In the vicinity of Hermeskeil, a small town some 30 kilometers southeast of the city of Trier in the Hunsrueck region in the German federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, archaeologists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) have confirmed the location of the oldest Roman military fortification known in Germany to date. These findings shed new light on the Roman conquest of Gaul. The camp was presumably built during Julius Caesars’ Gallic War in the late 50s B.C. Nearby lies a late Celtic settlement with monumental fortifications known as the “Hunnenring” or “Circle of the Huns,” which functioned as one of the major centers of the local Celtic tribe called Treveri. Their territory is situated in the mountainous regions between the Rhine and Maas rivers. “The remnants of this military camp are the first pieces of archaeological evidence of this important episode of world history,” comments Dr. Sabine Hornung of the Institute of Pre- and Protohistory at JGU. “It is quite possible that Treveran resistance to the Roman conquerors was crushed in a campaign that was launched from this military fortress.”
The existence of this site with a size of about 260,000 square meters had been known since the 19th century, but its interpretation was controversially discussed. “Some remains of the wall are still preserved in the forest, but it hadn’t been possible to prove that this was indeed a Roman military camp as archaeologists and local historians had long suspected,” Hornung explains. The breakthrough came through systematic investigations closely linked to archaeological research conducted in the vicinity of the Celtic settlement “Hunnenring” near Otzenhausen in the St. Wendel district. The Celtic fortification is located just 5 kilometers from the military camp at Hermeskeil and can be seen directly from the site of the Roman stronghold. As a result of agricultural development, large sections of the former military camp can no longer be recognized and are in danger of being lost forever.
Sabine Hornung and her team began their work in Hermeskeil in March 2010, supported by the Rheinische Landesmuseum Trier. Initial research enabled them to determine size and shape of the military camp that was fortified by means of an earth wall and a ditch. They determined that the fortress consisted of an almost rectangular earthwork enclosure with rounded corners, which, by its size of about 182,000 square meters, provided space for several thousands of soldiers, including both legionaries and mounted auxiliaries. An extension of additional 76,000 square meters encompassed a spring, which thereby secured water supply for the troops.