Urban life in the provinces

The history of Roman towns



Urban life in the provinces

Urban life in the provinces

Around 2,000 years ago Roman engineering and sophisticated techniques in agriculture, animal husbandry and forestry arrived in the Carinthian region. Self-governing towns (Lat. municipia) arose, connected by the courses of rivers and newly built roads. Administrative centres in the Roman province of Noricum included the municipium Claudium Virunum on the present-day Zollfeld plain, a provincial capital with a capitol, forum, stage theatre, amphitheatre, baths and large housing complexes. Statues of gods, rulers and other high-ranking personages decorated the sanctuaries, public buildings and squares of Virunum.

Roman culture on the Magdalensberg

Even before the founding of Virunum, there was a Roman-influenced town on the Magdalensberg. Two high-quality marble portraits discovered there (of a young Noric girl and a republican citizen) were made by stone carvers who had moved there from the south.

The murals uncovered at Magdalensberg are unique in their quality among those found to date outside Italy. The choice of subjects, including the god Dionysus and the mythological figure of Iphigenia, show that the inhabitants of the settlement at the time were educated and were also familiar with works of classical poetry.

Dramatic art

In the nineteenth century the extensive remains of Roman wall paintings dating to the second century CE were found on the Zollfeld plain. They had originally decorated the rear hall of the stage theatre at Virunum. In an interdisciplinary project of the Kärnten Museum in collaboration with the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts the fragments were examined and assessed using the latest conservation science methods before being restored and prepared for display. The presentation of the fragments in the hanging display cases makes it easy to compare the depictions of buildings and animals, stucco appliques, and floral and ornamental elements. The horizontal display case contains fragments of particular importance which also serve to demonstrate former and current conservation measures.

Bread and circuses

Renovated several times in antiquity, the amphitheatre has an unusual layout on account of its sloping site and has more of a resemblance to an ancient circus. Seating up to 4,000 visitors, it served as a parade ground for mounted military units and youth associations, for executions, animal-baiting and gladiatorial contests. To the cheers of spectators, the combatants could make a spectacular appearance via an underground passage emerging at the centre of the arena – fittingly, right opposite a sanctuary consecrated to Nemesis, goddess of fate.

Calibrated weights

These objects, unique in this form, came to light in Feldkirchen during the Second World War: a complete set of eleven cup weights which according to their inscription were issued by the Temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome and were thus officially certified. The set can be loosely dated to between the first half of the first century CE and the end of the third century CE; the find of two moulds on the Magdalensberg allows us to assume that such weights were in use early on during that period.

Saviours from the East

In Virunum deities from the East such as the Egyptian gods Isis and Serapis, the Syrian Baal of Doliche and Mithras were venerated. Roman citizens of elevated social standing are listed on a bronze panel as members of one of the two Mithras cultic communities in Virunum. The panel also mentions that obsequies were held for several fellow-members of the cult who had fallen victim to a pestilence that had raged in 183/184 CE – probably the Antonine Plague. In 311 CE the imperial provincial governor Aurelius Hermodorus ordered the renovation of sanctuary to Mithras, which by this date had been abandoned for fifty years. 

Upper-class Roman

Back in 1850 excavations below the ruins of Hohenstein Castle outside Liebenfels in the site of a sanctuary of the goddess Isis-Noreia yielded a high-quality bust of an elderly Roman man from the upper classes. Around his shoulders the bearded man wears a cloak fastened with a decorated disc fibula at the height of his left collarbone. A building inscription dated to 125 CE also found at Hohenstein has led to the life-size bust being generally thought to be a portrait of the Noric procurator Claudius Paternus Clementianus. 

Hair art

This life-size portrait head of a young Roman woman from the upper classes was carved in imported fine-grained white marble. The subject wears an elaborate hairstyle consisting of numerous tight curls that are parted above the low forehead and form a broad mass on the front of the head. Behind this the hair is braided and fastened into a bun.

This elaborate hairstyle was first worn by Julia, the daughter of Emperor Titus (79‒81 CE), and was soon adopted by the women of the upper classes in the Roman Empire. The question of whether the head represents a high-ranking Roman woman or is a portrait of the emperor’s daughter remains unresolved.

A miniature pantheon

The Romans worshipped many gods and tutelary spirits, consecrating their images in sanctuaries but also setting up shrines to them in their houses. The statuettes displayed here represent Jupiter, king of the gods, Fortuna, goddess of good fortune, the Great Mother Cybele, Aesculapius the god of healing, a tutelary house spirit (Lar) and a personal protective spirit.

Stately tombs

In Roman times stately tombs lined the roads leading out of the provincial capital of Virunum. They were decorated with sculptures like the tomb statue of a small child displayed here.

Final resting place

The grave of an inhabitant of Virunum who died around 140 CE stands for all the burials that were carried out according to Roman custom outside the city precincts over the course of the centuries. The cremated mortal remains together with the burnt pyre were put into a stone-lined grave which was sealed with a slab and stones. The grave goods lay on top of the unsorted remains from the pyre and consist of glass and pottery vessels, two coins, a fibula, various iron pins and an object made of bone.

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