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Imperial Rome: End of the last century BC – 375 AD

Römische Töpferei Haarhausen im Ilm-Kreis (Rekonstruktion, Bild: Artus Atelier
Römis­che Töp­ferei Haar­hausen im Ilm-Kreis (Rekon­struk­tion), Bild: Artus Atelier

Germanic Peoples and Romans in Thuringia

Did you know that our know­ledge regard­ing Thuringia can be traced back to the Romans? The Romans learned much dur­ing their expan­sion into ‘Ger­mania lib­era’ (free Ger­mania). Tacitus (ca. 55–120 AD), the Roman his­tor­ian, made this know­ledge a fea­ture of his fam­ous text “Ger­mania”. We have both Tacitus and archae­olo­gists to thank for inter­est­ing inform­a­tion about the expan­sion of the Elbe Ger­manic tribes from the Alt­mark and north­ern Harz regions into Thuringia. Tacitus called them the Her­minones and, in “Ger­mania”, repor­ted on their close con­tact with the Romans and the far-reach­ing influ­ence the Romans had on their way of life. Although they lived 180km from the bor­der of Roman-con­trolled ter­rit­ory, the Romans coun­ted the Her­minones as loyal allies. As the Her­minones were neigh­bours of the Chatti, arch-enemies of the Romans, this alli­ance demon­strates shrewd polit­ical acu­men on the part of the Romans.

Gold for the Noble Classes

Both Tacitus’ writ­ing and archae­olo­gical finds that include impor­ted Roman goods obtained through exchange or as gifts, demon­strate great wealth in the starkly hier­arch­ical soci­ety of the Ger­manic peoples. In the ALT we dis­play glass and bronze items, weapons, jew­ellery, and the lus­trous, red, relief-dec­or­ated din­ner­ware known as Terra Sigil­lata. Such treas­ures, along with fas­cin­at­ing archae­olo­gical finds, like the richly out­fit­ted grave of the “Prin­cess of Hassleben”, point to an influ­en­tial noble class who had a very close rela­tion­ship with the Romans.

How did Ger­manic peoples live?

They lived in set­tle­ments made up of post-in-ground houses. Each vil­lage had a clay oven and their live­li­hood was based on farm­ing and graz­ing. This last was a par­tic­u­lar pas­sion of Ger­manic tribes. Tacitus remarked that “Live­stock is their most val­ued form of wealth.”

As well as farm­ers and gra­zi­ers, there were also spe­cial­ists in the work­ing of non-fer­rous and pre­cious metals, as well as the smelt­ing and work­ing of iron.

The example of the Romans was highly influ­en­tial in every­day life. Attire, tools, and con­struc­tion tech­niques betray the influ­ence of Roman tech­no­lo­gies and fash­ions. In 1979 a com­plete pot­ter’s work­shop, con­struc­ted with Roman tech­no­lo­gical know-how, was dis­covered in Haar­hausen (Muni­cip­al­ity of Ilm). In the ALT you will find a recon­struc­tion of the kiln and the workshop.