I had just turned 19 that summer, and it was one of the last holidays together with my parents and my sister. We had been to the area 5 years earlier, but it seems I did not care for Roman remains as much, because according to the sharp memory of my brother (yes, it was 1978, 25 years ago!) we drove past the remains of this Roman town without stopping, apparently at my instigation.
The city, whose name goes back to an unknown mediterranean language, was probably the successor to an as yet unlocated oppidum of the Laianci, the local Celtic tribe. As early as 30 BC the Romans created a civilian settlement on the valley bottom, possibly at a spot where there had been a traders' settlement before. After the Roman town had been founded, population levels rose quickly (as can be judged from the growth of the baths), and under the Emperor Claudius (AD 41-51) the town became autonomous, with the official name of Municipium Claudium Aguntum.
Protected by the Alps' high mountain range, the city prospered for the next centuries, adding buildings and growing wealthy of the iron oare mined in the valleys. Though it obviously needed garrison nor defences, an East Wall was added during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian, though with mysterious qualities. As can be seen on the map (above), the wall ended without the rest of the circumvallum being added! Add to that the completely disfunctional gate-house with its side entrances (image, below) and the fact that another entrance to the town was broken through at another spot. Without the rest of the walls, this construction was obviously useless for defensive purposes, and it was probably just a representative folly, meant to impress with a nice facade.
However, after the first invasions by the Alamanni, during the late 3rd century, the rest of the walls and new towers were hastily added. With apparent success, because it seems that the buildings inside the walls escaped damage, whereas the ones outside did not. The town continued to prosper until about AD 400, when the decline set in.
The continuing troubles on the Danube and the weakening of the Roman armies led to the fist sack of Aguntum during the wars with Radagais and Alaric. A layer of burnt material as well as the remains of a man and a child found in the city baths tells us of catastrophe. Not surprisingly, we see the first signs of a transfer of power, when the bishop chooses to settle in nearby Lavant. Still, the town continues, and the destroyed buildings were repaired. For but a short time though, because a coin of AD 452 found in the next layer of burns tells us that it was probably the invasion of Italy by Attila's Huns which sacked the town a second time.
Even so, Aguntum (like Teurnia) held out much longer than the other towns of Noricum, which means that it had probably enough to offer to the inhabitants, who chose to stay on. These loyal inhabitants kept repairing the damages, so in all likelyhood Aguntum was a secure enough place when there weren't any major invasions about. Building activity (albeit modest) continued until the late 5th century. However, like all across the region, castles sprang up on hills far above the valleys, showing that even when the civilians meant to stay on, they stayed in more secure places. But hard time or not, as late as 431 AD it came to a tax rebellion in Noricum (although we can't tell if this was supported by the tax-payers of Aguntum), suggesting that this part of the Roman administration was still in full swing! In 452, the Huns burned their way through the Drau valley, and no doubt Aguntum will have borne the brunt of that. By 472, the Ostrogoths besieged nearby Teurnia, and Aguntum will have felt the repercussions of that, too. We know from the Life of St Severin that shipments of food from Teurnia to the stricken civilians along the Danube could not get through because of the Goths. Aguntum isn't mentioned in that list, but that proves neither that the town was besieged, nor that it was able to send relief.
However, the Roman Empire in the West ended, and Aguntum was subsequently ruled by Ostrogoths, Franks, Byzantines and Bavarians. The latter ruled only for a short time, for after just 20 years of Bavarian rule, the Avars and Slavs arrived and completely destroyed Aguntum. Paul the Deacon described of the year 610 how in a major battle near or in the town, the Slavs defeated Garibald and completely destroyed his army. Even Lavant seems to have been burned, but not destroyed. If there still was a bishop there (a very old one), he would have been the last, for bishops were no longer ordained there. Thus did Aguntum end, and was never inhabited again. The remaining Roman population now resided in their castles and fortresses high in the hills and mountains, and the Slavs settled peacefully in the valleys below. The ruins of Aguntum remained visible, despite repeated flooding by the waters of the Debantbach, until the 16th century.
a lawyer by the name of Veit Netlich wrote of gravestones
with "unkendlicher Schrift" (unknown
writing) and concluded that: "Allain ist die
Sag, es soll alda vor Zeiten ain Haidnische Statt
gestanden seyn". (Only a myth says, here must
have stood a heathen city). By 1680, it was written of
the ruins that "bei der gemein ist noch der
Gedächtnuß, daß ein Zwergel Khönig allda gewohnt
haben soll (these (people) generally believe that a
gnome king once lived there).
hot. Scorching hot. So hot, that we did not care for most
of the remains (in which I seemed the most interested
anyway) and left very early. I can't find any big
description in the diaries either, meaning the ruins made
no big impression. Well, it was 30 degrees,
which is no fun when you're out in the sun, without a
hint of shade. To, the ruins were apparently interesting
enough to remember all those years (20 now).
Still, I wanted to see the site again. So later that holiday, wednesday 3rd August, when we had moved on to Toblach in Italy (South Tirol), I went back on my bike. It was overcast and it rained most of the way through thr Drau valley, and I was haunted by several trucks on the way. Deciding this was not the way to go back, I arranged a train journey. This meant, though, that I did no longer have enough money to get a guided tour of Aguntum.. I'll have to go back there some day.
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