The end of a way of life and the beginning of a new era

Nürnberger Sagen und Geschichten
(Nuremberg Legends and Other Tales)
By Johann Paul Priem, as translated by Rudy Langmann

Beginning of all history starts with the legends. The poesi of these same legends attracts us with all of the fantastic and wonderful happenings and allows us to enter into the lives of people of times gone by, to better understand the thoughts and beliefs of our forefathers.

It was about the year 30 after the birth of Christ when Tiberius, the stepson of the Roman emperor Augustus, arrived at a relatively flat and even but wild area in the northern district of Nordgau that

seemed to him a good place for his legions to stay the winter. In the middle of the sandy lowlands rose a rocky hillside which reached down to the banks of a river running swiftly below. On the top of this hill he ordered his sappers to build a watch tower which he named 'Neronis Speculum' (Nero's Mirror), in order to, from this position calmly await the arrival of the enemy armies from their stations at the rivers Rhine and Main. However, as the course of the war against the germanic tribes demanded it, he had to bring his legions south to the river Danube, but he left a strong detachment behind at the newly built fortress tower.

Attracted by the presence of the Roman soldiers many local people gathered below the fort, hoping for employment

by these southern foreigners, and they stayed here in hastily erected huts. Already in year 45 was this growing village, Neronesberg(Nero's Hill), so well populated that the small local Roman garrison no longer had any real influence upon the daily lives of the residents, and it was considered by Rome as sort of a lost outpost. The Neronesberger inhabitants lived a largely unregulated and free life, disobeyed the laws, and made highway robbery their main occupation. For the reason of their daring boldness they were feared and abhorred far and wide. But they still assisted the Franks and the Thuringians in a military campaign against the invading Goths. The tribes from the north were soundly defeated and driven back to their Scandinavian and Baltic homelands.

The constant pressure of the germanic people on the expanding Roman colonization led to a strengthening of the provincial strongholds, and so it came to pass that the original watch tower became the center of a strong defensive castle which the inhabitants helped to build, or rather were forced to help build. The Romans were the lords of the land, they appointed official caretakers, assessed taxes and other contributions. Thus, the unrestrained freedom had come to an end. The local inhabitants from now on had to adhere to--and live by--the rules and regulations laid down by their masters, and they became true and trusted vassals of the Romans. As such, in year 257, they fought violently against the Saxons and the Thuringians, leading to their own disastrous defeat along with their Roman masters and allies. The Neronesberg castle was totally destroyed. It was not until the time of emperor Aurelian in year 272 that the Romans once more became the masters of the land. The village was rebuilt and reoccupied, but then in year 291 came a severe drought followed by a pandemic and a harsh winter which cost the lives of many people.

In about year 308 the Frankish king Chlodemir conquered the village and castle Neronesberg. He introduced his heathen religion and made the locals his subjects. The power of Franconia spread more and more, and the Neronesberger became the subjects of the Franconian duke who was the new ruler of the provinces as far as the river Main. But then in 386 the Romans once more became the masters of the Franconians and Neronesberg again fell into their hands. In year 450 came the Huns and the Vandals, and the lowlanders took refuge inside the moats and the walls of the castle, and at the time of the Svabian king Alearus the town was still considered the capital of the district of Nordgau. (According to Gundling's chronicle the town was first built by the Norisci people, the Tyrolians and the Bavarians that clustered together near the Pegnitz and the Rednitz rivers.)

The chronicle describes a lot of wonderful signs that showed in the sky and on earth: fiery stars with great welds that remained in the sky for many days, swords and pikes that appeared on the horizon, earth quakes, flood, crop failures and pestilence.

To add to the sad predictions and prophecies connected to all this human misfortune, the feared Attila, king of the Huns, also came to Neronenberg. The town was plundered and destroyed and Attila's horde remained here until the battle in the Catalonian fields when the German nations were liberated from those wild barbarian conquerors. Still, so much stronger blossomed and prospered the tried and suffering small town once again. The entire Nordgau, many Frankish people, and amongst them many noble families, and even people from the town of Regimon (Regensburg) and the lands around the Danube contributed to the settlement of the town which, from that time on (about year 458), became known as Norikerberg.

In year 493 appeared the Bavarian king Adelger, who drove the Roman appointed bailiff out of the town, replacing him with a Bavarian substitute. He also began a strengthening of the town's defensive system. With Adelger a number of Bavarian nobles arrived in town, commonly to be known as the 'Haller'.

The importance of the river Pegnitz was first considered in year 500. From the time of a severe pestilence that decimated the population in year 591 stems an anecdote that ascribes the sayings of 'God's help' and 'to your health' since the afflicted mostly gave up the ghost after suffering enormous pains.

The introduction of Christianity in Nordgau and Norikerberg happened at the time of Theodos III of Bavaria. He accepted Christian baptism for himself, and was followed by many of the nobles. Among the common people the old religion remained for a long while yet, in fact until year 723 when the apostle Bonifacius came to Norikerberg where he built a chapel below the castle ramparts, dedicating it to Saint Peter.

From year 736 (more than 300 years before the town of Nürnberg is first mentioned in a charter document) the chronicler tells us about a conflagration that started in the home of a certain "Georg Lichtensteiner near the Wine market", caused by a six-year-old child whose clothing caught on fire. Eighteen houses were destroyed and three men, two women and five children perished.

The two major European rivers, the Danube and the Rhine, made up the natural boundaries between the Roman provinces and Germania during the early part of the first millennium, although there was a constant push by Rome for more territory and an opposing force made up of a large number of Teutonic tribes to resist this expansion of the empire, leading to frequent skirnishes and wars, sometimes favoring Rome and at other times the Germans. As seen on the map, Gallia (France) and Vindelicia (Switzerland and Austria) bordered the German territory and were separated from this only by the two main warerways. Beyond these stretched the dark and immense Hercynian forest where even the Roman legions feared to tread.
The old Roman fortress at Neronesberg lay well beyond this border, roughly where a town named Cantarbis in Narisci tribal land is marked. The Germanic tribes did not live in towns, and the few settlements indicated on the map were generally established by the Roman legions.