2015

THE HAMMABURG AND THE BEGINNINGS OF HAMBURG

Hamburg Archaeological Museum

Although many archaeological traces were destroyed when the modern metropolis developed, Hamburg's ground still holds a few surprises, even under the asphalt streets. This includes the discovery of the fortification Hammaburg.

HAMBURG BEFORE HAMMABURG
The area of Hamburg's Old Town was visited sporadically since the Neolithic period. Archaeologists have no traces of a permanent settlement in the form of foundations, rubbish pits, or gravesites so far. Until now several stone tools and fragments of pottery were the only finds. In the wider metropolitan area of Hamburg however, archaeologists have found various settlements and cemeteries from all prehistoric periods since the end of the ice age.
THE CASTLE IN THE MEADOWS
The name "Hammaburg“ derives from the Old Saxon language, an early form of Low German. In Old Saxon, the term "ham“ describes fenced grassland or a separate bay in a lowland. The name Hammaburg, therefore, literally means "the castle in the meadows“ or "in the bay“. Hammaburg is the first ring-shaped fortification of the 8th century and according to the linguistic roots of its name, the Saxon inhabitants of the village already referred to it as a “castle”. At the same time the name refers to the entire area as well. Hammaburg, therefore, meant the structure of the castle and associated settlement - the early Hamburg.
EXCAVATIONS IN THE CATHEDRAL SQUARE
During excavations in the Cathedral Square (Domplatz) in the 1980s, two concentric moats were discovered. They were probably parts of a fortification. Neither traces of the inner building nor additional protection like rampart or palisade could be found. Carbon dating and typical pottery shards give evidence for believing that the fortification was established in the 7th century and pulled down around the year 800. Thus, the fort seemed much too old for the Hammaburg, which was mentioned in documents of the 9th century. However, new excavations in 2005/06 showed that the inner moat is older than the outside moat. So there are two successive fortifications. The older one was built in the 8th century and leveled around 800. This fortification, here called Hammaburg I, may once have surrounded the courtyard of a family of Saxon elite. There were probably commercial and residential buildings next to this courtyard. The fortification laid on a strategically ideal hill in the Geest in the river delta between Alster and Elbe.
SAXONY'S ROAD TO THE FRANKISH EMPIRE - THE SAXON WARS 722 - 804
Armed conflicts between Saxons and Franks occurred repeatedly from the 6th century. It reached its peak under Charlemagne, whose expansionism focused on Saxony as well - legitimized by the simultaneous Christian missions in pagan Saxony. The Saxon Wars started in 772 with the destruction of the Saxon's most important sanctuary, Irminsul. It ended in 804, after many bloody battles and setbacks with the final conquest of Nordalbingia. Although the northeastern border of the Frankish Empire followed the Elbe, the region north of it (up to the rivers Eider and Trave), served as a buffer zone against the Vikings. Initially it was left to the allied Slavic Obodrites, but in 810 it was fully integrated into the Frankish territory. When Saxony was defeated and political integrated, a religious infrastructure was built for sustainable proselytizing of the North.
DID CHARLEMAGNE FOUND HAMMABURG
Hamburg, a proud historical Hanseatic city, has a strong sense of tradition and a view of history, which is shaped by many seemingly irrefutable cornerstones. Here, fact and fiction about the founding history of Hamburg are merging. For a long time the foundation of the city by Charlemagne was seen as a fact. But there is no proven connection between the emperor Charlemagne and Hammaburg. The Saxon fortification Hammaburg emerged long before Charlemagne conquered Saxony. Hammaburg was not the capital of Nordalbingia until his son, Louis the Pious, made it so.
THE HAMMABURG II
In 817 the Danish Vikings, who were allied with the Slavs, tried a large-scale attack on Esesfelth castle, but failed. As a result, the Frankish border was transferred back to the Elbe and secured with the Hammaburg and Delbende Castle (which is mentioned in documents, but so far not precisely localized). Delbende Castle was built in 822; therefore, one can assume that during 817 and 822 the late Saxon Hammaburg I from the 8th century was expanded to the fort Hammaburg II, which was twice as big. From an archaeological point of view the conversion of Hammaburg I to Hammaburg II can only be dated rather imprecisely to "about 800". But in combination with the historical tradition the rebuilding of the fortification may have happened after 817. At this point, the Hammaburg resembled the shape that was first described in documents.
THE VIKING ATTACK OF 845
Disaster struck in 845 when the Vikings attacked Hammaburg. Rimbert describes the surprising attack in the Vita Ansgari with dramatic narrative. His report gives an account of the inadequate defence, the superiority of the raiders, the flight of the population and the looting that lasted three days and ended with pillage and destruction. Is the Viking attack documented archaeologically as well? After such a significant fire, archaeologists would expect to discover a burnt layer that covered the entire settlement area. During the excavations, however, only a few scorch marks were found. These are remains of charcoal, burnt loam and sooty stones that are likely to come from the fireplaces of the houses. There is insufficient proof of a terrible fire as Rimbert described it. Nevertheless the devastation must have been disastrous. After the attack the fortification was levelled and the castle's moat was filled up.
HAMMABURG WITHOUT CASTLE
After the razing of Hammaburg, as a consequence of the Viking attack in 845, the derelict castle area was settled with houses. Archaeologists could find only a few traces of settlement. With the exception of one house with sheeting members, wooden floors and a pit house, remains of houses are only documented by single post-holes and fireplaces. The retrieved pottery shards from the settlement layers include locally produced pottery, imported Slavic pots and so-called shell-tempered round-bottomed pots from the North Sea coast. Even after Count Bernhard left after his castle was destroyed and the missionary Ansgar left after his church burnt down - Hammaburg lived on. The place remained a hub for trans-regional trade.
MYSTERY HAMMABURG SOLVED
After excavations in the Cathedral Square (Domplatz) in the postwar period, the Hammaburg was considered fully discovered. A reassessment in 2002 of the discoveries suggested that the fortification is much younger and dates from the 10th century. A new turn came with the evaluation of the last major excavation in 2005/06: There were two previous versions of the rampart, one from Saxon times in the 8th century and another from the 9th century, which must be the historic Hammaburg.
BUILDING BOOM IN HAMMABURG
The surprising establishment of an archdiocese led to an unprecedented building boom in Hammaburg. Even though the castle itself laid waste since the Viking attack in 845, people still settled on the former castle area and its surroundings. In the year 900 a new, and even more powerful, fortification with a moat and rampart was built, the Hammaburg III. At the same time people began to backfill the riverbank below Hammaburg. The shore was fortified with staggered wooden barriers and wooden embankments. Parallel to the shore numerous small wattle houses and log cabins were built. For the first time in history, the settlement included the opposite shore of Reichenbach Island (Reichenbachinsel), where a shore market came to life next to tightly positioned wattle and daub houses. The oldest port of Hamburg took shape on both sides of the shore.
ADAM OF BREMEN - THE CHRONICLER
Adam of Bremen was called to Bremen in 1066, where he led the convent school. Around 1075, he wrote his main work - the History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen. It is one of the most fascinating chronicles of the early medieval history and contains historical, geographical and ethnological descriptions. Adam drew from many sources, such as biographies, reports of miracles, and other documents. From this he created a chronicle, which had the purpose of substantiating the claim of the Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen to lead the entire north. This again included the fictional story of the early establishment of the archdiocese in Ansgar's time. It also suggested that the Pope and the Scandinavian kings' desire to sidestep Hamburg influence and establish a diocese in Scandinavia should be resisted. In the end, those fears became reality when the archdiocese of Lund was re-established in 1104.
FROM HAMMABURG TO "HEIDENWALL"
In the early 11th century the fortification was not rebuilt after Hammaburg III had been pulled down. A wooden cathedral was erected on the castle ground. At the same time, Archbishop Unwan (1013-1029) and Duke Bernhard II (1011-1059) had the Heidenwall ("heathen rampart") built. The mighty rampart section with a moat stretched from the Alster Lake in the north to the river Elbe in the south, and was meant to defend Hammaburg's old weak point, the open eastern side, against future pagan invaders. The Heidenwall retained its defensive function until the whole town was fully fenced by a surrounding wall of stone around 1260. Remains of rampart and moat were found in 1938 during the excavation of the Pressehaus ("press building") and most recently in 1962/65 during the excavation of the Bischofsburg ("Bishop's Castle") at Speersort.
BISHOP'S CASTLE - HAMMABURG'S GATEWAY TO THE WORLD
Around 1075, the chronicler Adam of Bremen reported that Bishop Bezelin Alebrand had built a residence of stone. It was the first secular building of stone in Hamburg. When the foundation of an enormous stone tower was discovered at Speersort in 1962, researchers immediately suggested that this was remains of the historic Bischofsburg ("Bishop's Castle"). Recent excavations show, however, that the tower was built in the 12th century and is the rest of the oldest town gate of Hamburg.
BECOMING A TOWN WITH TOWN WALL AND TOWN SEAL
The lithography by Peter Suhr shows the town gate Steintor, which was erected in the 13th century. In the background of the passage, the spires of St. James' Church (St. Jacobi) and St. Peter's Church (St. Petri) can be seen. The town gate on the Bischofsburg must have looked similar in the 12th century on the passage through the rampart Heidenwall. Hamburg's coat of arms shows exactly this theme: A gate with two towers, topped by the spires of St. Mary's Cathedral.
FIN
The Cathedral Square (Domplatz) is historically one of the most important places in Hamburg. Archaeological excavations discovered numerous traces of its eventful history. Here lies the nucleus of the Hanseatic city: the Hammaburg! The today's Cathedral Square addresses its important history in several ways. Firstly, an embankment-like steel sculpture follows the outline of the medieval cathedral castle with a diameter of 140 metres, and secondly a grid like pattern of square white plinth seats mark the layout of the former cathedral.
Archäologisches Museum Hamburg Stadtmuseum Harburg|Helms-Museum
Credits: Story

DIRECTOR & STATE ARCHAEOLOGIST
Rainer-Maria Weiss

AUTHORS
Jochen Brandt, Elke Först, Yvonne Krause, Lisa Hansen, Michael Merkel, Ingo Petri, Rainer-Maria Weiss,

REDAKTION
Michael Merkel

FINAL PROOFREADING
Kathrin Mertens

TRANSLATION
Marlene Hofmann

FINAL PROOFREADING
Jeffrey Lucas

PHOTOS
Archäologisches Museum Hamburg Stadtmuseum Harburg|Helms-Museum,Thorsten Weise, Matthias Friedel (Luftbildfotografie)

CURATOR OF THE EXHIBTION
Ingo Petri

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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