11 Oct 2013

Claustra Alpium Iuliarum


with continuation of "dry period" regarding my hobby output, I've decided to make a couple of posts regarding local military history heritage. As usual, I'll try to keep it mixed with hobby thoughts to keep myself convinced it deserves a place on my blog (even though it is not about "horror" wargaming!)

I think my lack of hobby output lies in approaching thesis defence...while I'm not really working on it as much as I should, the idea of something that has to be done is logged in my subconsciousness and I can't get anything productive done I suppose. I am reading a book called Sword and thunder at the moment, that speaks about (mostly) late roman period in my area (meaning Slovenia in general, but this is honestly kinda close to me). General goal of the book is to present Battle of Frigidus, 394 AD (will cover it in the next post) but as the book represents it all very broadly, it gives out a lot of information regarding roman warfare. I think I know a lot about early roman warfare and tactics, but late roman period was never too appealing to me, so this book is a great way to get interested.

Claustra Alpium Iuliarum, the Barrier of the Julian Alps (a name for a group of mountains here in the Alps, we still call them by that name today!) is a name given to the set of barriers (walls) built in valleys about 50 kilometers west from Emona, nowadays Ljubljana in Slovenia. Barriers were similar to limes of Germany or, say, Hadrian wall. The difference was that here, walls were only set up in sections. They were incorporated in local area in a way to only block the valleys and roads. There were no stone walls built on hill slopes but nobody really knows if the area was empty (as it's not really an easy going for possible invaders) or it was lightly defended by wooden palisades.
The purpose of the barriers was protection of inner Italy from barbarian invasions (so, it was not a frontline frontier defence as Hadrian's wall in England). It was, however, mostly used in civil wars that raged in fourth century.
The broader area was occupied by three Alpine legions, one of comitatenses (mobile defensive legion) and two pseudocomitatenses legions who were a mix of local populations and used as "regional mobile defensive force". My explanation of their roles might be a bit vague, but the point is, there were no "limitanei" legions (border legions manning limes walls) present.

Below is a map of current day Slovenia with relevant (but not nearly all) roman cities mapped.

Emona is the nowadays capital city, Ljubljana. The legend has it it was founded by Jason and the argonauts. This story was not mentioned in Salute 2013 book, though :P. 
Nauportus (comes from either Naval Port or Naval portare (to carry) as Argonauts brought their ship ashore here after coming from Emona by river Ljubljanica (Lyoo-blah-neetsa) and carried it all the way to the sea). Nowadays Vrhnika, my hometown, Nauportus was first (or last, depending on which way you go to) naval port. From here they could put cargo on a river and sail east or south-east by bigger rives. Nauportus' port was protected by a pentagonal shaped fortress.While older than Emona, Nauportus was Emona's subject, with Emona being a crossroads between north-south and east-west roads. Area few kilometers further east from Emona is considered to be a border between Italy proper and provinces.
About 10+ kilometers west from Nauportus was Longaticum (nowadays Logatec (Logatets, not Log-attack :P), smaller town. It lies on a higher ground than Nauportus so it was a welcomed resting place after peeps conquered the slopped hills. This hasn't changed until new road was made in Austrian empire some 1,000 years later!
Ad Pirum (probably comes from word meaning "fire" but has a resemblance to word meaning "pear". Hrušica, as we call it today (Hrusheetsa) derivates from a slovene word for a pear, as an interesting fact) was a huge fort, probably command post for the fortifications.
Castra ad fluvium frigidum (Fortress on river Frigidus) is nowadays Ajdovščina (Aydouscheena), which is where the battle of Frigidus took place in 394 AD.
Across the border was Aquileia a huge roman town. From there, you could go to Mediolanum (Milan), capital of West Roman empire and from there to Rome!

Red lines are the important communications and black lines are the  locations of barriers. I live in a village between Longaticum and Nauportus, and part of the wall you can see just behind the Nauportus is just across the road from where my high school bus stop was. It is hidden in forest and it was reduced to about a 3 feet or less high lump of rocks.

 Here is a picture of Claustra as shown in Notitia Dignitatum, a book about late roman empire, if we simplify its meaning a bit.

Ad Pirum, as said, was quite a large fort. It was located on a hill pass, deep in the forests. It's role was to protect the travelers on the road through this area. It was a new road, established to shorten travel time from Aquilea to Emona for two days.

The fort is believed to be large enough to house 500 soldiers but could accommodate up to 100,000 - don't even ask me how they got a number this large. I struggle to find it possible - 100,000 is a whole army and then some extra of that time!

Anyways, here is a nice drawing of the are to give you a feel. Javorjev grič and Bršljanovec are two hills, the walls leading out of the fort are part of the Claustra. Armies and travelers that went from Emona to Aquileia or vice versa had to pass through the fort that was overlooking the road. As you can clearly see, nearby valley was blocked by two walls.

The fort itself was separated with a wall. Lower part was the actual fort while upper part had place for tents or goats or whatever they grew there at that time. In case of danger (and it is believed it was that case in 394 AD), fortress crew could make a run for it from lower part along the eastern wall up hill (where tents are drawn) and they could run away through little gate you can just spot next to northern tower. Their escape was protected by wall running on eastern slope of Javorjev grič (meaning Maple hill btw)

 This is a computer modeled reconstruction of the fort. IIRC the towers at the gate were believed to be as high as 10 meters, walls up to 8.
There's more! A nice little video of computer reconstructed fortress below. For some reason, it is believed that fortress was stone grey, while Claustra walls were probably painted white by using lime. It must have been an intimidating sight - a great white wall, overlooking the cut down areas to prevent any *guests* to approach unexpected!

And a photo of the fortress today. It was taken from the separating wall, where eastern most tower of that wall would stand, overlooking the eastern gate area. As you can see walls are all but gone. As this fortress lies in what used to be Italy 1918-1943, Italians protected it by sealing it with concrete...which is not a good thing by today's conservation standards :P.  The two buildings you can see are now a private home I think and the one with grey roof is a museum/tavern. It used to be a post office but this road has completely lost its importance with arrival of motor way. I did use this road to get to my boot camp in Vipava (just next to where battle of frigidus is believed to have taken place). As you can clearly see, there are no majestic gates left for us to admire.

Let this be it for today, I think you should be proud of yourself if you have made it that way! In next (or one of the next) post, I'll talk about Battle of Frigidus and if I won't overstretch it, about 6-10mm wargaming. 28mm ancient battles (including fantasy) never really appealed to me, because it looks downright silly. Ever since I'm reading that book, I'm thinking about huge armies of west and east roman empires, accompanied by barbarian mercenaries, set up in 3 lines smacking each other. I really miss the depth in wargaming. Just think about it, has anyone who actually games ancient/medieval battles ever set up in 2-3 lines (not counting putting ranged troops behind melee!), and fought the battles out of that "arcade" set up, where "tactics" are shown by using fast troops to hit the artillery?

Thanks for looking,


  1. A lot to take in there. It makes sense to me to control the valleys and roads at the expense of the peaks which would be much harder to cross. I also like the Museum/tavern idea (should I ever win the lottery!)
    It is always good to see things of which you know very little about. I do honestly look forward to your next post!

    1. Heh, well, all I was doing for past 5 years was writing, I am not sure I can write a short post anymore :P.

      At presentation, the guy talking about it said the open spaced would give the attacker an ability to strike the defenders from behind, but then again he also called javelin a spear (this really irritated me for some reason :D) and said long swords in roman army are the result of changed warfare - as those are better for fighting from the walls.
      Personally, I think that no sane commander would rush up hill and that even Romans knew, given the general lack of soldiers at that time, defending from attack on top of a hill is just as good as any wall. As for the tavern, its more of a pub and museum is just a room, its a separate thing :P. Now that Ad pirum is being progressively advertised, they probably have some extra business but until now, they probably struggled to get by each month. We're talking about a diner in middle of the woods after all :P.

      Cheers mate, I always figured I should write about things I know and others probably don't. I'll make sure to write the next one as informative and light to read as possible!

  2. An interesting read.Those Ancients are tempting you more and more each day

    1. Glad you liked it! As for the ancients, my first scratch build was a roman ram (never really finished it beyond the ram itself, 4 wheels and rough body work), it was about 8-10 years old last month when I threw it away :P. I always liked ancients, that's for sure, but I never liked gaming them in 28mm as it looks silly. I did some reasearch and 6mm is dirt cheap even compared to 10. Plus bacchus has most of what I'd need for this project. I now play with an idea of making a model of this wall and game some barbarian invasions on occasions where our local club presents itself. :P

  3. That was quite an interesting read.

  4. I spend a lot of time skimming blogs and not really reading them. I've read all this post ad learnt something. Frank

    1. Haha, I'm not sure I believe you, but if you did, cheers! I'm glad it proved interesting enough to be worth the bother! :)

  5. Interesting bit of history, but the Romans did use spears as well as Pila in different periods (esp. Auxilia), but it's not a period I've wargamed in a lot. I can't remember any of your place names appearing on Rome Total War either, I think Slovakia is merely a highway to Greece !
    100 000 troops in the fort seems a tad on the large side too, perhaps it's a misprint - Its the equivalent of at least 10 legions !

    1. Yes, surely they did but you don't point to pilum and call it a spear, if it's not meant to be a spear. I'm not saying there weren't occasion where they used it as one, but you get my point :P.
      None of those places are there to be conquered, but you can conquer near-by Segestica (today's Sisak in Croatia). Aquileia is believed to have had 300,000 residents, but in game, that area is already covered by Patavium. Actually, as small as it is, in game, you'd need to conquer 4 provinces to get all of the Slovenia (again, it is not Slovakia :D) in :P.
      Those surely were a stopping points to get to Greece and Danube river, that's for sure. Vice versa, with "barbarian" invasions, it was a highway to Milan and Rome, ergo the walls :P.

      I agree on the number, I think even 10,000 would be a bit unrealistic, unless they'd really be cramped together.