By Carol Duff, Health Editor, Veterans Today
photos by Carol Duff copyright 2017
In the Bernkastel-Wittlich district in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, one will find a wonderful example of Roman influence in the development of Germany. The wine making village of Neumagen-Drohn was built by the Romans around 2,000 years ago, to be used as a stop off on the road which runs along the Mosel River. This important road took the ancient Romans, as well has modern day travelers, from Trier to Koblenz.
Ausonius (c. 310-395), a 4th century Gallo-Roman poet and teacher of rhetoric from the area of France which is modern day Bordeaux, knew a wonderful area when he saw it. For a time, he was tutor to the future emperor Gratian. One of his best-known poems is Moselle (Mosel), the River which is a description of the river Moselle, and is also one of his most renowned works. The very descriptive following words are found in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes. Germany: Vols. XVII–XVIII. 1876–79 and translated by C.T. Brooks.
HAIL, O illustrious river! renowned for thy fields and thy farmers!
River that washest the walls of the Belgæ’s Imperial city!
River whose ridges are crowned with the vine’s odoriferous clusters!
River whose meadows are clothed by the grass with an emerald verdure!
Ships on thy bosom thou bearest,—a sea; a river, thou rollest 5
Down from the uplands; a lake, in the crystalline depth of thy waters;
Yet like a rill from the mountains, with silvery foot canst meander;
Nor can the coldest spring yield such refreshment as thine is.
River and brooklet and lake art thou, and fountain and ocean,—
Ocean, with ebb and flow of its multitudinous waters. 10
Peaceful and placid the speed of thy current; no howling of storm-winds
Vexes thy brow; no dark rocks lie lurking to anger thy bosom.
* * * * *
Oft, in the bend of thy current, thou lookest across, and with wonder
Seemest to see thy own waves gliding backward, and then for a moment
Thou, in thine own proper course, (so dreamest thou haply?) dost linger; 15
Yet with no slime-gendered reeds thou lazily linest thy borders,
Nor on thy shore in mud and ooze dost thou sluggishly stagnate,
But all unsoiled and unwet come the feet to thy silvery margin.
* * * * *
Go, and with Phrygian mosaics inlay thou the floor of thy mansion,
Till like the face of a mirror the marble-paved corridors glisten! 20
I, meanwhile, despising what wealth and luxury offer,
Wonder at Nature’s works, where never a miserly boaster,
Not even poverty, grasps, in the joy of the lavish creation.
Silvery sand and pure pebbles adorn this clean floor of the river,
And it retains in remembrance no trace of the last passing footprint. 25
Down through the crystalline depths of the waters we see to the bottom.
They have no mysteries to hide; and, as in the clear upper heavens
Ranges the eye far round through all the circling horizon,
What time no breath of wind shakes a leaflet or ripples the water,
So in the blue heaven below the eve freely ranges or lingers, 30
And in the azure-light chambers sees manifold shapes of rare beauty;
Plants that gracefully wave in the silent sway of the waters,
And through green groves of moss glittering jewels of sand.
* * * * *
Lo! how the slippery swarms of fishes that chase one another
Through the green labyrinth there, in and out, in perpetual motion, 35
Charm and bewilder at once the eye of the wearied beholder!
All the names and the tribes of the numberless finny creation,
Whether of those that swim down stream on their way to the ocean,
Or those that follow each other up-river in shoals never ending.
* * * * *
There, in the liquid glass, the bending forms of the oarsmen,— 40
Shadowy oarsmen, dipping alternate in time with the real,
Only in inverse position, are seen gliding merrily onward.
How the illusive picture delights the charmed eyes of the young folk!
Such the ecstatic delight of the child when the nurse at the toilet
Holds up before her the glass and shows her her shadowy sister, 45
Looking so real to her,—as if ’t were her double incarnate,—
That she must needs imprint a kiss, in her wondering transport,
On the blank metal that stares with a cold, unanswering surface.
* * * * *
But what end can I find of celebrating thy waters,
Blue as the blue of the ocean, that mirrors the heavens, O Mosella! 50
Lo! what innumerable streams come down, either side, from the mountains,
Eager to mingle their waters with thine! full fain would they linger
In the fair regions they pass; but a yearning far mightier bids them
Baptize themselves into thy name, and bury themselves in thy bosom.
* * * * *
Yea, majestic Mosella! had Smyrna but lent thee her singer, 55
Mantua bequeathed thee her bard, not Simois, then, nor Ilyssus,
Nay, not Tiber himself, should go before thee in glory!
Mighty Rome,—thy forgiveness! Far from thy greatness be envy!
Ever my prayer is: May Nemesis (strange to the tongue of the Latin)
Guard thee, of empire the seat,—guard, Rome! thy illustrious Fathers! 60
Hail! O Mosella, to thee, great parent of fruits and of peoples!
Thee an heroic nobility graces, a youth of tried prowess,
Thee an excellent speech that rivals the Latian language.
Nay, to thy sons has been given by Nature, with earnest, grave faces,
And with refinement of manners, the deep-welling joy of the spirit. 65
Not old Rome alone can point with pride to her Catos,
Nor was the model of truth and integrity buried forever
With the just Aristides, sometime the glory of Athens.
* * * * *
Let me sing to the close the praise of the glorious river,
Follow the sweep of its tide rejoicing along the green meadows, 70
Till in the waves of the Rhine it shall come to receive consecration!
Open, O Rhine! thy blue bosom! Spread wide thy green fluttering garments
To the new stream that with thine would mingle its sisterly waters!
Nor does it bring thee alone the wealth of its waters; but stately
Sweeps from the walls of the city, the princely that once saw in triumph 75
Father and son return from Nicer and Lupodunum.
* * * * *
Proud grew the laurel and high from the field of the freshly won battles;
Soon other lands may bear others; but ye, as brother and sister,
Roll in majesty on to the purple expanse of the ocean!
Fear not, O glorious Rhine! that thy name and thy fame shall be lessened! 80
Far from the host be all envy! Thy name and renown are immortal!
Sure of thy glory, then open thy wide arms to welcome thy sister!
Neumagen’s Gallo-Roman fort walls were built in the early 4th century AD. Even stone funerary monuments were used for the walls. There were 13 rounded towers, of which a portion of one still survives, and two large gateways. Neumagen has a prominent dock on the river which was very important, during Roman times, due to the fact that this was the location of where the road from Mainz to Trier meets the Mosel River.
On the drawing of the fort walls, one can find the location of the Catholic Church, St. Maria. On the walls of this church one can find relics of saints. These relics are bones and parts of skulls all enclosed in ornate frames with labels of the name of the saint from which these bones were taken. The relics are encased in elaborately framed cases and adorn the walls of St. Maria.
Entering the village of Neumagen and near the village center, you will be met with a rather astonishing copy of the large stone carving of the Neumagen Wine Ship. The original can be found in Trier, in the Rhenish State Museum. This impressive stone carving is more accurately located in front of old Saint Peter’s Chapel (Peterskapelle) and the Ausonius Garden. This ornately carved stone ship was discovered in 1877, during excavations of a tomb of a Roman Wine merchant who died in 220 AD. This is perhaps the oldest evidence of wine representing an important part of this Mosel region.
This region is immersed in the growth of Reisling grapes and Neumagen-Dhron is considered the biggest wine growing center on the Mosel, after Piesport, Zell, Leiwen and Konz. Shops line the streets, all selling their particular bottling of the wonderful Reislings.
There is also a carved funeral vault, and a stone similar to a modern day mileage marker. This stone is the Leuga Stone upon which Latin words are engraved. The translation of the Latin inscription is: The Commander and Caesar Marcus Aurelius Severus Antonius, the pious and fortunate Augustus, conqueror of Arabia Adiabenes (the Assyrian), the greatest victor over the Parthians, and also the Britannians.
The village of Neumagen-Dhron is suffused with the touch of the Romans. Romans developed the wine growing region as only they could. The patience and hard work to terrace the countless hectares of steep slopes paid off for the Romans and Germany now benefits from ancient Roman expertise as vineyard developers and vinters.
If you ever find yourself in this area of Germany, be sure to stop in and enjoy these sights and remember that the Romans were there first.