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Frontiers of the Roman Empire – Ripa Pannonica in Hungary

Date of Submission: 22/06/2009
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Secretariat of the Hungarian World Heritage Commission / National Office of Cultural Heritage
State, Province or Region:
Hungary, Baranya, Bács-Kiskun, Fejér, Győr-Moson-Sopron, Komárom-Esztergom, Pest and Tolna Counties
Ref.: 5452

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The 'Roman Limes' represents the border line of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent in the 2nd century AD. At that time it stretched over 5,000 km from the Atlantic coast of northern Britain, through Europe to the Black Sea, and from there to the Red Sea and across North Africa to the Atlantic coast. The remains of the Limes today consist of vestiges of the walls, ditches, forts, fortresses, watchtowers and civilian settlements that were constructed. Certain elements in this line have been excavated, some reconstructed and a few destroyed. The two sections of the Limes in Germany cover a length of 550 km from the north-west of the country to the Danube in the south-east. The 118 km long Hadrian's Wall (UK) was built on the orders of the Emperor Hadrian c. AD 122 at the northernmost limits of the Roman province of Britannia. It is a striking example of the organization of a military zone and illustrates the defensive techniques and geopolitical strategies of ancient Rome. The Antonine Wall, a 60 km long fortification in Scotland was started by Emperor Antonius Pius in 142 AD as a defense against the "barbarians" of the north. It constitutes the northwestern-most portion of the Roman Limes.

The Ripa Pannonica, the outer frontier of Pannonia and of the Roman Empire, lies in the Carpathian Basin along the Danube, within Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia. Its main characteristic is that due to the physical obstacle of the Danube, no artificial obstacles like walls or earth works needed to be built. This is why the proper Latin name for this type of frontier is ripa and not limes (though in a broader sense the whole Roman frontier can also be referred to as limes). The more significant river frontiers are at the Rhine and Danube Rivers in Europe and the Euphrates River in the East.

The main difference in the structure of river and land frontiers is the lack of a man-made barrier for the former. Other features like the limes road, forts, fortlets, watchtowers and civil settlements developed in a similar way at both, although there is one more slight difference. Taking into account features such as the width of the river barrier, which could be several hundred meters, and islands, the Roman military administration sometimes built posts on these islands and on the left banks of the rivers. These forts and fortified landings are always in close connection with a fort on the right bank, and together form the full border protection system.

The sites of the Ripa Pannonica in Hungary lie mostly on the right bank of the Danube along a total length of 415 km beside the limes-road. The military sites located on the big islands and on the left bank of the Danube, as well as the bridgeheads and other sites of the left bank, will also be nominated, since they belong to the limes system of the Ripa Pannonica. According to the Koblenz declaration, all military sites - forts, fortlets, watchtowers, the limes-road, as well as the related civil settlements like the canabae, the vici of the forts and the two towns, Brigetio and Aquincum - should be included in this frontier line from the 2nd century AD, from the reigns of Trajan to Septimius Severus. Also according to the Koblenz declaration, military sites from earlier or later centuries which lie on this line should also be nominated, and since the outer frontier of Pannonia remained along the Danube during much of the Roman era, from the last decade of the 1st century BC until the 3rd decade of the 5th century, all visible, confirmed and preserved military sites are included on the tentative list.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

An initiative has been adopted to create a unique World Heritage Site including the entire Roman limes as they stood in the 2nd century AD. Three properties have already been inscribed: Hadrian's Wall (1987), the Upper German and Raetian Limes (2005) and the Antonine Wall (2008). The Ripa Pannonica is being put forward as an extension to the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site because it fits well into the context of this World Heritage Site.

The outstanding universal value of the overall Roman Limes has been established, which also relates to the individual sections. Each nominated section should demonstrate authenticity and integrity, but they do not need to demonstrate outstanding universal value in their own right, only needing to add to the existing site.

Criterion (ii): The Ripa Pannonica exhibits an important interchange of human values during Roman rule along the Danube in present-day Hungary, from the first to the 5th century AD. This linear system of defence was developed in a full and exemplary manner in Pannonia in the 2nd century AD, and from Pannonian inscriptions we also are know about a new type of watchtower built starting in the eighties of this century. From the 4th century the most highly developed type of watchtower structure built on a river frontier in the Roman Empire is known at the Ripa Pannonica. The civil settlements around the forts and the two municipia represent important sites for the interchange cultural values between soldiers and the indigenous population, as well as between them and non-military settlers from different provinces or from the barbaricum.

Criterion (iii): The Ripa Pannonica represents one of the most important parts of the Roman Empire's frontiers, and so it is an exceptional testimony to Roman civilization in Hungary. The armies and governors of the Pannonian provinces (Pannonia superior and inferior in the 2nd-3rd centuries and split into four provinces in the 4th and 5th centuries) together with other Danube provinces provided the Roman Empire with its emperor in both 69 and 193 AD, and on many other occasions up to 378 AD. This means that the interactions between soldiers and civilians, as well as between them and other peoples like the Sarmatian and German tribes were a main factor in determining the policies and history of the Roman Empire. Pannonia was a melting pot of different people and nations, and Romanized chieftains of Sarmatian, German, Dacian or other origins were able to settle in Pannonia and in other Roman territories, sometimes later becoming generals or emperors.

Criterion (iv): The Ripa Pannonica represents an outstanding example of the technological development of Roman military architecture and its frontier defence system. The well designed and strategically located military structures on Pannonia's border were effectively able to serve the defence of the empire along this often endangered part for centuries. It bears exceptional testimony to the military traditions of Rome and the flexibility with which they could make use of the local features. According to archaeological investigations, the technology and the construction of the military structures and roads bear witness to the high skill of the architects and surveyors of the Roman army in Pannonia.  

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Hungarian part of the Ripa Pannonica lies along an almost 415 km line that follows the Danube. There are many medieval and modern settlements here, which partly lie over or disturb the Roman remains, but have also led to their investigation. Many excavations and other fieldwork have been performed on the military sites along the Ripa Pannonica, all of which are able contribute a great deal to the integrity of the property. Through aerial archaeology and field surveys long sections of the military road have been identified. Both the excavated and unexcavated elements of the property are verified and preserved in good condition, with the exception of sites lost under more recent construction. The row of forts, watchtowers and civil settlements along the military road forms the entire fabric of the Ripa Pannonica, and although there are missing pieces due to earlier damage or lack of information, nothing has spoiled its integrity. The identified remains are supervised and preserved, conservation projects have been performed according to the Venice Charter, and some of the rare reconstructed elements will be placed in the buffer zone.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Ripa Pannonica was a river frontier. Such frontiers were developed in different parts of the Roman Empire, but none of them has been inscribed in the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site. All three properties so far incorporated in this site are land frontiers that include a wall. The physical barrier of the river frontiers is the river itself, a natural barrier that did not need a wall. Apart from this difference all other features are essentially the same. They have in common their systems of linear defence, the military roads which run along the border and connect the military structures, as well as all the forts and other military structures together with their civil settlements. However, several differences may also be found. These originate primarily from the strategic planning which always adapted the defences to their geographic circumstances and to the level of the threat. The Ripa Pannonica has several special features which make it unique. It was better for ordering the legions along the frontier line, a solution which was not implemented on any of the previously inscribed properties. Another distinctive feature is the variation in the system of watchtowers. Since the limes road was built in a straight line, it moved away from the curving river in some places. In these sections watchtowers could either be built near to the road or near to the river. The watchtowers from the time of the emperor Commodus belong to the latter type. The islands were also an issue for the army, so they built watchtowers on them for better defence. In the fourth century construction of a line of four watchtowers was common, one each on either side of an island as well as on the outer banks of the river. These and other peculiarities show both the common and unified principles of planning of military sites in the military provinces of the Roman Empire on the one hand, and the skilful adjustment these principles to local conditions on the other. These features underline the significance and the World Heritage values of the Ripa Pannonica.