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Römisches Forum Waldgirmes e.V.
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Excavation I

How it all started

Waldgirmes, in the late 1980s; At field inspections, Gerda Weller discovers ceramics from the time around the birth of Christ. The fact that there are shards of Roman as well as Germanic ceramics causes the Roman-Germanic Commission (Römisch Germanische Kommission; RGK) to perform first excavations several years later. At the time, no one is able to guess at the scientific sensation the fields and meadows at Waldgirmes are concealing.

Germanic policy in the time of Augustus

The founding date of Waldgirmes, no later than 4/3 B.C., has consequences for the starting dates of other Roman camps, especially for the founding of Haltern. The beginnings of Haltern would be a few years before those of Waldgirmes, based on the higher share of older coins found, i.e. between 7 and 5 B.C. The death of Drusus in 9 B.C. thus did not cause a Roman retreat from the area between the rivers Rhine and Elbe, but a re-appointment of the Roman troop sites, probably performed by Tiberius in 8 and 7 B.C. Even though the written sources for the following years offer much less information, the actions of Domitius Ahenobarbus suggest the frame of action of Roman policy: settlements and relocations, indirect actions with individual tribes and the development of traffic connections and infrastructure. Siegmar von Schnurbein was able to show that the function of Haltern was probably extended to include further administrative and logistic tasks. The founding of Waldgirmes started the development of civilian structures. The importance of the excavations from Waldgirmes within this historical framework is in the docu-mentation of a town about to be constructed to the east of the river Rhine. The development of a civil Roman infrastructure is, however, the prerequisite and a clear sign of an intended transfer from conqueror to direct, permanent rule. Even though the question of whether and, if so, when Rome specifically planned to organise the area to the right of the river Rhine as a province is still discussed controversially, the findings of Waldgirmes will probably no longer permit denying the temporary goal of founding a province. The dendro-chronological data acquired in Waldgirmes in autumn 2005 document the beginnings of these efforts no later than 4 B.C. At times, there were increasingly clear differences in the Roman procedure between the Rhine-Main area on the one hand and the Lippe area on the other. While the Roman rule there mostly manifested in the legionaries' camps of Haltern, Oberaden and Anreppen, the troop presence in the Rhine-Main area seems less strong. This suggests a regionally differentiated procedure in the organisation of the Roman rule to the East of the River Rhine.

The discovery of the Roman base

The first indications of a Roman presence in Waldgirmes were found by Ms Gerda Weller during field inspections on a flood-free terrace approx. 1300 m to the North of the river Lahn. The recovered ceramics from the time around the birth of Christ included both hand-made Germanic shards and Roman ones that had been turned on a pottery wheel. In late autumn of 1993, the Römisch-Germanische Kommission (RGK) of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut in Frankfurt then performed a special excavation in the course of which the first pits were uncovered. A geophysical prospection brought out the slightly trapezoid outlines of an approx. 7.7 ha large forti-fication system with rounded corners in the next year. In 1994 and 1995, the RGK performed further excavations in the scope of a focus programme of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). Since 1996, the excavations have been performed together by the RGK and the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Hessen, department of archaeological and paleontological monument protection. The examinations are supported by the Lahnau municipality, the town of Wetzlar, the Lahn-Dill district and the Förderverein Römisches Forum Waldgirmes e.V.

Excavation 2009 (well excavation)

A spectacular find Below the well box in a Roman wine cask, the excavation managers Dr. Gabriele Rasbach and Dr. Armin Becker find the gold-plated bronze head of a horse. This is the largest find of the rider's statue that used to be in the inner courtyard of the forum to date. A few days before, a foot of the rider had been found between the well box and the cask The delicately worked horse head is to be viewed at a level with the sky disc of Nebra and the Celtic prince of Glauberg because of its uniqueness. Restoring the head is expected to take two years.

Excavation 2008 (inner area at the Western gate)

At the end of March, examinations of the 2000 m2 northern part of the excavation area that was already opened in 2007 was started. It was geomagnetically surveyed at a probe distance of 12.5 cm on the levelled surface. After the level surface had been made, it turned out that this method permits highly precise recording of connected structures. This especially includes the East-West water trench with residue of the original wooden substructure of the road, as well as the two adjacent 8.5 x 16.2 and 7.7 x 16.5 m buildings that were open to the South (buildings 24 a and 24 b) to the North of the road. At the same time, there are traces of other building parts to the East, North and West, of which only individual posts have been recorded so far and that the geomagnetic examination did not recognise. Size, expansion and connection of these building tracks to the central building complex are currently being examined.

Glass finds (1996-1997)

Some unusual pieces were added to the stock of glass finds in 1996 and 1997: This includes a fragment of a multi-coloured glass mosaic dish, a glass gem, a shard from a blue balsamarium, various playing pieces and four glass beads. Three beads are very similar in make and colouration. White or yellow glass threads are applied to a black matrix. These beads are characterised by indentations in the side surfaces that are reminiscent of melon beads. The fourth bead is special: it is a mosaic glass bead about 1.5 cm in size, for which no direct comparison pieces are known to date. In the light-blue opaque matrix of the bead, three images of the Egyptian steer god Apis are inlaid, separated by three monocoloured light green opaque glass platelets. The Apis images have a size of approx. 0.9x0.7 cm and are partially a little distorted for production reasons. The black-and-white spotted steer stands in a yellow frame before a light blue background – a presentation reminiscent of a shrine. Apis bears the sun disc between his horns. Before him, there is a small smoke vessel or a small altar on which a sacrifice is being burned. All in all, the bead is outstandingly preserved. It comes from the most recent filling layer of the East-West water trench. A gem of multi-layered glass with a Niobe image comes from another place of the same area. The basic colour of the glass gem is a translucent light blue that makes the gem look dark blue and green in interaction with opaque white and yellow glass layers. The image chart on the gem shows, according to the interpretation of G. Hafner, the Niobe Chloris, cradling one of her dead brothers in her arms.

Disc brooch

Another special find is a perfectly undamaged silver disc brooch with hinge construction. On the silver basic disc approx. 3 cm in diameter, held by a middle rivet, a delicate silver foil shape representing eight raised lotus leaves is applied. The rivet is covered by a red stone – probably amber - on the exposed side. The lotus leaves are decorated with triangular blue and green glass inlays. A disc brooch of this shape, quality and age is so far unique in the inventory of finds from the early Imperial time, which already contains hundreds of pieces.


Another unusual find is a 1.8 cm large silver pendant. It is made of a single piece and has an elongated pyramidal shape with smooth side surfaces and an eyelet separated by a small horizontal cross-plate. The eyelet is decorated on the outside by simple, partially only weakly retained, die engravings running transverse to the eyelet. 

Glass bead (2003)

Another unusual ensemble has been recovered from another pit into which, as the soil discolouration showed, a cask had been lowered. Between the pit wall and the cask, there were three beads: a ring-shaped amber bead, a profiled ring-shaped bronze one and a dark blue glass bead decorated with applied gold foil strips. Circular eyes are placed in the grid formed by the gold strips. Examining the glass bead precisely shows strips of different colour around the hole and inside the string hole. The dark blue glass mass must therefore have been coiled on a wet rod of white and blue glass stripes. The water evaporated during this work step and led to this change in the glass. Then gold foil was pressed into the still-soft glass mass, which is clearly evident in places where the gold foil has fallen out.


The settlement is dated based on the bronze coins under which Asses of the 1st altar series of Lugdu-num-Lyon, probably minted between 7 and 3 B.C., are clearly predominant at a share of 70 %. The end of Waldgirmes is marked by coins with the counter-stamp of Publius Quinctilius Varus and can be considered concurrent with the battle of Kalkriese and the abandonment of Haltern. At the moment, the date 9 A.D. still seems to be the most likely time. Waldgirmes would have been founded a little after Haltern due to the lower share of older Nemausus mints among the coins found. The statements on the start of the settlement have been detailed further by dendro-chronological data since 2005, however (see Water supply).

The defensive wall

The settlement in Waldgirmes was reinforced with a wood-earth-wall and two advanced V-shaped ditches and originally accessed through at least three gates. The wood-earth-wall was 3.2 m wide, the two advanced V-shaped ditches were up to 2.3 m deep and about 8 m wide together. The overall facility of the East gate was 11.8 m wide and had a simple passage and two side towers recessed behind the wood-earth-wall. The West gate was similarly sized, a gate surely to be assumed to the South has been built over. Section through the fortification  The gate assumed on the North side in the course of the North-South axis was not present here. The defensive wall was, however, reinforced there wide interim tower that stood on 6 posts by a 7 m. In the South-Eastern corner of the defensive wall, there was another tower originally consisting of 6 posts of which only the standing traces of the more deeply dug-in rear posts could be documented. The other five towers documented so far, with a width of 3.5 m, stood on 4 posts.   Air view of the fortification The wood-earth-wall was made up of two post rows the individual posts of which had a distance of 0.9 m. On the insides, planks were applied. The space between the resulting formwork was filled with the excavated soil from the V-shaped ditches. The resulting reinforcement probably had a height of 2-3 m. Additionally, there was an embankment about 1.5 – 1.8 m high attached to the top. Some findings, especially in the area of the defensive wall and the two gates, refer to activities after the settlement was abandoned. Outside of the two gates, there were larger, trough-shaped indentations over the V-shaped ditches that are reminiscent of U-shaped ditches, filled with fire debris from inside the facility. About 15 m to the South of the East gate, the remainder of the burned wood-earth wall was outstandingly well preserved along a length of 27 m. The posts of the rear wall had fallen to the West, while the posts of the front wall were lying on the inner embankment of the V-shaped ditch before the wood-earth wall. The posts were documented as more or less compact charcoal concentrations up to 2.5 m long and on average about 0.15 m wide, partially still showing the consistently aligned original wood grain. Residue of the formwork boards was visible at the inner wall as narrow, only 0.01 – 0.02 m wide charcoal strips. Where still recognisable, the original wood grain always ran in parallel to the wood-earth wall. The stripes were found on the Western side of the post pit filled with sterile clay at an average width of 0.5 m and therefore are to be considered the bottom-most still in situ remainder of the formwork.      Charred fortification beams Before the East side of the wood-earth wall, there were the traces of fallen posts as well as further charcoal concentrations on the ditch embankments, one with a larger width of 0.4 m and clearly con-sistent alignment of the original wood grain, can also be interpreted as the remainder of a formwork board. After the wood-earth wall fell, the two advanced V-shaped ditches were filled with fire debris from inside the facility. The good preservation of the findings that cannot be found anywhere else along the defensive wall suggests that this happened right after the fire. An explanation for this is the South- Eastern corner of the temporary camp that was right to the East of this defensive wall section. Chronologically, it could be placed both before the actual founding of the town, or dated from the time after the settlement was abandoned. The targeted levelling of the defensive wall would in this case have been a safety measure for the South-Western corner of the temporary camp. In this case, targeted levelling work would have been performed again sometime after the destruction of the statue.

Water supply of the Roman facility at Waldgirmes

Water was supplied through trenches and lines. In the middle of the two streets, a trench up to 1.2 m deep and 1.7 m wide ran, connected at the centre by a shallow overflow. The East-West ditch had already been recorded in the earth bridge outside the East gate, which speaks against the interpretation of the trench as a mere sewage trench, as does the possibility of accumulation and an overflow. Instead, at least the Eastern section seems to have served to supply water for use, which could be accumulated on demand and rerouted to the North-South trenches. A bottleneck suggests a possible water removal point, possibly connected to the ceramics production in the nearby buildings 2 c.      Trench A shallow ditch documented in the North-east along a length of 32.5 m may also initially have served water supply in the form of an originally wooden tree-trunk line. Short cross-sections only retained in Waldgirmes as discolouration of the earth compare well to the wooden coupling blocks of this kind of water line in Oberwinterthur. The presence of a fresh water line is also documented by the fragment of a lead pipe.      Lead pipe The only well to date was unearthed in the South West of the facility in 2005. It was 1.2 x 1.2 m large and almost 8 m deep. In the ground water area, the bottom four plank layers of the box-construction well were still retained. The construction timbers recovered from the well this year were cut in the winter from 4 to 3 B.C..
Excavation on the forum premises
Apisperle Glasgemme mit Niobiden-Darstellung to the excavation II