The structure of the Roman Province

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The Raetian frontier and its changes

Until the 2nd century AD the province of Raetia was known by its full titulature: Provincia Raetia et Vindelica, but thereafter this was generally abbreviated to provincia Raetia. The area was conquered in 15 BC, but the exact date of its formal creation as a province remains disputed. Older publications argue for a Claudian date (41-54 AD), whilst modern studies suggest that the reign of Tiberius (14-37 AD) is more likely: possibly soon after AD 16.

The northern border changed several times over the course of the occupation. Despite the fact that Tiberius mounted several campaigns into the upper Danube area during the conquest of 15 BC, few Augustan outposts have been located in the foothills of the Alps. The northernmost known is Augsburg, and it remains uncertain whether occupied territory extended any further at this period.



An advance to the Danube area took place before 40 AD, when the first forts were constructed, and the river frontier was largely developed under the Emperor Claudius (AD 41-54). Much of the eastern part of the line was provided with forts during the early Flavian Period (c. 80 AD), but it is possible that these were preceded by an older series of fortlets. Two forts to the north of the Danube highlight the fact that the frontier was not a static line.

The systematic advance of a fortified military frontier took place from c. 90 AD, during the later years of Domitian or early in the reign of Trajan. This was confined to the area to the west of Eining, however, whilst the eastern part of the line remained on the Danube. A short initial stretch of the newly annexed area, heading north-west from the Danube, was fortified by a Limes line with watchtowers.

In a final operation, around 155/160, the existing sector was extended to the north-west as part of an advance of the Upper German/Raetian Limes and this line then remained in use until the area north of the Danube was abandoned around the middle of the 3rd century.

The province’s remaining borders differ in the extent to which they can be reconstructed, and is it only rarely possible to verify what changes may have taken place during the Roman occupation. For instance, the Vallis region was part of Raetia until the middle of the 1st century AD, but thereafter became a separate province under the title of Alpes Poenina. The western border with Upper Germany ran to the west of Lake Constance and probably roughly followed the watershed between the Rhine and Danube. Further south, it continued east of Lake Zurich and included parts of the Ticino, where it marched with the province of Alpes Poeninae (once this was detached as already described). The southern border, with the Italian regiones X and XI, ran south of the main ridge of the Alps from just north of the Lago Maggiore to the Etsch/Adige river (South Tyrol). The eastern border with Noricum mostly followed the Inn, but a strip along the river’s western bank may have belonged to the neighbouring province.

Province of Raetia in the 2nd/3rd centuries AD

The indigenous population

Despite much archaeological effort, there are still large gaps in our knowledge of Raetia’s indigenous population. This is partly due to the nature of the archaeological record, since large parts of the foothills and valleys of the Alps are used as pasture, which results in a relatively low rate of finds recovery. On the other hand, the material culture appears to be very uncharacteristic of the period and defies detailed chronological analysis. Until the 1990s scholars had assumed a lack or at least a low level of settlement, but this view has since changed and widespread settlement is now assumed.

The Late LaTène Period situation

Two main pre-Roman cultural zones can be identified in the later province: the piedmont, north of the ‘Alpenhauptkamm’, and the Alpine region. The northern area can be assigned to the Celtic world, as is clearly shown by the settlements, by and finds such as Celtic coins. Oppida served as central places and we also find flatland settlements and the so called ‘Viereckschanzen’. The latter, were previously interpreted as cult buildings, but it is now known that they also functioned as farmsteads. The oppidum culture perished in the first half of the 1st century BC, as can be shown at what seems to have been the most important example: Manching. Here, amphora finds provide important evidence for long distance trade, but stop no later than c. 70/80 BC. The oppidum’s role as a central place was thus probably abandonment by c. 50 BC, at the latest. In the ensuing period, the “südostbayerische Gruppe” can be attested north of the Alps: distinguished by its burials, whose pottery displays connections with Central Germany and Bohemia. This is unlikely to represent extensive immigration, however. The settlements were probably now hamlet-type groupings, as has been shown at Eching/ Münchner Schotterebene. The use of ‘Viereckschanzen’ may have continued in places, but the use of atypical ceramic forms makes an evaluation of settlement activity unusually difficult.


Oppidum of Manching
Late LaTène Period pit house in Eching
Late laTène Period burial finds of the südostbayerische Gruppe

The alpine areas were not culturally Celtic. In the North and South-Tyrol, the Fritzens-Sanzeno Group is archaeologically attested, a group connected to the Raeti, after whom the latter province was named. It is not clear, however, to what degree the various tribes developed a common identity. This is most likely in a religious context, possibly in connection with a sanctuary at Reitia in Este-Baratella, in Venetia, which seems to have had cross-regional significance. Nevertheless, there is no unequivocal archaeological evidence, especially as a number of groups can be differentiated in the archaeological record south of the ‘Alpenhauptkamm’. The known 1st century BC finds show no break or decline similar to that to the north of the Alps. Instead, traditional dress accessories (mostly from cult sites) point to a continuous settlement history. The Roman conquest and development of Northern Italy, from the 2nd century BC, did not apparently lead to more intensive contacts, and no imports are known, apart from a few cases in the Adige.

The tribes

In the piedmont and central Alps, numerous tribal names are known from Roman historical sources, especially for the initial occupation in 15 BC and the early 1st century AD. For example, the names of almost 50 subjugated tribes were recorded on the Tropaeum Alpium, a c. 50m high victory monument erected near Monaco in 7/6 BC. However, the inscription also included some areas which were conquered between 35 and 7 BC, but which did not belong to the later province of Raetia, and so the exact location of some of the tribes remains uncertain. It has been possible to reconstruct the text with the aid of a later copy in Pliny, but the list is not complete. For example, it omits the Estiones, who are mentioned by Strabo (who also describes the indigenous tribes) and it is difficult to collate with similar references in the writings of the 2nd century geographer Ptolemy.
Tropaeum Alpium near Monaco
The Vindelici of the Alpine piedmont can be identified as a larger unit with four sub-steps. The Estiones settled on the river Iller near Kempten, and the Brixentes (or Brigantes) near Bregenz. These can be located fairly easily, as their Roman period administrative centres are known. It is more difficult to place the Likates (?), who probably settled on the upper Lech, but their use of Damasia-Auerberg (?) bei Schongau as their earliest centre cannot be verified. Apart from these, it is only possible to roughly locate the Cosuanetes, Runicates and Catenattes in the foothills of the Alps, the Vennonentes in the Alpine-Rhine valley, and the Vennostes in the South Tyrol. Further tribal names are recorded which can be attributed to the alpine areas, but there is no mention of a Raetian tribe. Instead, it was probably a tribal league, which may have shared religious beliefs, as briefly described above. They are mentioned as a unified body in an inscription from a building dedicated to the Imperial cult at Aphrodisias (Turkey), and which shows the personification of tribes defeated by Augustus. Moreover, soldiers often gave their origin as Raetus.

It is not known how many individual tribes were promoted to self-governing administrative bodies by the Romans. This can, however, be safely assumed for the Vindelici with their municipium at Aelium Augustum- Augsburg; the Brixentes, with their civitas capital Brigantium-Bregenz and the Estiones with theirs at Cambodunum-Kempten. Military diplomas and tombstones may refer to other regional administrative bodies (e.g. Likates and Runikates), although this remains uncertain, but it is conceivable that certain parts of the province were not formed into civitates.

Maps of the Roman settlement


Municipium Aelium Augustum-Augsburg

Continuity of Population

Earlier scholars believed that large areas may have become almost unpopulated. This is increasingly refuted, but relatively few sites have produced evidence for continuous occupation even so. These are made harder to identify securely by the difficulties involved in dating later LaTène period finds (as mentioned above), but there are still a number of sites where unbroken settlement is highly likely.

Map of the sites mentioned in the text with indigenous finds

For instance, the oppidum at Manching has produced a few finds that suggest a period of occupation in the first two centuries AD. C14 dates from Pentling-Poign near Regensburg, point to the continued use of a ‘Viereckschanze’ into the 1st century AD. At Eching near Munich, a farmstead with relatively small buildings was constructed, c. 20 BC, in vicinity of a Late LaTène settlement and, as its finds assemblage included military material, it may have been home to a veteran.

Villa of the early Imperial period

The Northern Tyrol has produced cemeteries that show indicators of an indigenous population continuing into the Roman period, with graves that can be attributed to the prehistoric Fritzens-Sanzeno Cultural Group. A burial ground in Kundl was used continuously from the Hallstatt to the early Roman period. Moreover, from the Late LaTéne period to the 1st century AD, it shows a peculiar funerary ritual in which the cremated remains and unburnt grave goods were scattered over a wide area rather than being buried in individual graves. A similar layer of 1st century BC to 1st century AD finds was also discovered at Innsbruck-Wilten, again at a burial ground for the indigenous population, which remained in use into the early Imperial period.

Finds from the Late LaTéne and early Roman Imperial periods from the cemetery of Kundl
Finds from the early Imperial Period from the cemetery of Innsbruck-Wilten

Another early imperial period indigenous population can be recognised in the so-called ‘Heimstettener Group’, which is identifiable via its grave goods. The graves and stray finds are concentrated between the rivers Lech and Isar and are most frequently found in the ‘Münchener Schotterebene’ around the site that gave the group its name. It is worth noting that these are inhumations and not the cremations that were customary elsewhere during the Late Celtic and early Roman Periods. In particular, female burials are known, which are distinguished by a traditional form of dress with at least three fibulae and broad, fitted belts. Latticed belt hooks as fasteners, and neck and arm rings form characteristic parts of this costume, and the latticed belt hooks are also regularly encountered in other contexts: for example at the cult sites discussed below. The burials date to between 20 and 60 AD and the people were once thought to be an immigrant group from the Alps, but they are now seen as descendants of the Late Iron Age population of the Alpine piedmont.


Heimstetten Burial 210, Burial of a woman in traditional costume
Heimstetten Burial 210, Jewellery and parts of the traditional dress
Location of dress accessories in ‘Heimstettener Group’ burials

In addition, settlement continuity can also be proven by scientific methods. For instance, pollen diagrams from various locations in the Alpine piedmont show no break between the Celtic and Roman periods, and only some Alpine regions display a decline (followed by an increase) during the first three centuries AD. Likewise, animal bone studies show a continuity of livestock use from the Celtic to the early Roman period.

Indigenous Cult sites

Cult sites play an important role in assessing population continuity, and both the Alpine and piedmont areas have produced sites with unbroken use. There are also cult sites that started during the early period of Roman rule but belonged to a local tradition. Ritual pyre sites are one typical manifestation, and are common in the piedmont. One excavated example near Füssen produced offerings suggestive of continuous usage from 100 BC to 250 AD, including traditional dress accessories and jewellery, kitchen and household equipment, weapons, tools and coins. The large numbers of animal bones found, also suggest sacrificial offerings. Several ritual pyre sites, such as Auerberg bei Schongau, were demonstrably only built during Roman rule, however. Almost all of these sites were situated in the piedmont and they were undeniably part of an indigenous tradition. Moreover, dress accessories, like those known from the ‘Heimstetter Group’, are often found on these sites and point clearly to an indigenous population.


Ritul pyre site in the ‘Forggensee’ near Füssen
Coins and fibulae from the Late LaTéne and Roman Periods

Finds from a high Alpine sanctuary on the ‘Piller Höhe’ (Tyrol), point to continuous usage from the Late Bronze Age to the 5th century AD. Burn offerings were abandoned as a rite here as early as the 4th/3rd centuries BC, and the deposition of goods (including jewellery, dress accessories, and especially coins) prevailed in the Late Celtic and Roman periods.

Sancturay Pillerhöhe/ Tyrol, Pieces of traditional costume and jewellery from the Iron Age and Roman Periods

On the ‘Döttenbichl’ near Oberammengau, was a sanctuary that remained in use from 100 BC to 50 AD and where numerous Roman weapons were deposited, alongside traditional dress accessories. These included a catapult bolt stamped by the 19th Legion, which perished during the battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD, and it is assumed that the weapons were picked up by local people after the battle and deposited at the shrine.

‘Döttenbichl’(Arrow) in the ‘Ammertal’ near Oberammengau
Bolt of a catapult from the sanctuary on the ‘Döttenbichl’
Fibulae (c. 100 BC to 50 AD) from the sanctuary on the ‘Döttenbichl’

Resistance and integration

In 18/19 BC, the geographer Strabo reported that the Vindelici had been pacified for 33 years, but the above mentioned finds from the ‘Döttenbichl’ attest to military operations during the early period of Roman occupation. This agrees with the written sources, which date the conquest of the province to 15 BC, and report some major battles as well as pointing to the high population of the area. This may be exaggeration for propaganda purposes, however, and there do not appear to have been any native revolts during the early period, as there were in the German and Gallic provinces. That said, from the early 1st century AD, there is increasing evidence for a counter-reaction against rising Romanisation: for example the ‘Heimstetten group’ burials and a reintroduction of ritual pyre sites. In this context older ritual and burial habits were revived which had no longer been practiced during the Late LaTène period and, although the traditional dress was abandoned during the second half of the 1st century AD, most of the cult sites remained in use into Late Antiquity.

Military Service

From the start of the occupation, the Roman military drew recruits from the able-bodied indigenous male population. During the 1st century AD, the numbering of known units suggests the existence of four Vindelici and eight Raetian cohorts. There were also two more Raetian cohorts whose unit numbers seem to have been used twice: suggesting a total of 15 auxiliary units. Some 1st century tombstones give information about soldiers’ origins, with the most frequent being natione Raetus. Raetian auxiliary soldiers are also attested in other units including, quite regularly, the equites singulars Augusti, an elite unit, stationed in Rome, which accompanied the Emperor on journeys

Tombstone of Nunandus,

Tombstone of Titus Aurelius Tertius, member of the imperial guard

Military Installations

No permanent legionary fortress was established in Raetia until 179 AD when a base was provided for the newly recruited Legio III Italica at Reginum-Regensburg, during the course of the Marcomannic Wars. Large parts of the rampart (but few internal buildings) are known from the 24.5ha site and the north gate, the porta praetoria, is one of the best preserved Roman monuments in Germany.

Map of the fortress of Reginum-Regensburg
The north gate (Porta Praetoria) of the legionary fortress of Reginum-Regensburg

Frontier surveillance was largely the purview of auxiliary units, for which numerous forts are known, and which were normally made up of provincials without Roman citizenship. In the western part of the province, forts are known from various phases of the Roman occupation, which often existed for just a few decades as the frontier gradually advanced. The forts on the Outer Raetian Limes were built around 150/160 AD and abandoned during the 3rd century. By comparison, some of the forts in the east were used from the last quarter of the 1st century AD until Late Antiquity. The fort of Aalen, the largest auxiliary fort in the province, accommodated a 1,000 strong cavalry force (Ala II Flavia Milliaria), which was itself the province’s most powerful unit until the construction of the legionary base. Most forts for 500 strong infantry units covered an area of around 1.5 ha. There is plentiful information on the internal buildings of these forts, for example at Oberstimm and Künzing, which have been extensively excavated.
There were also small fortlets (Kleinkastelle), such as the 1st century AD example at Nersingen, which measured just 600m², or the 0.7 ha, 2nd century site at Ellingen. The Outer Limes was equipped with a chain of watchtowers, which were integrated into a new running wall in the late 2nd or early 3rd century and, although the development of this barrier wall was confined to Raetia, a bank and ditch was added to the Upper German Limes in the same construction phase.



Reconstructed ground plan of the fort at Oberstimm
Reconstruction drawing of the ‘Kleinkastell’ at Nersingen
The Raetian Limes near Rainau-Buch

The coloniae

There is no certain evidence for a colonia in the province, but a passage in Tacitus (Germania 41) mentions ‘the most splendid colonia in the province of Raetia’ (splendissima Raetiae provinciae colonia). It is not certain whether he is referring to Cambodunum-Kempten or Augusta Vindelicum-Augsburg. One argument in favour of the former would be the fact that it already contained major buildings when the text was written at the end of the 1st century. But it remains highly questionable whether Cambodunum ever held the status of colonia, and Tacitus may have used the term merely because it was synonymous with a certain range and standard of buildings. Augusta Vindelicum is the only Raetian town with a firm claim to higher status: it was promoted to municipium by Hadrian.

Transport and Communications


Raetia’s most important road links led to Upper Italy or, east-west, to the Rhine and Danube. They were vital for Roman military logistics, for almost all troop movements to and from the north-western provinces used them. The first literary confirmation of this comes in 70 AD, when the Emperor Vespasian sent troops to the Rhine from neighbouring Raetia to suppress the Batavian revolt. We have relatively good information about the official imperial roads (viae publicae) from literary sources and inscriptions. For example, the itinerarium Antonini, is a list of roads with details of the settlements they passed. It was compiled in the 3rd century AD and continued to be updated into the 4th. We also have the tabula Peutingeriana: a road map copied into the Middle Ages. This was compiled during the 4th and 5th centuries, but sometimes reflects earlier conditions. It displays spatial relationships between individual sites schematically, rather than reproducing an area’s true topography. In addition, more than 50 inscribed milestones are known from the province, with the majority coming from the provincial capital Augusta Vindelicum-Augsburg. These column-shaped monuments are usually 2m tall and were erected immediately beside the road. The distances were given in miles (1, 48 km). The majority of the known examples date to the Severan period and can be associated with refurbishment work to the road network in the years 195, 201 and 214. These renovations were closely linked to military campaigns, with repairs to the roads needed to make good damage caused by the resulting heavy use.
Sections of Roman road are also known from archaeological work. The main roads were usually around 15-18m wide and normally consisted of a central gravelled carriageway, with two flanking earth paths and side ditches. The structure of the carriageway was tailored to the subsoil and consisted of several layers of sand and gravel.


Schematic map of the proven long distance roads in Raetia
Milestone from Cambodunum-Kempten

The most important road in Raetia was the via Claudia Augusta, which ran from Altinum (near Venice), over the Alps to Augusta Vindelicum-Augsburg, and then on to Submuntorium-Burghöfe on the Danube. A milestone from Rabland in the Vintschgau, records its construction in 46 AD, in the reign of the Emperor Claudius, and various sections have been excavated archaeologically. By the 1st century AD, the Alps had already been crossed by two routes: one through the Reschen- and Fern passes, and the other over the Brenner Pass. In Lermoos (Tyrol) and Eschenlohe (Bavaria) it has been possible to investigate a section of each where tree trunks had been used to consolidate the road because of a waterlogged subsoil. Dendro-dates from the Lermoos section again date the road to 46 AD and repairs were made into the 4th century, although the latest phases omitted the gravelled surface. In the west of the province there was a further trans-Alpine link, which ran from Como, over the ‘Septimer’ and ‘Julier’ passes, along the ‘Splüngen’, to Curia-Chur in the Alpine-Rhine valley, and then on to Brigantium-Bregenz on Lake Constance



Course of the Via Claudia Augusta and other routes across the Alps
Gravel agger of the Via Claudia Augusta in the ‘Forggensee’
Reconstruction of the building phases of the Via Claudia Augusta at Lermoos
Timber layers from the substructure of the Via Claudia Augusta near Lermoos

The east-west routes ran via Augusta Vindelicum-Augsburg and along the Danube whilst, in the western half of the province, they could also pass north of the river. An important route from the provincial capital to the legionary fortress at Argentorate-Strassburg was built in 74 AD, during the conquest of the cross-Rhine areas of Upper Germany. There is also evidence for several link roads, all of which shows that the province had a well-developed road network.

Part of a Roman road near Burladingen with gravelled central section, earth side banks and ditches


A bridge across the Danube has been investigated at Steppberg near Neuburg, where timber pilings and log walls, in-filled with undressed stones, were preserved from a 500m long structure. The wooden carriageway sat on up to 17 piers and the wood could be dendro-dated to 150 AD.
Another timber bridge, 438m long, crossed the Rhine near Eschenz, using Werd Island as an intermediate pier. Dendro-dates point to construction in the 80s AD, although there may have been a precursor structure.
The existence of further, smaller bridges has been shown by the recovery of pilings (some with iron sockets) at Donauwörth on the Danube, Epfach and Oberpeiching on the Lech and Kempten on the Iller. Only the timbers from Kempten and Oberpeiching have produced dendro-dates, but these date to 24-30 AD and 164+/-10, respectively.
A small stone bridge, just 7m long, at Mals (South Tyrol) has also been identified as a Roman structure, and it may have been part of the Via Claudia Augusta.



Plan of a pier of the Roman Danube bridge at Steppberg
Reconstruction of the Rhine bridge at Tasgaetium-Eschenz
Stone bridge with Roman foundations at Mals/ Malles Venosta


The Danube and its tributaries were extensively used for shipping and, with a section of the border running along the Rhine/Danube watershed, the province also included the upper course of the Rhine as far as its outlet from Lake Constance. Little is yet known about harbour installations, but there is evidence for 1st – 3rd century quaysides at Augusta Vindelicorum-Augsburg, Sorviodurum-Straubing and Oberstimm (see below). A late Roman naval port is known at Bregenz, with an impressive set of earlier docks nearby. Watching briefs at Reginum-Regensburg have suggested the existence of a probably Roman (but not closely datable) landing stage and, at Oberstimm near Ingolstadt, on the Danube, a 1st century AD garrison post has been found, along with the remains of two late 1st or early 2nd century naval vessels, which were originally 15m long. These had been deliberately sunk in the river Brautlach when an embankment was constructed, and were military patrol boats or troop transports that could be rowed as well as sailed. As yet, there is little evidence for civilian freighter types to compare with that from the neighbouring province of Upper Germany (e.g. wrecks and inscriptions mentioning sailors (nautae) or their guilds (collegia)). Nevertheless, there is some indirect evidence from Heidenheim on the Danube’s tributary, the Brenz, where a dedication on a bowl records a nautical tragedy, which the dedicator survived.



Roman ships from Oberstimm under excavation
Bowl with dedication to the goddess Erycina following a nautical tragedy


After an initial conquest in 15 BC, the Roman province of Raetia may have been created as early as the 2nd to 4th decades AD, under Tiberius. It contained parts of southern and south-west Germany, eastern Switzerland, the Tyrol, the South Tyrol and Liechtenstein and only achieved its greatest extent with the inauguration of the Outer Limes around 160AD. Its original name, provincia Raetia et Vindelicia points to two important local tribes, and we have written sources that give a large number of other tribal names, although not all can be firmly located. From an archaeological perspective it is possible to differentiate the mountain areas, which largely belonged to the Fritzens-Sanzeno Group, from the Alpine piedmont, which was part of the Celtic world. Evidence for Late LaTène and later settlement is rare but we cannot, as yet, claim a complete de-population. Nevertheless, the collapse of the oppida civilization and the end of Manching as a central place of national significance (by 50 BC at the latest), demonstrate an obvious decline in the affected regions north of the Alps. Evidence for an early Imperial Period indigenous population is provided by Heimstetten Group burials and these, plus an increasing reintroduction of rites involving burnt offerings, illustrate a partial regression to pre-LaTène customs. Whereas grave goods are only attested until c. 60 AD, the cult sites were often used into Late Antiquity. In spite of the fact that we can prove extensive recruitment of local men into the army, their role in Romanising the province cannot yet be fully assessed.
Raetia’s geographical situation was shaped by its connections with Italy and the east-west roads, which were built largely to facilitate the needs of the army. Despite a well-developed road system, the province’s development seems to have been rather sluggish when compared to its neighbours.

Text: Thomas Schmidts

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