Aliso – it was Rome’s impregnable fortress in
the wilds of Germany beyond the Rhine. Twice it defied German sieges,
after the Romans had been chased out of all their other strongholds.
Now, these Roman accounts have received confirmation from archeologists:
24 Germanic warriors were killed in an attempt to storm the walls
of the fortress, and their corpses dumped by the defenders into
a pit next to the potter’s oven. They were found 1975 years later
– and so achieved a kind of immortality denied their mostly victorious
comrades who, if they died in battle, were sent off to the happy
drinking grounds of Valhalla from a funeral pier.
The bones were found 18 years ago in Haltern on
the Lippe, in one of the most spectacular digs in northwestern Germany.
Now, in time for the anniversary of the battle that rang in the
end of Rome’s rule east of the Rhine, an examination of the enamel
of the teeth of ten of the men has been carried out, using a method
which can reveal where the individual grew up. Most were from nearby
parts, but several warriors had travelled from the distant south
to join in the war – an indication that the Germanic tribal coalition
drew recruits from all over the Germanic territories. It is the
third major discovery in the year leading up to the 2000th anniversary
of the battle in the Teutoburg Forest, where three legions were
annihilated near Osnabrück in September, 0009.
Whether the men died in winter of 0009 or during
the fighting some six years later isn't clear. Aliso was the only
fort to withstand the German sweep following the victory over Varus,
but ultimately, it too was evacuated – although never stormed. Another
battle over the fortress was reported in the winter of 0015/16 –
which indicates that the Romans occupied it again during their cautious
advance beyond the Rhine in 0010-‘14; the corpses could date also
from these fights.
The find is a strong indication that the huge
facility on a slope above the Lippe, a fort that was almost a town,
was indeed Aliso, which is a matter of debate among historians.
That debate still isn't settled completely, says Haltern archeologist
Rudolf Aßkamp. But if it is Aliso, the large Roman Museum, where
he works, is indeed at the right place, unlike the “Hermann Memorial”
near Detmold, built to commemorate the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest,
which now turns out to have taken place in Osnabrück county. But
although Aliso remained steadfast, the Romans otherwise suffered
ever more devastating defeats, and after 0016 vacated the entire
area, including their stronghold on the Lippe. And so it was that
Haltern’s glorious future was already over 1250 years before the
city was even founded.
The camp in Barkhausen on the Weser south of Minden,
found in the summer of 2008, also dates from this time. These two
discoveries have helped to provide an idea about the course of the
long war. And then there’s a third dig, which has revealed a hitherto
unknown war: the traces of an assault were found between Hildesheim
and Göttingen in the northern state of Lower Saxony. They could
only have been launched by a gigantic Roman army – the army of the
emperor Maximinus Thrax who invaded Germany in 235. It may have
been one of the greatest Roman invasions of Germany, though historians
have always thought it involved only some border skirmishing. The
attack itself was successful, but only in breaking out of a trap;
the invasion itself was defeated and the dream of conquering Germany
was over – this time for ever.