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Roman Fortifications Question

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  • Roman Fortifications Question

    In my extensive (20 minute) broad search (Duck Duck Go) of the internet, I have been unable to find the answer to my question. I found a lot about where and when and how certain fortifications were used - but not how they were built. Hadrian's wall and a few pics I found of Castelum were all built of stone. I'd be really surprised if the Romans didn't also use earthworks when necessary (heck, we still use them) but that's not my question. What I'm trying to find out is whether or not there was any extensive use of concrete AS fortification - not as a supplemental (like mortar or ramparts) but as the main fortification itself.

    Why I want to know is because I grew up with the myth that the technology for concrete had been lost in those horrible Dark Ages - well, turns out, not so much (which, if you think about it, is kinda ridiculous on its face - mortar is just an ingredient away from hydrostatic concrete). What is clear is that concrete was rarely used in the Medieval period. It couldn't have been impossible to import volcanic ash - so why?

    I'm wondering if it has something to do with the differences in emphasis. Romans were building huge public works - baths, latrines, fora, circus, arenas, et al. Medieval governments, probably due to the large scale of fracturing, were building fortifications and churches. Mostly fortifications - castles and keeps being more common and bigger than cathedrals and monasteries (admittedly, maybe not by much and not at all by the Late Medieval).

    Concrete doesn't strike me as a good fortification material - compressive strength, you betcha - tensile? Not so much... Toss a couple large rocks into it with a trebuchet - and with no massive amounts of rebar as we would use now - this doesn't sound like it ends well.

    For public works where you're building a lot of stuff and need to save on building material, concrete is perfect (throw on some marble after it dries and no one is the wiser). But I suspect stone is superior for fortifications (up until cannons catch up in the 17th century) simply because it performs better under tension (like huge boulders getting tossed at it).

    The Romans and the Medieval knights were the guys getting shot at - I expect they had a much better knowledge of what they preferred to hide behind during the shooting. Which is why I want to know what the Roman's used to build fortifications from when they had a choice (once shooting starts you take what you can get).

    "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." - Jim Elliot


    "Forgiveness is the way of love." Gary Chapman

    My Personal Blog

    My Novella blog (Current Novella Begins on 7/25/14)

  • #2
    Try AskHistorians on Reddit. There's a number of professional historians who hang out on there.
    "I am not angered that the Moral Majority boys campaign against abortion. I am angry when the same men who say, "Save OUR children" bellow "Build more and bigger bombers." That's right! Blast the children in other nations into eternity, or limbless misery as they lay crippled from "OUR" bombers! This does not jell." - Leonard Ravenhill

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    • #3
      Okay, thanks!

      "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." - Jim Elliot


      "Forgiveness is the way of love." Gary Chapman

      My Personal Blog

      My Novella blog (Current Novella Begins on 7/25/14)

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      • #4
        I am sort of looking for references, but I believe Roman Legions were a primary labor source for building Hadrian Wall ans likely most other fortifications. I sure some slave labor was used,
        Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
        Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
        But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

        go with the flow the river knows . . .

        Frank

        I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by shunyadragon View Post
          I am sort of looking for references, but I believe Roman Legions were a primary labor source for building Hadrian Wall ans likely most other fortifications. I sure some slave labor was used,
          I was correct:

          Source: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/hadrians-wall/history-and-stories/history/


          WHO BUILT THE WALL?
          Hadrian’s Wall was built by the army of Britain, as many inscriptions demonstrate. The three legions of regular, trained troops in Britain, each consisting of about 5,000 heavily armed infantrymen, provided the main body of men building the Wall, but they were assisted by the auxiliary units – the other main branch of the provincial army – and even the British fleet.

          The complex building programme took many years to complete. It is possible that it started before Hadrian’s arrival in Britain in AD 122 and that the major change in plan was a result of his intervention.[3]

          © Copyright Original Source

          Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
          Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
          But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

          go with the flow the river knows . . .

          Frank

          I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by shunyadragon View Post
            I was correct:

            Source: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/hadrians-wall/history-and-stories/history/


            WHO BUILT THE WALL?
            Hadrian’s Wall was built by the army of Britain, as many inscriptions demonstrate. The three legions of regular, trained troops in Britain, each consisting of about 5,000 heavily armed infantrymen, provided the main body of men building the Wall, but they were assisted by the auxiliary units – the other main branch of the provincial army – and even the British fleet.

            The complex building programme took many years to complete. It is possible that it started before Hadrian’s arrival in Britain in AD 122 and that the major change in plan was a result of his intervention.[3]

            © Copyright Original Source

            The Roman army built the roads, the fortifications, the Wall, and do not forget Trajan's bridge over the Danube.
            "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful" Attrib. Seneca 4 BCE - 65 CE

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Hypatia_Alexandria View Post
              The Roman army built the roads, the fortifications, the Wall, and do not forget Trajan's bridge over the Danube.
              True, but I believe slaves were involved.
              Last edited by shunyadragon; 07-03-2020, 11:02 PM.
              Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
              Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
              But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

              go with the flow the river knows . . .

              Frank

              I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by shunyadragon View Post
                True, but I believe slaves were involved.
                Purely for interest.

                The Roman army especially the Legions contained a great many craftsmen and specialists such as architects and engineers. Military bases, from the temporary camps constructed at the end of each march on campaign, to the great stone forts and fortresses were built by the soldiers themselves. Many inscriptions survive recording the original construction, or restoration of, defences or buildings in and around permanent bases. Usually such works appears to have been undertaken by the unit in the garrison, although the situation is less clear with auxiliary forts. The non-citizen units were much smaller than the legions and thus contained fewer technicians. However, there is evidence for auxiliaries undertaking some building work, although perhaps it was common for these projects to have been supervised by legionary engineers.

                When very large projects were undertaken manpower was drawn from a number of units. The construction of Hadrian’s Wall required the participation of all three units stationed in Britain II August, VI Victrix, and XX Valeria Victrix. Each legion was allocated a section of the wall to construct and in turn allocated sections to individual centuries. Centurial stones marking the completion of a length of wall by one of these units are common finds. The division of building works between the normal sub-units of the army appears to have been a standard practise. Titus’ army undertook the construction of lines of siege works at the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE in this way and it was believed to foster healthy competition between units to complete their task faster and more efficiently than everyone else.

                On Hadrian’s Wall there are signs that each unit interpreted the basic design slightly differently, for instance building milecastles and turrets to different patterns. Road building was also commonly undertaken by the army. Such projects benefitted the civilian community of the province whilst providing the military with improved communications for moving men and materials as required. However, there also ample evidence of the army undertaking projects for the civilian community. The aqueduct still visible outside the colony of Caesarea Maritima on the coast of Judaea was restored by a vexillation of Legio X Fretensis who left an inscription still in situ commemorating this. Other inscriptions record similar work on this aqueduct by other legions.
                [From The Complete Roman Army Adrian Goldworthy]

                You can see the army undertaking building work in this detail from Trajan's Column.

                http://www.trajans-column.org/wp-con...g_2045-web.jpg
                "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful" Attrib. Seneca 4 BCE - 65 CE

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Hypatia_Alexandria View Post
                  Purely for interest.

                  The Roman army especially the Legions contained a great many craftsmen and specialists such as architects and engineers. Military bases, from the temporary camps constructed at the end of each march on campaign, to the great stone forts and fortresses were built by the soldiers themselves. Many inscriptions survive recording the original construction, or restoration of, defences or buildings in and around permanent bases. Usually such works appears to have been undertaken by the unit in the garrison, although the situation is less clear with auxiliary forts. The non-citizen units were much smaller than the legions and thus contained fewer technicians. However, there is evidence for auxiliaries undertaking some building work, although perhaps it was common for these projects to have been supervised by legionary engineers.

                  When very large projects were undertaken manpower was drawn from a number of units. The construction of Hadrian’s Wall required the participation of all three units stationed in Britain II August, VI Victrix, and XX Valeria Victrix. Each legion was allocated a section of the wall to construct and in turn allocated sections to individual centuries. Centurial stones marking the completion of a length of wall by one of these units are common finds. The division of building works between the normal sub-units of the army appears to have been a standard practise. Titus’ army undertook the construction of lines of siege works at the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE in this way and it was believed to foster healthy competition between units to complete their task faster and more efficiently than everyone else.

                  On Hadrian’s Wall there are signs that each unit interpreted the basic design slightly differently, for instance building milecastles and turrets to different patterns. Road building was also commonly undertaken by the army. Such projects benefitted the civilian community of the province whilst providing the military with improved communications for moving men and materials as required. However, there also ample evidence of the army undertaking projects for the civilian community. The aqueduct still visible outside the colony of Caesarea Maritima on the coast of Judaea was restored by a vexillation of Legio X Fretensis who left an inscription still in situ commemorating this. Other inscriptions record similar work on this aqueduct by other legions.
                  [From The Complete Roman Army Adrian Goldsworthy]

                  You can see the army undertaking building work in this detail from Trajan's Column.

                  http://www.trajans-column.org/wp-con...g_2045-web.jpg
                  Omitted the "s" in Goldsworthy's surname.
                  "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful" Attrib. Seneca 4 BCE - 65 CE

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Hypatia_Alexandria View Post
                    Omitted the "s" in Goldsworthy's surname.

                    I also omitted the "a" from II Augusta. Too late at night I suspect!
                    "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful" Attrib. Seneca 4 BCE - 65 CE

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Only somewhat related, it was really interesting look down from Masada several years ago and see the outlines of Roman Fortifications below.
                      I believe this one is "Fortification F"

                      romans.jpg
                      "Neighbor, how long has it been since you’ve had a big, thick, steaming bowl of Wolf Brand Chili?”

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Cow Poke View Post
                        Only somewhat related, it was really interesting look down from Masada several years ago and see the outlines of Roman Fortifications below.
                        I believe this one is "Fortification F"

                        [ATTACH=CONFIG]46356[/ATTACH]
                        I hope you had a look at the huge siege ramp the Romans built and which they used for their artillery.

                        They certainly built to last!
                        "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful" Attrib. Seneca 4 BCE - 65 CE

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Hypatia_Alexandria View Post
                          I hope you had a look at the huge siege ramp the Romans built and which they used for their artillery.

                          They certainly built to last!
                          It was an amazing visit - and there was the equivalent of a "commissioning service" for a dozen members of the Israeli Defense Forces - apparently some special unit sworn to "Never Again Masada".

                          This picture is a stock online picture, but I have a number of pictures of me with this in the background, and looking out that window.

                          masada.jpg
                          "Neighbor, how long has it been since you’ve had a big, thick, steaming bowl of Wolf Brand Chili?”

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Cow Poke View Post
                            It was an amazing visit - and there was the equivalent of a "commissioning service" for a dozen members of the Israeli Defense Forces - apparently some special unit sworn to "Never Again Masada".

                            This picture is a stock online picture, but I have a number of pictures of me with this in the background, and looking out that window.

                            [ATTACH=CONFIG]46363[/ATTACH]
                            And I am sure they are excellent photographs.

                            However, they did rather bring it on themselves [from the Roman perspective]. Certainly the pursuit of such a monolithic building scheme would lead to suggest that the Romans were adopting a form of psychological warfare by making it abundantly clear to the rebels that they were now completely isolated and could expect no escape or relief.

                            Such tactics might also have served as a warning for the future that Rome would pursue any rebels as far as it had to, and inflict due retribution for any defiance.

                            Josephus seems to have adopted a much more pragmatic view of such things.
                            "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful" Attrib. Seneca 4 BCE - 65 CE

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Hypatia_Alexandria View Post
                              And I am sure they are excellent photographs.

                              However, they did rather bring it on themselves [from the Roman perspective]. Certainly the pursuit of such a monolithic building scheme would lead to suggest that the Romans were adopting a form of psychological warfare by making it abundantly clear to the rebels that they were now completely isolated and could expect no escape or relief.

                              Such tactics might also have served as a warning for the future that Rome would pursue any rebels as far as it had to, and inflict due retribution for any defiance.

                              Josephus seems to have adopted a much more pragmatic view of such things.
                              Yeah, I've been careful about recounting the story in detail, because Josephus seems to be the only source of the legend (unless you know otherwise and can share).

                              But it DOES make for a great story!
                              "Neighbor, how long has it been since you’ve had a big, thick, steaming bowl of Wolf Brand Chili?”

                              Comment

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