(left) A hall of the Rheinisches Landesmuseum with funerary monuments having a tip similar to that of Igeler Saule, a mausoleum in the environs of Trier; (right) relief of a funerary monument showing a tax collector
At Porta Nigra see the commencement of a museum of antiquities. All the specimens collected have been discovered in the city or its neighbourhood. They vary much in point of art and their style is proportionably pure or debased, according to the different eras that gave them birth, or the different skill of the hands that formed them. The venerable building, itself an element in the collection, harmonizes well with the contents and has been judiciously selected as their receptacle. (..) If protected with a proper covering, the interior might be divided into a series of spacious rooms, fit for the reception of a noble museum, illustrative of the history of Gallic, Roman and electoral Treves. (..) Thus "delectando pariterque monendo" (by delighting and instructing at the same time - Horace) the Porta Martis would acquire new claims to our regard, and would be more than ever honourable to our city and country.
Johann Hugo Wyttenbach - The Stranger's Guide to the Roman Antiquities of the City of Treves - Edited by Dawson Turner - 1838
In 1877 the Rheinisches Landesmuseum (Museum of the Rhine Province) was founded; it had another section at Bonn and it inherited the collections at Porta Nigra. In 1889 these were moved to a new building which, after many modifications, including those caused by the 1945 bombings, still houses them.
Roman reliefs: (above-left) fight between Roman and Germans; (above-right) Pan and a man (from a triumphal arch); (below-left) military triumph symbols; (below-right) a couple re-enacting "dextrarum junctio", a gesture they did on their wedding day
Among these blocks the most important is a corner stone apparently intended to represent on one side a battle between the Romans and Germans. (..) The sculpture which is much admired, is unquestionably referrible to the most beautiful period of Roman art. It appears to have formed a portion of ornamental work on a large scale, probably a frieze round some noble building, exhibiting a connected series of subjects. Wyttenbach
It is possible that some fine reliefs found at Trier were made by sculptors from Southern France, because they bring to mind those of the Roman monuments of Orange and Glanum.
(left) Two milestones; (right) funerary relief depicting a man driving a "cisium" next to a milestone
In another place still further from the entrance are preserved the remarkable milliary columns discovered in 1823 between Pruhm and Bittburg. The inscriptions on them testify that they originally stood on the great road through the Eifel (a low mountain range north of the Mosel Valley) and were erected here during the reigns of Adrian and of Antoninus Pius ad 121 and 139, by the Curatores Viarum (magistrates in charge of the maintenance of the roads). Wyttenbach
The Roman road linked Lyon to Cologne via Trier and it was initially opened by Agrippa.
The funerary relief was perhaps commissioned by a cisiarius, a sort of taxi driver whose cisium, a light open carriage with two wheels, could be hired at the stations along the main roads. The relief suggests that the cisium had a block acting as brake on the wheel rim. It was drawn by horses or by mules as shown in a mosaic at Terme dei Cisiarii at Ostia.
Reliefs related to winemaking and its trade in barrels and jars (see also the Mosel Ship in the introductory page; the image used as background for this page shows its helmsman)
Another object peculiarly worthy of notice is the piece of sandstone covered with figures of mariners and boys which was brought to light in the course of the very deep excavations made in the autumn of 1825 on the site of the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary near Treves. It evidently appertains to the period when Roman art was at its perfection, and the same is likewise to be observed of several fine specimens of bas reliefs that are near it. They may all of them have belonged to one of the splendid villas, which according to Ausonius, ornamented on either side the shores of the Moselle. Wyttenbach
An inscription found at Lyon indicates that C. Apronio Apronii, a member of the Senate of Trier, was also the patron of the wine merchants of the French town. The inscription is dated first half of the IInd century AD and it suggests that Apronio imported wine from Southern France. The spreading of viticulture to the River Mosel Valley occurred in the late IInd century and to the River Rhine Valley after Emperor Probus removed some legal restrictions to this activity in 278.
Many of the funerary reliefs found at Trier and its environs depict real life scenes in a manner which does not follow traditional iconographic patterns. A relief shows a teacher and three pupils of different ages. Two pupils hold a volumen, a horizontal papyrus scroll, and one of them is lectured by the teacher. The hairstyle of the latter suggests he was a Greek. The third pupil is much younger and he carries two wax tablets bound together by a leather strap. He alerts the teacher about his arrival and he does not seem too happy to begin the lesson. The teacher and the two older pupils are comfortably sitting in armchairs. The inscription accompanying the relief is lost; maybe the father of the pupils wanted to show that he had provided his sons with a good education.
Funerary banquets were one of the most popular subjects for the decoration of tombs. Those attending the banquet were portrayed laying on a couch in paintings, as at Paestum, in reliefs, as at Beirut, or in statues on the lids of sarcophagi. In the relief at Trier the funerary banquet is turned into a family meal: the men sit on a bed (but not lay on it) and the women sit on chairs and serve food and drinks.
A relief shows a matron attended by four female servants during her morning toilette: two of them take care of her hair while the third one holds a round mirror and the fourth one brings a jug of water. The matron sits in an elaborate wicker armchair, so the relief provides additional evidence of the use of this piece of furniture in Roman Trier. The subject derives from the Toilet of Venus (see a mosaic at Amathous), but it depicts a real scene and it brings to mind a mosaic by the same subject at the Museum of Bardo in Tunis.
The trade of the two men who are portrayed in their shop is not very evident, but definitely they have good furniture; the table looks strongly built and the curtain is a heavy one, very useful in a northern climate. All the reliefs of this type show that people at Trier wore heavy clothes with long sleeves.
(above) Relief with Oceanus and dolphins between "clipei" (round shields), for the portraits of the dead; (below) man and woman riding sea creatures
Other funerary monuments were decorated with reliefs which most likely were imported from Gaul or Italy. We know that there was a large trade of sarcophagi which were made in workshops near marble quarries and then shipped to other locations. In many instances the portraits of the dead were expected to be made at the final destination, but occasionally sarcophagi were found in which the portraits were yet to be finalized; see one of them at Musei Capitolini in Rome.
Many funerary monuments of the museum were found at Noviomagus Treverorum (Neumagen), a Roman fortress on the River Mosel north of Trier, where some inhabitants of direct Roman origin lived. Both gens Albinia and gens Secundia are recorded among the plebeian families of Rome. Because he held Roman citizenship, Gaius Albinius Asper might have been a prominent citizen of Noviomagus, but unfortunately the inscription at the foot of the fine relief does not say much about him.
A limited number of statues which embellished the houses of the wealthy have been found at Trier. Some of them are of excellent quality and were clearly made elsewhere. The statue of the Amazon is a marble copy of a lost bronze original by Phidias which was made for the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. There are several copies of it; see those in two Roman museums.
In Germany Mercury was associated with Gebrinus, a local god who was symbolized by a ram: a relief at Bonn with a dedication to Mercurius Gebrinus shows the god with a ram in addition to the cock. Similar associations with local deities occurred also at Lyon.
The Roman legions stationed in Germany were composed by troops coming from all parts of the Empire; some beliefs which originated in the eastern provinces reached Germany through the legionaries and then spread to the general population. They were reserved to initiates and rites were celebrated in small groups. Mithra was usually portrayed in the act of slaying a bull, but in the relief at Trier he is depicted in the act of turning the Zodiac signs, thus resembling Aion, the passing of time; in the lower part of the relief a dog, a snake and a raven are clearly visible: they are some of the lower grades of the Mithraic initiatory ladder.
The posture of the small statue of Attis immediately calls the attention of the viewer on the genitals. The cult of Attis is associated with that of Cybele, an ancestral Anatolian goddess of fertility. She wanted the beautiful boy to serve her as a priest and he emasculated himself to remain a boy for ever. The priests of Cybele were eunuchs, and the cult had elements containing a promise of resurrection. In this and other statues he wears anaxyrides, light trousers of Persian origin which often did not cover the genitals.
The museum of Trier and the other museums of Roman Germany have plenty of decorated gravestones and mausoleums, but only a limited number of sarcophagi. That depicting Noah's Ark was one of the few which were made locally. In general Christianity penetrated Germany later than other regions of the Empire. Julian, before becoming the sole ruler of the Empire, was in charge of its western part for six years (355-361) and he favoured the traditional religion. In 394 at the Battle of the River Frigidus, the mainly Gallo-German army of Arbogastes was composed by troops who were still pagan. This explains why the museum does not house many early Christian exhibits.
Mosaic from the Palace/Basilica (IIIrd century AD)
The objects united in this museum which is still in its infancy are principally capitals and bases of columns with portions of their shafts, inscriptions more or less mutilated, and different architectural ornaments. Wyttenbach
Early archaeological campaigns focussed on finding statues, reliefs, inscriptions, etc. and only very occasionally small floor mosaics depicting figures were saved from destruction. Today's advanced excavation techniques allow the finding and conservation of large floor mosaics. The post-war reconstruction of the Palace/Basilica led to the discovery of an earlier floor mosaic which was decorated with images of gods, muses and perhaps philosophers.
A large floor mosaic was found in 1884 when building the new museum. It belonged to a house in the imperial palace district. It is generally known after Monnus, its maker, who signed it in one of the octagons. It is a sort of summary of the cultural interests of the landowner as it shows some muses and some of the most celebrated Greek and Latin poets.
Similar to what can be noticed in many provincial towns, landlords at Trier chose to decorate their homes with coloured mosaics, whereas in Rome black and white mosaics were popular even for the most luxury buildings e.g. Terme di Caracalla.
The hall was rectangular, but it had an apse at its end for the landlord and his close relatives or guests. See a similar design in the floor mosaic of a hall at Vienne. Mosaics depicting sages or poets have been found in many parts of the Empire (e.g. at Baalbek), but that at Trier calls to mind a mosaic at Autun, north of Lyon which is specifically dedicated to Greek philosophers. The two mosaics show that, although the two towns were far away from Rome and Greece, their wealthiest citizens were imbibed with classic culture.
There is no doubt that drawings of floor decorations circulated among the mosaic makers who worked in all the provinces of the Empire. This explains strong similarities between mosaics in locations which were very distant from each other. This beautiful fragment of mosaic stands comparison with another portrait of Venus in a shell at Philippopolis in Syria.
Mosaics depicting: (left) Polydus, the winner of a chariot race; (right) a "pankration" match
The mosaic portraying Polydus is extremely similar to a mosaic found in Spain at Merida where in addition to the charioteer also the (white) horse on the far left of the chariot is named. The race was anticlockwise and this horse was the most important one because it had a leading role at turning points. In the mosaic at Trier the horse Compressore (Squeezer) wears a chest strap as sign of its role. You may wish to see a mosaic at Lyon depicting a chariot race.
A large mosaic at Nennig, near Trier shows several scenes of fights in the amphitheatre, but not that depicted in this fragment; it originated from pankration, a competition between two wrestlers which was admitted to the Greek Olympic Games in 648 BC. In Rome it lost its athletic contest significance and it became very harmful because of boxing equipment which increased the effect of the blows. An impressive bronze statue in Rome shows an old boxer at rest.
Fresco depicting Medea poisoning the snake guarding the Golden Fleece to help Jason; see another event of the life of Medea in a fresco at Pompeii
So these twain fared by the pathway that led to the sacred grove.
Seeking the oak-tree marvellous-huge, mid the branches whereof
Was hanging the Fleece, like a morning-cloud that flusheth red
In the beams of the sun as he riseth up from his ocean-bed.
But barring their path did the neck pancrat long uprise
Of the serpent glaring upon them with keen unsleeping eyes
As they came; and in awful wise did he hiss; and the banks of the flood
Far-stretching echoed, and sighed the measureless depths of the wood.
Apollonius Rhodius - The Tale of the Argonauts - translated by Arthur S. Way - 1901
Very modern techniques and the careful work of restorers have been able to reconstruct a fresco of a Roman house of Trier from very tiny fragments. Narrow yellow stripes on a green background frame a series of scenes, something which can be observed in many paintings of Pompeii, but with a red or black background. The original parts of the fresco are rather limited, yet they show that the painter was a skilled one.
(left) Glassware (IVth century AD); (right) coins of Emperors Antoninus Pius (in a medallion) and Lucius Verus, see other Roman coins found in Germany in the introductory page
A Roman legion was not just a war machine. In addition to building fortresses, bridges and military roads the legionaries were also capable of making the objects they needed. Workshops were a common feature of large military camps and they manufactured also non-military items, such as bricks, cooking vessels and other utensils. This is how glassmaking was introduced in Germany. It eventually developed into a main industrial activity which, in addition to ordinary liquid containers, was able to satisfy the requests of the upper classes for luxury and decorative objects, including those of the people beyond the border of the Empire. The workshops of Cologne managed to achieve extraordinary results.
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