The Limes Museum in Aalen offers a full day of Roman history fun. With a large indoor exhibition hall featuring hundreds of Imperial Roman artifacts, the museum transports visitors back in time to when the Roman Empire occupied southern Germany. Excavations of the largest Roman fort north of the Alps are behind the museum. With my husband, I explored the remnants of the former legionary military camp and the partial reconstruction of the cavalry barracks. The Limes Museum in Aalen is the largest Roman Museum in Germany, and it makes a great day trip from the Stuttgart area.
What’s The Limes?
The Limes was the border defense that marked the boundaries of the Roman Empire. While Hadrian’s Wall is probably the most famous, many people are not aware of the Limes Germanicus which was 266 miles longer. It was a series of fortifications separating Roman territory from “the wild Germanic tribes.” The defense border stretched over 350 miles (550 km) from the North Sea to Regensburg in what is now Bavaria. It included more than 60 fortified legionary encampments and 900 watch towers. In 2005, UNESCO declared the Roman Limes a World Heritage site.
The Limes: The Early Warning System
Contrary to popular belief, the Limes was not designed be defended at the walls by the Roman legionaries. The purpose of the Limes was to serve as a “trip wire,” alerting Roman soldiers of raiding Germanic war bands. The fortresses then served as rallying points for legions (Roman armies) to counter these frequent barbarian invasions.
The Imperial fortress at Aalen housed approximately 1,000 cavalrymen and just as many support personnel. Therefore, it is not only the largest fortified Roman cavalry encampment on the Limes, but also the largest Roman auxiliary fort north of the Rhine. The Limes Museum in Aalen is therefore a site of major importance.
Inside The Limes Museum
The museum aims to show visitors the everyday lives of the Roman soldiers who lived and worked in and around the camp around 200 A.D. It exhibits a large collection of well-preserved military and domestic equipment from Aalen and other Limes sites in the Baden-Württemberg region. I was surprised to learn that Roman relations with the Germanic tribes were not always hostile. The two sides often traded together.
The museum also hosts rotational special exhibits of Roman artifacts. The current exhibit focuses on colossal bronze statues that were popular during Roman Imperial times. It also included an explanation on the use of statues in history right up through the 20th century and beyond, featuring the likes of Stalin, Lenin, and Saddam Hussein.
The Limes Museum Outdoors
Stepping outside, I first noticed the impressive reconstruction of the cavalry barracks. Soldiers lived in the same quarters as their horses with only a wall to separate them. Their meals were simple, mostly bread and vegetable stew which they cooked themselves. I wonder if there were any complaints.
Afterwards, we walked around the former encampment. The Principia, or headquarters building, served as the religious and administrative center. It was the most important structure of any Roman encampment and housed the legion’s treasury.
The reconstructed Roman building crane was another highlight and helped me picture how the Romans built these impressive fortified camps. Powered by a human-sized hamster wheel, two men could lift up to one ton by walking inside a circular treadmill.
Fun for Kids of all ages:
The Limes Museum offers a lot for kids too, with special exhibitions geared toward children. You can even host a birthday party at the museum. My husband was so jealous. He had his birthday parties at McDonald’s. Perhaps the most fun aspect of the museum was the opportunity to dress up like a Roman soldier.
Internationale Römertage : Live out your Roman Fantasy
The highlight of the year for the museum is the Internationale Römertage, or International Roman Days. During a weekend in the fall, the museum hosts troops of legionary re-enactors and a group of gladiators waging mock combat. They also set up a Roman village and a mock Celtic camp site. We missed this year’s festival which was held on 27-28 September, 2014, but we won’t miss the next Internationale Römertage in 2015.
Address: Limes Museum Aalen
Opening Times: 10 am – 5 pm Tuesday to Sunday; closed on Mondays
It is also closed for Christmas Eve and Day and New Year’s Eve and Day.
5 Euro for adults
4 Euro for students, handicapped and the elderly
12 Euro for a family ticket (two adults and their children)
Audio Guides: Since most information is only written in German, the 2 Euro English audio guide is highly recommended and well worth the money spent.