Central places in Germania Superior

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Three different legal variations of central places existed side by side in Upper Germany: three coloniae, one municipium and 14 or 15 civitas capitals, i.e. administrative district capitals without Roman charters. The provincial capital, Mogontiacum (Mayence), did not have a comparable legal status until the third century AD. It is unclear, what status was planned or granted to the settlement of Lahnau-Waldgirmes, which was built in the first decade AD with the architectural characteristics of a city, but soon abandoned.

Local precursors

Based on the surviving place-names, it is possible that the territorial organisation of the left bank of the Rhine was based on older tribal groupings, whilst the community names on the right bank were mostly not derived from pre-Roman populations. However, a continuous development from native oppidum to Roman town can only be demonstrated at Andamentunnum (Langres), the civitas capital of the Lingones, and Vesontio (Besançon), the capital of the Sequani. Aventicum (Avenches) is unusual in that it had burials and a late LaTène sanctuary, which belonged to a Helvetian shrine for the water goddess Aventia, but the finds assemblage of Vrocomagus (Brumath) also suggests continuing occupation from the LaTène- period onwards.

In northern Upper Germany the Nemetes and Vangiones formed civitates on the west bank of the Rhine, while on the east bank the Suebi Nicrenses and Mattiaci did likewise. Their civitas capitals were not, however, based on pre-Roman native settlements, but on early military installations. The remaining civitates on the right bank offer no indications (archaeological or otherwise) of pre-existing native populations.

Foundation of the administrative centres

The oldest Roman urban foundations are the two veteran colonies of Iulia Equestris (Nyon) and Augusta Raurica (Augst), both of which were created (by Caesar and Munatius Plancus respectively) in 45 or 44 BC. In both cases, however, their occupation can only be proven archaeologically from the last decade BC onwards. The creation of the civitates of the Helvetii, with their capital at Aventicum (Avenches), the Sequani at Vesontio (Besançon) and the Lingones at Andemantunnum (Langres) are similarly dated by site development, to the reign of Augustus. At Vrocomagus (Brumath), which according to some of its finds continued in occupation from the LaTène-period onwards, an early foundation date cannot be ruled out.

The exception is the quasi-urban centre at Lahnau-Waldgirmes, which was constructed in the first decade AD but soon abandoned and was probably linked to the attempted occupation of the Germanic territories under Augustus. What legal status this settlement had or should eventually have received is unknown.


In about 70 AD Aventicum (Avenches), already the civitas capital of the Helvetii, was made a Roman colony by the emperor Vespasian, although the continued existence of the civitas, with Aventicum as its main administrative centre, seems likely. In the case of the Vangiones and Nemetes the creation of the civitates was most likely linked to the withdrawal of troops from the later capitals of Borbetomagus (Worms) and Noviomagus (Speyer) in the early Flavian period (c.70-75AD).

The areas on the right bank of the Rhine, which were occupied under Claudius (mid first century) and in the early Flavian period (70s AD) respectively, were only turned over to civilian administration significantly after their initial conquest.

The Upper German territories on the right bank contained ten or eleven administrative districts, although a question mark remains over the position of Portus (Pforzheim) as capital of an otherwise unknown civitas. With the exception of the municipium Arae Flaviae (Rottweil), these were all civitates. Exceptionally, local ethnic identifiers were only used to name two of these entities: the Neckar-Suebi (Suebi Nicrenses) and the Mattiaci. In both cases a pre-Roman population can be archaeologically identified, but no continuous development from pre-Roman settlement to Roman civitas capital can be traced. The civitas Taunensium, with its capital at Nida-Frankfurt-Heddernheim, was founded in the reign of Trajan, at the start of the 2nd century, as were the civitas Ulpia Nicrensium (capital Lopodunum (Ladenburg)) and possibly the civitas Mattiacorum (capital Aquae Mattiacorum (Wiesbaden)), along with the unknown civitas with its capital at Riegel and the municipium Arae Flaviae (Rottweil). At nearly all these places (Riegel being the exception) forts have been identified, which continued in occupation until the early 2nd century and substantial changes only occurred with the withdrawal of the military.

The civitas Auderiensium with its capital Med… (Dieburg) was created in 128AD at the earliest, and possibly not until the later 2nd century. The final advancement of the Limes around 155/160 created the opportunity for further civitas foundations and. Bad Wimpfen, the centre of the civitas Alisinensium, which was created in the later 2nd century, was a former military post.

Two civitates were called Aurelia, thus suggesting a foundation by the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-181 AD). These were the civitas Aurelia Aquensis with its centre at Aquae (Baden-Baden) and the civitas Aurelia G… with Neuenstadt a.Kocher as its administrative centre. Baden-Baden had been an auxiliary fort during the Flavian period (c.75AD), which was abandoned before the end of the 1st century but it is not known whether the creation of the civitas predated the award of the honorific title ‘Aurelia’. Neuenstadt a.Kocher, by contrast, lay in the area occupied during the advancement of the Limes in the mid 2nd century AD.

The exact foundation date of the civitas Sumelocennensis, with its centre at Sumelocenna (Rottenburg), cannot be refined beyond a generic ‘2nd century AD’ and both the foundation date and identification as a civitas capital of Portus (Pforzheim) must remain hypothetical. The proposed existence of a further civitas on the southern right bank of the Rhine with Iuliomagus (Schleitheim) as its capital can also not be substantiated.


One special case is the provincial capital of Mayence. As a legionary base it was not awarded a civilian charter as colonia, municipium or civitas capital until the later 3rd century AD. Before that, the settlement has to be considered as a canabae legionis. Nevertheless, several structures are known or assumed that are otherwise known from administrative centres.

The theatre of Mainz.

The Character of the foundations

The two coloniae of Iulia Equestris (Nyon) and Augusta Raurica (Augst) were both new foundations without Iron Age or Roman precursors. The civitas capital and later colonia of Aventicum (Avenches) is unusual in that it was founded in the area of an earlier sanctuary. Another new foundation was the briefly occupied 1st century site of Lahnau-Waldgirmes, whose status is unknown.

Plan of the colonia Augusta Raurica-Augst.
Plan of Aventicum-Avenches.
Plan of the colonia Iulia Equestris-Nyon.
Lahnau-Waldgirmes. Partially reconstructed plan of the Roman occupation.

The civitas capitals of Vesontio (Besançon) and Andamentunnum (Langres) must be considered as successors of Celtic oppida, and Vrocomagus (Brumath) might also have developing out of a native settlement.

Plan of Andamentunnum-Langres.
Plan of Vesontio- Besançon.
Vrocomagus-Brumath. Plan with reconstructed street grid.

Most commonly administrative centres were founded at former military sites as at Borbetomagus (Worms), Noviomagus (Speyer), municipium Arae Flaviae (Rottweil), Nida (Frankfurt-Heddernheim), Lopodunum (Ladenburg), Aquae Mattiacorum (Wiesbaden), Bad Wimpfen, Riegel and Aquae (Baden-Baden). These settlements lie on both sides of the Rhine, all in the northern part of the province.

Borbetomagus-Worms. Plan of the Roman settlement with reconstructed street grid
Noviomagus- Speyer. Street grid and settlement evidence in the 2nd-3rd century AD
Aquae Mattiacorum-Wiesbaden. Plan of the Roman sites
Nida-Frankfurt a. M.-Heddernheim. Plan of the Roman sites
Lopodunum-Ladenburg. Plan of the Roman settlement
Dieburg. Plan of the Roman settlement
Aquae-Baden-Baden. Extent of the Roman settlement
Plan of the Roman Bad Wimpfen
Neuenstadt. Plan of the Roman settlement based on aerial and geophysical evidence
Arae Flaviae-Rottweil. Plan of the Roman settlement east of the Neckar


Pforzheim. Plan of the stone buildings and find locations Rottenburg. Plan of the Roman settlement
Plan of Roman Riegel with reconstructed street grid


Building Phases

The question of province-wide building phases, especially on the transition from timber to stone construction, can be addressed by presenting broad developments, but these cannot be applied in detail to every feature since many settlements displayed timber and stone buildings side by side. It should also be born in mind that stone dwarf walls, which can give the archaeological impression of full stone construction, might actually have supported timber framing.

The large public buildings were built in stone from their inception, but residential buildings usually could exist for long periods of time between the foundation of the settlement and their eventual conversion into stone. At settlements with Celtic antecedents ( Langres, Besançon) the acceptance of Roman decorative features, such as wall paintings or a partial construction in stone, can already be seen by the beginning of the 1st century AD. In the southern part of the province, stone construction generally increased from the first half of the 1st century onwards, as is demonstrated by examples from the administrative centres of Iulia Equestris (Nyon), Augusta Raurica (Augst), Aventicum (Avenches) and Vesontio (Besançon). The settlements of the northern and eastern parts of Upper Germany diverge from this trend, however, as here the change from timber to stone only seems to begin in the second half of the 2nd century, with well dated, relevant examples from Noviomagus (Speyer), Lopodunum (Ladenburg) and Bad Wimpfen.

The equipping of administrative centres with public buildings and city walls also appears not to form a linear and continuous development but, instead, appears to have happened in marked phases similar to the observed divergence in the change from timber to stone construction amongst residential buildings. This seems to reflect the economic strength of the individual settlements, as well as possible selective favours and grants by the Roman administration, thus resulting in continuous long-term development of the urban fabric decades after its initial creation. The detailed evidence can be found in the individual town descriptions.

Typical buildings

A minimum set of public buildings can be assumed for all administrative centres in Germania Superior, irrespective of their status, involving a forum with basilica, at least one set of public baths, temple complexes and inns. There seems to have been little differentiation between coloniae, Municipia and civitas capitals in the presence of specific buildings, such as city walls or aqueducts, although the ‘full set’ is most likely to be present at coloniae. With civitas capitals, their economic situation and political support proved to have the most influence on their urban structure and the size of the forum basilica appears to be unrelated to the status of the town.


Forum and Basilica

It seems that as a regional peculiarity of southern Germany the fora at Augst, Avenches, Nyon and possibly Besançon were divided by a road, similar to the fora of the Gallic provinces. One half housed the basilica, which was important in the daily life of the citizens as administrative centre and law courts, whilst the other contained a temple. The timber forum is the oldest complex in Augst.

Apart from those already mentioned, fora have also been wholly or partially excavated at Worms and Langres (?) on the left bank, as well as at Lahnau-Waldgirmes, Ladenburg, Riegel and Rottweil on the right bank. Augst and Ladenburg both seem to have had a second forum, which appears to have served purely economic interests. The basilicas usually consisted of three aisles with further rooms attached to the sides. Further rooms could be added to provide space for the sessions of the assembly of decurions (curia), for example at Augst. The Basilicas were between 45 and 75 m long, and were usually accompanied by a courtyard flanked with tabernae.

Augusta Raurica-Augst. Ground plan of the main forum after 140 AD with reconstructions
Augusta Raurica-Augst. Ground plan of the South forum and the market building with reconstructions
Aventicum-Avenches. Plan of the forum and neighbouring insulae
Vesontio-Besançon. Northern end of the forum (rue Moncey)
Lopodunum-Ladenburg. Plan of the forum
Lahnau-Waldgirmes. Reconstructed plan of the forum
Colonia Iulia Equestris- Nyon. Reconstructed plan of the forum of the later phase (before 70 AD)
Riegel. Schematised plan of the forum basilica
Borbetomagus-Worms. Reconstructed plan of the forum

Public Baths

Public baths can be differentiated by their size from the private baths attached to residential buildings. They were lavishly decorated with mosaics and wall paintings, and many administrative centres had two or more. Each case includes at least one changing room (apodyterium), cold, warm and hot rooms and a sauna (frigidarium, tepidarium, caldarium, sudatorium). There seem to be no hard and fast rules for the baths’ position within a town, although they tend to occur more frequently in the centre (e.g. close to the forum) rather that the fringes of the settlement.

Baths appeared relatively early in the coloniae of Germania Superior, although still several decades after their foundation. A large thermal complex of the early 1st century AD is known from Avenches (insula 19). Its second complex, the forum baths, were relocated in 70AD. In Augst, the earliest baths known in the city were the women’s baths, constructed around the middle of the 1st century, and the central baths were added in the final quarter of the century. The forum baths in Nyon date to the 60s or 70s, with further alterations occurring in the 2nd century AD.

Aventicum-Avenches. Reconstruction of the baths in insula 19
Aventicum-Avenches. Plan of the older forum baths in insula 23
Aventicum-Avenches. Plan of the later forum baths in insula 29
Augusta Raurica-Augst. Reconstructed ground plan of the central baths
Augusta Raurica-Augst. Reconstructed ground plan of the women’s baths
Colonia Iulia Equestris- Nyon. Plan of the northern baths and adjoining baths


Only the incomplete ground plans of the baths at Besançon and Brumath are known from the other administrative centres on the left bank of the Rhine. The latter was only built in the second half of the 2nd century.

Vesontio-Besançon. Detail from the baths
Vrocomagus-Brumath. Ground plan of the baths

Public baths are also known from the right bank Rhine areas. The largest thermal complex known is in Frankfurt a. M.-Heddernheim, where the east baths measure 64 x 36m and west baths, 45 x 68 m. Rottenburg even had three sets of public baths, although these were markedly smaller. Further bath complexes are known from Rottweil and Neuenstadt a.K, with just a small part of another at Ladenburg and public baths can probably be taken for granted at the other right bank civitas capitals.

Nida-Frankfurt a. M.-Heddernheim. Reconstructed plan of the praetorium and eastern baths
Plan of bath I
Sumelocenna-Rottenburg. Plan of bath II


Arae Flaviae-Rottweil. Ground plan of the baths near the Pelagius Church
Neuenstadt a. Kocher. Plan of the Roman baths



Baths supplied by hot springs must be assumed to have had a special position as spas and this is particularly true of Wiesbaden and Baden-Baden. The large baths at Wiesbaden were equipped with several small tubs, which were filled with hot spring water and are not part of a normal Roman bathing establishment. The central part of the buildings predates the creation of the civitas in the late 1st century and was extended in the 2nd century. Use of the hot springs dates back to the time, when Wiesbaden had a military garrison and it had a special importance as the spa for the legion stationed in near-by Mayence.

Baden-Baden performed a similar function for the legions stationed in Strasbourg. From the early 2nd century onwards, its hot spring area was exploited by at least two large thermal complexes: the imperial baths (Kaiserthermen) and the military baths (Soldatenthermen).

The bath complex in the Grienmatt in Augst is flanked by a lavishly decorated sanctuary with a nymphaeum (see below) and has been interpreted as a spa on the basis of a number of dedicatory inscriptions.

Aquae Mattiacorum-Wiesbaden. Plan of the large thermae at the Kranzplatz
Aquae-Baden-Baden. Thermae district
Augusta Raurica-Augst. Reconstruction of the spa in the Grienmatt


Public latrine

The only public lavatory known to date comes from Rottenburg, where the U-shaped ground plan offered seating for up to 35 persons.

Sumelocenna-Rottenburg. Reconstructed plan of the latrine (centre) and adjoining buildings

Inns (mansiones)

The standard provision of Roman towns included at least one inn (mansio). Their identification from archaeological remains is often difficult, as their ground plans and architectural features can differ markedly. One standardised type with rectangular ground plan, large internal courtyard and flanking rooms (praetorium) such as those attested in the centre of Roman Frankfurt-Heddernheim and Neuenstadt a. Kocher , may represent state-run accommodation (praetorium). The inn on the edge of Rottweil should probably be added to this list, although the identification of the complex in the centre of Augst (insula 7) is less secure, but another inn with a large courtyard, stable area and a bath suite is attested in Region 5b. These 40-70m long buildings could take up large plots within the towns.

Nida-Frankfurt a. M.-Heddernheim. Model of the Praetorium (left) and the east baths Arae Flaviae-Rottweil. Reconstruction of the mansio (left) and the baths (right) Augusta Raurica-Augst. Plan of the mansio (Region 5b)


The scenic theatres in the coloniae of Augst and Avenches were built on a straight axis from larger sanctuaries, reflecting a common Gallic practice and, with seating capacities of c. 8000 spectators, they are of considerable size. The Augst theatre was originally built in 65AD but, in the 2nd century, it was converted into an amphitheatre which could be used for gladiatorial combat, and it was not re-converted for use as a scenic theatre until the 3rd century. Theatres have also been postulated from archaeological remains at two different points in Roman Besançon.

Augusta Raurica-Augst. Ground plan of the Schönbühl sanctuary in its earlier phase Augusta Raurica-Augst. First theatre (c. 65-110AD) Augusta Raurica-Augst. Second theatre, alterations for the amphitheatre (c. 110-200)


Augusta Raurica-Augst. Third theatre (from c. 200) Aventicum-Avenches. Ground plan of the theatre with reconstruction (on the left)

The largest scenic theatre north of the Alps was located at the provincial capital of Mayence and had a capacity of c.10.000 spectators. It played an important role in the annual commemoration of Augustus’ stepson Drusus the Elder (died 9BC), for which delegates from all of the Gallic and Germanic communities assembled. The date of the stone theatre is unclear, but it is possible that it was preceded by a timber structure.

Mogontiacum- Mainz. Ground plan of the Roman theatre


A smaller wooden, c.1,000 seat, theatre has been found in Frankfurt a. M.-Heddernheim on the right bank of the Rhine. The theatre at Ladenburg was much larger to judge from the under-documented archaeological remains, and inscribed stone seats also survive. A stone seat and a few archaeological features also suggest a theatre in Rottweil.

Arae Flaviae-Rottweil. Excavated walls in the area of the proposed theatre


Four amphitheatres are known from the administrative centres of Upper Germany: all in the southern part of the province. Their characteristic elongated oval shape clearly distinguishes them from the scenic theatres. The amphitheatres at Nyon and Avenches were both built c. 100AD. The Augst complex, however, was not begun until 200, although, as mentioned above, the theatre had been adapted for use as a gladiatorial arena in the 2nd century. A further large amphitheatre is known from Besançon and a further amphitheatre has been postulated at Speyer on the basis of an inscribed building block

Colonia Iulia Equestris- Nyon. Ground plan of the amphitheatre
Aventicum-Avenches. Ground plan of the amphitheatre in the 3rd c.AD
Augusta Raurica-Augst. Ground plan of the amphitheatre
Vesontio-Besançon. Ground plan of the amphitheatre



The coloniae of southern Upper Germany have yielded particularly rich archaeological evidence for temples. Forum temples have been excavated in both Augst and Avenches, and another has been postulated for Nyon through a characteristic division of the forum. Their central position within the towns suggests use as part of the Imperial cult. The interpretation of the large building complex in Avenches’ insula 23 (next to the forum) as a capitolium (a temple to Iupiter, Iuno and Minerva) is, however, contested.

Additional large temple areas, with multiple Roman and Gallo-Roman temples, are known from Augst and Avenches and both cities display a combination of temple and theatre. The temple ‘Le Cigonier’, whose architecture shows affinities to the Templum Pacis in Rome, was built at the end of the 1st century AD and is interpreted as a temple of the Imperial cult. The Schönbühl temple in Augst was built around the mid 2nd century and could have been dedicated to Mercury. The two Gallo-Roman temples, each with a perron (large outside staircases leading to the entrance) at Avenches, Derrière la Tour and Grange-du-Dîme are architecturally unusual, but other more typical Gallo-Roman temples were also found in the temple area. In Augst, two Gallo-Roman temples were surrounded by walled enclosures (Sichelen 1 and 2) and in both Augst and Avenches, large walled complexes have been found which centred on a sanctuary with nymphaea (large, highly decorated fountains). The example in Augst was complemented with a spa in the immediate neighbourhood.

Augusta Raurica-Augst. Forum temple. Plan and reconstruction
Augusta Raurica-Augst. Reconstructed ground plan of the sanctuary in the Grienmatt and the spa
Augusta Raurica-Augst. Ground plan of the Schönbühl Temple, with reconstruction of the later period
Augusta Raurica-Augst. Southwestern quarter of the town with the temple complex ‚Auf Sichelen’


Aventicum-Avenches. The western quarter of the town with temples and entertainment venues
Aventicum-Avenches. Reconstruction of the western quarter, seen from the south
Aventicum-Avenches. Ground plan of the temple of ‚Grange-du-Dîmes’ and surrounding area
Aventicum-Avenches. Ground plan of the temple of ‘Le Cigonier’


Aventicum-Avenches. Reconstruction of the temple of ‘Le Cigonier’
Aventicum-Avenches. General plan of the temple of ‘Le Cigonier’and the theatre

In Besançon, a monumental circular structure of more than 90m diameter, with a grandiose entrance, is probably also a sanctuary, but round temples are otherwise rare in Upper Germany, with only one further (and smaller) example known from Avenches.

Vesontio-Besançon. Round monumental building
Aventicum-Avenches. Reconstruction of the round temple at the sanctuary ‚Grange-du-Dîmes’

Sanctuaries with Gallo-Roman temples have also been excavated in administrative centres on the right bank of the Rhine, e.g. Rottweil, Rottenburg, Dieburg and Neuenstadt am Kocher. The earliest finds from the Rottenburg and Dieburg temples point to a construction date in the 2nd. In Dieburg and Rottenburg walled enclosures for these temples were also detected, which were completed with chapels and ancillary buildings. The structure in Neuenstadt a.Kocher, which is known from aerial archaeology, is a mixture of a Gallo-Roman and a Roman podium temple. A further, only partially excavated, Gallo-Roman temple has been found at the Florentinerberg in Baden-Baden and is interpreted as part of a well source sanctuary.

Dieburg. Plan of the sanctuary
Aquae-Baden-Baden. Roman remains at the Florentinerberg
Sumelocenna-Rottenburg. Temple area


Arae Flaviae-Rottweil. Ground plan of a Gallo-Roman temple (Villa B)
Arae Flaviae-Rottweil. Ground plans of two Gallo-Roman temples

Mithraea are only known so far from the right bank of the Rhine. In Heddernheim four such sanctuaries have been identified from the surviving remains of the Roman town, whilst Ladenburg has produced two, and Dieburg and Wiesbaden one each. The mithraea usually consisted of an ante-room, a long-rectangular cult area, with built-in, flanking benches and a cult image at the far wall. The cult room of the Wiesbaden mithraeum was cut into the living rock.

Aquae Mattiacorum-Wiesbaden. Ground plan and cross-section of the mithraeum
Dieburg. Ground plan of the mithraeum

City walls

The settlement of Lahnau-Waldgirmes, which only existed briefly in the first decade AD, had earth and timber defences. The earliest stone city walls amongst the administrative centres of Upper Germany, however, belong to the coloniae of Augst and Avenches and date to the mid 1st century AD and the 70s respectively. In Avenches the wall's construction was probably linked to the town promotion to colony and, when completed, had five gates, 73 towers and a V-shaped ditch to its front. The city wall at Augst, however, was never finished, and only a few sections were ever built. That said, in the south-west, a gap between two towers served as a gate, which might suggest that the defences served a mostly a symbolic purpose, stressing the status of the city.

Augusta Raurica-Augst. Reconstruction of the unfinished eastern city gate during construction
Aventicum-Avenches. Schematised plan of the east gate
Aventicum-Avenches. Reconstruction of the east gate


On the right bank of the Rhine, the Upper German civitas capitals of Frankfurt a. M.-Heddernheim, Ladenburg, Rottenburg and Bad Wimpfen only received defences around 200 or later, in the early 3rd century AD. In each case, these consisted of a wall with gates and towers and one or more fronting ditch(es). In Ladenburg, however, the northern defences were completed as an earth rampart. It is not yet clear whether these circuits fulfilled the same propaganda role as those round the colonies in the South, or whether they were already intended as defensive measures against the threat of Germanic incursions. The walls of Mainz, Speyer, Langres and Besançon, however, which were constructed in the later 3rd and 4th centuries AD, were definitely defensive in purpose.
Nida-Frankfurt a. M.-Heddernheim. Cross section of the Roman city walls with additional obstacles
Sumelocenna-Rottenburg. Reconstruction of the city wall


Aqueducts to supply the administrative centres with fresh drinking water have been found at Augst, Avenches, Nyon and Besançon in southern Upper Germany, as well as Rottenburg on the right bank. The distances covered range from 6.5 km (Augst) to 17 km (Avenches) and in each case they take the form of mortared underground tunnels, which only surfaced to cross valleys, or immediately before entering the cities. Indeed, the Besançon aqueduct pierced a hill (Porte Taillée). Inside the cities, the water was collected centrally (as proven at Augst) and then redistributed using lead and clay pipes. The presence of lead pipes at Lahnau-Waldgirmes thus suggests the existence of an aqueduct in the 1st decade AD. Within the settlements, the water supply was mainly used for public baths and fountains, and drains in or below the streets conducted sewage and rainwater out of the towns.

Aventicum-Avenches. Course of the aqueducts
Aventicum-Avenches. Cross-section through the aqueduct
Sumelocenna-Rottenburg. Course of the Roman aqueduct
Sumelocenna-Rottenburg. Cross-section of the Roman aqueduct


Legal status of the cities

We know of three Upper German coloniae. Augst’s full title was colonia Paterna Munatia Felix Apollinaris Augusta emerita Raurica. Avenches was colonia Helvetiorum and Nyon the colonia Julia Equestris. In all three cases the towns were veteran colonies settled, at the time of their foundation, with retired legionaries. In contrast to Augst and Nyon, which were created at the end of the 1st century BC, Avenches had existed beforehand, as the civitas capital of the Helvetii. A colonia was a town of equal legal standing to Rome. Those inhabitants of the three coloniae, who had the right to participate in their public life, were Roman citizens who were registered there, i.e. the veterans, their dependants, and local inhabitants with Roman citizenship. It is not known, whether all free residents of these towns were later granted citizenship.

Like the coloniae, municipia were towns with their own charter. In Upper Germany the municipium Arae Flaviae (Rottweil) was the only town with this legal status. It is not clear, whether a civitas preceded the creation of the chartered town.

The other communities in Upper Germany were legally (only) of the rank of civitas. The local inhabitants did not hold Roman citizenship, but the civitates had a similar level of self-administration to the chartered towns, with elected officers and responsibility for the collection of taxes within their territorium, and the civitas capitals were the administrative centres.

The Helvetii were an exception within this system. In their area the colonia Helvetiorum and the civitas Helvetiorum appear to have existed side by side for some time and there are signs of a comparable arrangement for Augst and the Rauraci.

Until the 3rd century the provincial capital of Mayence remained without a civilian legal status. Technically it remained the civilian settlement of a legionary fortress (canabae legionis), although there are signs of, possibly limited, self-government by its Roman citizens.


Information on the residents

It is usually difficult to derive information on citizen status from the name of any given person, but a number of residents of Upper Germany are known and it is possible to assign some to a specific community where the person concerned identifies himself as a citizen (cives) or office bearer of that community. Other groups that can be identified in the province are members of auxiliary units and members of the elite units of the city of Rome.


Religious cults

Aside from the temples described above, other ritual cults can be identified within the administrative centres on the basis of inscriptions, reliefs and statues or statuettes. The towns were centres of the Imperial cult, for which several office bearers can be found amongst the coloniae and civitas capital councillors, and the conduct of public sacrifices to the cult was an important part of their official occasions. The classical Roman gods were mainly restricted to the official sphere, for example the veneration the Capitoline Triad (Iupiter, Iuno and Minerva). There are also many cases where Roman gods were identified with local deities, as is apparent from specific attributes and names and those attributes derived from the local area come mostly from a Celtic background. Eastern deities were also venerated, especially Mithras, whose cult sites were particularly common in former military vici.



The development of administrative centres varied within the province. A southern zone can be identified which contained the three coloniae of Augst, Nyon and Avenches, along with the civitas capitals of Langres and Besançon. These towns were situated in the former Celtic tribal areas of the Helvetii, Rauraci, Lingones and Sequani, which had already developed political structures in pre-Roman times, focused on oppida as administrative centres. Their development was similar to the Gallic administrative centres, possibly due to their being part of the province of Gallia Belgica before the creation of Germania Superior and the coloniae and civitas capitals date back to the time of Augustus in the late 1st century BC or early 1st century AD. The administrative centres of southern Upper Germany all had orthogonal street grids, unless the topography forced adjustments, and the insulae thus created were used for large public buildings or for residential settlement. In the latter case the blocks were divided into individual building plots. The surveying and laying out of the towns was based on Mediterranean principles with their estimated sizes ranging from 70 to over 100 ha. City walls are only known from Augst and Avenches. The provision of public buildings and sanctuaries continued over a long time and attests (particularly in the colonies) to a high standard of living. The residential buildings were generally timber in the 1st century AD but, thereafter, usually stone. Apart from the long rectangular plots within some insulae, there were also luxurious quarters, with internal courtyards. In Langres and Besançon, both continuously settled from Celtic times onwards, local house-building traditions persisted.

To the north, the territories of the Vangiones, Nemetes and Triboci on the left bank of the Rhine, formed part of the area that had been settled by German tribes by the 1st century BC at the earliest. The foundation period of the civitates is unclear, although in Worms and Speyer it probably post-dates the removal of the troops from the local forts in the 70s AD. The settlements were 25-40 ha in area and we know very little about their public buildings although an orthogonal street grid is frequently reconstructed for Brumath. At Speyer the civitas capital used the site of the former fort and its vicus, whilst at Worms the original fort has yet to be found. No defences are known for any of the three sites in the 1st or 2nd centuries AD. The known Roman houses from Speyer suggest the presence of strip buildings, originally in timber and only converted to stone from the late 2nd century. The relatively late creation of the civitas capitals, in contrast to southern Upper Germany, could be due to the fact that the area was originally part of the Roman army district of the Rhine. The area also lacked the infrastructure for the foundation of civitas capitals again, perhaps, in contrast to the area in southern Germany settled by Celts. Until the 3rd century the legal status of the provincial capital Mayence remained unresolved. Despite being one of the province's leading settlements and having a public building provision which lacked little when compared to the other cities, it remained legally the civilian settlement attached to the legion stationed on the spot.

The situation on the right bank of the Rhine was comparable. Local tribes only twice provided the names of the civitates: the Neckar Suebi (civitas Ulpia Sueborum Nicrensium) with their capital at Ladenburg, and the Mattiaci (civitas Mattiacorum) whose capital lay at Wiesbaden. The administrative centres on the right bank, with the Rottweil municipium and 10 or 11 civitas capitals were, for the most part, created early in or in the second half of the 2nd century AD. They were about 25-40 ha in size and the town plans followed the straight jacket of existing roads, which were themselves determined by pre-existing forts and settlements. Orthogonal street grids are thus only known from some of these settlements. Only Rottenburg and Pforzheim (of unresolved legal status) existed earlier as civilian vici. The interiors of former forts could be used for public buildings (as shown by Ladenburg and Riegel) whose sizes were comparable to those known from the south of the province, but this does not hold true for all public buildings and especially not for the theatres. Not all of the settlements have yet yielded city walls, but those that are known were built in the late 2nd and early 3rd century. No amphitheatres are known from the right bank of the Rhine and the only aqueduct found was in Rottenburg. The extension and conversion into stone of houses was mostly a phenomenon of the second half of the 2nd century. In Ladenburg the development of simple strip buildings into large, well appointed building can be shown and, in Rottweil, even peristyle houses are known.

The town-like settlement of Lahnau-Waldgirmes, which was built and then abandoned in the first decade of the 1st century AD, shows many of the characteristics of an urban site and has to be termed an ‘embryonic city’. It was, however, constructed under special conditions. Its relatively small size of 7.7 ha, defended with earthen defences, cannot be compared to the contemporary settlements of southern Upper Germany, or with the later communities south of the Rhine.

Text: Thomas Schmidts

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