Sandsone Press Logo

On The Blog

Along the Amber Route: Carnuntum

The scattered ruins of Carnuntum – two amphitheatres, streets, houses, a bath complex and this triumphal arch, known as the Heidentor (‘Heathens’ Tower’) – extended for five kilometres between the villages of Petronell and Bad Deutsch-Altenburg, close to the southern bank of the Danube and nearer to Bratislava than Vienna. Standing beneath the Heidentor, I recalled the distance – more than 2,000 kilometres – I had travelled, and the lands I had crossed. A trader passing under this gateway with a bag of amber from Wrocław, to which it had been brought by pale, broad-cheekboned people from the fringe of the known world, would be entering an empire that stretched from Hadrian’s Wall to the Libyan desert. On this windswept plain, the route became a physical – and in places visible – Roman road, which continued through Hungary and Slovenia to Aquileia at the head of the Adriatic. The road and the stations along it were clearly marked on the Peutinger Table, a medieval copy of a late Roman map, and in the Antonine Itinerary, a route list with place names and the distances between them that probably dates from the 2nd century AD.

It was in this garrison town that Marcus Aurelius wrote parts of his Meditations towards the end of the 2nd century ad, as the sun began to set on his empire. That most pacific of emperors spent years here, fighting a bitter war to defend Rome’s northern frontier against the Quadi and the Marcomanni. The brutality of that conflict can be glimpsed amid the Stoic resolve of the Meditations: ‘Have you ever seen a hand or a foot cut off, or a head sliced off, lying anywhere apart from the rest of the body?’

From Along the Amber Route by C.J. Schüler

Back to the map.

C.J. Schüler

C.J. Schüler