Thursday, June 2, 2022


Romans in Slovakia & southern Poland

In the last years I have researched the presence of Romans in the extreme areas of their empire (like in northern Europe) and I have also studied their commerce & explorations outside their ruled territories (like in India). From Rafta in south-eastern Africa to Finland, at the end of this essay the readers can find the links to all the essays I have done on this matter. So, after having researched the Romans in Slovakia (published also in en.wikipedia), now I want to research -further north- about the Romans in northern Slovakia and southern Poland.

We have to remember that Roman merchants went to what is now Poland when they did the "amber way" to the Baltic sea. But there are a few books about their military presence in southern Poland, south of ther Oder river.

In light pink the area temporarily occupied by the Romans in 178-179 AD, that was supposed to be the new Roman Province of "Marcomannia"

Nearly all we know is about the tentative of emperor Marcus Aurelius to create the provinces of "Marcomannia" and "Sarmatia" in what is now Slovakia: the area of possible conquest in Marcomannia reached southern Poland, south of the Oder river (in what is now Slesia).

The Romans and their armies initially occupied (during Augustus) only a thin strip of the right bank of the Danube and a very small part of south-western Slovakia (Celemantia, Gerulata, Devín Castle). Tiberius wanted to conquer all Germania up to the Elbe river and in 6 AD did a military expedition from the fort of Carnuntum to Musov and beyond, but was forced to stop the conquest because of a revolt in Pannonia.

Only in 174 AD did the emperor Marcus Aurelius penetrate deeper into the river valleys of Váh, Nitra and Hron, where there are some Roman marching camps like "Laugaricio". On the banks of the Hron he wrote his philosophical work "Meditations" The little Roman forts of Zavod and Suchohrad in the Morava river showed a tentative of penetration toward northern Bohemia-Moravia and the Oder river (and perhaps southern Poland).

The latest archaeological discoveries which have located new Roman enclosures in the surroundings of Brno led to the conclusion that the advance of Roman troops from Carnumtum could have run further to the north-east, into the bordering region between Slovakia and Poland. Indeed recent archaeological excavations and aerial surveying have shown further locations in northeast Moravia: three temporary Roman camps (possibly connected to the Laugaricio fort) situated in the foreland of the so called Moravian Gate (Olomouc-Neředín, Hulín-Pravčice, Osek) have been partly corroborated, the former two clearly by digging.

Marcus Aurelius wanted to create a new Roman Province called "Marcomannia: on those conquered territories, but his death stopped the project. His sucessors abandoned those territories, but -with the exception of Valentinian I- maintained a relative friendly relationship with the barbarians living there (who enjoyed a small "cultural Romanization", that can be seen in some buildings around actual Bratislava in Stupava).

Indeed, the romanisation of the barbarian population continued in the late Roman period (181-380 AD). Many Roman buildings (with plenty of trade evidences of roman civilization) appeared on the territory of south-western Slovakia (Bratislava - Dúbravka, Cífer - Pác, Veľký Kýr) in the relatively peaceful period of the 3rd and 4th centuries. These were probably residences of the pro-Roman Quadi (and may be Marcomanni)

aristocracy. Romans in the late fourth century were able to bring christianity into the area: the germanic population of the Marcomanni converted when Fritigil, their queen, met a Christian traveller from the Roman Empire shortly before 397 AD. He talked to her of Ambrose, the formidable bishop of Milan (Italy). Impressed by what she heard, the queen converted to Christianity.[11][12] In the Roman ruins of Devín Castle, the first Christian church located north of the Danube has been identified, probably built in the early fifth century. A few years later Attila devastated the area and started the mass migrations that destroyed the Western Roman Empire. Meanwhile the area was beginning to be occupied by slav tribes.

Indeed the first written source suggesting that Slavic tribes established themselves in what is now Slovakia is connected to the migration of the Germanic Heruli from the Middle Danube region towards Scandinavia in 512 AD. This year, according to Procopius, they first passed "through the land of the Slavs", most probably along the river Morava. A cluster of archaeological sites in the valleys of the rivers Morava, Váh and Hron also suggests that at the latest the earliest Slavic settlements appeared in the territory around 500 AD. They are characterized by vessels similar to those of the "Mogiła" group of southern Poland and having analogies in the "Korchak" pottery of Ukraine.

In those same years disappeared the Roman presence from the Danube limes area, but there it is the remote possibility that Romans and those early slav tribes (who were the first "Slovakians") interacted commercially.

A Roman inscription in "Laugaricio", ordered by Marcus Valerius Maximianus, at the castle hill of Trenčín (178–179 AD) located a few dozen kms from the border with Poland. From Laugaricius the praetorian prefect Publius Tarrutenius Paternus moved to fight the Quadi near the Oder river in southern Poland.

It is noteworthy to pinpoint that near the northernmost line of the Roman hinterlands, the "Limes Romanus", there existed the winter camp of Laugaricio (modern-day Trenčín in actual Slovakia), where the Auxiliary of Legion II fought and prevailed in a decisive battle over the Germanic Quadi tribe in 179 AD during the Marcomannic Wars. Laugaricio (not far from the actual Poland-Slovakia border) is the most northern evidence of the presence of Roman soldiers in central Europe.

Romans in Slovakia (brief detailed History)

Emperor Augustus reached the Elba river with his legions, but after his terrible defeat at the Teutoburg Forest battle he went back to the Rhine river. However he had a client state between the Elba and the Oder river that probably reached actual Slesia in western Poland. We don't know anything about this first contact betrween Romans and the barbarians of this Poland region.

Under the emperor Marcus Aurelius a peace treaty was signed with the Quadi and the Iazyges (german tribes who lived in former "Cecoslovakia"), while the tribes of the Hasdingi, the Vandals and the Lacringi became Roman allies.

In 172 AD, the Romans crossed the Danube into Marcomannic territory. Although few details are known, the Romans achieved success, subjugating the Marcomanni and their allies, the Varistae or Naristi and the Cotini. This fact is evident from the adoption of the title "Germanicus" by Marcus Aurelius, and the minting of coins with the inscription "Germania capta" ("subjugated Germania"). During this campaign, the chief of the Naristi was killed by the Roman General Marcus Valerius Maximianus.

In 173 AD, the Romans campaigned against the Quadi, who had broken their treaty and assisted their kin, and defeated and subdued them.

By late 174 AD, the subjugation of the Quadi was complete. In typical Roman fashion, they were forced to surrender hostages and provide auxiliary contingents for the Roman army, while garrisons were installed throughout their territory.

After this, the Romans focused their attention on the Iazyges living in the plain of the river Tisza (expeditio sarmatica). After a few victories, in 175 AD, a treaty was signed. According to its terms, the Iazyges King Zanticus delivered 100,000 Roman prisoners and, in addition, provided 8,000 auxiliary cavalrymen, most of whom (5,500) were sent to Britain. Upon this, Marcus assumed the victory title "Sarmaticus".

Marcus Aurelius may have intended to campaign against the remaining tribes, and together with his recent conquests establish two new Roman provinces, Marcomannia and Sarmatia, but whatever his plans, they were cut short by the rebellion of Avidius Cassius in the East.

In 177 AD, the Quadi rebelled, followed soon by their neighbours, the Marcomanni, and Marcus Aurelius once again headed north, to begin his second Germanic campaign ("secunda expeditio germanica"). He arrived at Carnuntum in August 178 AD, and set out to quell the rebellion in a repeat of his first campaign, moving first against the Marcomanni, and in 179–180 AD against the Quadi. Under the command of Marcus Valerius Maximianus, the Romans fought and prevailed against the Quadi in a decisive battle at "Laugaricio" (near modern Trenčín, Slovakia). The Quadi were chased westwards, deeper into Greater Germania (reaching the Oder river), where the praetorian prefect Publius Tarrutenius Paternus later achieved another decisive victory against them, but on 17 March 180 AD, the emperor died at Vindobona (modern Vienna).

His successor Commodus had little interest in pursuing the war. Against the advice of his senior generals, after negotiating a peace treaty with the Marcomanni and the Quadi, he left for Rome in early autumn 180 AD, where he celebrated a triumph on October 22.

In the next centuries Romans never crossed again the Danube in order to conquer areas of today's Slovakia. The only exception was in 358 AD and mainly in 372-375 AD, when emperor Valentinian I devastated the area of actual southwest Slovakia and ordered the construction of castra (still not discovered) around the Celemantia roman fort at actual Iža. He did this even in order to defend the territory from the incoming Hun invasions.

Romans in southern Poland

Romans reached what is now southern Poland mainly as merchants using the "Amber way" toward the Baltic, but it seems that also legionaries were present in actual Slesia during Marcus Aurelius campaigns in central Europe (read my next month article for further information).