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Between Bad Deutsch Altenburg (to the E) and the small town of Petronell (to the W), ca. 40 km down the Danube from Vindobona (Vienna), an important Roman military stronghold on the middle Danube. The name is of Illyrian origin. Because of its position in the road network, Carnuntum was strategically one of the chief cities on the boundary between Noricum and Pannonia. It was situated at the crossroads of two major trade routes: the ancient tribal road along the Danube and the important S-N connecting road from the Adria region (Aquileia) along the E boundary of the Alps to Carnuntum. At this point the amber route running S from the Baltic thrust out toward the Danube—a major artery from early times with the valley of the March providing a favorable passageway for invaders from the N. The geographical and political importance of the site is thus reflected in its history.

The early Illyrian-Celtic settlement of Carnuntum was situated near the Braunsberg mountain by Hainburg, on whose summit the oppidum of the Boii was set up as a center of defense. After the occupation the indigenous population settled in the Petronell territory (later to become the civilian city). Not long after the conquest of Pannonia (12 B.C.), Carnuntum became a sortie base for the military operations that Tiberius carried out against the Marcomanni under King Maroboduus. As such it is first mentioned, under the name locus Norici regni. In A.D. 14 the Legio XV Apollinaris was transferred from Emona to the stone camp here which apparently was built under Tiberius. In this period too the E boundary of Noricum, with Carnuntum, was added to the province of Pannonia for military and administrative reasons.

In A.D. 62 Legio XV, detached to serve in the E campaign for a few years (63-68), was relieved by Legio X gemina or Legio VII Galbiana (68-69). On its return in 71, the legion once again served in Carnuntum but was replaced in the latter part of Trajan's reign by Legio XIV gemina, which was to remain in garrison here to the end of Roman domination. Under Trajan (in the years 103-107) the province of Pannonia was divided into Pannonia superior and inferior and Carnuntum was made chief city of Pannonia superior and thus the seat of the governor. Hadrian visited the city during his tour of the Danubian provinces in 124 and raised the settlement W of the camp tp the rank of municipium Aelium Carnuntum. Often in difficult and dangerous times the Danube fortress was to shelter emperors within its walls. When Carnuntum, together with the Viennese basin, was overrun in the Marcomannic invasion, Marcus Aurelius began his counteroffensive from this spot. For two years (172-74) Carnuntum was his headquarters. Here, too, the emperor wrote the second book of his Meditations.

Twenty years later at Carnuntum the then governor of Pannonia superior, Septimius Severus, was promoted from soldier to emperor on the strength of his leadership of Legio XIV and the city was made colonia Septimia Carnuntum in 194. During the wars of succession in the unsettled 3d c., Carnuntum in 260 was evidently one of the centers of the usurper Regalianus. Since most of the coins of this rival emperor are to be found around Carnuntum, he presumably had his mint here. In 308 Carnuntum was the site of a meeting of the emperor Diocletian with Maximianus and Galerius on the succession to the throne. The Mithraic altar set up on this occasion has been preserved and represents the most significant historical inscription from Austria Romana. The last known time that an emperor stayed in Carnuntum was in 375. Valentian I rushed here to prepare a retaliatory strike against various Germanic tribes. By that time, however, the city had lost all its early splendor. The decline over the previous century had turned it into an “oppidum . . . desertum quidem nunc et squalens” (Amm. Marc. 30.5.2), forcing the emperor to set up his winter quarters in Savaria. As a striking illustration of this decline, about 700 inscriptions dating from the first three centuries were found on the soil of Carnuntum, but only four from the 4th c. The end of Roman domination came with the invasion of Germanic tribes in 395. The fate of both camp and city was sealed with the collapse of the boundary as far as Vindobona and the final surrender of Pannonia I to the Huns in 433. Carnuntum was last mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum (34.24; 26; 28).

The site comprises three complexes differing as to area, function, and administration: (a) the camp and adjacent territorium; (b) the canabae; (c) the municipium, W of the camp, also clearly separate from the canabae.

The camp is on rising ground between Petronell and Bad Deutsch Altenburg (at road km mark 42) on the banks of the Danube. It is irregular in plan, owing partly to the configuration of the ground, partly to later changes in construction (especially the bays on the E facade). The outline resembles a rhombus. The N facade has collapsed where the river has undermined the bank. The original area of the camp must have been approximately 500 by 400 m. The greater part of the surface has been excavated. The sturdy circuit wall, which is 1.8 m thick with rounded-off corners, has a trench system of differing width and is fortified at irregular intervals with inward-facing towers. The via principalis, which lay exactly where the cross-country highway runs today, had two gates at each end with double towers and two passages; likewise the porta decumana. It is no longer possible to determine whether there was a porta praetoria. The interior plan seems fundamentally to follow the usual arrangement. On the other hand, because of the many construction changes made over the 400-odd years that the site was occupied (up to eight construction periods have been noted at certain spots), much has become unclear. Projected excavation should help clarify as far as possible the sequence of the strata and the plan of the settlement in post antiquity.

The military amphitheater is situated on the territorium legionis. Placed, unusually, only ca. 100 m E of the camp, it is nevertheless somewhat below the level of the defenses. Laid out in a depression, it measures 98 by 75 m on the outside, the arena being 72 by 44 m. In the middle of the arena is a basin (8 x 6 m and almost 4 m deep). The governor's loge is in the middle of the S side, the Nemesum by the W gate. The cavea with its wooden seats could accommodate approximate 8000. The stone building put up probably in the first half of the 2d c. A.D. on the site of an earlier wooden structure was founded by the decurio C. Domitius Zmaragdus of Antiochia (Syria). Among the buildings on the territorium legionis was a large forum-marketplace, some 100 m SE of the camp. It has two porticoed courtyards, four fountains, a portico on the N side and, with its outer dimensions (182 x 226 m), corresponds roughly to a quarter of the camp's area. This unusually large size, which takes into consideration not only the population of the surrounding region but also the neighboring Germanic tribes, testifies to Carnuntum's economic role as a center of trade. The military necropolis extended from the W camp gate to the civilian city along the Aquileia road; it contains tombs dating mainly from the 1st and 2d c. Numerous tombs were uncovered around the civilian city, but as yet we have no clear idea of their chronology.

The built-up area of the civilian city extends at least 2 km E to W, ca. 1.5 km from N to S. The center (with forum and Capitolium) has not yet been located. However, three monuments dedicated to Mithras and one to Jupiter Dolichenus have been located.

The most striking building complex is the so-called palace. The rectangular area (104 x 143 m), not completely excavated, is walled on two sides and porticoed on the other two. Especially noteworthy is the transverse wing on the S side—a rectangle (50 x 20 m) having 16 small rooms on three sides and, in the middle, two octagons each measuring 6 m in diameter and a rotunda 4 m in diameter. The strikingly large apsidal area in the N section suggested that this was an audience hall, and that the whole complex may have been designed as the legate's palace. The purpose of the complex, as well as of the individual rooms, is still undetermined. The building work visible today dates from the 3d-4th c., while the first construction period of this large-scale complex goes back to the 2d c. Houses were uncovered in another sector of the excavation, in the so-called garden walk on either side of the Schlossstrasse. The S row of houses is thought to be the business quarter and the large complex N of it, with a paved street alongside it, is interpreted as a public bath building.

Two more monuments of a public character should be noted in the civilian city, both situated in the S section of the settlement. The first is the municipal amphitheater. The plan (an irregular ellipse) measures ca. 130 by 110 m, the arena itself ca. 68 by 50 m. The monument had a seating capacity of 13,000. Thus this second amphitheater is substantially larger than that of the camp. It was presumably built under Hadrian. Of particular interest are some late structures built in the S gate of the complex. The 4th c. Christian community erected a small rectangular building here and inserted in the floor a six-sided basin made of plundered materials, in this way creating a baptisterium with a font. The second most noteworthy structure in the civilian city is the so-called giant gate (Heidentor). It is the major regional landmark, visible from far off, and the only monument still standing aboveground since Roman times. Today only two piers, with a vault between them, are preserved; formerly there were four piers set on a square plan, with a groin vault supporting a superstructure. Originally the monument stood ca. 21 m high; the remains are 14 m high. It was clearly not a roadway arch, since there is a cylindrical pedestal 1.8 m high in the middle of it. The nature and date of this monument, which was erected after A.D. 200, have not yet been determined (a sepulcher? a monument honoring Septimius Severus?).

A number of stone monuments have been preserved aboveground in the area around Carnuntum. These are, aside from the arch, the two amphitheaters, the so-called palace, part of the civilian city (garden walk), as well as an open-air lapidarium and display of mosaics. Finds from Carnuntum are for the most part in the Museum Carnuntinum in Bad Deutsch Altenburg, others in the Schloss Traun in Petronell and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.


W. Kubitschek & S. Frankfurter, Führer durch Carnuntum (1923)MPI; E. Swoboda, Carnuntum. Seine Geschichte und seine Denkmaler (1964)MPI; H. Stiglitz, “Carnuntum,” RE Suppl. XII (1970) 1575ff; M. Kandler, “Die Ausgrabungen im Legionslager Carnuntum 1968-1973,” AnzWien 111 (1974) 27ffMPI.


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