From the Romans to the Middle Ages


Roman Fort Saalburg
The Roman fort of Saalburg at the world cultural heritage site Limes

The early inhabitants of the territory of the present-day State of Hessen were Celtic and Germanic tribes. When the Romans erected a castrum, or army camp, for two of its legions in Mainz, on the Rhine River in 13 B.C., the Hessian area on the right bank of the Rhine River also caught Rome’s fancy. Numerous artifacts as well as the reconstructed Roman fort of Saalburg near Bad Homburg bear witness to the Roman culture which shaped life in the Rhine/Main Region for over three centuries.

Around 80 A.D., the Upper Germanic Limes traversed the current territory of Hessen, thus separating the Celts in Southern Hessen from the Chatti and Cherusci in the North. Until 260 A.D. this defensive fortification, the path of which can still be easily followed today, formed the Roman border. With the reign of the Franks in the following centuries, Christianity gained a foothold in Hessen.

First mention of the name Hessen

In a papal document addressed to the missionary Saint Boniface, who worked first in Fritzlar and later in Fulda, the word “Hessi” was mentioned for the first time. Saint Boniface converted to Christianity those Hessians who had initially remained pagan. He also built churches and created church organizations.

Under Charlemagne, who became emperor in 800, the formerly Roman Rhine/Main Region became one of the core regions of the empire together with the royal estates in the surroundings of the dioceses of Mainz and Worms. After the division of the empire under his grandson Louis the German, who was buried in the Abbey of Lorsch, Frankfurt became the preferred seat of the government. During the reign of Frederick Barbarossa of the Swabian Staufer Dynasty, who was elected King of Germany by the imperial princes of the Holy Roman Empire in Frankfurt in 1152, the Rhine/Main Region became once more the center of the empire.

Ever since, Frankfurt has been chosen more and more frequently as the place where German kings were elected or crowned. In 1240, Emperor Frederick II granted Frankfurt trade fair privilege, a decisive event in its rise as Europe’s center of trade and commerce.