A collaborative effort between Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro) and the ZAMG (Central Institution for Meteorology and Geodynamics) has resulted in an incredible ‘scan’ of the ancient Roman town of Carnuntum, located in proximity to the modern-day metropolis of Vienna, Austria. Fueled by the discovery of a gladiator school in the area (in 2011), this time around the researchers utilized ground penetrating radar to reveal the remnant subterranean plans and structures of the antediluvian settlement. In essence, they didn’t need to resort to physical excavation of the site, thus resulting in the fascinating case of detailed virtual archaeology.
According to Ludwig Boltzmann Institute –
The scientists have revealed, without excavation, an entire city area next to the amphitheater, containing bakeries, taverns and shops – an essential infrastructure for Roman spectacles. Hidden under the later city wall, the radar system detected the remains of a wooden amphitheater located at an intersection of a road that followed the Roman frontier (Danube Limes) and the main road leading back to Rome; a temple for the Quadriviae (Roman goddesses of the cross-roads) was located right next to the building. With this information, we can add yet another chapter to the early history of Roman Carnuntum, one which underlines the significance of Bread and Games on the frontier of the Roman Empire.
Now historically, Carnuntum was founded as a Roman legionary fortress (castrum legionarium), and it also served as the headquarters of the Pannonian fleet (circa 50 AD). And by early 2nd century AD, the settlement was transformed into the capital of the Pannonia Superior province, possibly boasting around 50,000 population. Suffice it to say, given such an impressive scale of the town, it was archaeologically important to establish the authentic scope of the ancient Roman settlement. And that is exactly what these researchers have achieved with a combination of state-of-the-art technologies such as high-resolution magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar systems.
The virtual ambit was obviously aided by the actual measurements and excavations of the nearby zones, like the famous amphitheater that forms a part of the current Archaeological Park of Carnuntum. The assessment of these measurements and excavation analysis have helped the researchers to establish what may have been the overview plan of the civil town (that boasted an infrastructure to support large scale gladiatorial games). In that regard, a plausible route to these spectacles could have entailed a host of typical Roman architectural features. As the researchers have explained –
The route to the spectacles led the people through the city gates past taverns (tabernae), souvenir shops and food vendors (thermopolia), where street merchants offered their goods for sale and invited the public to linger. Behind one of the taverns, the LBI ArchPro specialists discovered a storage building (horreum) and a large oven, where bread was baked for up to 13,000 spectators. The wine and other foodstuffs were stored in underground cellars.
Interestingly enough, the archaeologists have also found evidence of the ground plan of another wooden amphitheater (hidden under the city walls) 400 m away from the excavated one – and it probably served as an older arena, aptly built along the crossroads of the routes that went along the Danube frontier (Danube Limes) and the main route connecting Rome. This structure was constructed near a temple dedicated to the Quadriviae (Roman goddesses of the cross-roads).
All of these discoveries shed light into the ancient Roman scope of panem et circenses (bread and games), a unique social feature that fused communal tendencies with administrative control. 1st century poet and satirist Juvenal had much to say about the Roman obsession with ‘bread and games’: “Long ago the people shed their anxieties, ever since we do not sell our votes to anyone. For the people – who once conferred imperium, symbols of office, legions, everything – now hold themselves in check and anxiously desire only two things, the grain dole and chariot races in the Circus”. And while the poet focused his attention on the populace of Rome itself, the crucial significance of panem et circenses was even seen in frontier towns like Carnuntum.
Source/ Image Credits: Ludwig Boltzmann Institute