Last November, I visited the Römerhalle at Bad Kreuznach, Germany. It is a museum that displays finds from a late 2nd century Roman villa as well as other Roman finds from the district of Bad Kreuznach.
Around 58 BC, the Rhineland-Palatinate region became part of the Roman Empire, with a Roman vicus named Cruciniacum, forming a supply station between Mainz (Mogontiacum) and Trier (Augusta Treverorum). During the 2nd century AD, a gigantic palace (81 m × 71 m or 266 ft × 233 ft) was built there, with a peristyle, and 50 rooms on the ground floor alone.
The magnificent Villa Rustica (countryside villa) encompassing a total area of 6000 square metres, was composed of four winged buildings enclosing an inner courtyard garden surrounded with columns. Conforming to its position on a hillside, the Villa incorporated several storeys in some areas. The ground floor alone contained more than 50 rooms beautifully decorated with stucco, marble work and wall paintings. Villas of this size and style are more typically known from England, France and the Mediterranean area.
The most important part of the exhibition hall are the two mosaics dating back to the 3rd century AD (no longer in their original location). The first one, depicting gladiators and amphitheatre related scenes, the Gladiator Mosaic, is amazingly well preserved.
Found during construction work in 1893, the 58 square metre mosaic floor quickly became one of the leading attractions of the health-resort city. The mosaic shows a large area resulting in 13 different images depicting gladiators fighting each other, gladiators fighting animals and animals against each other.
In this scene (photo above), a Thraex (left) is fighting a Murmillo (right). The Thraex wears a broad-rimmed helmet that enclosed the entire head, a small square-shaped shield (parmula), and two thigh-length greaves. His weapon is the Thracian curved sword. Thraeces were introduced as replacements for the Gauls after Gaul made peace with Rome. They commonly fought Murmillones or Hoplomachi. The murmillo wears a helmet with a stylised fish on the crest, as well as an arm guard (manica), a loincloth and belt, a gaiter on his right leg, thick wrappings covering the tops of his feet, and a very short greave. The murmillo carris a gladius and a tall, elongated shield in the legionary style. Murmillones were typically paired with Thraecis, but occasionally with the similar hoplomachi.
In this scene (photo above), a Thraex (left) is fighting a hoplomachus who can be identified by his lance and dagger.
In this scene, two Eques are fighting against each other. Like the provocator, the evidence is that eques only ever fought another eques. They began to fight on horseback and were the first to compete in the day’s schedule of gladiatorial games. In pictorial representations they are mostly represented in the final phase of the struggle, after they dismounted and continued to fight on foot with their short sword (gladius), a 27 inch short straight sword.
In this image (photo above), a Venator is fighting a bear. The Venatores fought in Venationes, or hunting shows, which were shown in a variety of different formats. Herds of wild animals were let loose into the arena and were slaughtered by the Venatores. Venationes were scheduled as morning events at the Roman Colosseum and were trained at the Ludus Matutinus (morning school).
Here a venator is fighting a leopard. The traffic in wild animals for the amphitheatre reduced or exterminated many species within and beyond the empire. Already in 50 B.C., Cicero, in his letters to Marcus Caelius Rufus, reports the scarcity of pantheras Graecas, a creature that Roman appetite seems to have exhausted altogether.
During the games held to celebrate the inauguration of the Colosseum in Rome, the emperor Titus arranged to have 9,000 tame and wild animals of various kinds slaughtered in the arena. The spectacle went on for 100 days. Trajan surpassed this record when, in order to celebrate his victory over the Dacians, he held games lasting 123 days, during which time 5,000 pairs of gladiators fought and some 11,000 animals were killed in the arena, according to Dio Cassius (68.15.1). This was the largest contest of gladiators in Rome.
For Hadrian’s forty-third birthday, on 24th January 119, a gladiatorial show was put on which lasted for six successive days, with a thousand wild beasts being slaughtered, among them one hundred lions and one hundred lionesses. (Source: Hadrian: The Restless Emperor by Anthony R Birley). Also Hadrian frequently attended gladiatorial shows (Historia Augusta).
The lively picture of the central panel of the Gladiator mosaic depicts a scene in an amphitheatre with Venatores fighting animals.
The hypocaust heating system of the villa is completely preserved under the mosaic. A walk through the understructure of the mosaic provides a view of the underside of the floor and reveals the principle and functionality of the Roman hypocaust system.
The second mosaic, the Oceanus Mosaic, showing the Sea God Oceanus and ocean scenes, was accidentally discovered in 1966, after which the villa was finally systematically excavated. The Oceanus Mosaic had a fountain in its center, which has been reconstructed. From other finds it has been deducted that this floor was part of the triclinium of the villa.
Discovered in 1968, the 68 square metre Oceanus mosaic was situated in the main presentation room of the Villa. A marble encased water basin with a two-handled bowl and a half round triclinium (couch) in the apse could be reconstructed from the excavation finds. The mosaic is composed of various different scenes: between Mediterranean architecture, harbors and ship depictions and varied sea creatures are splashing about. The apse depicts Oceanus, ruler of all the seas, flanked by two horse-headed fish creatures. The remains of a consular inscription makes possible a dating of the floor to 234 AD.
Further photos of the Römerhalle can be viewed from my image collection on Flickr.
This marvelous little museum can be easily reached by train from Frankfurt am Main and Mainz (trains run every 30 minutes). Bad Kreuznach is also a spa city, located on the Nahe river, and is widely regarded as one of the loveliest spa and health resorts in Germany. The town and surrounding areas are renowned both nationally and internationally for its wines, especially Riesling, Silvaner and Müller-Thurgau grape varieties.
Address : Hüffelsheimer Straße 11 D – 55545 Bad Kreuznach
Phone : 06719207782
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Website : http://www.museen-bad-kreuznach.de
Prices : 3.5 € (child : 2.5 €)
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 to 17 clock (closed in February)