In a few months I will have lived in various places in Europe for four years. My explorations have spanned geography from the Iberian peninsula in the west to the mountains of Transylvania in the east. One thing is consistent in every location, the Romans have been there.
The vastness of the Roman Empire is difficult for me to comprehend. In the history of mankind, their story is relatively recent. Even so, I find it to be more than a simple curiosity. And such it has been in my exploration of Aquincum, the Roman provincial capital of Pannonia Inferior. Aquincum is a treasure trove of antiquities such as the limestone statue of Nemesis, the goddess of fate, created in the 2nd century.
The ruins of Aquincum are located in the Óbuda section of present day Budapest, Hungary. They are within walking distance of the Roman Empire’s Danube River border.
While ruins in Rome or Pula (Croatia) are striking; those in Aquincum (Hungary), Tulln (Austria), and Lugo (Spain) represent the Roman frontier. The frontier is not like the images of grandeur one has from motion pictures such as “Gladiator” or “Ben Hur.”
Life in the frontier was simpler and military-centric. But, the residents often had heated baths, running water, sewage systems and other conveniences which Romans brought to far-flung outposts.
While Lugo’s wall is its most impressive Roman-era relic, Tulln has a very good museum with a terrific statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius along the Danube River. Aquincum, though, has superb artifacts and a vast footprint of the foundations of the Roman buildings there. The museum is excellent. There is a vast amount of the ground that has not had an archaeological examination and there literally are Roman ruins everywhere one walks!
Like Ópusztaszer National Heritage Park, Aquincum is a focal point for school outings. Here students learn about a significant period prior to arrival of the Magyars after several hundred years following the demise of Aquincum. Budapest certainly is not wanting when it comes to the multitude of sites and museums to explore European history and great civilizations.
One thing that struck me in Aquincum was how close all of the homes were to each other. I recall visiting the “Roman house” in Emona (present day Ljubljana, Slovenia) and thought it to be quite large in comparison. It may be because Aquincum began as military housing.
Regardless, in its heyday during the second and third centuries, Aquincum’s population was around 40,000 and likely much of the settlement is still buried or rests under nearby roads. During this period it was the center of commerce in the province.
The outpost had an outdoor theater, markets, and a small arena that would have held between 6000 – 7000 people. The arena was used primarily for gladiator and animal fights. Political events were also held there.
While Aquincum was likely founded sometime around 45 AD, it existed into the fifth century and the fall of the empire.
As an outpost Aquincum probably was not such a wonderful place, though. I wonder how many Roman legion officer wives were disappointed being so far from civilization of that time.
All-in-all, I am glad to have visited Aquincum and had another opportunity to sense Roman-era ruins across Europe. Below are additional photos (captions pop-up) from my exploration of Aquincum.