Rheinische Landesmuseum Bonn: View of Cochem, a town in the Mosel Valley in the XIXth century
I was very sorry to leave my carriage behind,
which, however, they promised to send after me
to Coblentz. I hired a boat with one man, into
which all my goods and chattels were conveyed. (..) The views along the banks of the Moselle
were highly diversified during this passage; for
although the main direction of the stream is
always from south-west to north-east, still, as it
flows through rugged and mountainous ground,
with projecting angles at both sides, which make it bend sometimes to the right and sometimes
to the left, it is forced to flow onwards in a
widely-expanded serpentine course. An experienced boatman is therefore highly necessary: ours displayed both strength and skill,
knowing how, at one time, to avoid the gravel-banks which sometimes obstructed the passage,
and immediately afterwards boldly to take advantage, for greater speed, of the rapid current which flowed along the rocky wall. (..) We
were soon struck also by the precipitous rocks
overhanging the stream, on the narrow projecting ledges of which, as upon natural terraces
formed by accident, the vines seemed to thrive
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - Campaign in France in the year 1792 - Translation by Robert Farie
The editor of the Hand-book, having visited this river several times, confidently recommends the voyage down it from Treves (Trier) to Coblenz, in settled summer weather, and when the wind is not high. (..) The Moselle is particularly remarkable for its very complicated windings, which in several parts of its course form projecting promontories, almost isolated by the river.
John Murray - A Hand-Book for Travellers on the Continent - 1838
A Luxembourg boat and the Luxembourg side of the Mosel valley (see preparations for grape harvesting on the German side in the introductory page)
Hail, river, blessed by the fields, blessed by the
husbandmen (..): river, whose hills are o'ergrown with Bacchus' fragrant vines, o'ergrown,
river most verdant, thy banks with turf: ship-bearing
as the sea, with sloping waters gliding as a river, and with thy crystal depths the peer of lakes, brooks
thou canst match for hurrying flow, cool springs
surpass for limpid draughts; one, thou hast all that belongs to springs, brooks, rivers, lakes, and tidal Ocean with his ebb and flow. (..) Let show of vines lead on another pageant, and let Bacchus' gifts attract our wandering gaze where lofty ridge, far-stretching
above scarped slopes,, and spur, and sunny hill-side with salient and reentrant rise in a natural theatre overgrown with vines. (..) The river-side is thickly
planted with green vines. The people, happy in their toil, and the restless husbandmen are busy, now on the hill-top, now on the slope, exchanging
shouts in boisterous rivalry. Here the wayfarer
tramping along the low-lying bank, and there the
bargeman floating by, troll their rude jests at the
loitering vine-dressers; and all the hills, and shivering woods, and channelled river, ring with their
Ausonius (ca 310-395) - Mosella - translation by Hugh G. Evelyn White
Decimus Magnus Ausonius (ca 310-395), a statesman from Bordeaux and the tutor of Emperor Gratian, wrote a poem to describe the beauty of the Mosel Valley.
These (the great architects of the past), then, or such as these, we may well
believe to have raised these splendid dwellings (..), and to have piled these lofty mansions
to be the river's ornament. This one stands high
upon a mass of natural rock, this rests upon the verge of the jutting bank, this stands back and claims the river for its own, making it prisoner in an enfolding
Traces of the Romans may be discovered in almost every village along its banks, if not above ground, at least wherever the soil is turned by the spade. Murray
In 1852 the chance discovery of fragments of a floor mosaic led to identifying the site of a large Roman villa near Nennig, a village on the German side of the Mosel valley, only miles away from the border with France.
Overall view of the Mosaic of the Gladiators (a floor mosaic having a similar design was found in 1995 at Vichten in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg)
Excavations between 1866 and 1876 unearthed evidence of a two-storied building flanked by wings ending with slightly higher towers, of a large colonnaded portico, of a bath house and of a garden with small pavilions. The main finding was the floor mosaic of a reception hall. It consisted of a very elaborate geometric decoration which framed seven octagonal and two square medallions depicting scenes which occurred in amphitheatres, most likely that of Trier. The mosaic was restored in 1960 and on that occasion a coin of Emperor Commodus was found, so that the mosaic is dated after 180 AD. The landlord chose to avoid gruesome depictions of gladiatorial combats, unlike what occurred in other mosaics covering the same subject (e.g. Mosaico del Gladiatore from Torrenova in Rome and mosaics at Kos).
The mosaic provides a sort of summary of the events which occurred during a show at the amphitheatre. The audience was entertained by music players during the intervals between events. A Ist century BC relief on a mausoleum near Rome depicting gladiatorial contests which were held to celebrate the dead shows tuba (trumpet) and cornum (horn) players. A mosaic from Leptis Magna shows a small orchestra which includes a hydraulis, a water pipe organ.
In The Innocents Abroad Mark Twain imagined the Playbill of the Colosseo: The performance will commence this evening between two young and promising amateurs... and most likely the medallion above shows a fight which occurred before the main event of the session; the two wrestlers, who fight with a cudgel and a whip, wear some protective equipment which suggests they were not at risk of receiving mortal wounds.
A fine floor mosaic depicting gladiatorial combats was found in the late XIXth century in another Roman villa at Bad Kreuznach, along the road linking Trier to Mainz.
Mosaic of the Gladiators: two other octagonal medallions (see the last two in the introductory page - two medallions are lost)
The celebrated Infant Prodigy, known as "THE YOUNG ACHILLES"
will engage four tiger whelps in combat, armed with no other weapon than his little spear!
The whole to conclude with a chaste and elegant GENERAL SLAUGHTER, in which thirteen African lions and twenty-two barbarian prisoners will war with each other until all are exterminated. Twain
Some beautiful mosaics show the capture of wild beasts in Africa and their transportation to Europe. A lion or a tiger had a significant economic value when they arrived to Germany. The mosaics at Nennig show that the organizers of the amphitheatre games were careful not to put the lives of these beasts at risk and therefore made them fight against animals (e.g. a wild ass) which they could easily overcome. The beasts were placed in the care of a magister (see a sarcophagus in Rome).
We have seen a lion in the amphitheatre, who, when it recognized one of the men who fought with wild beasts as the man who had once been its keeper, protected him against the attacks of the other animals.
Seneca - De Beneficiis - 2.19.1
Mosaic of the Gladiators: square medallion
The other day, I chanced to drop in at the midday games, expecting sport and wit and some relaxation to rest men's eyes from the sight of human blood. Just the opposite was the case. Any fighting before that was as nothing; all trifles were now put aside - it was plain butchery.
Seneca - Moral letters to Lucilius - Epistle 7 - Translation by Richard Mott Gummere
This medallion shows the best known gladiatorial combat: that between a retiarus, armed with a trident (and a net), fighting against a secutor, armed with a gladius, a short sword and a shield. Secutor means chaser because he needed to get very close to the retiarius in order to hit him with his sword; the retiarius instead tried to stay at a distance in order to trap the secutor in his net. This combination of different tactics ensured a very lively fight. The presence of a referee suggests that some rules had to be complied with. This combat was often depicted in mosaics and reliefs and it is often re-enacted in modern shows.
Roman "tumulus" (burial mound) near the villa (see another "tumulus" at Tongeren in Belgium)
A necropolis was identified near the villa. A mound indicates the site of a circular mausoleum, perhaps of the family who owned the villa. Many of the best known Roman mausoleums had a circular shape (e.g. Cecilia Metella and the mausoleums of Augustus and Hadrian), but in its present form the tomb brings to mind those at Vergina and Nemrut Daji or even a prehistoric dolmen at Antequera.
Grutenhäuschen, a temple which was built in 1962 in front of a Roman tomb near Igel
Since its renovation in the summer of 2000, many drivers and hikers have wondered about the small Roman "temple" sitting amidst the vineyards near Igel-Liersberg. The gable of the two-story "temple" sits on six mighty columns; the Grutenhäuschen was presumably built in the 3rd century AD. The substructure consists of a vaulted tomb and an antechamber with a ceiling of barrel vaulting.
Since April 2003, the Trier Land district has opened the idyllically located Grutenhäuschen (from "grut," grotto) for civil wedding ceremonies. The Roman monument sits in a splendid location with a magnificent view of the Moselle and offers bridal pairs an unforgettable, stylish ambience. The Grutenhäuschen has seating capacity for 30 guests and can be used for a subsequent champagne reception.
From the Trier Tourismus und Marketing GmbH. Should you wish to see more evocative ancient mausoleums in the form of small temples, visit those at Imbriogon.
Igeler Saule in two plates from "Alexandre de Laborde - The Monuments of France Chronologically Classified - 1816-1836" (the region was annexed by France between 1794 and 1815)
At the village of Igel, which is on the Moselle, about two leagues above Treves, there is a very curious and magnificent piece of antiquity, which was probably a sepulchral monument. (..) Any one may judge that this building is ornamented in the richest manner; and the whole work is all very well executed. I could see no entrance to this monument, but the people say there is one, which I suppose is under ground, and that it is lined with copper adorned with figures.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745.
On the road from Treves to Luxembourg I was soon gratified with a view of the monument in the neighbourhood of Ygel. As I knew that the ancients always chose a favourable position for their buildings and monuments, I put aside in imagination all the mean buildings that surrounded it, and then its position appeared in the highest degree appropriate to it. The Moselle flows close by, and is joined on the opposite side by a considerable stream called the Saar; the winding of the rivers, the undulation of the ground, and the luxuriant vegetation, giving loveliness and dignity to the spot. (..) A glorious gleam of sunshine lit up the landscape just at the moment when the monument at Ygel came in sight, and cheered me as a lighthouse does the sailor in the night. Perhaps the power of antiquity was never so much felt as in this contrast: it is a monument of warlike times indeed, but still of prosperous, victorious days, and of an enduring, healthy state of existence, of a stirring race of men in this region. (..) It detained me a long time; I made many notes upon it, and unwillingly left it, as I felt afterwards only the more acutely the wretchedness of my present condition. Goethe
Igeler Saule (see some smaller mausoleums in the Rheinische Landesmuseum of Trier)
The Pyramid or Monument (..) at Igel is a very remarkable specimen of ancient art. The corroding effect of time has for centuries operated upon its surface; its sacred character as a Mausoleum has not sufficed to protect it from the ruder hand of the spoiler: by the one, its sculptures have lost their sharpness, and have, in some instances, been effaced, by the other, portions of them have been entirely carried away: and still it stands beautiful, in spite of its mutilations, and unique of its kind. (..) When Goethe visited our antiquities in 1792, I had the privilege of accompanying the illustrious poet; and it would be difficult to say which was the greater, the instruction or the pleasure I derived from his conversation.
Johann Hugo Wyttenbach - The Stranger's Guide to the Roman Antiquities of the City of Treves - Edited by Dawson Turner - 1838
Igel most likely derives from guglia, the word by which the obelisks of Rome were usually called in the Middle Ages and well into the XVIIIth century. Saule means column in German.
Igeler Saule: front relief which was mistaken to represent Emperor Constantius Chlorus and St. Helena, his first wife in a XIXth century engraving (left) and as it is today (right)
It is a four-sided pillar of sandstone, more than
70 feet high, bearing carvings, inscriptions, and bas-reliefs, but in so
mutilated a condition, that neither
its age, nor destination have yet been
precisely ascertained. Four or five
different explanations have been given
of it. (..) The plain matter of fact
seems to be this, that it was set up
by two brothers named Secundinus. Murray
The monument survived to the present day because by the early Middle Ages it was associated with St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine. A similar mistake saved the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome. The partially preserved inscription indicates that the funerary monument was built by two brothers (Lucius Secundinius Aventinus and Lucius Secundinus Securus) for themselves and some seven or eight relatives. The brothers are portrayed in the act of taking leave from one of their sons, who presumably died before them. Three medallions house portraits of other family members. The monument is dated ca 250 AD and it was painted.
Igeler Saule: relief on the back depicting the apotheosis of Hercules who is greeted by Ganymede, the signs of the Zodiac (a symbol of the passing of time) and personifications of the winds or of the elements, one of which can be seen in the image used as background for this page
To express the most general impression
which it produces; here are displayed face to
face, life and death, the present and the future,
and both of them respectively, in an aesthetic
sense, merged in each other. This was the glorious manner of the ancients, which was preserved
for a considerable time in the world of art. Goethe
Throughout the carvings, two leading ideas are evident; the one "natural", if I may be allowed the expression, or borrowed from the every day occurrences of domestic life; the other "poetical", or rather allegorical, representing what is handed down to us by tradition of the actions of heroes and of gods. (..) It is difficult (..) to dive into the mysteries concealed under the allegories of ancient art. The object of the sculptor may possibly have been to designate, by means of these figures, the transitoriness of human life, the uncertainty of its enjoyments, and the emptiness of its pride. Wyttenbach
The reliefs having a mythological subject have death as an underlying common theme, but the relief of Hercules hints to resurrection.
Hercules, prepared to die, ascended Mount Oeta, where he built a funeral pile of trees (..). With a countenance as serene as if he were taking his place at a festal board he commanded to apply the torch. The flames spread apace and soon invested the whole mass. The gods themselves felt troubled at seeing the champion of the earth so brought to his end. But Jupiter with cheerful countenance thus addressed them: "I am pleased to see your concern, my princes, and am gratified to perceive that I am the ruler of a loyal people, and that my son enjoys your favour. (..) But now I say to you, Fear not. He who conquered all else is not to be conquered by those flames which you see blazing on Mount Oeta. Only his mother's share in him can perish; what he derived from me is immortal. I shall take him, dead to earth, to the heavenly shores, and I require of you all to receive him kindly. (..) So when the flames had consumed the mother's share of Hercules, the diviner part, instead of being injured thereby, seemed to start forth with new vigour, to assume a more lofty port and a more awful dignity. Jupiter enveloped him in a cloud, and took him up in a four-horse chariot to dwell among the stars.
Thomas Bulfinch - The Age of Fable or Stories of Gods and Heroes - 1855
Igeler Saule: (left) carriage used for the cloth trade; (right) other reliefs showing merchant ships
It is active life that is the chief characteristic of it every where, although I cannot
trust myself to explain it all. (..)
The pleasure and desire are
still seen of handing down to posterity sensible
representations of the personalities, together
with the surrounding objects and evidences
of industry. Here parents and children are
seen opposite to each other, and feasting in
the family circle; but that the spectator may learn whence the abundance is derived, beasts
of burden are to be seen going about, and
trade and commerce are represented in various ways; for it was, in fact, war commissaries who raised this monument to themselves
and their countrymen, as evidence that, in this
region, at that time as well as at present, an
abundance of all things was to be obtained by
The scenes from daily life show the Secundinii at work: textile shop, textile factory, the transportation of the cloth by wagon and ship, are all shown, along with the kitchen, and the family eating and drinking. Other reliefs show the social standing of the Secundinii. They were great property owners, who farmed out some of their lands to tenants (coloni), and received their rent in the form of money, produce, or manufactured goods (cloth). The monument was a memorial to the dead of the family, but also served to document the importance and prestige of the family and firm.
The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites - 1976
You may wish to see other reliefs depicting scenes of daily life in the Rheinische Landesmuseum of Trier.
Igeler Saule: (left) top of the monument; (right-above) Helios on his chariot; (right-below) The Rape of Hylas
It remains only to describe the portion, which may not improperly be called the cap or roof. This portion rises in the form of a pyramid, with a gentle curve on the sides. It is covered with stones, so cut and laid, as to resemble tiles; and it terminates in a capital, charged with four heads, round each of which are wreathed a couple of serpents. (..) On the corners of the capital are standing figures of sirens, above which is a globe, supported by four sphinxes, the symbols of prudence; or, possibly, in allusion to the enigma of existence, which is covered with a mystic veil. The globe itself is of stone, and solid, and surmounted by a winged statue of a Genius in a kneeling posture (or an eagle). Wyttenbach
You may wish to see some other mausoleums which resemble that at Igel, e.g. Mausoleum of the Julii at Glanum in Southern France, Tomb of the Scipios near Tarragona, Tomb of Theron at Girgenti in Sicily, Tomb of Absalom at Jerusalem, Iamblichus Tower at Palmyra and a mausoleum at Thugga.
Plan of this section:
Ahrweiler and its Roman Villa
Bad Kreuznach and its Roman Villa
Boppard (Bodobrica) and the Rhine Gorge
Cologne (Colonia Agrippina)
Igel, Nennig and the Mosel Valley
Trier (Augusta Treverorum)
Xanten (Castra Vetera and Colonia Ulpia Traiana)
Aachen: Palatine Chapel
Cologne: Romanesque Churches
Limburg an der Lahn