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A day at the Roman Town Aguntum

On the last weekend in July, I was invited by a friend (who volunteers there as part of her archaeological studies) to visit her at the Archaeological Park Aguntum near Lienz (Tyrol). Next to the museum, which shelters a selection of Aguntum findings, is also a vast excavation area where archaeologists are busy digging (one can actually watch them at their work.) Aguntum is a mysterious place indeed, archaeologists are baffled by several findings and haven`t found an answer to all the questions yet...

The oldest document of Aguntum, which was the only Roman settlement in Tyrol, is a passage from the ancient writer "Pliny the Elder". He lists Aguntum among those settlements in Noricum that were promoted to "Municipia" by Emperor Claudius in the middle of the 1st century A.D. One can assume that only settlements of a certain economic range were promoted. Aguntum's significance was due to its geographic position close to important trade routes. As confirmed by findings dating back to the time before Claudius, Aguntum certainly was a prospering trade and business center. Raw materials from the "Tauern" mountains such as copper, gold, wood and resin were highly sought after in the southern countries.

Only a small fraction of the original Roman town has yet been archaeologically examined: the town walls, the "Atrium" house, the craftsman quarter, the big thermal baths, a magnificent (perhaps public) building (more parts of it being excavated at the moment) and the early Christian funeral church. Today the whole extension of Aguntum is not known yet and it will be difficult to determine because the Debant brook changed its course and now runs through parts of the town. Aguntum had its best period in the peaceful times of the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. After having been destroyed several times Aguntum worked its way up to a final period of prosperity in the 6th century. The last time Aguntum was mentioned was on the occasion of the battle between Slavs and Bavarians in 610 A.D. The Slavs were victorious and settled nearby Aguntum afterwards.

The Atrium, a luxurious Roman villa with ornamental garden and marble fountain, provides an insight of the wealth that must have been here at ancient times. The atrium (the only one of it's kind in the Alps) is remarkable as it is with it's open space completely unsuitable for the harsh winters in the mountainous region. The city wall is another unique feature of Aguntum, as it has windows and doors, and doesnt cover the whole city. In fact the walls go only 600 roman feet (190 yards) left and right of the city gate then it stops. Either the remaining parts of the wall haven`t been found or it had only representing status, sort of to show off that they can if they want... (it was a peacful corner of the empire when it was built).

Another rare find is the retirement documents of Publius Cornelius Crispinus who served in the Praetorian Guard during Antonius Pius reign. After his long service he retired and settled afterwards in Aguntum. The document states not only his name but his career and what land he received after he retired. A copy of it was archived in rome at the time, as was the custom for legal land rights and passage of citizen status to heirs. The diploma was a highly prized trophy by retired veterans and their heirs and they were often split so each child could have a piece. The Aguntum find is a rare and beautifully preserved example of a complete, fully readable piece.

All in all i had a wonderful day and my thanks go to Monika and Hannes (Head of Public Relations at Aguntum) for their support.

I also took some photos of the area, so check out the Photo Gallery.

Did you know?

Aguntum was not planned in a raster system, but it arose from a former celtic settlement.

Province of Noricum



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