Roaming in the Ruins

We’ve got a bucket list started on the fridge of stuff we want to do before leaving Vienna. One of the items was visiting the Roman ruins at Carnuntum, about half an hour from the city. So, yesterday we finally did.

As a tourist site, Carnuntum is awesome. It’s the first place I have been where Roman buildings have been completely reconstructed, giving a feel for how people actually lived back then. The rich ones were pretty comfortable! And they had impressive infrastructure. Everything from the heating system to the toilets has been recreated and explained (in German, Slovak, and English). The under-floor heating systems (hypocausts) and hot water heater were even working in the public baths. They were nice and cozy on a cold, windy day.

Carnuntum was a major settlement on the fringe of the Roman Empire. At its peak, the population was around 50,000 people. I’m going to be lazy now, and copy from Wikipedia:

Carnuntum originated as a Roman army camp. Its name is nearly always found with “K” on monuments, and is derived from Celtic karn- (“cairn”). Its name first occurs in history during the reign of Augustus (6 AD), when Tiberius made it his base of operations in the campaigns against Maroboduus (Marbod). Significant Romanization occurred when the town was selected as the garrison of the Legio XV Apollinaris. A few years later it became the centre of the Roman fortifications along the Danube from Vindobona (now Vienna) to Brigetio (Ó-Szőny). Under Trajan or Hadrian, Carnuntum became the permanent quarters of Legio XIV Gemina and the capital of Upper Pannonia.

Even in Roman times it had a history as a major trading center for amber, brought from the north to traders who sold it in Italy; the main arm of the Amber Road crossed the Danube at Carnuntum. It was made a municipium by Hadrian (Aelium Carnuntum). Marcus Aurelius resided there for three years (172-175) during the war against the Marcomanni, and wrote part of his Meditations there. Septimius Severus, at the time governor of Pannonia, was proclaimed emperor there by his soldiers (193), to replace Emperor Pertinax, who had been murdered. In 308 the Emperor emeritus Diocletian chaired a historic meeting with his co-emperors Maximian and Galerius in Carnuntum to solve the rising tensions within the tetrarchy. It brought about freedom of religion for the Roman Empire. In the 4th century, it was destroyed by Germanic invaders. Although partly restored by Valentinian I, it never regained its former importance, and Vindobona became the chief military centre. During the Barbarian Invasions Carnuntum was eventually abandoned and used as a cemetery and source of building material for building projects elsewhere. Eventually, its remains were covered by decaying plant material. In fact the walking level is now 1.5 metres higher.

The area of the former Carnuntum spreads over several acres, underneath and around the village of Petronell-Carnuntum, near the Slovak border. It is interesting to consider what else might be buried under those ordinary little Austrian homes.

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