Jupitergigantensäule nahe ihres original Fundorts an der Römerstraße / Kapellengasse in Obernburg
Pompeji on the Main River

In Obernburg, there is a town built on top of its predecessors. Two layers of town on top of each other. Something of this kind is quite unique. “And there's a Roman peeking out from everywhere,” says the local museum director. A local tour in Franconia.

Reading time: 12 minutes

Obernburg am Main: On the Trail of the Romans in Franconia

The prefect Lucius Petronius Florentinus probably crossed the intersection of Via Principalis and Via Praetoria many a time in a tunic appropriate to his rank. Starting in 192 AD, he was the commander of the Obernburg cohort fort and its 500 soldiers. Thousands of civilians settled outside the fortified walls, which led to a vibrant hustle and bustle, including food stalls and hostels, handicrafts and trade, as well as services ranging from hairdressers to brothels.

1,831 years later, Dietmar Fieger walks from Römerstrasse to Badgasse. He is wearing a suit and tie and is the First Mayor of the town of 8,700 inhabitants. “Here you can travel back in time to the world of antiquity,” says Fieger, “because the former Via Principalis and Via Praetoria lie exactly beneath Römerstrasse and Badgasse. Just as the entire Roman fort of Lucius Petronius Florentinus is located directly beneath the Old Town of Obernburg.”

Großer Brunnen im Rosengarten von Obernburg am Main in Franken
Das heutige Obernburg am Main auf dem Gelände des früheren römischen Kastells

A town on top of a town? In two layers, so to speak? In fact, today’s town centre is located precisely on top of the fort, which was built from 107 AD. “This was revealed by numerous excavations over the last 120 years, each of which has opened a window into the Roman past,” explains Eric Erfurth, the director of the Roman Museum in Obernburg. “So far, we have found all the important buildings in the complex apart from the bathhouse.”

Treasures Underneath the Clay

Eroded alluvial clay from a hillside above the town buried the fort. It was completely buried between 400 and 800 AD, as the lava had previously done to Pompeii. A new, prosperous town was built on the 60 to 200 centimetre thick layer of clay in the Middle Ages.

“That’s why we have a Roman peeking out from everywhere”

“That’s why we have a Roman peeking out from everywhere,” says Eric Erfurth descriptively. “You just have to go into any cellar...” Almost every time you dig into the ground, you actually find something Roman.

Mayor Fieger also feels “somehow like the mayor of the ancient Roman village” and sometimes “slips into the role of the beneficiarius Gaius Ianuarius Victorinus, who served us in 223 AD.” The Franconian mayor then becomes a Roman city guide.

Fachwerkhäuser in der Badgasse in Obernburg am Main
Relikt einer mittelalterlichen Befestigungsanlage an der Unteren Wallstraße in Obernburg am Main
Jungendliche mit Hund sitzen entspannt am großen Brunnen im Rosengarten von Obernburg am Main

Protection from the Germanic Tribes

The fort was part of the Upper German-Rhaetian Limes until 275 AD. Emperor Domitian already had the idea in the 1st century AD. A protective wall needed to be built: a border fortification to seal off his Romans from the barbaric Germanic tribes. The Limes consisted partly of ramparts and ditches, wooden palisades or full-length stone walls. The Main River also served to demarcate the border as a so-called wet Limes.

With 900 watchtowers, over 60 forts and a total length of almost 550 kilometres, the Upper German-Rhaetian Limes is by far the largest archaeological monument in Europe. It extends from Rheinbrohl near Koblenz to Hienheim near Regensburg. The Limes thus runs through the German states of Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria.

In 2005, the emperor’s idea was even declared a World Heritage Site as a masterpiece of the human spirit, as the UNESCO statement put it. Obernburg is part of it, as nowhere else will you find a town on top of a town.

Zwei Jungen zu Besuch im Römermuseum in Obernburg am Main in Franken
Münze aus Messing, darauf zu sehen ist Hadrian mit Lorbeerkranz, 119 - 120 n.C.

The status as a World Heritage Site has consequences: Due to the requirements of monument protection and UNESCO, research excavations no longer take place as they have since the 19th century. Many house and property owners in the Obernburg city centre avoid construction work as they would most likely come across archaeologically significant layers, which would lead to time-consuming and cost-intensive excavations.

“There are mixed feelings among our citizens,” says the mayor. “We have enthusiasts for our Roman history. And we have people who fear the higher costs of building.” Although at least half of what is found belongs to the landowner (in Bavaria, unlike in the rest of Germany), “many findings are worth relatively little.”

By now, there have been more than enough Roman coins unearthed. “If you could document which layer a coin is in, it would indicate the time horizon of the layer,” explains the museum director.

The Only Beneficiarii Station in the World

“My uncle once fell into a Roman well. And two years ago, a bricklayer brought me a completely preserved Roman jug to the museum, which he had dug up 50 years ago as an apprentice in search of Roman treasures...” Bernd Steidl from the State Archaeological Collection in Munich, “the top Roman in Bavaria,” so to speak, according to Eric Erfurth, was responsible for the excavation of the beneficiarii station.

Steidl remembers: “When I arrived, I saw a Roman altar being dug up with an excavator! With an excavator! In the beginning, it simply wasn't recognised what significance these excavations would have.”

The beneficiarii outpost, a kind of police station where non-commissioned officers from Mainz and Strasbourg were on duty, was located in the village a good 100 metres south of the fort, where the representative of the emperor was in charge. To this day, it is the only completely preserved station of its kind in the entire former Roman Empire.

Jupitergigantensäule: Im Sockel sind die Götter Mars, Ceres und Viktoria eingemeißelt
An der Spitze der Jupitergigantensäule ist der Gott Jubiter auf einem Pferd

And Then There’s the Giant Column!

In 2015, a four-metre-high giant Jupiter column was discovered during construction work. It was a sensational discovery because almost the entire column was preserved and not just parts of it.

“That was incredibly exciting,” remembers owner Alexandra Duesmann, “but I had no idea what was in store for us.” It took the archaeologists two months to complete their work. “As the owner, we sold the column to the State Archaeological Collection in Munich, where it will soon go on display,” says Duesmann. “Neither I as a private individual nor our Obernburg Roman Museum were able to fulfil the strict requirements to be able to keep the column.”

To ensure that the spectacular discovery is not forgotten, Duesmann had a replica erected at Römerstrasse 3, within sight of the site of discovery, “so that the attraction remains a part of the Roman town of Obernburg.”

Besucher im Römermuseum in Obernburg am Main in Franken
Ausstellungsstücke im Obergeschoss des Römermuseums in Obernburg in Franken

What Can You See and Where?

So far, findings from the years 107 to 400 AD have been discovered in Obernburg. The excavation of the beneficiarii station was spectacular and the most significant for science. Originals can be seen in the streetscape, including the tin stones of the fort wall and the dedication stone of Lucius Petronius Florentinus.

Other artefacts such as a relief of Apollo, sculptures and gravestones are on display in the small municipal Roman museum. The most significant pieces went to the State Archaeological Collection in Munich.

“Obernburg is the greatest place along the Limes!”

No replicas are currently being planned in Obernburg, but virtual reconstructions and the expansion of the small museum into a museum complex, in which “special exhibitions with exhibits from Munich can take place,” according to the mayor.

“All Roman archaeological sites are to be documented in 3D,” explains museum director Erfurth. “This is an enormous project with the vision of being able to walk through Roman Obernburg with 3D glasses.” Then all it will take is a little imagination to vividly visualise the hustle and bustle of 1,800 years ago. For archaeologist Bernd Steidl, one thing is already clear: “Obernburg is the greatest place along the Limes!”

Original Steinaltarplatte mit Inschrift des Kohortenpräfekten Lucius Petronius Florentinus an einem Haus in der Römerstraße von Obernburg
Select regions
Select categories

More Stories about Bavarian Cities

Landsberg am Lech: Der Lech ist umgeben von Häusern mit Bunten Fassaden

Lovely Landsberg

Lots of greenery, Italian flair and art on the border between Upper Bavaria and Bavarian Swabia. Our reporters discovered Landsberg am Lech

Read more
Blick durch das Bamberger Tor auf den Marktplatz von Lichtenfels in Franken

There’s more than meets the eye!

Lichtenfels on the Obermain was once a stronghold of the basket trade. It stands for innovation and high-tech. We had a good look around the town

Read more

City tour through Nuremberg

A colorful city walk from Gostenhof via Rosenaupark and Hesperidengärten to Wöhrder See Lake. Together with two real insiders

Read more
 Die Engel der Befreiungshalle in Kelheim wurden von hinten fotografiert, während die Sonne durch ein Loch in der Kuppel strahlt, sie in ein warmes Licht tauchend.


Beyond the Liberation Hall and Weltenburg Abbey, there are even more delightful discoveries to be made in Kelheim

Read more
Blick auf den Stadtturm und die Dreifaltigkeissäule in Straubing

Straubing at its finest

Straubing is considered the heart of Old Bavaria. The city has much more to offer than just a beautiful façade. Come with us on our tour

Read more
Cafe Been&Green am Gumbertusplatz in Ansbach

Small-town Charm

With actor and cabaret artist Thorsten Siebenhaar on an exploration tour through his Ansbach, on the trail of a deeply relaxed attitude to life

Read more

News from Bavaria

Get first-hand tips on stories, travel reports and events!