Roman Army Camp and Metal-working Furnace Discoveries in Austria

The sites of three Roman army camps dating from the time of Tiberius have been found in Austria on the route of the ancient Amber Road. The archaeologists leading the excavation believe the discovery brings new evidence about the presence of the Roman army in the region known between around 20 and 102 AD as Pannonia. Furnaces for metal-working and iron-smelting have also been found near the three camps, suggesting that the Romans had taken control of the metal-producing capabilities of that area.

The Amber Road (die Bernsteinstrasse in German) is one of the oldest trade routes connecting the Baltic sea with the Italian peninsular and Greece. It stretched from southern Greece and Brindisi in Italy, through ancient Aquileia and then lead up through Austria and Poland to the Baltic states. The sites being excavated are near Strebersdorf, Lutzmannsburg, in Burgenland, about 50km south of Vienna.

The leader of the team that unearthed these findings, Stefan Groh from the Austrian Archaeological Institute (AI), explained that the presence of the Roman army and cavalry at this location on the Amber Road would have been unusual at the time of Tiberius. He said: The three military camps were built one on top of the other, from Tiberian times onwards – that means very early for the province of Pannonia. The first camp (about 2.2 hectares) was the biggest one, followed by two smaller ones, each of them a third smaller. According to Groh the sites were discovered in Spring this year by using a magnetometer, which can detect structures and objects up to 70cm below ground level. He said: In the geophysics photos you can see quite clearly the camps with a rectangular shape, the doors with two timber towers, and inner building structures of at least the second and third camps. While the earliest camp dates from the Tiberian era, the second is thought to be Flavian and the era of the third camp has yet to be determined.

Rewriting History

Groh added that the discovery of the metal-working furnaces is the latest result of the research in the surroundings of the camps. Other objects found during excavations include coins, brooches, military equipment and ceramics. Groh said: These are evidence that cavalry were stationed in the oldest camp. Tombstones from show the presence of the ‘Ala Pannoniorum’ [legion] in Tiberian times.

He is quoted by the Wiener Zeitung as saying, Our work in this area last year and this year means that the history of the Roman presence in this region and in Austria will have to be rewritten.

During the reign of Augustus, the local tribes of the area (at that time part of Illyricum) were at war with the Romans. In 6 AD, Tiberius and his nephew Germanicus fought to put down the revolt of the Pannonian, Illyrian and Dalmatian tribes and this war lasted three years. The Romans finally subdued the barbarian tribes in 9 AD – the same year as the Battle of Teutoburg Forest. Possibly at some point during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 AD) or at least before 50 AD, Illyricum was divided into Pannonia and Dalmatia. There was to be a heavy army presence in the region for a long time to counter attacks from barbarian tribes.

Photos by AI / a. voves and GYMSMMI Soproni Mzeum.