Metropolis on the Danube Limes

For centuries, the Limes delineated the border between the Roman Empire and the homelands of Germanic peoples that were not occupied by the Romans. It ran from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. The Danube formed the natural northern border of the Roman Empire in what is today Bavaria, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and further downstream. Despite the natural river barrier, the border had strong military fortifications to secure the empire’s border but also to safeguard the controlled transfer of goods throughout the region.

The 360-km section of the Danube Limes in present-day Austria was protected by four legionary fortresses, four forts for non-citizen troops (auxilia), and 20 known watchtowers (burgi). The actual number of watchtowers was presumably much higher. The best known legionary fortresses in the section of the Danube Limes in present-day Austria were Lauriacum (Enns), Vindobona (Vienna) and Carnuntum. In case of an uncontrolled incursion over the border by Germanic forces, there was a seamless signal chain between the watchtowers and the fortresses to ensure that the Roman military could respond quickly.

Carnuntum had a prominent position along the Danube Limes. As the capital of the Roman province of Upper Pannonia, Carnuntum was protected by a legionary fortress and a fort for non-citizen troops (auxilia) and served as the seat of the governor. All these factors led to it becoming a true metropolis with about 50,000 inhabitants and an area of 10km2. Carnuntum was also the only city of its size and significance to be directly on the border at the junction of the Amber Route with the Limes, the Roman Empire’s key north-south and west-east connecting routes, respectively.

Trade and cultural transfer unleashed a blossoming of culture and prosperity. Olive oil, wine, fish sauce as a condiment, as well as dates and figs were imported from the Mediterranean region while fine tableware was purchased from Italy or Gaul. Countless pieces of jewelry, sculptures, or fragments of splendid murals still attest today to the luxurious life lived in ancient Carnuntum.

Preparations are underway to have the Danube Limes added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

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