In the year 2019, a mesmerizing Roman dagger emerged from the depths of a remote Swiss Alpine region. Today, a dedicated team of scientists and students has meticulously mapped out a 2,000 year old Roman battlefield, revealing the poignant last stand of the Suanetes tribe and the consequential collapse of the region to the Roman Empire.
Tracing Back to 15 BC
The journey begins around 15 BC when the discovery of the Roman dagger, nestled among various archaeological sites in Oberhalbstein (Graubünden, Switzerland), hinted at a significant historical event. Molded lead sling bullets marked with stamps from the 3rd, 10th, and 12th Roman Legions were also unearthed, suggesting a major battle in the surrounding Alpine landscapes.
Unearthing the Past
Excavations in 2007 and 2008 revealed a 1.3-hectare Roman camp, active from 16/15 BC well into the mid-second decade AD. This finding strengthened the belief that Roman forces clashed with a local tribal militia, creating the groundwork for what would become the Crap Ses Gorge battlefield.
Over the last two years, collaborative efforts between researchers, students from the universities of Basel and Zurich, and dedicated metal detectorists have yielded thousands of Roman military artifacts. This marks the first tangible evidence of a Roman battle site ever found in Switzerland.
The Battlefield Unveiled: Where Steel Met Leather, For Land
Picture a tranquil alpine meadow in southeast Switzerland, near the Crap-Ses Gorge. Over 2,000 years ago, this serene landscape bore witness to a blood-soaked battle where highly-armored Roman soldiers clashed with the local tribes, slashing through leather clothing and wooden shields.
Situated on the flank of the Julier Valley, south of Chur, the battle site resides in the Julier Pass, a vital mountain pass connecting the Engadin valley with Graubünden and the broader Roman Empire. In 15 BC, Roman troops penetrated this Alpine region, compelling the Suanetes tribes to unite and make their final stand against Roman occupation.
Academics and Treasure Hunters Unite
Over the past two years, a synergy of 40 scientists from Basel and Zurich universities and volunteer metal detectorists has resulted in the discovery of swords, slingshot bullets, silver brooches, coins, shield remains, and thousands of Roman “hobnails.” Professor Peter-Andrew Schwarz, leading the project, notes this as the first time Swiss students have worked on a real Roman battlefield.
Contextualizing the Battle
The battlefield’s discovery in the Julier Valley sheds light on the Roman camp at the Septimer mountain pass, serving as the final stopover for Roman soldiers. Here, they prepared for their encounter with the Suanetes, indicating a 2,000-strong Roman force against 500-1,000 local fighters strategically positioned atop the Crap-Ses gorge hill.
Bringing History to Life: A 3D Recreation
Based on findings, researchers have published a 3D recreation of the 15 BC battle. This detailed computer model relies on the locations of crossbow bolts and heaps of lead slingshot bullets, providing insights into specific clashes and skirmishes.
Warfare in High Resolution
Dr. Schwarz highlights the significance of the 2,500 hobnails among the artifacts, used to fasten Roman soldiers’ boots. Each hobnail will be meticulously plotted to trace the fighters’ positions, marking the course of the battle.
The Suanetes’ Defeat and Roman Triumph
In conclusion, Dr. Flück emphasizes that the distribution of finds and broken equipment pieces unequivocally indicates the Suanetes’ defeat. Following this victory, the Romans marched through the Swiss Plateau, along the Rhine, solidifying Switzerland into the expanding Roman Empire.