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The Hercynian forest October 26, 2008

Posted by Jenny in nature, Roman history.
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The Riesengebirge was part of the Hercynian Forest

The Riesengebirge was part of the Hercynian Forest

Among maps of the Roman Empire, I find one that depicts “Germania.”  Across the southern part of that territory, the capital letters “HERCYNIAN FOREST” span the headwaters of the Eder, the Weser, and the Main.  The forest is mentioned in the Germania and the Annals of Tacitus as a place of dark, dense trees and bottomless bogs through which the Roman foot soldiers floundered.

We know from ancient writings, beginning with Aristotle and continuing through Julius Caesar and Pliny the Elder, that the Hercynian Forest was a mysterious realm in which the rivers flowed northward, so vast in its extent that one could not go from one end of it to the other in sixty days’ march.  Gigantic oaks grew there so close together that their mighty branches intertwined, creating a pathless and impenetrable mass.  Antlered elk without joints leaned against the sturdy tree trunks to sleep, and, with diligent searching, unicorns could be found.  The ancient ox called aurochs wandered through the dappled forest glades, and a beautiful bird with feathers that glowed like flames flitted among the numberless emerald leaves.

Only small, scattered tracts remain of this wilderness, the best known being the Schwarzwald (Black Forest).  We do not now think of Europe as a place of forests.

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