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Presenting the Romans Presenting the Romans
Interpreting the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site
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4 - Images from the Past: Fibulae as Evidence for the Architectural Appearance of Roman Fort Gates

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 September 2013

Jürgen Obmann
Affiliation:
Ludwig Maximilian University
Nigel Mills
Affiliation:
Director, World Heritage and Access, The Hadrian's Wall Trust
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Summary

Introduction

This chapter explores the use of designs found on fibulae as evidence of the architectural appearance (design, features, scale, dimensions, proportions) of Roman fort gates. The evidence suggests that the gateways were higher and grander in scale than previously thought. This conclusion has important implications both for our understanding of the role of gateways as monumental architecture expressing the power of the roman Empire and for reconstructions of these gateways for public presentation. Many existing reconstructions are too low and convey a misleading impression to visitors.

The Evidence

In 1990 a fibula (Fig 4.1) showing a three-storey gateway building with arched windows was discovered (Flügel 2007; Flügel and Obmann 2009) during the excavation of a villa rustica at Chieming in the district of Traunstein in Bavaria. In roman times this area was part of the province of Noricum. The different storeys over the rounded gateway are separated by clearly marked quarter-round dividing cornices, as is often the case in roman architecture (eg Trier, Porta Nigra). The fact that this real-world feature was depicted as a key visual element on a small-scale reproduction leads to the conclusion that the producer of our fibula had a clear picture in mind of how a Roman gateway looked. Using this symbolic citation (Zanker 1987), the fibula's designer wanted to convey this idea to the potential user of his product.

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Presenting the Romans
Interpreting the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site
, pp. 41 - 46
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2013

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