Werner’s facts

The Danube frontier of the Roman Empire was maintained by a constant military presence which necessitated the personal, on-the-scene leadership of the Roman emperors at critical moments. The same military presence introduced the consumption of wine as an essential component of daily life in the region, while the military families of the frontier garrison provide recruits for the army. This was the source of the famous Illyrian emperors, born along the Danube and progressing through the ranks of the army to the imperial purple


The Route Theme consists of the archaeological sites with their individual (unique) histories that are monuments to the leadership of the Roman emperors in the introduction of Roman culture along the northern frontier of the Empire. The wine part of the Route incorporates the same regions which continue the tradition of wine production begun in Roman times.


The Middle and Lower Danube Corridor and the four country consortium (Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Serbia) form a cultural unity by virtue of their common geographical location and history during the Roman Empire. Because the strategic importance of the Danube Corridor in connecting the western and eastern parts of the Roman Empire coupled with the added need to protect the territorial integrity of the Empire in the corridor against destructive invasions required the construction of facilities to house the soldiers and the emperors who commanded them, a network of roads, forts, towns, villas and imperial palaces was created which still exist as tourist destinations. Similar climatic and other environmental conditions which encouraged the ancient Greek and Romans to extend viticulture to the Danube region have resulted in a renaissance of wine production in more modern times.


Conceptually the Route contains four different categories of preserved archaeological sites which are representative of the rule of the Roman Emperors in the Danube Corridor. The category which gives the theme its title has sites which are directly associated with the emperors. A similar category comprises sites associated with the Roman conquest of the Danube region and the emperors who managed the military campaigns. Two other categories consist of locations which resulted from an emperor’s military policy in the region and urban entities brought into existence by the emperors’ policy of building loyalty and cohesion among conquered indigenous peoples by encouraging acculturation to Roman standards. The wine part of the Route blends in conceptually with the introduction of Roman culture and social mores into the Danube region.

Manifestation of the Route Themes in the Four Consortium Countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia)

The representative site categories described below are almost all represented in the four consortium countries. The Adriatic coast of Croatia is especially important for archaeological remains of early Roman occupation in Illyricum under Julius Caesar and Augustus. The Danube sites in Bulgaria and Serbia find their significance in the consolidation of the northern frontier of the Roman Empire and its defense in the later empire which occasioned the frequent presence of emperors there. The sites in Romania, pre-Roman Dacia, find special meaning as the result of the emperor Trajan’s annexation of the kingdom to be the last major territorial expansion of the Empire.


Relevance of the Route Themes to the Sites and Wine Regions

As described above, there are four different categories of preserved archaeological sites which are representative of the rule of the Roman Emperors in the Danube Corridor. The categories are listed below with the representative sites from the four consortium countries.

Sites with Direct Connections with Emperors: These sites represent locations with well documented associations with specific emperors, usually in terms of the initiative for construction, actual residence or other use for significant periods of time.

Diocletian’s Palace (Split): This unique structure was built for the emperor Diocletian after his abdication in A.D. 305. Although made for an emperor in retirement, it retains the functional characteristics of an active imperial palace behind its fortification walls.

Felix Romuliana (Gamzigrad, near Zaječar): By virtue of its name and ancient literary references this fortified villa complex was built for the emperor Galerius’ mother Romula and perhaps for his own use. Both mother and son were cremated and buried in mausolea near the site.

Mediana (Niš): This is an late Roman villa complex in a suburb of the emperor Constantine’s birthplace in Naissus (Niš). From recent excavations the high point of the elaborately decorated villa’s use appears to be after the death of Constantine in A.D. 337 when his sons reigned.

Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica): Sirmium is a Roman town and the capital of the province of Lower Pannonia. The emperor Domitian probably had his headquarters here during his Dacian wars, but the crucial period is the late empire when the town was an actual imperial capital with a palace used by reigning emperors in the late third and fourth centuries. Diocletian, Constantine and other emperors were in frequent residence.


Sites Connected with Military Campaigning by an Emperor: These sites came into existence as a result of military campaigns conducted by various emperors for the occupation and consolidation of Roman control over the Danube provinces.

Durostorum (Silistra): This is a Danube legionary base which was garrisoned from the time of emperor Trajan’s Dacian wars; later a nearby civilian settlement was granted municipal status during the emperor Marcus Aurelius’ program of upgrading indigenous urban settlements in the Danube Corridor. A well preserved decorated Roman tomb is on display here.

Novae (Svishtov): This is another Danube legionary base, established probably as part of the emperor Claudius’ move to station front line infantry right on the Danube frontier. It was reinforced under the emperor Vespasian later in the first century A.D.

Iader (Zadar): This is a colonial foundation under the emperor Augustus which characterizes early Roman penetration into the Danube region from the Adriatic side.

Pola (Pula): Pola, like Iader, represents an Augustan colony the marks the beginning of the occupation of Illyricum.

Narona (Vid): This was a colony founded by the dictator Julius Caesar’s supporters during or right after his mandate in Illyricum; there were also strong ties to the emperor Augustus here as indicated by the recent discovery and display of statuary from a temple of the imperial cult. The emperor Vespasian is also featured in the shrine.

Salona (Solin near Split): This is another Casarean colonial foundation which acted as a diffusion point for Roman culture in the central Dalmatian coast as the Romans began their penetration of Illyricum.

Diana and the Djerdap/Iron Gate Region (Kladovo): The series of military sites in this region begin with the emperor Tiberius’ road building activities in the Iron Gate Gorge (with repairs documented in inscriptions by the emperors Claudius, Domitian and Trajan) and continue with the cohort fort at Diana (Karataš) which was used in the emperor Trajan’s Dacian campaigns and downstream include the emperor Trajan’s Bridge across the Danube to Drobeta (Turnu Severin).Trajan’s road building inscription, the famous Tabula Traiana, can still be seen in its new location high above the Danube stream. The Archaeological Museum in Kladovo exhibits finds from these and other sites in the region.

Viminacium (Kostolac, near Požarevac): This is a legionary base that produced a prosperous civilian settlement adjacent to the castrum. The emperor Trajan most probably made Viminacium his base for the Dacian Wars, as did later emperors during campaigns on the Middle Danube.

Colonia Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegutusa(Sarmizegutusa): The emperor Trajan founded a colony for retired military here right after the conclusion of the Dacian Wars to consolidate and control Roman control of the new provinces.

Tropaeum Traiani (Trajan’s Victory Monument, Adamclisi): The emperor Trajan almost certainly visited this site. He is mentioned in the dedicatory inscription for this battle monument consecrated to Mars, the Roman god of war and vengeance.

Apulum (Alba Iulia): This was a legionary base established under the emperor Trajan during the Dacian Wars which later was granted municipal status under the emperor Marcus Aurelius. The emperor Septimius Severus founded a second Apulum here.

AlburnusMaior (RoşiaMontană): This was a Roman mining center established by the emperor Trajan for exploiting Dacia’s mineral resources, with the emphasis on gold. He brought in experienced miners from Dalmatia to work the gold mines.


Securing territory and commerce

Sites Resulting from an Emperors’ Military Policy: These are military sites on the Danube frontier where garrisons were located which had responsibility for not only defense but also for control of river commerce and maintenance of the Danube viamilitaris. The garrisons included both land-based troops and sailors of the Danube fleets.

Durostorum (Silistra), along with Novae (Svishtov): These bases remain in use throughout the empire to facilitate the emperors’ standing policy of frontier defense.

SexagintaPrista (Ruse): This one of the major Danube fleet bases, set up by Vespasian for the Lower Danube region.

Oescus (Gigen): This was perhaps made a legionary base under the emperor Augustus, which would make it the earliest Roman garrison point on this part of the Danube. Substantial building took place under the emperor Trajan when he was campaigning on the Danube against the Dacians. Later the civilian settlement is given colonial status under the emperor Marcus Aurelius. After the emperor Aurelian’s withdrawal from Dacia, he returns a legion to the garrison here, and the emperor Constantine had another bridge built across the Danube at Oescus.


Emperors melting pot

Sites Resulting from an Emperors’ Political Policy: Various emperors (for example Augustus’ Julio-Claudian line, the emperor Vespasian and his Flavian dynasty, the emperor Marcus Aurelius in the second century) instituted a deliberate policy to encourage the integration of conquered indigenous peoples into the government of the Roman Empire on the local level. This was accomplished through the granting of semi-autonomous self rule to indigenous communities in Illyricum and the Danube provinces; this process is documented in the award of municipal status (Roman municipia, sometime coloniae) as an upgrade to existing native settlements on conquered territory. Sometimes the establishment of the imperial cult of emperor worship to promote loyalty to the person of the emperor went along with the new municipal status. Included here also are what might be termed utilitarian sites with responsibilities for traffic control and road maintenance and, in one unusual example, imperial control over an agricultural resource.

Kaleto Fortress: There are few Roman remains here but the prominent and naturally fortified location supports the argument that the Romans established a fort here to control communications between the Trans Balkan Highway in the Naissus (Niš) – Serdica (Sofia) segment and the Danube via militaris.

Aenona (Nin): This Adriatic site shows the intent of the emperor Augustus to consolidate territorial gains in the Adriatic region with a grant of municipal status to the native community here. Statues of the first two emperors, Augustus and Tiberius, were recovered from the Capitolium Temple on the Aenona forum.

Andautonia (Ščitajevo near Zagreb): Andautonia received a later grant of municipal status under the Flavian dynasty. Its native community occupied an important position on another cross-country arterial between the Sava valley and Trans Balkan Highway and the major town of Poetovio (Ptuj) in northeastern Pannonia.

AquaeIassae (VaraždinskeToplice): Not a great deal of detail is known about the Roman use of this site, but clearly they prized the therapeutic qualities of the spa there. The emperor Constantine restored the baths (thermae) which were built on the thermal springs.

InsulaePullariae (Brijuni Islands in the Adriatic): The commerce in olive oil, another Roman introduced commodity, in the Danube corridor, provides an interesting parallel to the movement of imported wine and the subsequent renaissance in wine production we see today. Olive oil was transported in ceramic amphoras, just as wine was, and the containers have left abundant artifactual remains on the Danube military and civilian sites. Oil from the InsulaePullariae, responding to military demand, appears down the Sava valley all the way to Sirmium and also on the Middle Danube.

Histria (Istria): When the Romans entered the Danube corridor from the east, cities like Histria with long histories in the Hellenistic world came under Roman control. Probably under the emperor Augustus Histria as an already formed urban entity received something equivalent to municipal status in the Empire and were permitted to retain their Greek forms of town government.

Danube Wine Regions: The wine regions are interlocked with the Route sites along the Danube Corridor and in a general sense replicated the plantations introduced by the Roman army into the regions. For the indigenous peoples, who lived and worked alongside of the Roman soldiers, one can infer that a way “to act Roman” and in a certain sense “to be Roman” was to acquire a taste for this new beverage from the Mediterranean world.


Geographical Scope

The geographical coverage of the Route themes encompasses a central axis along the Danube Corridor in the four country region which is anchored in the west by the Adriatic coast of Croatia and in the east by the Black Sea and delta of the Danube in Bulgaria and Romania. The western and eastern terminal points are important to note because these are the directions from which the Roman armies penetrated and gained control of the Danube corridor. Some of the older sites (for example, Salona and Narona, Histria) on the Route are located in those areas.

The Sava-Danube connection through Croatia and Serbia, continuing with the Danube by Bulgaria and Romania provided the river highways for the bulk movement of goods (including distinctively Roman wine and olive oils and also fine table wares). Information and imperial officials, sometimes even the emperors themselves, could be passed quickly along the rivers. Parallel to the Danube river corridor were two important land routes which, in the first place, served to connect the European half of the Empire with the East.It ran from the head of the Adriatic along the Sava valley to connect with the Danube just downstream from Sirmium and then continued along the Danube to the confluence with the Morava river near Viminacium where it turned south and east to eventually arrive at Constantinople (Istanbul). This was what a British scholar (Sir Ronald Syme) in the 1930’s called the Trans Balkan Highway, a functional description which is still useful today. The second trunk road ran along the south bank of the Danube and linked the series of military installations which protected the frontier and controlled commercial traffic on the river. The Romans, more precisely, called both roads viaemilitares (military highways) because of the frequent troop movements to meet border crises along the route. Emperors with their armies often faced off in civil war along the Danube corridor.

Specifically relevant to the wine part of the Route is the documented presence on virtually every site on the Roman Emperors Route of Roman transport amphora. The amphoras are the linkage between wine transport and wine consumption in the Danube corridor. These ceramic containers for liquids were designed to be stacked in the holds of sea-going vessels and river transports. Three commodities typical of Roman taste were carried in the amphoras: wine, olive oil and the ubiquitous fish sauce called garum. The amphoras were often labeled as to their contents and point of origin, and extensive archaeological research around the Mediterranean in recent years have allowed the identification of trade patterns which reached into the Danube corridor from both the west and east.For the soldiers in the forts, also for Romans in civilian settlements and later Romanized natives in the Danube region these items, especially the wine, were daily necessities and also highly prized status commodities. Wine and olive oil were introduced into the region by Roman traders and military suppliers originally to satisfy soldiers’ demand. Eventually, however, wine was being produced locally, probably beginning in the later Empire. Curiously enough the wine amphoras were apparently only single-use containers, and so were discarded after they were emptied; this process created large quantities of amphora fragments in refuse areas on sites for later recovery and analysis by archaeologists


Chronological Scope

In the ancient period the Route coincide with the chronological development of Roman control and occupation of the Danube region. For practical purposes this means the beginning of a substantial and enduring Roman presence during the period of Julius Caesar’s dominance in Roman politics (the 50’s and 40’s B.C.) and ending with the reign of Theodosius the Great (A.D. 379-395). Roman armies were in the region before that time but did not establish a permanent presence. Most scholars relegate the fifth century A.D. to the realm of Byzantine history and Byzantine emperors.


The entry of Roman emperors into the Danube region begins properly with Julius Caesar. Caesar in a technical sense was not an emperor, but his assumption of the title “Dictator for Life” made him one in all but the specific title. Among Caesar’s military accomplishments the conquest of the two Gauls (one on either side of the Alps) stands out in history. However this causes one to lose sight of the third province in his mandate, Illyricum. Illyricum for the Romans of Caesar and Augustus’ time stretched from the Adriatic to the Danube and eastward towards western Bulgaria. Caesar probably made inspection tours of his third province, and his command resulted in the foundation of Roman colonies at Salona near Split and Narona at the mouth of the Neretva river. Caesar and after him the first emperor Augustus laid the foundations for the continued advance of the Romans to the Danube. The colonies and the later grants of municipal rights of limited self government to indigenous communities, in either case authorized by a given emperor, created nodal points for the diffusion of Roman civilization.

Historical Growth

The diffusion of Roman culture, along with the military advance to the Danube and the consolidation of Roman territorial gains, continued under successive emperors in the first century A.D. The second emperor Tiberius, drawing on his military experience by the Sava and Danube rivers under Augustus directed his legions to major road building projects in the region, including the Trans Balkan Highway and the Danube via militaris through the Iron Gate gorge. The Danube fleet was probably established in his reign also. The emperor Claudius, almost the last of Augustus’ line, moved the legionary garrison up to Danube bases and repaired the viamilitaris on the river itself. Domitian, the last of the Flavian dynasty of emperors, also repaired the Danube road and himself led the Roman armies against Decebalus and the Dacians north of the Danube. He probably made his base at Sirmium. For various reasons, Domitian did not annex territory from the Dacians but at least he put a temporary stop to their destructive raids on Roman territory.

The culmination of the first and defining phase of Roman occupation of the Danube corridor was directed by the first non-Italian emperor Trajan in the early second century. Trajan himself was on the Danube on several occasions, including directing the campaigns in two successful Dacian wars against Decebalus. His base was probably with a legion at Viminacium, but he certainly was involved with road construction and repair in the Iron Gate gorge and the construction of the great bridge across the Danube near Kladovo(SER) and DrobetaTurnuSeverin (ROM) in 105 between the two Dacian wars. The final result of Trajan’s aggressive military policy was the annexation of Decebalus’ kingdom as the new Dacian provinces north of the Danube. Along with the annexation proceeded the establishment of legionary bases, the foundation of colonies for retired soldiers, Roman exploitation of Dacian mineral resources, especially the gold mines, and the construction of a unique battle monument near the Black Sea.


Influence on European History and Heritage

It is commonly understood that multiple aspects of the political, social, military and economic systems represented by the Roman Empire reach deep into the history of today’s Europe. The standing and tangible remains of the Roman Empire in cities and museums throughout Europe are visual markers for the memory of the Roman past.

The Roman Empire and the actions of the emperors who directed it laid the foundations of urbanism, administrative structure and law for the medieval and modern European societies which followed. The Roman Empire promoted religious toleration, and guided retention of ethnic identity along with a universal rule of law and rights of citizenship. Later European culture witnessed the recurring Roman influences on artistic traditions, town planning and architecture. The Renaissance in fact can be characterized as a return to some of the cultural norms established by the Roman Empire in the theme regions and western Europe.

The Roman Emperors were the leaders and guardians of a complex political structure which was built on the rule of law and limited autonomy in self-governing colonies and municipalities. The rule of law, after the emperor Caracalla’s decree of 212, included universal citizenship throughout the Empire. After the decision of the Illyrian emperors Constantine and Licinius (technically from Dacia/Romania) in 313, religious tolerance was guaranteed by law. This established Christianity as the leading religion in the Empire which was to form a major underpinning for medieval and later European culture. The political effect of Christianity on human rights also cannot be ignored. The “new” religion advocated respect for individuals of both genders, regardless of social status.

The appreciation of wine and its comsumption in social contexts which is promoted on a regional basis in the wine part of the Route continues a tradition that stems from the introduction of the beverage by the Romans. Although we lack any written accounts of daily and special social gatherings (Roman convivia) in which wine was featured on the Roman Danube, we can judge that such gatherings took place frequently based on the large amounts of discarded wine storage and serving vessels which have been recovered on all the habitation sites in the Route. Perhaps it can also be allowed that the spirit of the Latin word convivium, “eating together” “enjoying together” can also be continued into modern European culture where wine prized and considered a necessary accompaniment to good living. The Danube frontier of the Roman Empire was maintained by a constant military presence which necessitated the personal, on-the-scene leadership of the Roman emperors at critical moments.

Michael Werner, Professor of Roman Art and Archaeology, Department of Art and Art History at The University at Albany (State University of New York) and Chairperson of Scientific Committee of the Roman Emperors and Danube Wine Route