Friday, August 15, 2014

Wacht am Der Limes - Some Ideas

Currently Early Imperial Romans have my attention. Based on the feedback from yesterday, it seems that at least a couple of readers here have a similar interest. So let me ramble on a bit about the status of this project. I actually have a title for it that I like which is unusual. Typically the title is one of the last things that I come up with. Based on the title of this post, you can gather that the title is "Wacht am der Limes."

I was recently asked how I approach the projects that I work on. My instant thought was that would be like me explaining what goes into sausage - something most people just don't want to know. Now I am having second thoughts about that. I have always had a fascination with the Roman Empire. When I was taught about the empire in school I came away with the impression that it was a hugely organized and efficiently run mechanism that started to break down and fail around 400 AD or there about. Where as throughout its history it seems that it fought against itself almost as much as it fought its enemies. Still, they are impressive.

I have relatives in Germany and knew a little that the Roman Empire extended its borders up into Germany but had little idea of what was going on there at the time. So like most projects, it began with a little Google. I found a site on the Saalburg fort and its reconstructions and that is what hooked me to the time and place.

Next was confirming what I already knew about the Roman military at the time and figuring out what they could do. Then I have spent some time figuring out what was there was in terms of a military presence in my selected area. This is probably a trip down an unnecessary rabbit hole. Anyway, here is some notes I have put together so far that you may or may not enjoy.

First, I am limiting the project to the German Limes at roughly 100AD or there about. I have found some excellent web sites that are really useful.

First up is

Next is an awesome map site

Here is a screen shot from their page on the area that I am looking at. The map is much easier to deal with than the one from as the symbols for the forts are not as large. But has more of the minor roman roads present in their map. So both are rather useful. What I cannot find is any markings for German Villages other than the small round red (at least I think they are red) ring forts marked inside the Roman area on the map above. Those are not as helpful. The ring forts date back to more of a celtic origin from the early iron age. It is likely that those settlements were largely abandoned by the time of Roman occupation.

I am focusing on the Civitas Taunensium area of Germania Superior. That is more or less what is featured on the map above. Nida was the capitol of the civitas. Saalburg would have been one of its border forts. Nida was not nearly as large a town as that of Mogontiacum (Modern Mainz). There are no less than three fortification sites present in the town. By the 3rd Century AD, the town had established city walls and had grown to a civilian population of close to 10,000 people. But by 100AD the town was a village outside of the roman fort. I am assuming that the Kastellung A - the stone fort - would be the one that would have been standing at the time. The roads leading in and out of Nida matched to the entrances to this fort.

The garrison of Nida was held by several different units during its history. These included Ala I Flavia Gemina, Cohors XXXII Voluntariorum civium Romanorum and Cohors IIII Vindelicorum. These are all Auxiliary units. The first being a cavalry unit. The second is interesting as it is a volunteer unit of Roman civilians. These would normally have been men eligible for the Legions. They were raised after the disaster in the Teutonburg Forest. Depending on who you read there were anywehre from 17 to 42 of these types of Cohorts raised. This unit is placed in Nida at close to the end of the first century from an inscription found from a centurion being dedicated into the cult of Mithras. They then were transfered to Ober-Florstadt.

The Vindelicorum Cohort was apparently an infantry cohort. They have a reenactment group that has put together a fun little video on their web page. Its loud so be prepared to lower the volume on your speakers before giving it a go. Apparently, this unit spent most of its time as a garrison of Grosskrotzenburg. Bricks made by this unit at their foundry in Grosskrotzenburg found their way all across the limes.

The cavalry unit appears to have been raised close to 70ad. It was a quingenary unit of about 500 cavalrymen. It was raised in what is now Switzerland but served in this area close to the time we are looking at. The fort at Nida was large enough that it would have been able to support two Auxiliary cohorts. Thus it is likely that the cavalry and one of the infantry units served side by side there.

The town of Nida is a major cross roads that link the significant fortifications of the bulge in the limes. The limes follow a series of large hills that provide a slight natural barrier to the flatter agricultural lands to the south. Along these hills, the limes were built. Straight north of Nida is Saalburg, a cohort fort hosting the Cohors II Raetorum Civium Romanorum Equitata. This is a mixed arms cohort with 480 infantry and 120 cavalry. This is the unit that I am focusing on.

Saalburg has a museum now and much work has been done to reconstruct the fort.

The picture is taken from

The way I am thinking of putting this together, the actions would take place around the watchtowers that are places between the forts and possibly one of the kleinkastles like Lochmuhle. Even in 15mm, the Saalburg fortification would take up most of the table. The Germans might press in and raid one of the villas in the south or the Romans may press across the limes in a punitive expedition against a German village.

The goal is to keep the Roman formations as historical as possible while not doing over much violence to the Dux rules. I have some ideas and did a theoretical German attack on a small roman fort on paper. It seems to work. I will post more once I get some miniatures ready.


  1. Sounds very nice. If you are going to use Dux Britanniarum rules, I would use 8 figurines legionary/auxilia units, and 6 figurines cavalry units. I think that they are better numbers for roman organization.

    1. I would agree for paper strength. I am looking at this in terms of units deployed to a largely peaceful frontier. Since those units would not be at full strength, I was going with the 6 man group size. I figure that each tent party would be reduced rather than removing a tent party. They would still have 10 men across and two or more men deep in the century formation. I want the tent party to be the basis of the unit.

      For the cavalry, I still want to do some more research. I am more trying to model the thinned out nature of a unit deployed to watch the limes. sections deployed to man watchtowers, patrols, work crews and the like. Not really Rome on war footing ready for a heavy campaign. Does that make sense?

      For the Germans, I really have not given as much of a thought to that yet. For the moment I am keeping them at 6 as well.

      I still have more work to do so we will see how it all comes together.

  2. You say that the frontier is in peace. For me this means no casualties and units at full strength (replacements easily available). A tent party (contubernia) is 8 men I think. And cavalry turmae are 30 men strong, so six units for a cavalry contubernia sounds good for me.

    1. I had a different take on that. during times of relative peace, you are less likely to be full strength. 1 - Its cheaper. Less people to pay and less food to have to store.
      2 - If the border here is peaceful, it won't be elsewhere and that is where the troops will go.
      3 - What I have read points to the legions and cohorts were always running understrength.

      That said, I don't see a problem increasing the size of groups to 8 for them. I need to play test it a bit more to get a better feel for it anyway. I will play with it both ways. Since the Romans are armored and the Germans are not, I am concerned that 8 man groups would be too strong. Still its early days yet.

      The tent party is 8 men. Depending on the source, the turmae is 30 or 32 men strong. Just can't see 30+ cavalry on the table for a skirmish game though. I see it more as a supporting patrol from a turmae arrives to help.

  3. This is a great project, I am planning something similliar with Dux B. For 400 and. I hope you will forgive me (I am a bit anal about language) but correctly it is "Die Wacht am Limes".

  4. Just saw this. Fantastic resources. I'll be watching this one.

    1. Don't just watch, throw some suggestions at me. I would welcome the help.