Some 2,000 years ago, a monumental bronze sculpture of the Roman emperor Augustus and his trusted steed welcomed visitors to the central marketplace of Waldgirmes, an ancient settlement near modern-day Frankfurt, Germany.
The discovery of the life-size horse's head of a gilded bronze equestrian statue from the Roman Empire was an archaeological sensation. However, the research of the DAI (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut) in the Roman settlement in Lahnau-Waldgirmes near Wetzlar yielded other astonishing and unique results.
Experts speculate that the Romans and the Germans were co-existing in relative harmony, likely living and trading with one another in close proximity.
From 1993 to 2009, the Roman-Germanic Commission of the DAI examined a civil Roman settlement from around the time of Christ's birth in today's Waldgirmes in a joint project with the State Office for the Preservation of Monuments, Department of Hesse Archaeology.
The settlement covered nearly 20 acres of land and had a defensive wall but no military buildings.
They uncovered the remains of an ancient forum, floor plans of Roman residential buildings as well as local building structures.
Archaeologists also identified the presence of five pedestals that would have housed the to-scale equestrian sculptures.
During the investigation of a well in the last year of the excavations in 2009, another archaeological sensation occurred. The well from the late Augustan period was extremely deep at 12 meters and presented the excavation team with major logistical challenges. During the excavations, excellently preserved wood was found, which later made it easier to date it based on the growth rings in the wood. At the end of the well there was a sawed-off large barrel that was tied with rods that held the staves together like today's iron barrel rings. Originally this barrel had a capacity of over 1000 liters of wine!
When removing the first staves, the surprise was great, because at the bottom of the barrel there were millstones made of Eifel basalt embedded in a fine layer of mud. For 13 years, the finds in Waldgirmes had released small parts of gilded bronze again and again, but what came to light from the well was a real sensation: a life-size gilded horse's head with richly decorated harness.
With a length of 55 cm, the sculpture has the natural size of a horse's head. The very well-preserved gilding of the bronze leaf came to light as soon as the covering layer of mud was cleaned for the first time. The left side of the head is badly damaged. The traces of blows that led to the destruction of the statue are clearly visible. The horse's head harness is richly decorated with figuratively decorated discs. The three side medallions bear semi-sculptural busts of the goddess Victoria. The oval medallion on the bridge of the nose shows the image of Mars, god of war, resting on a rock in low relief. The statues were smashed in an iconoclasm, which is probably related to the battle lost to the Romans in the Teutoburg Forest.
When asked by a random visitor how often an archaeologist makes such a find, the answer was unanimous: “Actually never! At most once."
Deutsches Archäologisches Institut