Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes

UNESCO World Heritage Site
Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes
(Obergermanisch-Raetischer Limes)
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List

Map of the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes

Location Germany
Type Cultural
Criteria (ii)(iii)(iv)
UNESCO region Europe
Inscription history
Inscription 2005 (29th Session)
Extensions 2008
The wooden watchtower reconstructed in 2008 and based on the work of Dietwulf Baatz

The Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes (German: Obergermanisch-Raetische Limes), or ORL, is a 550-kilometre-long section of the former external frontier of the Roman Empire between the rivers Rhine and Danube. It runs from Rheinbrohl to Eining on the Danube. The Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes is an archaeological site and, since 2005, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Together with the Lower Germanic Limes it forms part of the Limes Germanicus.


The Saalburg. Built 1899-1907, the site is the most significant attempt to reconstruct the archeological past. The southwest corner built by Louis Jacobi in 1885 with merlons at the wider and thus correct intervals, had to be replaced during the full reconstruction, probably at the behest of Emperor William II, with merlons spaced at the medieval interval, which is thus wrong.[1]

The term limes (plural: limites) originally meant "border path" or "swathe" in Latin. In Germany, "Limes" usually refers to the Rhaetian Limes and Upper Germanic Limes, collectively referred to as the Limes Germanicus. Both sections of limes are named after the adjacent Roman provinces of Raetia (Rhaetia) and Germania Superior (Upper Germania).

In the Roman limites we have, for the first time in history, clearly defined territorial borders of a sovereign state that were visible on the ground to friend and foe alike. Most of the Upper German-Rhaetian Limes did not follow rivers or mountain ranges, which would have formed natural boundaries for the Roman Empire. It includes the longest land border in the European section of the limes, interrupted for only a few kilometres, by a section that follows the River Main between Großkrotzenburg and Miltenberg. By contrast, elsewhere in Europe, the limes is largely defined by the rivers Rhine (Lower Germanic Limes) and Danube (Danube Limes).


The function of the Roman military frontiers has been increasingly discussed for some time. The latest research tends to view at least the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes not as a primarily military demarcation line, but rather a monitored economic boundary for the non-Roman lands. The limes, it is argued, was not really suitable for fending off systematic external attacks. Thanks to a skillful economic policy, the Roman Empire extended its influence far to the northeast, beyond the frontier. Evidence of this are the many border crossings which, although guarded by Roman soldiers, would have enabled a brisk trade, and the numerous Roman finds in "Free Germania" (as far as Jutland and Scandinavia). Attempts were occasionally also made, to settle Roman legions beyond the limes or, more often, to recruit auxiliaries. As a result, the Romanization of the population extended beyond the limes.

The Limes Gate at Dalkingen (WP 12/81), which was built in five phases of expansion
At WP 12/77, part of the limes wall has been fully reconstructed (Mahdholz)

Research history

A map of the County of Hanau by Friedrich Zollmann in 1728 gives one of the earliest depictions of the limes, described as Reliquiae munimenti Romani sive Lineae adversos Germanos erectae, hodieque Der Pfalgraben, Pfolgraben vel Polgraben dictae

Interest in the limes as the remains of a site dating to the Roman period was rekindled in Germany at the time of the Renaissance and Renaissance humanism. This was bolstered by the rediscovery of the Germania and Annales of Tacitus in monastic libraries in the 15th and early 16th centuries.

Scholars like Simon Studion (1543-1605) researched inscriptions and discovered forts. Studion led archaeological excavations of the Roman camp of Benningen on the Neckar section of the Neckar-Odenwald Limes. Local limes commissions were established but were confined to small areas, for example, in the Grand Duchy of Hesse or Grand Duchy of Baden, due to the political situation. Johann Alexander Döderlein was the first person to record the course of the limes in the Eichstätt region. In 1723, he was the first to interpret the meaning of the limes correctly[2][3] and published the first scholarly treatise about it in 1731.

Imperial Limes Commission

Only after the foundation of the German Empire could archaeologists begin to study more precisely the route of the limes, about which there had previously only been a rudimentary knowledge. As a result, they were able to make the first systematic excavations in the second half of the 19th century. In 1892, the Imperial Limes Commission (RLK) was established for this purpose in Berlin, under the direction of the ancient historian, Theodor Mommsen. The work of this commission is considered pioneering for reworking of Roman provincial history. Especially productive were the first ten years of research, which worked out the course of the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes and named the camps along the border. The research reports on the excavations were published from 1894 to the dissolution of the Commission in 1937. The individual reports went under the title of The Upper Rhaetian Limes of the Roman Empire (ORL), which was published in fifteen volumes, of which seven cover the route of the limes and eight cover the various camps and forts. The documents of the Imperial Limes Commission are now in the custody of the Roman-Germanic Commission of the German Archaeological Institute. The RLK numbered the sections of the route, the forts and the watchtowers (Wp) on the individual sections.


In the course of this work the 550-kilometre-long route of the limes was surveyed, divided into sections and described. This division followed the administrative boundaries in 19th-century Germany and not that of ancient Rome:


Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes in general



Wikimedia Commons has media related to Obergermanisch-Raetischer Limes.


  1. Dietwulf Baatz: Die Saalburg – ein Limeskastell 80 Jahre nach der Rekonstruktion. In: Günter Ulbert, Gerhard Weber (eds.): Konservierte Geschichte? Antike Bauten und ihre Erhaltung. Konrad Theiss Verlag. Stuttgart, 1985, ISBN 3-8062-0450-0, p. 126; Ill. 127.
  2. Weißenburg stiftet eigenen Kulturpreis, published in 1986, retrieved 22 June 2016
  3. Bernhard Overbeck: Johann Alexander Döderlein (1675–1745) und die „vaterländische“ Numismatik, Brunswick, 2012, pp.147-165

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