Manching is a La Tène period oppidum site in Bavaria, Germany, dated from about 250 to 80 b.c., after which time it gradually was abandoned. It is one of a handful of sites of its type that have been investigated systematically, although because of its enormity, only about 3 percent of the settlement has been excavated. It has yielded both cultural material and physical settlement data that inform prehistorians about the organization and function of an oppidum. Oppidum (plural, oppida) is the term that Julius Caesar used to describe large, fortified towns that may have served as administrative centers for the Gallic tribes he had come north to conquer between 58 and 50 b.c.
The role of oppida is debated in the archaeological literature mainly because of the structural variability among these settlements, which differ from one another primarily in internal organization. Criteria for identification are based on settlement size, presence of fortification, industrial activities, geographic position, and period of occupation. Generally, the sites are large (hundreds of hectares) and defensively enclosed by earth and timber walls that use ditch and rampart technology. Such sites were located on naturally defended or elevated landscape features that intersected trade routes. They included areas for intensive production of iron implements and pottery. Oppida were established and abandoned during the final two centuries b.c., and their distribution across Europe coincides with the occupation of territories by Celtic populations from western France to the Czech Republic.
Manching is exceptional both for the scale of archaeological investigation that has focused on the site and for the wealth and diversity of material evidence collected there. Just south of Ingolstadt in the county of Pfaffenhoffen, this 380-hectare site once was situated on a river terrace along the Danube. The unusual setting (most oppida are elevated) was compensated for by its encroachment on a swamp along its northeast side. The supplemental fortification constructed around the exposed portion of the settlement is a 7.2-kilometer-long rampart wall of the murus Gallicus type. Muri Gallici—timber-laced ramparts fronted by ditches—generally are not seen as far east as Manching. The
Kelheim-type rampart, with its exterior face constructed of vertical timbers and drystone wall (there is no interior walling or timber lacing through the earthen ramp), is more common throughout this area. The site was known from the remains of the wall from the early nineteenth century but was mistaken for a construction of Roman origin and identified only tentatively as Celtic in 1888 by a Romanist familiar with Caesar's De bello Gallico. In 1903 Paul Reinecke, working on an inventory of monuments and historic places, recognized artifacts from Manching that were similar to finds from oppida in France and Bohemia.
Excavations at Manching have been necessitated by construction projects that started with a military airfield between 1936 and 1938. A central portion of the settlement was destroyed when mechanical equipment was used to strip the area and tear away part of the wall. Efforts to recover artifacts were restricted by the exigencies of impending war, and only those materials that could be rescued from the spoil piles were saved. Subsequently, the airfield was bombed. In 1955 Allied forces decided to rebuild the airfield and, following negotiations with archaeologists, contributed an unprecedented sum of money for investigation of the settlement and of the area that would be affected by renewed construction. Excavation began that year and continued until 1974 under the direction of Werner Krämer. A subsequent excavation was organized in 1984, following a ten-year hiatus, through the Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (the Bavarian department that oversees protection of cultural sites and monuments). This investigation responded to the planned construction of an exit ramp on the secondary roadway that passes through the site (Landstrasse B16) and focused on a previously unexplored tract in the northern part of the settlement. Approximately 1 kilometer long by 35–60 meters wide, a strip running from the center of the roughly circular enclosed area to the wall was examined. A further 6-hectare excavation was begun in 1996. Materials in all these campaigns are consistent with La Tène C1 (280–220 b.c.) through D1 (120–80 b.c.) dates.
Evidence for development of the site shows a multiphase sequence of settlement beginning as early as the third century b.c., making Manching one of the older oppida. The earliest settlement is concentrated toward the center of the enclosed area and predates the construction of the wall. A track oriented east-west runs through the old center and provided the foundation for a later main street linking the east and west gates of the murus Gallicus.
It is likely that the initial construction of the wall (second half of the second century b.c.) was an expression of prestige that established Manching as a focal point for activities centered on production and exchange. These activities encompassed not only collection of raw materials and manufacture of goods but also feasting and the functions associated with market towns and fairs. The wall itself was rebuilt during the occupation of Manching, as is evidenced by a dendrochronological date for a structure in front of the eastern gate that coincides with its renovation in 105 b.c. It is likely that the function of the wall changed through time from display to defense because a third stage of construction reinforces the entire 7.2-kilometer length of the enclosure. Furthermore, burials of individuals who died of battle injuries attest to an attack on the settlement.
The interior of the settlement seems to have been organized to facilitate trade. Structures include rows of stalls, homes, and even warehouses for the agricultural produce that made up the bulk of exchanged goods. Raw materials used in the production of glass, pottery, iron, and bronze indicate that Manching was a thriving center for craft producers. Coins were recovered from the settlement, as were strikes used to mint coinage. Forty-eight imported amphorae that contained Mediterranean wine during transportation are among the items that were traded. Published volumes covering the analysis of the Manching materials feature bronze finds, tools, fibulae, glass, faunal material, graphite pottery, imported pottery and coarse wares, smooth wheel-thrown pottery and painted pottery, and human burials associated with the settlement.
Bott, R. D., G. Grosse, F. E. Wagner, U. Wagner, R. Gebhard, and J. Riederer. "The Oppidum of Manching: A Center of Celtic Culture in Early Europe." Naturwissenschaften 81, no. 12 (1994): 560–562.
Collis, John. Oppida: Earliest Towns North of the Alps. Charlesworth, U.K.: H. Huddersfield, 1984.
Dannheimer, Hermann, and Rupert Gebhard, eds. Das keltische Jahrtausend. Mainz, Germany: Philipp von Zabern, 1993.
Gebhard, Rupert. "The Celtic Oppidum of Manching and Its Exchange System." In Different Iron Ages: Studies on the Iron Age in Temperate Europe. Edited by J. D. Hill and C. G. Cumberpatch, pp. 111–120. BAR International Series, no. 602. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, 1995.
Green, Miranda J., ed. The Celtic World. London: Routledge, 1995.
Krämer, Werner. "The Oppidum at Manching." Antiquity 34 (1960): 191–200.
Moscati, Sabatino, et al., eds. The Celts. New York: Rizzoli, 1991.
Wells, Peter S. Farms, Villages, and Cities: Commerce andUrban Origins in Late Prehistoric Europe. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984.