Roman military camp (fort)

The Roman military camp was an essential element of the legions and testifies to their logistical skills and discipline.
For this purpose, the camp served not only as a starting point for military operations, but also as a replenishment camp and retreat for recreation. Later solid, massive castles were built, around which whole economic sectors and settlements formed, from which today still existing cities developed.


Need of mobile fortifications:

The Roman legions were at the time the most modern army, benefiting from the advanced technology and advanced logistics of the Romans.

So it was already clear at the beginning of the Roman Empire of the generals that they had to protect their troops at rest against the weather and against attacks to keep the operational capability and morale constant. For this purpose, the structure of the Roman camp was strictly unified. So each soldier knew what he had to do when and where to build and dismantle the camp. This communication-free process was an important part of Roman success in its first campaigns.


Römische Legionäre beim Bau eines Heerlagers

Roman legionaries in the construction of an army camp


The first camps:

The first ideal camp was founded by Polybius in the 2nd century BC. Presented and implemented. This concept was intended for a double region, cavalry, allies, auxiliaries and bodyguard, that is about a troop strength of scarce 18,600 men. This camp, surrounded by ramparts and moats, measured 600 by 600 meters and had 1 gate on each side. The main gate (Porta Praetoria) was always turned towards the enemy in order to be able to quickly send the largest possible number of troops in that direction as required.


Aufbau römisches Kastell

Construction Roman fort (Bild: RedTony

Roman fort; the upper side faces the enemy 1 Principia 2 Via Praetoria 3 Via Principalis 4 Porta Principalis Dextra (right gate) 5 Porta Praetoria (main gate) 6 Porta Principalis Sinistra (left gate) 7 Porta Decumana (back gate) The road from Porta Decumana to Via Principalis is Via Decumana


March camp of a double legion

March camp of a double legion


The second generation of camps:

The development of Roman legions made great progress in the 1st and 2nd centuries. This not only affected their equipment but also their size. So inevitably the castles had to be adapted to the new conditions. So the new unit type was introduced after the pseudo-hygin. The new camps were 687 × 480 meters larger than the old and had a capacity for 3 Legion, say scarce 40,000 men. The camps were also surrounded with ramparts and ditches and again had 4 goals.


March camp of three legions

March camp of three legions



Early to middle imperial period:

If an area was occupied by military forces or no further campaigns were planned in the area, the Roman legions began to set up camps for longer operations. Almost all of the camps initially consisted of wooden buildings and earthen ramparts, like the mobile camps. Depending on the importance of the site, wooden buildings were replaced by stone buildings, usually the staff building or the commander's residential building. In the border regions, moreover, the wooden palisades were often replaced by stone reinforcements. Special emphasis was placed on expressive gateways and representative staff buildings, whose dimensions and architecture could compete with their larger cities.


At the end of the Western Roman Empire:

Due to the increasing pressure on the Roman borders in north and east of Central Europe, the frontier defense was reformed. So they withdrew the troops to more defensible positions (especially with the help of natural obstacles such as rivers) and built there new castles, which had not much in common with the previous ones. These new forts were built much more massive and resembled the later castles. Also, they were smaller and adapted to the numerically reduced troops.


Structure of a fort:

Each fort was built the same way because of Roman uniformity. So there were the following buildings in each fort:

- defense
- Gates
- Staff building
- Home of the commander
- Granary
- Latrines
- Castel baths
- Accommodations


safety fence:

The mobile camps and the early castles were protected only by a ditch with subsequent wall of wicker fences and piles against external influences. Some camps also used so-called "Lilia" traps for the surrounding terrain. These traps are small, about 90cm deep holes in which pointed piles are anchored to the ground and the holes were covered with brushwood. Especially at night, these traps were hard to spot.

Only later, when the castles were built as permanent military facilities, was the defense made of stone, offering much more effective protection.


Gates (Portae):

No gates were set up in the early military camps. This came only in the early imperial period, as the camps were built for a longer duration. Due to the Roman standardization of the castles, the structure, orientation and names of all castles were the same. So the main gate (Porta praetoria) was always facing the enemy. The name of the rear gate is Porta decumana and the side gates were called Porta principalis sinistra and Porta principalis dextra.


Reconstruction attempt at Hesselbach fort

Reconstruction attempt at Hesselbach fort


Staff Building (Principia):

The staff buildings were the religious and administrative center of almost every permanent fort. To emphasize this position, the building complex was usually at the intersection of the road axis of a fort. For this reason, the building often received the nickname "middle building".


Home of the Commander (Praetorium):

During the campaigns and the associated short-term camps, the Legion Commander lived in a tent. Only when the camps developed into permanent military locations, the dwelling house was built accordingly from wood, later from stone.


Granary (Horreum):

To supply the stationed soldiers, almost all permanently built castles had granaries. Most of the storerooms were elongated rectangular, made of stone, with strong wall patterns and wooden floors. These buildings were usually carried by stone or wood care above the ground level.



In order to protect the soldiers from diseases and epidemics, it was particularly important to the Romans to integrate the already extremely advanced system of sanitary facilities and faeces disposal for the maintenance of hygiene in the army. While only so-called "thunderbars" could be used in the mobile field camps, permanently installed and well-designed sanitary facilities were installed in the permanent locations.


Camp Baths:

In order not to have to give up the amenities of Rome even in the most remote corners of the Roman Empire, there were some of the big castles that had their own baths. This served on the one hand for the relaxation and moral strengthening of the troops, on the other hand, of course, the hygiene and the associated maintenance of the clout of the soldiers.


The small military bath in the fort Osterburken

The small military bath in the fort Osterburken



In the accommodations, the soldiers of the group (contubernium, tent community) shared a tenth bedroom, which was usually equipped with a fireplace. An adjoining room housed the equipment and possibly unfree staff. Ten such rooms were usually arranged in a row. At the head was the accommodation of Centurios, Optios and other ranks, which led the groups.


Drawing of an equestrian barrack

Drawing of an equestrian barrack


Reconstructed buildings of the Roman camp Arbeia in England

Reconstructed buildings of the Roman camp Arbeia in England



Other buildings:

In addition to the standard buildings of a fort, other buildings could be located in this. This usually depended on the troops deployed and the circumstances. In addition, stables, a hospital and workshops could be located in the fort. Even construction yards existed in part because the legionnaires not only performed military tasks but were also responsible for the infrastructure and Romanization of the surrounding area.


Rekonstruktion eines Kastelle aus Baden-Württemberg

Reconstruction of a fort from Baden-Württemberg (Germany)



Economic factor:

As we know it today from army barracks, the Roman castles at that time also represented a major economic factor in the regions concerned.

Favored by the not only military mission of the Legion but also the construction of the surrounding infrastructure, early settlements around the castles formed in which in addition to members of the legionaries and many craft businesses had their place. For example, blacksmiths, leather manufacturers, food traders and even potters joined in alongside houses and even brothels. This had the advantage that the stationed soldiers had their supplies right on the doorstep and did not have to import laboriously from further afield. By contributing their wages, in return, the legionnaires support and promote economic growth in the region. Some fortified areas have become so large over time that they have developed into cities that still exist today. Here are some examples:


Roman name: Today's name: country:
Castrum Apulum Alba Lulia (Weißenburg) Romania
Augusta Vindelicorum Augsburg Germany
Augusta Raurica Kaiseraugst Switzerland
Bonnensia, Bonna Bonn Germany
Aquincum Budapest Hungary
Arrabona Gyor Hungary
Castellum apud Confluentes Koblenz Germany
Castra Mogontiacum Mainz Germany
Novaesium Neuss Germany
Castra Batava / Boiotro Passau Germany
Castra Regina Regensburg Germany
Rigomagus Remagen Germany
Argentorate Straßburg France
Castra Ulcisia Szentendre Hungary
Biriciana Weißenburg in Bayern Germany
Aquae Mattiacorum Wiesbaden Germany
Veldidena Wilten, Stadtteil von Innsbruck Austria
Vindobona Wien Austria
Vindonissa Windisch Switzerland
Lauriacum Enns Austria
Favianis Mautern Austria
Carnuntum Bad Deutsch-Altenburg Austria
Civitas Vangionum / Borbetomagus Worms Germany
Colonia Ulpia Traiana Xanten Germany
Eboracum York Great Britain
Singidunum Belgrad Serbia
Viminatium Kostolac Serbia
Nida Heddernheim, Stadtteil von Frankfurt am Main Germany
Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium Köln Germany






You can find the right literature here:


Roman Forts in Britain

Roman Forts in Britain (Shire Archaeology) Paperback – March 4, 2008

A compat study of Roman forts in Britain looking at the different types-different sizes of forts, watch-towers and signal stations-, their layout and how they developed from marching camps, how they were built and the life of the men stationed there. Included also is a gazetteer of sites worth visiting.

Click here!



Bearsden: The Story of a Roman Fort

Bearsden: The Story of a Roman Fort

The Roman fort at Bearsden and its annexe, together with areas beyond its defences, were extensively excavated from 1973 to 1982. The report on these excavations was published in 2016. This ‘popular’ account of the discoveries looks at the material recovered from the site in a different way, examining the process of archaeological excavation, the life of the soldiers at the fort based on the results of the excavation as well as material from elsewhere in the Roman Empire, the presentation and interpretation of the bath-house and latrine, and a discussion of possible future work arising out of the excavation. The excavation report was well illustrated with reconstruction drawings and the process of creating these is also discussed.

Click here!



Roman Auxiliary Forts 27 BC–AD 378

Roman Auxiliary Forts 27 BC–AD 378 (Fortress) Paperback – May 19, 2009

With the vast expansion of the Roman Empire came a need for more and more fortifications to defend it. The borders of the Empire stretched through wildly different terrains which demanded a huge variety of different fortifications, depending on the local conditions and the threats faced by the different areas. The adoption of local troops (auxiliaries) and local building techniques at key strategic points on the outskirts of the empire led to an intriguing mix of strong Roman structure with unique culturally diverse elements. Describing the development of these hugely varied defensive systems, Duncan Campbell delves into the operation and social history behind the fortifications. With detailed color artwork and maps, he traces their history through the Batavian Revolt of the 1st century AD, which saw auxiliary units scattered far from their native regions, until the decline of the late-3rd and 4th centuries placed their fortifications in an increasingly pressurized and eventually untenable position.

Click here!



Roman Forts in Britain

Roman Forts in Britain: (English Heritage Series) Paperback – June 30, 2003

Almost 300 Roman forts have been discovered in Britain, and this study describes their development right from the Roman invasion until the end of Roman rule in the early fifth century AD. Using archaeological evidence, it examines the everyday lives of those serving in the army, from commanders to the ordinary soldiers.

Click here!



The Roman Fort

The Roman Fort (The Roman World) Paperback – April 23, 1998

Peter Connolly utilizes the latest historical evidence from excavations of major fortifications to create a detailed and fascinating portrait of typical Roman forts and of the soldiers who maintained them along Hadrian's Wall and other Roman boundaries for more than 350 years.
He begins with the actual construction of roads and forts, using cross-sections and cutaways that show the actual building techniques the Romans used. Next he turns to the soldiers and the forts they maintained. We look into their barracks to see how they slept, cooked their food, what they did for relaxation, how the plumbing worked, and how they prepared for battle.
The meticulous and well-researched drawings and maps for which Connolly is known will attract young readers and keep them enthralled. And his skills as an archeologist and storyteller enable him to present the latest discoveries, conclusions, and speculations in a highly entertaining and easy-to-understand text.

Click here!






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