Archaeologists from the Westphalia-Lippe region (LWL) have discovered the remains of two small Roman temples and a sacrificial pit at the site of the ancient Roman camp in Haltern (Recklinghausen district).

The two rectangular cult buildings were only made of clay framework, explains Dr. Bettina Tremmel, a Roman expert from LWL. However, they followed the model of the typical large podium temples built in stone that were found in numerous Roman cities during the time of Emperor Augustus.

The findings are unusual because this type of cult buildings has not been found anywhere else within Roman military complexes. The remains of the building that have now been discovered were first investigated almost 100 years ago. Until now, this unusual combination of a Roman camp and cult buildings had barely been recognized by scientists due to a lack of comparisons.

In the current excavation area, experts have been able to almost completely uncover the plan of the western cult building. The rectangular wooden building, 30 square meters in size, had a five-meter-wide entrance at the front. The facade of the building was architecturally enhanced by two wooden side columns.

The two small temples are within a complex of buildings over 2,000 square meters, which was first discovered in 1928 by the then chief archaeologist of Westphalia, Prof. Dr. August Stieren. Some details of the plan led him to believe that the building complex was initially used as a “schola“, that is, a meeting place for military personnel. However, after some renovations, it also housed a troop workshop, as indicated by numerous tool finds.

Due to a lack of time and money, Stieren left many construction elements on the ground. Fortunately, says the current Roman expert of LWL for Westphalia, because the new survey also revealed a measurement error, to everyone’s surprise. The cult buildings are one meter further south than previously thought. And they were inserted into the structure of the building in such a way that other rooms did not have to make way for them.

Unfortunately, numerous interventions in the field over the past 80 years have greatly altered the archaeological structures. It was often a Sisyphean task to find the Roman discoloration among the alterations, says Tremmel. She had the support of archaeology students from the University of Trier under the direction of Dr. Stephan Berke in the precise recording of trenches and post traces.

The second building was almost identical to Stieren’s plan. Between the two buildings was a ground-level pit surrounded by a small niche. Stieren had already removed the charcoal remains from this pit, which was also heavily altered. No other artifacts seem to have come to light, especially those that could be related to a cult.

According to the current state of our research, the two small temples and the niche with the fire pit constitute a unique group of buildings within a Roman camp, and previous archaeologists had already wondered about the function of these buildings, says Prof. Dr. Michael Rind, Director of Archaeology at LWL for Westphalia.

The circular trench, also preserved as a ground discoloration, is right next to the cult buildings. The depth of the small trench and the Roman artifacts it contains argue against dating to the Bronze Age and are more comparable to the ground plans of the Roman cemetery in Haltern. However, building a tomb within a settlement was prohibited by Roman law.

Dr. Barbara Rüschoff-Parzinger, responsible for cultural affairs at LWL: When we think of the Romans in Westphalia, the first thing that comes to mind is elaborate logistics, large military installations, and shiny equipment. The beliefs of the Romans have so far played a subordinate role in our work. Therefore, in the coming months, we will investigate the mystery behind this unique find.


Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe

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