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Hans Dragendorff und Friedrich Koepp über dem Profil eines Lagergrabens in Haltern, Westfalen. (Archiv RGK)

Archaeology School Haltern None

Research and history

The first excavations in Haltern took no more than five days: over 120 years ago, on the 19thJune 1899, the archaeological investigation of the Roman military installation began. Today the Haltern site can rightly claim to be the biggest and best researched military installation in the entire Roman empire from around the birth of Christ. Here, too, modern excavation techniques were further developed to internationally valid standards.

The initiators of the first excavation in 1899 were the Haltern medical inspector Dr.Alexander Conrads and the first manager and chairman of the newly founded Westphalian Antiquities Commission, Dr. Friedrich Philippi. The archaeologists began digging on  the Annaberg, where the Prussian, Major Friedrich Wilhelm Schmidt had already localized a Roman fortification in 1838. The excavators came upon a ditch whose course they followed in a further excavation in autumn 1899 until it was shown to be enclosing a triangular fortified area.

In the very next year and, with interruptions, up to today bigger and smaller excavation campaigns have followed. After the introduction of Monument Protection Law in NRW in 1980 the whole area was put under protection. Since then the LWL Archaeology for Westphalia has only investigated places which are immediately  threatened with destruction by building work.

Initiatoren der ersten Ausgrabung 1899 waren der archäologisch interessierte Halteraner Sanitätsrat Dr. Alexander Conrads und der erste Geschäftsführer und Vorsitzender der gerade gegründeten Altertumskommission für Westfalen, Dr. Friedrich Philippi. Die Archäologen setzten ihren Spaten auf dem Annaberg an, wo der preußische Major Friedrich Wilhelm Schmidt schon 1838 ein römisches Kastell lokalisiert hatte. Die Ausgräber stießen auf einen Graben, dessen Verlauf in einer weiteren Kampagne im Herbst 1899 zu einer dreieckigen Umwehrungsanlage vervollständigt werden konnte.

Schon im folgenden Jahr und mit Unterbrechungen bis heute folgten größere und kleinere Grabungskampagnen. Nach der Einführung des Denkmalschutzgesetzes in NRW 1980 wurde das ganze Gebiet 1987 unter Schutz gestellt. Seitdem untersucht die LWL-Archäologie für Westfalen nur noch gezielt die Stellen, die durch Baumaßnahmen von Zerstörung bedroht sind. 

Since then excavators have discovered and investigated at least seven military installations. North of the Lippe these are the main camp, several marching and field camps in addition to a pottery and grave yard, a fortification on the Annaberg and directly on the Lippe  a naval base as well as the so called east camp.

Rekonstruktion Kline Haltern

The old museum in Haltern, opened in 1907

Blick auf die Ausgrabungen "Am Wiegel“: Stehend Alexander Conrads, sitzend links Alexander Conze, rechts Carl Schuchhardt,

Excavation “Am Wiegel”: standing Alexander Conrads, sitting left Alexander Conze, right Carl Schuchhardt, 1899

Friedrich Koepp (left) and Hans Dragendorff above the profile of a v-shaped ditch of the river bank fortification “Auf der Hofestatt”

Friedrich Koepp (left) and Hans Dragendorff above the profile of a v-shaped ditch of the river bank fortification “Auf der Hofestatt”

Haltern and Aliso?

“The valour of Lucius Caedicius, prefect of the camp, also deserves praise, and of those who, pent up with him at Aliso, were besieged by the immense force of Germanic warriors. For, overcoming all the difficulties … they watched their chance and with the sword won their way back to their friends.”

C. Velleius Paterculus, Roman officer and historian, beginning 1st century AD. ROMAN HISTORY II 120, 4

After the Varus battle the Germanic tribes conquered all of the military bases to the east of the Rhine – with the exception of a camp called Aliso. Attacked by Germanic tribes, the few remaining troops withstood siege. In the end they were able to break out to the Rhine.

Various Roman sources mention these events. After Roman remains were first discovered in Haltern in 1816, Haltern soon become a candidate for Aliso. 60 years later the excavator Carl Schuchhardt, one of the leading antiquarians of his time, give his guide to the excavations of Haltern confidently the title “Aliso”.

Was Haltern really Aliso? A great deal speaks for it. Archaeologists found palisades and additional barriers as well as the remains of defensive weapons in front of the south and east doors of the camp. This and the mass grave in  the pit of a pottery oven outside the camp indicate a successfully repulsed attack and so support the assumption that this was steadfast Aliso.

Archaeology School Haltern

The discovery of the post hole

“Only since Haltern do we know that there is nothing more lasting than a hole and that earth discolourations have equal value to that of the historian's manuscripts”. (Rudolf Pörtner,1959)

After the first excavation in 1899 many well known archaeologists were active in Haltern, such as  F.Koepp, H. Dragendorff, G. Kropatschek, S. Loescheke, E. Ritterling and C. Schuchhardt. Quite rightly this phase of the excavations was titled the “Archaeology School”.

For the first time discolourations in the ground were recognized, carefully uncovered and documented as traces of one time buildings or ditches. The methods developed then have been refined since and are now used today with excavations all over the world.

Museum for Haltern

From the very beginning there was great public interest and as early as a year later the then Association for History and Antiquities at Haltern in Westphalia set up a local provisional museum for its many friends in the old Rektoratsschule.

In 1906 building of Haltern's own museum started; it was opened on 12th August 1907  as the “Römisch-Germanisches Museum”. It was destroyed totally in bombing on 9th March 1945 and about a third of the finds were lost.

The LWL decided on a new building. Today's LWL-Römermuseum was opened on 25th November 1993. It was built on the site of the Roman field camp; its design is reminiscent of the legionaries' tent roofs.