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Barbarian Potency

In the service of Rome

The constant internal and external conflicts of the Roman Empire led to a steadily growing need for soldiers in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. Ongoing battles against the Sasanians in the east and the aggressive Germanic forces in the north made it necessary to recruit foreign mercenaries. Many Germani saw service with the auxiliary troops, regular units, and also the imperial guard as a chance for glory and property. Some made a career and reached high offices.

The returnees are identifiable by imported objects in rich burials. The cemetery at Leuna is a burial site of the late Roman Imperial period. It contained several graves richly furnished with grave goods from the time around AD 300, which can be assigned to Germani in Roman service.

Some of the grave goods allow the reconstruction of biographies. Grave 2/1917 from Leuna (Saale district), dated around AD 280, contained the inhumation of a Germanic mercenary. A silver crossbow fibula with onion-shaped terminals distinguishes him as an officer of lower rank, silver spurs indicate the commander of an equestrian unit. An exceptional item is a golden finger ring with a gemstone depicting the Roman god Mercury. The ring may have been given to the man as a badge of a certain office or for a particular deed of glory.

The new military elite demonstrated its self-image with special possessions. Intellectual pastimes, for example with board games, and accented personal hygiene indicated that one was exempt from physical labour.

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