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Roman Sites
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Sebatum Italy
Monday 1 August 1983
Sebatum
Roman Road Station
Access for the disabledFree access to the monument
Roman name: Sebatum
Roman Province: Noricum
Country: Italy
Province: South Tirol/Alto Adige
Nearest town: Bruneck/Brunico
Nearest village: St. Lorenzen
 

After visiting Aguntum and Lavant, Sebatum was very disappointing. True, it was just a passing visit on a trip to Bruneck/Brunico, but I had expected more. Still, a nice milestone by the way.

Sebatum

Sebatum, present-day St.Lorenzen, was once the main settlement of the Celtic Sevates. Here the calm Ahr river coming from the Ahrntal valley and the Gader, a wild mountain torrent coming from the Enneberg valley, flow into the Rienz, the main river of the Pustertal valley.
In the surroundings of St.Lorenzen people settled down as early as the very first settlers put down roots in the Alpine region. The first settlements date back to 3000 years ago. Some remains of walls originating from hillforts on the Sonnenburger Kopf and the Burgkofel near Lothen are witness of the very old history of human settlements in this area.
The name of the main river of the valley, the Rienz, as well as some of today's names of features of the local landscape originate from the first settlers coming from the Indo-Germanic language area. From numerous tool, jewellery and grave finds we can find out about the later arrival of the Celts around 500 BC.

When the Romans reached the Pustertal valley back in 15 BC they already found an important shrine. In the recordings of the Roman historians the inhabitants of this area were called Sevates. Thanks to the building of the Via Claudia Augusta Altinate through the Pustertal valley, this settlement remained important. The battle for supremacy was lost, to Aguntum, the town of the neighboring Laianci. However some compromise was apparently reached because the new Civitas (province) was labelled civitas Sevatorum et Laianciorum. In the valley bottom of St.Lorenzen the native population mixed with the newly settled Romans. Here the Romans built a significant village with more than 1000 inhabitants and named it Sebatum after the native population. Numerous remains of walls in the surroundings of St.Lorenzen as well as the milestone next to Sonnenburg have been preserved from that time. In 1994 archaeological finds proved that a Christian church was built in Sebatum already at the time of the Roman Empire. It was consecrated to the Roman martyr Laurentius.

The turbulent migration of peoples after the decline of the Roman empire in the 5th and 6th century led to a complete destruction of the old Sebatum. Due to the passage through of Hun, Gothic and Slavic armies the inhabitants of Sebatum withdrew to the mountains of Ladinia where Ladin, the language of the Rhaeto-Romans, has been preserved up to now. Sebatum itself however was completely depopulated. In the 6th century the Bavarians settled in the Pustertal valley. In the surroundings of St. Lorenzen they cleared woods, laid out fields and built farms and hamlets.

With the Christianisation under the emperor Charlemagne also the church was reconstructed on the walls of the old Roman temple of Sebatum. The name of the Holy Laurentius originating from the Romans, however, has been preserved, and so the new German village was called St. Lorenzen.
Already in the Middle Ages St.Lorenzen gained considerable importance. At the turn of the millennium the Michelsburg Castle was built as the seat of the count of the Pustertal valley. Later the jurisdictional district of St. Michelsburg which corresponds for the most part to the valley bottom of Bruneck, was newly bounded. In the 15th century the seat of the court was transferred to the community centre or Pfleghaus of St. Lorenzen.

Remains of Sebatum today.
Remains of Sebatum today.
More remains as they look today.
More remains as they look today.
The very nice milestone.
The very nice milestone.

The Milestone

In 1824 Count Giovannelli wrote that a milestone was found in the year 1723 during reparation works along the road. However, it had disappeared for quite a while and was only rediscovered in 1857 when a field wall was dismantled. From then on it was a constant subject of historical debate. J. A. Rohracher wrote that originally the stone had possibly stood at the crossroads to the Enneberg area, i.e. the present road to Maria Saalen, as usually mile stones were always placed at crossroads.

Another constant topic of research was the question of the location of the town of Aguntum, in relation the villages of Littamum and Sebatum, mentioned in the Itinerarium Antonini, a traveller’s record from the end of the 3rd century AD. The so-called Oberdrauenburger Roman milestone (found in 1869 on the Carinthian-Tyrolean border), marked the distance to Aguntum as eight Roman miles.

In 1873 Theodor Mommsen identified the Municipium Claudium Aguntum as the ruins next to the Debant Brook near Lienz in East Tyrol and was so able to definitely solve the problem of the location of Sebatum by means of the distance specification between Sebatum and Aguntum on the milestone from Sonnenburg.

It is a milestone set up by Macrinus and Diadumenianus in 218 AD and was put there in connection with the route Veldidena - Aguntum - Teurnia. The honorary inscription is spread to 13 lines, lacks several letters and just shows the inscription:

IMP.CAES. … … SSEVER…ARAB… … T …POT … … PRINCIPI OPT. … … … LVI

Today the original is conserved at the Museum Ferdinandeum in Innsbruck. A copy from the 1870s can be seen on the road to Brixen, about 100m north west of the Sonnenburg.

Remains of Sebatum near St Lorenzen.
Remains of Sebatum near St Lorenzen.
The sparse remains during the excavation of 1983.
The sparse remains during the excavation of 1983.
Yrs truly taking a picture of the milestone by the roadside.
Yrs truly taking a picture of the milestone by the roadside.
The very picture.
The very picture.

The visit

On a trip through South Tirol, or the Puster valley in northern Italy we passed by the old Roman small town or road station of Sebatum. It was hot and disappointing, for only the remains of a few walls were visible, and nothing much of information. The stop was very brief as a consequence. A few miles down the road, however, stood the very good copy of a Roman milestone, with a sign as well.

Museum

A small exhibition was instituted in the town hall of St Lorenzen from the summer of 2000. The visitor will get an interesting general view of the archaeology in St Lorenzen. Representative finds of the different relevant epochs in the area are presented together with informative pictures and descriptive texts.

Antiquarium open:
Mo - Fr  8.00 - 12.00  and  15.00 - 18.00
Sa  8.00 - 12.00

A new exhibition about Roman death cults in Sebatum is being held during the summer of 2003 in the local bank (click on the poster for more information).

Bibliography

  • Karwiese, Stefan (1975): Der Ager Aguntinus, eine Bezirksurkunde des Ältesten Osttirol, (Curatorium pro Agunto). *
  • Pleyel, Peter (1987): Das Römische Österreich, Fundstätten und Museen, (Verlag Kremayr & Scheriau, Wien).*
  • Link1: http://www.sebatum.it/noflash_engl.htm (the official site).
  • Link2: http://www.dolomitisuperski.net/crontour/st.lorenzen/page03uk.html
  • VortigernStudies is copyright © Robert Vermaat 1999. All rights reserved