from the Roman Period to the Middle Ages

Studies of inland harbours in the Frankish-German Empire as hubs for European communication networks (500-1250)

An ideal reconstruction of the valley settlement Karlburg with adjoining harbour area. Archaeological field studies aim to contribute further information concerning the position and appearance of the mooring area. (Source: Exhibition “Eine Welt in Bewegung”)
Modern Karlburg am Main – the town is situated in the core area of the early and high medieval settlement, which ranged beyond the modern housing area in the north and the south. Karlstadt is in the left-hand corner. (Photo: A. Wunschel; photographed from the north-east)
View of the excavation site on the Veitsberg near Bad Neustadt an der Saale with the valley in the background. Newer studies aim to resolve whether the Fränkische Saale, which is lined with trees in the photo, was navigable in the Early and High Middle Ages and could therefore function as a means to supply the settlement complex. (Photo: L. Werther)
Geomagnetic surveys conducted by scientists from the Institute of Photonic Technology in Jena measure anomalies in the geomagnetic field close to the surface with high precision. The finished magnetogram can provide clues concerning the position and course of the Fränkische Saale in the Early and High Middle Ages. (Photo: A. Wunschel)
Professional divers from the Bavarian Association for Underwater Archaeology (Bayerische Gesellschaft für Unterwasserarchäologie) in the Fränkische Saale. Their aim was to discover possible fords, construction timbers and single finds. (Photo: A. Wunschel)
The project not only tries to localise undiscovered mooring areas but also analyses features which are connected with inland ports, amongst others, this high medieval wharfage in Frankfurt am Main. (Photo: H.-J. Semmler, Denkmalamt Frankfurt a.M. 2012)

Inland navigation has been marginalized in regards to the established research of northern European maritime trading ports, even though written sources clearly show their importance for princely sovereignty and for supplying large monasteries with goods. Especially a deeper analysis of inland ports as gateways of transport and communication connecting waterways and overland paths shows great promise. The sub-project “Studies of inland harbours in the Frankish-German Empire as hubs for European communication networks (500-1250)”, in interdisciplinary collaboration between the archaeological and historical departments of the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, aims to address this desideratum.

In this project, every inland waterway where navigation may have been possible needs to be taken into account, ranging from the major middle European rivers to the smallest possible navigable streams, but also lakes and islands. Inland navigation implies a transition between land and water and therefore requires some form of harbour. For a starting basis, every transition between land and waterway will be classified as an “harbour”. A more detailed study of the nature of these harbours is part of the project.

The objective of this analysis is to integrate inland ports into the research of transportation and commerce in the area between the Mediterranean, Baltic and North Seas.

In addition to the examination on a large geographical scale, the archaeological part of the study concentrates on various smaller areas around pivotal European stream systems like the Rhine, Rhône, Saône and Po.

Currently, the focus of the archaeological field studies lies on sites in Lower Franconia. For example, the settlement cluster Karlberg is distinguished by the excellent state of research and the large number of early medieval imported finds, some of which reached the area via the Main. Extensive geophysical surveys, geoarchaeological drillings and test excavations as a means of localising the harbour, which is believed to have existed near the settlement complement the analysis of previous studies on the deserted settlement villa Karloburg.

Whereas conclusive evidence exists that the Main was navigable, this still needs to be found for the Fränkische Saale. A further micro-study in Lower Franconia examines the significance of the Saale focusing on Bad Neustadt an der Saale, another prominent settlement cluster in the Early and High Middle Ages. Was the river navigable during the time span in question? What was its significance for long distance trading contacts and for supplying the royal palace site? Was it possible for the emperor to reach the royal palace (Königspfalz) via waterway?

Similar questions concerning inland navigation and ports can also be asked for the Rhine, the vital European transport corridor. Once areas for micro-studies have been identified, archaeological field studies in the region of the northern Upper Rhine are planned to complement the analysis on a larger scale.

A further key aspect of the project is the analysis of additional features in the context of inland ports, beyond the areas examined in the micro-studies. This includes amongst others the 12th to 14th century wharfage in Frankfurt am Main, which is next to an enclosing wall of a high medieval representative building in the old town. Because the site was filled in the 14th century, it has been conserved until today.

The historical part of the project is more focused on the larger dimension and consists of two approaches:

The first study concentrates on examining the significance of inland navigation on Middle European Rivers and their harbours, analysed on their significance for the Roman-German kings as a means of locomotion.

To exercise their rule, medieval kings needed to be physically present within their dominion. This meant they had to constantly travel, the kingship was itinerant. Using the transportation infrastructure was an integral part of reigning. The itinerant kingship is often characterised as way of governing from the elevated position on back of a horse. This begs the question if the imagery of a king ruling from a boat would be just as historically accurate.

The examination of the reconstructed itineraries of early and high medieval kings in respect to their means of transport aims to clarify, to what extent and how the sovereigns used waterways.

In the subsequent analysis of historiographical and documentary sources based on these itineraries, additional uses for inland waters can be found, which are also accounted for in the project.

The following key questions serve as a guideline:

  • Who used rivers as a means of locomotion?
  • What was the purpose and the context of the usage of inland waterways and how big was the variability?
  • Which rivers can be proven to have been navigable on account of their usage? Which additional inland waterways were navigated with vessels?
  • For which locations can inland harbours be detected?
  • How big was the importance of inland waterways as transport corridors in relation to travel by land?

The second study examines the importance of inland navigation for early and high medieval manorialism on the basis of primarily monastic manorial roles. Manorial roles typically contain information about holdings, rents and labour services and can provide various details on the use of rivers for transportation:

  1. The monastic holdings listed in manorial roles of the 8th to 10th centuries include not only fields, woods, buildings, livestock and humans, but also harbours and vessels.
  2. Rents usually consisted of payments of produce which were occasionally converted to money payments. In addition, monasteries received payment in kind or money from privileges like market rights and tolls collection rights. These revenues also included income from harbours and vessels, from which some sort of payment was collected.
  3. The manorial roles also list labour services which the monastic fiefs were required to fulfil. These included various forms of agricultural tasks and more specific services like sentry duties or haulage services.

The latter were either fulfilled with wagon and draught animals by land or with vessels by water, a service which can be found as a navigium.

In many cases, it is not specified by what means of transport the haulage services were to be fulfilled. Nevertheless, several of these unspecified services can be proven to have been done via waterway.

These three categories of information which can be found in manorial records – harbours and vessels belonging to monasteries, the revenues collected from additional harbours and vessels, and the transport services on rivers and lakes – show a striking variety in the usage of inland waterways as means of travel and transportation and as a source of revenue for monastic manorialism. Yet, no systematic analysis of  early and high medieval inland navigation and inland ports and their connection to manorialism exists.

The aim of study is to reconstruct to the greatest possible detail which goods were transported, the exact routes of transportation, the people involved, how haulage services via waterways and revenues received from the usage thereof were organised, and what means of transportation were possible. A key question is also the comparison of waterways to overland transportation in respect to their purpose and importance.

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