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Frontiers of the Roman Empire - The Danube Limes in Austria

Date of Submission: 10/06/2011
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture
Ref.: 5624
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Description

West end close to Passau/Achleinten N48 34 47,74 E13 30 10,57

East end close to Wolfsthal Bratislava N48 8 30, 87 E17 3 26,08

The Austrian Limes section is about 357,5 km long and runs along the river Danube from the border of Germany (Bavaria) close to Passau through Upper and Lower Austria and Vienna to the area east of Hainburg/Wolfsthal, beside the Slovakian border and the city of Bratislava. In a wider context this stretch of the frontier is part of the Danube Limes which starts close to the fort of Eining in Bavaria, where the Upper German Raetian Limes ends, and leads for more than 2800 kilometres all the way down to the Black Sea.

The first demarcation line came into existence when the frontier territory was turned into official Roman provinces around AD 40. For little less than 450 years this fortification system was the outer borderline of the Roman empire, protecting it from the tribes to the North. The frontier in Noricum was given up by Rome in 487/88 AD. On its abandonment quite some fortification elements were reused during the Middle Ages and survived well preserved into present days.

The frontier system in Austria consisted of a chain of fortifications along the south bank of the river Danube using the river as an additional obstacle and as a communication, supply and trade route. Along the course of the river line lay four legionary fortresses (Upper Austria: Enns/Lauriacum; Lower Austria: Albing, Bad Deutsch-Altenburg/Carnuntum; Wien: Wien/Vindobona), 13 forts (Upper Austria: Oberranna, Schlögen, Linz; Lower Austria: Wallsee, Mauer an der Url, Pöchlarn, Mautern, Traismauer, Zwentendorf, Tulln, Zeiselmauer, Klosterneuburg, Schwechat) and 5 watch-towers (Upper Austria: Hirschleitengraben; Lower Austria: Aggsbach, Bacharnsdorf, St. Lorenz, Windstallgraben) (list of all sites as Annex). The Limes road linked the individual military installations and other ancillary features. Quite often along a natural boundary, the Limes road runs well behind the course of the river, dictated by the terrain. Watch-towers and fortlets and sometimes also forts, are connected to the supra-regional Limes road with smaller roads. The Limes road, which is often not so easy to be identified in woods, heavily agricultural or densely populated areas, is best preserved and visible from the air in the Limes stretch east of Vienna to the Slovakian border. Besides the fortresses, forts and fortlets existed civil settlements and cemeteries. Additional temporary camps, which are not included here, are known well beyond the borderline especially in the northern part of Lower Austria.

The settings of the Roman frontier installations have been influenced by the landscape on both sides of the Danube as a geographical feature as well as by the wish to control the main ancient trade routes across and east of the Alps (Norican highway into Bohemia, Amber route to the Baltic Sea area). The landscape the Roman army had to face was dominated by narrow gorges like the "Schlögener Schlinge" in Upper Austria or the "Wachau" to the east in Lower Austria and by wide plains like the "Linzer Becken", the "Tullner Feld" and the Pannonian plains between Vienna and Carnuntum. Those geographical conditions determined the location of the frontier installations as well as the deployment of specific types of troops. One can recognize a major difference in the general set up of the frontier: while the forts in the flat countryside at the eastern part in Lower Austria are spread regularly within a distance of 15 to 20 km, the western section of the Limes in Upper Austria remained nearly unfortified till the middle of the 2nd century AD. This was due to the inaccessible, less populated countryside north of Danube with dense woodland and rough landscapes.

The Austrian section of the Danube Limes would form an extension to the existing World Heritage property "Frontiers of the Roman Empire" (ref. no. 430ter), which at present consists of Hadrian's Wall, the Antonine Wall (UK) and the Upper German Raetian Limes (Germany).

The proposed Site would encompass all the known, still existing and scheduled fortresses, forts and watch-towers between Oberranna and Carnuntum along the Danube mentioned and the additional features according to the Koblenz Declaration of the Bratislava Group including the civil towns and settlements and cemeteries adjacent to the military fortifications (list of sites as Annex). The river itself and the temporary fortifications beyond the borderline will not be part of this World Heritage proposal. Over the last 2000 years the river bed often changed over longer distances. Because of these changes and floods some sites on the lower grounds were partly or completely destroyed by the water. In the 19th century the river Danube underwent extensive regulatory measures, which did not help to preserve the monuments. But quite a lot of them were detected and investigated through those activities.

All sites in question (as listed in the Annex) are protected by the regulations of the Federal Monuments Protection Act (Denkmalschutzgesetz).

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The World Heritage Committee has created the transboundary World Heritage property "Frontiers of the Roman Empire" with the inscription of the Upper German-Raetian Limes in 2005. Three sections of the property have already been inscribed: Hadrian' Wall (1987), the Upper German-Raetian Limes (2005) and the Antonine Wall (2008). The Austrian section of the Danube Limes is put forward as an extension of the World Heritage property "Frontiers of Roman Empires".

Criterion (ii):
The Austrian section of the Danube Limes represents an excellent example for the influence of the Roman rule on the economic and social development of a relatively small community and territory between the Alps and the river Danube. Beside the already existing interchange in north-south direction along the ancient trade routes with the population and territories north of the river Danube the Roman army established and supported an intense cultural exchange between the western and eastern parts of Europe by the building of a secure corridor and an international transport route north of the Alps with additional infrastructure to control this territory. Therefore the fortifications and the civil settlements structures developed around the forts often represent a two-folded character combining characteristic elements from western and eastern Roman provinces. The linear defence system developed fully in the later 2nd century AD, when the gaps in the western defence were closed by establishing a new fortlet in Schlögen (around 130 AD) and a legionary base in Enns/Lauriacum (around 190 AD). In Late Antiquity the borderline in Austria shared a similar military history with the neighbouring Danube Limes provinces to the West (modern Bavaria) and East (modern Slovakia and Hungary) with the building of a more elaborate defence system.

Criterion (iii):
The frontier line in Austria is part of the whole defence system along the river Danube. The most important characteristics of this section are the rather peaceful conquest of the territory, the prosperous interaction with the local population and the successful control of two of the most important transnational communication routes of the Roman empire in Europe, the transnational West-East running Limes road and the North-South leading Amber route. The Amber route crossed the Danube in the Carnuntum region and acted as one of the most important springboard for diplomatic and political interventions as well as for people, culture and technology transfer between the Roman Empire and the tribal territories in the North (Barbaricum). The army and the fortification system in Austria played a crucial role and experienced several major events which determined the policy and history of the northern Roman provinces, such as the Marcomannic Wars between AD 170/180, the election of the Emperor Septimius Severus and the conference of the four emperors in Carnuntum or the activities of the holy St. Severinus in Noricum in the 5th century AD.

Criterion (iv):
The establishment and structure of the Austrian military installations clearly demonstrate the ability of the Roman army to adjust its demarcation/control/defence system to the individual geographical and demographical pre-conditions. This can be clearly demonstrated by the different system of frontier installations in the western and eastern part of the Austrian Limes section and the deployment of troops (cavalry, infantry and mixed units). The still existing fortifications along the Austrian section of the Danube Limes are among the best and highest preserved examples of late Roman military architecture throughout the empire. The towers and gates, which often survived up to the second storey, represent outstanding examples of the technological development of the Roman military architecture and frontier defence.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Austrian section of the Danube Limes survives as a chain of fortified sites (fortresses, forts and fortlets, watch-towers; Limes road) with various ancillary features in the landscape along the Danube. Especially the architectural monuments of the late Roman defence system are still a very visible testimony to the power and might of the Roman state and the extent of the Roman empire. The main outline of the planning concept still survives in the street grid of several places, such as Mautern, Traismauer and Vienna.

Most fortifications (approximately 85%) are partly or completely covered by medieval or modern settlements with the exception of the fortresses in Albing and Carnuntum, the watch-towers (Hirschleitengraben, Aggsbach, Bacharnsdorf, Windstallgraben) and partly the forts of Oberranna, Zwentendorf and Carnuntum. Fieldworks carried out for more than 150 years, and more so research and rescue excavations especially during the last 40 years have disturbed and even partly destroyed Roman remains in nearly all of the proposed World Heritage sites. The Limes road(s) could be partly identified by aerial survey and archaeological investigations especially on the east end between Vienna, Schwechat and Wolfthal. Many excavations have demonstrated that remains of the Limes monuments have survived remarkably well below ground even in settled or urban areas. There are still many invisible, undisturbed and uncovered elements of the property in nearly all the Limes sites. The visible parts are kept in good condition, cared for by the local or regional governments and are scheduled under the Federal Monument Protection Act. Some of the very few reconstructions, mainly in Carnuntum, will be included in the buffer zone.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Austrian section of the Roman borderline is part of the river frontier along the Danube which stretches from Bavaria to Romania and the Black Sea, protecting the Roman Empire from the tribes to the North. Eight countries:, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania, share this system. Although the proper Latin name of this type of frontier is "ripa", the better known and more often used word "limes" is used for the nomination of this section in Austria.

Beside the Danube there are more river frontiers such as the river Rhine frontier in Western Europe and the Euphrates frontier in the Near East. There are main structural differences in river frontiers compared to land frontiers. Part of the very essence of a land frontier system is that an artificial barrier with its structural details (walls, palisades, rampart/ditches) forms a continuous line in the landscape and provides the necessary link between individual monuments (watch-towers, fortlets, forts). This can be demonstrated through and seen in the already existing parts of the World Heritage property: Hadrians Wall, the Antonine Wall or the Upper German Raetian Limes. The relationship between the individual frontier elements is clearly visible.

All river frontiers such as the Danube Limes lack these most obvious connecting element(s). Although the rivers form a linear obstacle, which connects the individual monuments, the frontier line and the linearity of the fortification system itself is less easy to define and to present. Forts along the Rhine and Danube river frontiers are between 10 to 30 km apart, and inter-visibility often does not exist. Over the last 2000 years the river beds often changed over longer distances. Because of these changes and floods many sites on the lower grounds were partly or completely destroyed by the water. This also affected some military sites on the Danube Limes in Austria, such as the legionary fortresses of Vienna and Carnuntum, the forts of Pöchlarn, Tulln and Zwentendorf and several watch-towers. In the 19th century rivers underwent certain regulatory measures, which did not help to preserve the monuments situated close to the water line. But quite a lot of these archaeological sites were detected and investigated through those activities. Another threat is the water power stations with their dams and reservoirs. When power stations were built in Serbia during the 80ies of the last century, a longer stretch of the Roman frontier, e.g. forts, fortlets, watch-towers and the road through the Iron Gate were flooded and are not visible any longer.

A distinctive feature of the river Rhine and Danube frontiers are chains of watch-towers along one side of the river course and bridgehead fortifications. Watch-towers, the intermediate elements in the archaeological landscape, are not so easy to detect along river frontiers. Those of the earlier Roman empire were mainly constructed of timber. Only one example of them is known in Austria, the site of Hirschleitenbach in Upper Austria. But new research results on the Lower Rhine Limes in the Netherlands, where a longer section of the earliest frontier system around AD 20-40 was investigated during rescue excavations in the area around Woerden, clearly demonstrated that wooden watch-towers were a distinct element of the borderline. Late Roman watch-towers are easier to discern because of their massive stone construction. More than 200 watch-towers, mostly stone towers, are recorded along the Danube banks, the most of them in Hungary, which form a very tight defence system. It can be assumed that similar systems existed on the other Danube frontier sections too. Several examples of such late Roman watch-towers are situated in the area of the Wachau and are included here.

Although there are no clearly identified bridgehead fortifications in Austria, there are such sites known for example in Iža in Slovakia or the fort of Dierna in Serbia. Most of them were constructed when Roman politics caused advances of the army into Barbarian territory. In late Roman times more bridgeheads such as Contra Aquincum (Budapest) in Hungary were established to control, and more so to protect the crossing points and the traffic on the river itself. Such military installations were heavily fortified and several of them survived quite well on the left side of the Danube in Hungary, Serbia and Romania.

The Austrian section of the Danube Limes is unique in Europe for its extremely well preserved, high standing monuments of late Roman frontier architecture. These remains, towers and gates, are unparalleled to any other frontier section of the Danube Limes, as well as the Rhine frontier. The preserved monuments enable us to understand details of construction as well as the redesign of the fortifications during the late Roman times.