Vindobona: Guardian of the Amber Road

Vindobona: Guardian of the Amber Road

Vindobona, The city of Vienna in Roman timesPresent-day Vienna was known as Vindobona in Roman times. The name derives from the Celtic "vedunia," meaning forest-stream. Human occupation of the region goes back much further to the Neolithic period. Archeological excavations have identified a flint works, indicating settlements existed around 5000 BCE. By 1800 BCE the area was home to the Glockenbecherleute, so named for their distinctive round pottery. There are indications that this was already an important trading center.

Roman interest in the region stemmed from defeats suffered byMarcus Lollius in the Rhineland in 17 BCE. Emperor Augustussent legions to subjugate the lands to the north and east of the Alps, and by 9 BCE they had taken Pannonia (parts of Hungary and the Balkans). In 6 BCE a rebellion began that lasted for 3 years until Rome finally established full control. Vindobona was taken from the kingdom of Noricum, extending the northern border of the new Imperial possessions to the Danube River. About 50 CE, Pannonia was formally declared a Roman province, and a military fort and permanent garrison were established.

The choice of Vindobona was not random. To the north and east, enemies had a clear avenue of approach across open terrain to the Imperial heartland, and fortifying this vulnerable frontier was vital. Moreover, Vindobona was located on the Danube at the point where the Amber Road crossed the river. This trade route extended from the Adriatic to the Baltic region that was the source of the precious amber that gave the Amber Road its name. Rome continued efforts to extend its influence to the north and east, but in 92 CE suffered severe defeats at the hands of the Dacians. This led to a series of wars that finally ended in 106 CE with the conquest of Dacia (parts of Hungary and Rumania extending to the Black Sea).

In 112 CE, the Tenth Legion Gemina was posted to Vindobona, where it would remain for almost 300 years, a period of peace and prosperity in which the town flourished. The area was soon assimilated into Roman culture. The original wooden palisades were replaced with stone walls. Roman engineers built an underground aqueduct and sewer system. A bathhouse and temples to the gods were added. Streets in the Inner city (1st District) of modern day Vienna still follow the pattern laid out by the Romans. Officers' quarters with central floor heating can be seen in excavated portions of the Hohe Markt of Vienna today. During this period, Vindobona's position at the intersection of the Amber Road and the Danube made it a center of commerce and trade.

The one period of upheaval came with the Marcommanic Wars (166-180 CE). In 166 the Marcommanics (from what is now Bavaria) struck deep into Imperial territory, sacking Vindobona as they attempted to push south along the Amber Road to the Adriatic. The fortifications and town were soon rebuilt, and Peace was restored by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who led Roman legions in the effort to push the invaders out. Aurelius himself died in Vindobona after seeing Rome through to victory.

By the end of the fourth century Rome was in decline. In 395 The Marcommanic again attacked and sacked Vindobona. The fortifications were again restored, though on a smaller scale. By 423, however, Imperial power had deteriorated to the point that (East Roman) Emperor Theodosius allowed the Huns to occupy the city. The Langobards took Vindobona early in the sixth century, followed by the Avers in 568. Finally, between 790 and 800, Charlemagne added the city to the growing dominion that became the Holy Roman Empire.

Throughout these long centuries, Vindobona retained its role as a center of trade. But as it lost its Roman identity over these years of changing rulers, it did lose its original name. By 881, German manuscripts chronicling battles with the Magyars then moving into Hungary refer to the city as Venia.