Welcome to Rome Across Europe! It’s been a little while since we explored a modern city’s Roman origin.
The last time we did this was to uncover Londinium. With the articles Londinium – The Beginnings of Britain’s Modern Capital and Londinium – Excavating London’s Past we were able to see just how influential Rome was on shaping present-day City of London.
The Romans then built fortifications and settlements on the banks of the Danube. This included Vindobona with an estimated population of 15,000-20,000 people.
The historian Aurelius Victor recounts that Emperor Marcus Aurelius died in Vindobona on the 17 March 180 from an unknown illness while on a military campaign against invading Germanic tribes. Today, there is a Marcus Aurelius Street near the Hoher Markt in Vienna.
The military complex covered an area of some 49.4 acres, housing about 6000 men where Vienna’s 1st District now stands. Vindobona was part of a defensive network along the Danube including the camps of Carnuntum, Brigetio and Aquincum.
Vindobona was provisioned by the surrounding Roman country estates (Villae Rusticae). A center of trade with a developed infrastructure as well as agriculture and forestry developed around Vindobona.
Civic communities developed outside the fortifications (Canabae Legionis), as well another community that was independent of the military authorities in today’s 3rd District. It has also been proven that a Germanic settlement with a large marketplace existed on the far side of the Danube from the 2nd Century onwards.
The asymmetrical layout of the military camp, which was unusual for the otherwise standardized Roman encampments. The camp’s design is still recognizable in Vienna’s street plan: Graben, Naglergasse, Tiefer Graben, Salzgries, Rabensteig and Rotenturmstraße.
The oblique camp border along today’s street Salzgries was probably caused by a tremendous flood of the Danube that occurred during the 3rd Century and eroded a considerable part of the camp. The name Graben (English: Ditch) is believed to hark back to the defensive ditches of the military camp.
It is thought that at least parts of the walls still stood in the Middle Ages, when these streets were laid out, and thus determined their routes. The Berghof was later erected in one corner of the camp.
Wars, administrative and military reforms in the 3rd and 4th Century, as well as devastating floods led the population to retreat more and more into the military camp. The area lost its importance as a border in the 5th Century, and the local population lived within the former fortification.
Remains of the Roman military camp have been found at many sites in the centre of Vienna. The centre of the Michaelerplatz has been widely investigated by archaeologists. Here, traces of a Roman Legionary outpost (canabae Legionis) and of a crossroad have been found. The centerpiece of the current design of the square is a rectangular opening that evokes the archaeological excavations at the site and shows wall remains that have been preserved from different epochs.
Part of a Roman canal system is underneath the fire station Am Hof.
Directly under the Hoher Markt are the remains of 2 buildings unearthed during the canalization works of 1948-49 and made accessible to the public. After further excavation, a showroom was opened in 1961.
For this purpose some of the original walls had to be removed. White marks on the floor show the spots where.
The buildings, which are separated from one another by a road, housed an officer and his family. In 2008 this Roman ruins exhibit was expanded into the Museum of the Romans. Only a small portion can today be seen, for the majority of the remains are still located underneath the square and south of it.
The remains of the walls date from different phases from the 1st to the 5th Century AD. The houses were typical Roman villae, with living quarters and space for working set around a middle courtyard with columned halls.
Over 3000 stamped bricks, several stone monuments and written sources prove that several Legions, Cavalry units and Marines were stationed in Vindobona. Around 97 AD, Legio XIII Gemina was responsible for construction of the military camps.
Because of the wars in Dacia, they were pulled out and redeployed in 101 AD. A decade later, Legio XIIII Gemina Martia Victrix followed. Legio X Gemina from Aquincum arrived in 114 AD and remained in Vindobona until the 5th Century.
About 6000 soldiers were stationed in the Roman camp. Many of them were free from active duty during peaceful times and had other jobs.
These so-called immunes were needed for the supply of goods and for the production and maintenance of weapons and commodities. They also extracted stone from quarries and wood from forests, produced bricks, and maintained the streets, bridges and the water system. Administrating the camp and ensuring its security required additional manpower.
The Romans provided their cities, including Vindobona, with clean potable water through an elaborate system of Roman aqueducts, canals and large subterranean pipes. Excavations have revealed that Vindobona received its supply through a 10.56 mi long water pipeline.
The source is in the Vienna Woods around today’s Kalksburg. Wells, latrines and the thermae were supplied with water. Central buildings such as the Commander’s office and the hospital had their own supplies, as did the settlement outside the camp, where households had their own groundwater wells.
Archaeological excavations done over the last 100 years have discovered the following Roman water supply fragment locations:
In the Zemlinskygasse: at numbers 2-4 – (23rd District, found in 1924)
In the Breitenfurter Straße: at number 422 – (23rd District, in 1959)
In the Rudolf Zeller-Gasse/Anton-Krieger-Gasse – (23rd District, 1992)
In Atzgersdorf – (23rd District, 1902–1907)
In the Tullnertalgasse: at number 76 – (23rd District, 1973)
In the Lainergasse: at number 1 – (23rd District, 1958)
In the Wundtgasse – (12th District, 1951)
In the Rosenhügelstraße: at number 88 – (12th District, 1926)
In the Fasangartenstraße: at number 49 – (12th District, 1916)
In the Pacassistraße – (13th District, 1928)
Waste from the Roman camp was transported through an elaborate subterranean sewerage system that was planned from the beginning. The sewers were lined with brick walls and plates and ran beneath the main roads.
Gradients were used in such a way that the waste water descended through the canals into the Danube River. Since the canals were up to 6.56 ft deep, they could be cleaned out regularly.
Large waste was probably deposed at the slope of the river. In the civilian settlement, waste was deposed in former water wells and dumps.
The layout of a Roman camp (castra) was normally standardized. This has helped archaeologists to reconstruct what the camp must have looked like, despite the heavy rebuilding that has taken place in Vienna throughout the centuries.
The basic contours of the camp, which was surrounded by a mighty wall with towers and 3 moats, are identifiable. Along these axes, main roads connected the gates with one other.
The main buildings were the commander’s headquarters, the Palace of the Legatus, the houses of the staff officers, and the thermae. At right angles to these, the soldiers’ accommodation, a hospital, workshops, and mews (stables) were constructed.
Vindobona has been referenced in popular culture as well. Two lines in the film Gladiator make reference to Vindobona:
In the other, the lead character asks if anyone in his group of Gladiatores has served in the army, to which an anonymous fighter responds, “I served with you at Vindobona.”The historical novel Votan by Welsh writer John James begins in “Vindabonum” and imagines 2nd Century AD life there.
With all that the Romans established and accomplished, it’s no surprise that Vindobona became a bastion of art, architecture and culture. There is no place like Vienna and that must be due to the Romans.
We hope you enjoyed today’s discovery, and hope it may have inspired you to even visit Vienna yourself. Come back soon to see what we have in store.
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Kronberger, Michaela. Siedlungschronologische Forschungen zu den canabae legionis von Vindobona. Phoibos Verlag, Wien 2005 (German).
Christine Ranseder e.a., Michaelerplatz. Die archäologischen Ausgrabungen. Wien Archäologisch 1, Wien 2006. ISBN 3-901232-72-9 (German).
Vindobona. Die Reise in das antike Wien. DVD-Rom, 2004.
Bursche, A., L. Pitts, P. Kaczanowski, E. Krekovič, R. Madyda‑Legutko, R. Talbert, T. Elliott, S. Gillies. Places: 128537 (Vindobona). Pleiades.