Roman Baths
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Roman Baths

Site Information

Country: Germany
State: Weißenburg, Bavaria
Location: 49° 1' 51" N - 10° 57' 44" E
Field Documentation Date(s): June 8th, 2005
Project Release Date(s): November 9th, 2007
Time Range: 90 BCE - 259 CE
Era: Roman Empire
Culture: Roman
Site Authority: Große KreisstCEt Weißenburg
Heritage Listing: UNESCO World Heritage Site
world map with location

Digital reconstruction of the Roman Baths of Weißenburg taken from the northwest, depicting smoke being exhausted from small air shafts.  Roman slaves would fan the unwanted smoke from small pits in front of the shafts.

Site Description

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The Roman Baths in Weißenburg - also referred to as the Great Thermae - are one of the most remarkable relics of the Roman camp and its garrison, the vicus Biriciana, whose duty was to protect the northern border of the province Rhaetia (Upper Germanic Rhaetian Limes). The baths that served the garrison are today located at the edge of the present day city of Weißenburg in Bavaria. They are among the very few such archaeological remains that are preserved on German soil.

The Roman Baths were discovered in 1977 and were turned into a museum in 1983. February 28, 2007 witnessed the 30th anniversary of the discovery of the Roman Bath in Weißenburg. On this day in 1977, remains of Roman walls were uncovered during foundation excavations for the construction of housing estates. The housing project was halted at once pending further investigation. In early March of that year, the Land Bureau for the Preservation of Historic Monuments Nuremberg under Dr Ludwig Wamser, head of the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection Munich, began archaeological excavations.

On June 16, 1977, the city council of Weißenburg made the decision to assume sponsorship for the project, which soon proved to be the most luxurious Roman military bath yet discovered and the largest Roman facility of its kind between Regensburg and Saalburg.

Archaeological excavations lasted until autumn 1977 and led to complete exposure of the site. The new protective structure enclosing the grounds - the result of an architectural competition - was built in 1978-79. Conservation and restoration work was carried out between 1981 and 1983. The main concern was to preserve the state of the ruins as true to the original as possible after the excavation and to conduct a reconstruction only where it seemed desirable, either because it was necessary for conservation purposes or for a better spatial representation.
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History

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There are three historical phases to the construction of Roman Baths in Weißenburg:

Phase I: The first building (around 90 BCE) was erected at the same time as the camp and was based around a simple linear plan with rows of baths. Minimal remains are preserved from this phase.

Phase II: The baths were enlarged around 130 CE, when one warm bath (caldarium), two lukewarm baths (tepidaria), one round sweat bath (sudatorium), one cold bath (frigidarium), one basilica surrounded by a porticus and one field forge were added. The foundations for these are still there and visible.

Phase III: After the Phase II building had been destroyed, presumably in the wake of the Marcommanic Wars, a third building with dimensions of 65 by 42.5 metres was built around 180 CE. This building was distinctly larger, more luxurious, and contained baths clustered in accordance to its plan. This bathing compound continued to exist until it was considerably damaged in the wake of the Alemannic Invasions around 230, and subsequently abandoned in 258-59. Afterwards, a few remaining rooms were used for various purposes other than bathing.

Today, the ruins, which were refurbished through reconstruction and documentation, are situated under a contemporary tent structure. The grounds are accessible on a circular path.
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Perspective of photo-textured laser scan data of the Roman Baths of Weißenburg, taken from the southwest

Project Narrative

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The town of Weißenburg employed Mr Robert Frank from the company Frank Animationen to produce a new educational animated film about the history and use of the Roman Baths in Weißenburg. The film lasts about 30 minutes and informs visitors about the use of the building and its construction. The film is shown in the Roman Baths, as well as in the Roman Museum Weißenburg. One part of the film deals with the documented and stabilized excavation. Mr Frank had the idea of combining the modern technology of 3D laser scanning with historical buildings and of integrating the recording technology and the applicability along with the results of the surveying into a film.

The engineering office Christofori und Partner, Rosstal, agreed to scan and document the restored area of the Roman Baths free of cost and to provide both the company Robert Frank Animationen and the city of Weißenburg with the results. The scan was carried out from May, 30 2005 to June, 8 2005 on three working days amounting to 22 hours of scanning. The scan was conducted from eight locations, 15.3 million single points were captured altogether. The work was carried out by Mr Jorg Grafensteiner (graduate engineer) using the Leica HDS 3000. Mr Robert Frank accompanied the operation along with the archaeologist of the town Dr. Helmut Richter. The data results from the scanning were put together to generate a master point cloud and were processed into as-built maps, longitudinal sections and camera overflights for the animated film. The results of the survey and the animations were combined and explained in the film. In addition, the architect Mr. Jorg Bierwagen created a 360 degree photographic panorama.
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Panorama taken in the center of the Roman Baths of Weißenburg, including the frigidaria, tepidaria, and caldaria from the various construction phases of the baths

Preservation

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With the discovery of the Roman Baths, Weißenburg gained an additional historical attraction. Two years later, in October 1979 when an asparagus bed was dug, a 156-piece Roman treasure trove with silver votive tablets, unique deity statuettes, procession masks etc. was discovered. Today this collection is displayed at the Roman Museum Weißenburg, one of the most highly frequented branch museums of the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection of Munich, giving the former free imperial City of Weißenburg its nickname 'Roman City'.

Since May 2006 the 'Bavarian Limes Information Centre Weißenburg', which was installed on the ground floor of the Roman Museum and is designated to be part of the management plan for the world heritage application to UNESCO, has added to the range of museums of the city of Weißenburg. Here, visitors are provided with detailed information about the entire Upper Germanic Rhaetian Limes between Rhine and Danube, and also about the Roman evidence at the Rhaetian Limes in the districts of Ansbach, Weißenburg-Gunzenhausen and Eichstatt as well as in the national park Altmuhltal.

There has been constant interest in the ruins from the public right up through the present. Each year the Roman Museum has about 30,000 visitors, while the Roman Baths have about 32,000. Since its opening on September 7, 1983, over 735,000 visitors have been welcomed at the Roman Museum, the Roman Baths have had about 845,000 visitors since its opening on March 28, 1985, and the Limes Information Centre already had 32,000 visitors since its opening in May 2006.
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References:

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  1. Jäger, Ute.Römisches Weißenburg, Kastell Biriciana, Grosse Thermen, Römermuseum. Verlag Walter E. Keller, Gelbe Taschenbuch-Führer, Treuchtlingen/Berlin, August 2006,
    ISBN 3-934145-40-X
  2. Kastell und Grosse Thermen, http://www.antikefan.de/Staetten/Deutschland/limes/biricianca.biriciana.html
  3. McManus, Barbara F. Roman Baths and Bathing. College of New Rochelle, 2003, http://www.vroma.org/~bmcmanus/baths.html
  4. Römisches Weissenburg http://www.weissenburg.de/limes/limes02.htm auf der offiziellen Webpräsenz der Stadt Weissenburg
  5. Wamser, Ludwig. Biriciana Weißenburg zur Römerzeit, 2. Auflage, Theiss, Stuttgart 1986. (Führer zu archäologischen Denkmälern in Bayern: Franken 1), ISBN 3-8062-0323-7

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Credits:

more     - Erwin Christofori
            Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Beratender Ingenieur

     - Jörg Gräfensteiner
            Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Vermessung

     - Robert Leonhard Frank
     - Helmut Richter
     - Dr. Wolfgang Czysz
            Hauptkonservator

     - Dr. C. Sebastian Sommer
            Landeskonservator