Augusta Treverorum (Trier) was one of the principal cities of the later Roman Empire. During and following the period of the Tetrarchy (284 AD onwards) - when the Empire was often divided between various Augustii and their Caesars - the need for an imperial capital close to the German border was of strategic importance. Constantius I, Constantine the Great, Constantius II, Julian, Valentinian I all lived in in Trier at some point. The city has some of the best preserved Roman architecture outside Rome. I was there recently.
My hotel overlooked the Porta Nigra, one of the original 2nd Century Roman gates into the fortified city of Trier. It's a massive stone structure that guarded one of the entrances to the ancient capital. Unlike many other Roman buildings, it was saved from medieval scavengers harvesting its stone by the expedient of being converted into a church in the 11th Century. This protected it for 800 years until Napoleon ordered that it be stripped of its religious overtones and revert back to being a gate in 1804. So we still have a standing stone structure that is 1800 years old looking almost as it did when the Romans used it.
“There are many forms of defence. Sometimes it is best to allow your opponent to take the initiative, wait for an opportunity, and then lay them out with a devastating counter-punch.
The later Roman Empire was a prime example of this. Struggling to manage the repeated waves of barbarian invasions, Rome adopted a strength-in-depth defensive strategy. The marauding hordes could pass through the lightly protected borders of the empire but, once inside, they would be trapped between frontier units and fortified cities. There they would remain until crushed by the overwhelming might of the emperor’s hastily summoned mobile field army.” (@Tim Robson - The Betrayal of Aurelian)
The Roman army of the 4th century was very different to the classic images of lorica segmentata wearing legionaries depicted on Trajan's column in Rome (or the movie Gladiator). It was much larger in number due to conscription, divided into frontier troops and imperial mobile armies, contained more cavalry, and the legions themselves, made up of conscripted barbarians, were reduced in size and used different equipment - longer swords and round shields for example. The Empire had switched from offence to defence. However, the army could still be a fearsome beast when commanded by a Constantine, Aurelian or Julian. But Rome was not what it once was and so other factors - other than crushing force - came into play to prevent the overrunning of the frontiers.
The cities and buildings and civic amenities (churches, ampitheatres, heating, sewers, bath houses, bridges, aqueducts) - 4th Century soft power - also played a part in subduing those who wished to enter. Trier has fine examples of all of these. Rome was not only superior in arms but look at the levels of civilisation and richness of our cities! Who but the Romans could build and live like this? Shock and awe.
The sheer scale of the ancient city of Augusta Treverorum astounds - Trier was an imperial city built to garrison soldiers and protect the citizenry but also house Emperors and instil awe and compliance from the local mud-hut dwelling, forest-hiding barbarians. One could only imagine their shock and astonishment as they were summoned to meet with - say - Valentinian I - and shepherded through the Porta Nigra, past bustling streets of commerce and finally into the great Emperor's presence in the Aula Palatina (now Constantine's Basilica). This palace, built around 310, is impressive even now. What must the Barbarians have thought as they shuffled uneasily, gazing up at the God-like Emperor in front of them, clad in the finest robes sat impassive on a raised dias in the apse at the far end of this mighty building? This was an Empire indeed to be revered and feared, was it not?
Wherever the Romans went you found amphitheatres and bath houses. Trier has both. Although suffering the ravages of time more than the gatehouse, they are still today impressive structures, made more interesting by the fact that both have complete underground corridors showing the inner workings of both.
The Imperial baths are a MASSIVE complex (never finished). Underpinned by tunnels which provided the water - hot and cold - to the citizens as they washed, socialised and exercised. The sheer engineering feat - in the heating, the building, staggers the mind even now. It’s a large site and well worth the ridiculously low entrance fee the City of Trier charges you. My 14 year old got into everything for free. Danke!
But no Roman city is worthy of its name without its own colosseum. Trier’s is impressive, still bowl shaped with ruins on all sides and several underground chambers cages (for wild animals, gladiators, actors). I went on a gloriously warm day, the Mosel wine vine-yards shimmering in the distance - as they did in Roman times - but no-one can ignore the fact that although the Romans were civilised in many ways, in others, well not so much! Walking around the lower halls, underneath the arena, you get some sense of what it was like to be amongst the condemned waiting for your time as a lion’s snack or sword thrusting practice for a gladiator.
There’s more, much more (2nd century bridge across the Moselle anyone?), churches, squares, German architecture, food and drink (Bitburger being the local beer) but, for those of you who love seeing Roman ruins, Trier is a great place to go. Maybe try the local Mosel wine from the open air standing wine bar in the main square! Hot dogs, cakes and pretzels of course. Yum!
As JFK said: Ich bin ein Augusta Trevororumer. And that is possibly the worst pun, joke or piece of writing on this website ever. I apologise meine volk or Leute (Google translate ain’t specific here).
Image of 4th century legionary courtesy of : http://www.u3ahadrianswall.co.uk/wordpress/the-roman-army-in-britain/