. Egon Schallmayer: 2011, p. 10 .
  14. Wolfgang Moschek: 2010, p. 92.
  15. Hubert Fehr, Philipp von Rummel 2011, p. 28
  16. ^ Adrian Goldsworthy: 2001, pp. 147-149.
  17. Egon Schallmayer, 2006, p. 9 .
  18. ^ Adrian Goldsworthy: 2001, p. 148.
  19. Kurt Genser: 2007, pp. 79-80.
  20. Egon Schallmayer, 2011, p. 9.
  21. Egon Schallmayer, 2006, p. 9.
  22. Wolfgang Moschek: 2010, p. 19.
  23. Jörg Wagner: 1985, p. 6.
  24. Jörg Wagner: 1985, p. 7.
  25. ^ Word creation by Jean Bardez, 1949.
  26. ^ Historia Augusta , Vita Marci Antonini Philosophi 21, 7 .
  27. ^ Siegfried Fischer-Fabian: The first Germans. The report on the mysterious Germanic people , Droemer-Knaur Verlag, 1975, p. 368.
  28. Markus Scholz : The ceramics of the Limes Fort Kapersburg; an inventory. Publishing house Ph. V. Zabern, Mainz am Rhein 2006.
  29. Erwin Kellner: 1989, p. 206
  30. Wolfgang Moschek: 2010, p. 101.
  31. Wolfgang Moschek: 2010, p. 102.
  32. Wolfgang Kuhoff: 2009, p. 36.
  33. Wolfgang Moschek: 2010, pp. 112–113.
  34. Peter Heather: 2008, pp. 125–128
  35. Erwin Kellner: 1989, pp. 205–211
  36. Peter Heather: 2008, p. 128, Jürgen Oldenstein: 1992, p. 310
  37. Erwin Kellner: 1989, pp. 210-211
  38. See H. Fehr, P. von Rummel: Die Völkerwanderung . Stuttgart 2011, p. 85.
  39. Prokopios of Caesarea , Historien 5,12,12-19: Now a Roman army was also stationed in the north of Gaul to defend the border. And when these soldiers had to realize that there was no way for them to return to Rome, while at the same time they were unwilling to surrender to their (Visigothic) enemies, the Arians , they stepped along with all their standards and the land , which they had long guarded for Rome, to the Teutons (ie Franks) and Arborychi. But they passed on to their children all the customs of their Roman ancestors, so that they should not be forgotten; and these people really paid a lot of attention to them, so that they were still in my time [approx. 550 AD] adhere to them. To this day they are still divided according to the legions to which their ancestors were assigned in the past, they always fight in battle under their standard, and they obey Roman customs in every respect. So they preserve the uniform of the Romans in every detail, even the footwear.
  40. Th. Fischer: Late Period and End. In: K. Dietz u. a. (Ed.): The Romans in Bavaria. Stuttgart 1995, p. 400 f.
  41. Peter Heather: 2011, p. 473.
  42. Walter Pohl : The Avars. A steppe people in Central Europe, 567–822 AD. Beck, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-406-48969-9 ; P. 378; Footnote 46.
  43. Wolfgang Moschek: 2010, p. 1.
  44. Plank / Thiel: 2009, pp. 50–51.
  45. ^ MJT Lewis: Surveying Instruments of Greece and Rome . Cambridge University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-521-79297-5 , pp. 242, 245.
  46. ND occ .: XXXIV
  47. ^ Provincial division in the 4th century
  48. ^ ND Occ., XXIV
  49. ND occ .: XXXIV
  50. ND occ .: XXXII
  51. ^ Zsolt Mráv : Roman military installations in the Barbaricum. In: From Augustus to Attila. Konrad Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-8062-1541-3 , p. 51.
  52. Gudea / Lobüscher: 2006, p. 31
  53. Nicolae Guidea: 1997, pp. 4-16.
  54. ^ Yann le Bohec: 1993, p. 194.
  55. Martin Hartmann: Satala, short report on the geophysical investigations and the survey in August 2004 , p. 1.
  56. Wolfgang Moschek: 2010, p. 67 .
  57. Jörg Wagner: 1985, p. 4.
  58. Yann le Bohec: 2009, pp. 195-196
  59. Yann le Bohec: 2009, pp. 197-198.
  60. Michael Mackensen : forts and military posts of the late 2nd and 3rd centuries on the "Limes Tripolitanus" . In: Der Limes 2 (2010), pp. 20–24; here: p. 22.
  61. Michael Mackensen : On the late Roman use of the small fort “Vezereos” on the “limes Tripolitanus” (southern Tunisia) . In: Peter Henrich , Christian Miks, Jürgen Obmann, Martin Wieland (eds.): Non solum .... sed etiam . Festschrift for Thomas Fischer on his 65th birthday, Marie Leidorf, Rahden 2015, ISBN 978-3-89646-081-3 , pp. 259–270; here: p. 268.
  62. J. Baradez: Fossatum Africae. 1949.
  63. Yann le Bohec: 2009, pp. 198-199.
  64. ^ David J. Mattingly, R. Bruce Hitchner: Roman Africa. An Archaeological Review. In: The Journal of Roman Studies , 85, 1995, pp. 165-213 ( JSTOR, subject to license ).
  65. Yann le Bohec: 2009, pp. 198-200.