ACINN Graduate Seminar - WS 2023/24

2023-11-22 at 12:00 (on-line and on-site)

When the Romans came marching in - reconstructing climate at their strategic camp on Septimer Pass during the Alpine campaign 15 BCE - 15 CE

Georg Mayr

ACINN, University of Innsbruck, Austria


In 15 BCE the Roman army pushed across the Alps to conquer what today are parts of Switzerland, Germany and Austria. They maintained a large camp at a high-altitude pass in Switzerland over the next 30 years in order to secure supplies for their troops as recent excavations show. However, it was assumed that weather conditions would have been too harsh to permit a year-round manning of the camp.

I present a detailed reconstruction of the climate conditions at the camp based on proxy data and long-term instrumental records. The results show that the absolute values and the seasonal cycles of minimum, mean and maximum temperatures, precipitation and snowline can be reconstructed. To experience similar temperatures in today’s climate, the camp would have had to be about 400 m higher. Daily maximum temperatures remained above freezing for 7.5 months, but snowfall from October through May reduced the period for a camp occupation time under comfortable conditions further.

This detailed reconstruction of climate conditions more than 2000 years into the past is usually out of reach. However, the fortunate availability of nearby proxy data and 140-year+ long-term instrumental records in combination with statistical methods made it feasible. This study provides archaeologists with a framework for the interpretation of their findings and a better understanding of the challenges faced by the Roman army in maintaining a camp at such a high altitude.


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