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RNW

Roman Fort reconstructed
Anne Blair Gould
January 20th, 2003

In the year 15 B.C., the Romans in their relentless bid to expand the borders of their empire - discovered an elevated area of land to the east of what is now the Dutch town of Nijmegen. The land, now known as Hunerberg, lay just south of the river Waal, not far from what is today the border with Germany.

They decided to establish a northern base for the Roman army here an enormous fortress that would eventually became the largest and most remarkable Roman building ever constructed in this country.

This report was part of a themed Research File on Romans. Listen to the programme in full. (29:24)

From its early beginnings as a rudimentary base-camp, the fort at Hunerberg grew to become the headquarters of the Tenth Roman Legion Legio X Gemina. By the turn of the 1st century, it was a colossal stone structure complete with massive hall, treasury and central square as well as offices, meeting-rooms and barracks for some 6000 men. In fact, Fort Hunerberg was one of the very earliest examples of a Roman military headquarters built entirely of stone. 

Reconstructing ruins
In the intervening 1900 or so years, much of this imposing edifice has disappeared, and, until recently, we had little idea just how massive or ornate this building had been. That was until a Dutch company - PANSA BV - produced a detailed reconstruction of the entire 6000 square metre site. Using a combination of different disciplines - analysis of archaeological evidence, comparisons with other Roman buildings of similar style and much reference to Roman building traditions, PANSA BV worked out how big the building had been and what it had looked like. Architect and archaeologist Dr Kees Peterse is the company's director: "If you analyse the foundations at the site and work out the width of a column, for example, you can determine its height using Roman building rules which always used a 1:10 width-to-height ratio." 

Scale and life-size models
By using this combination of different types of data, Dr Peterse's company can not only work out the size of the buildings, it can also build detailed scale-models and life-size reconstructions. So far, the organisation, which specialises in reconstructing Roman architecture in Northern Europe and around Pompeii, has reconstructed Roman villas in the south of the Netherlands and a Roman Commander's family house as well as the Hunerberg fortress. 

Unexpected finds
As a result of the scientific analysis that goes into making these reconstructions, archaeologists and architects alike have been able to make unexpected discoveries. For instance, in the case of Hunerberg, it became apparent that certain types of architectural features had been used to accentuate various parts of the building and the different rooms; features like so-called cross and barrel vaulting.

But one of the most important aspects of this type of historical reconstruction work is that, using digital technology such as virtual reality programmes, 3-D models of ancient buildings can be viewed from all aspects. This allows people to visualise and understand much better how Romans lived their lives. "We discovered," says Kees Peterse, "that both the main entrance to the camp headquarters the so-called triumphal arch and the courtyard within, were 60 cm out of line with the other features, which were all built along a central axis. When we built our model as accurately as possible, we found out why." Only when you view the reconstruction through the Triumphal Arch do you see the commanding presence of the Emperor of Rome, carved in stone and perfectly framed by the proportions of the courtyard and the arch.

 

 

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