Late Celtic finds suggest the presence of a pre-Roman settlement, but it remains an open question whether this was an oppidum. The earliest Roman finds date to the last decade BC and are usually interpreted as coming from a military post, which may have been occupied only briefly. The beginning of the settlement proper is usually given as the 2nd decade AD, but the continued presence of a military site is assumed until the mid 1st century AD.
It is hard to make any statement concerning the town's development, as nearly all of the critical buildings were excavated before the late 19th century. This means that their chronology and possible predecessors must remain doubtful, although the conversion of buildings to stone is usually dated from the 2nd century AD onwards.
The settlement's status remains unclear. The written evidence cited in support of a civitas capital here are two mile stones, which apparently count distances from Brigantium, but these proposed readings have been criticised in more recent times. The known buildings, which include an impressive forum, would, however, fit well with an administrative centre, or with a chartered town, such as a municipium, but the case must remain unproven on current evidence: a situation mirrored at Cambodunum -Kempten.
No evidence, beyond the presence of early Samian, is known in support of an early, Augustan, military post. By contrast, there is more evidence for the later fort for part of a V-shaped ditch has been encountered in the south of the settlement, along with timber structures, including a possible stable, a probable barrack block and a water basin. Several pieces of military equipment have also been found but there is still no information available concerning the size of the fort or the character of its garrison.
Modern plans of Roman Brigantium are based entirely on the stone buildings, and no statements can be made concerning the preceding timber structures. The settlement was located on the field ‘Auf dem Oelrain’, a high terrace above Lake Constance and it had a harbour beside the lake itself, where the remains of a late Roman naval harbour have been excavated. The known and reconstructed streets suggest a orthogonal grid - as far as is possible given the topography – which appears to have been laid out after the withdrawal of the military, but still within the 1st century AD. The most important axis was the main road to Kempten, which passed the forum and it is striking that all of the known public buildings and the higher quality housing lay on the north side of this road, facing the lake. Brigantium had no city walls and, on the Oelrain, the limits of the densely populated area are hard to define, although to judge from the known structures, it is not likely to have exceeded 20 ha.
Brigantium-Bregenz. Plan of the Roman features with cemetery and harbour.
Brigantium-Bregenz. Plan of the Roman features in the centre of the settlement.
Brigantium-Bregenz. Model of the town, seen from the north.
The (96.5m x 54.6m) forum was enclosed by a wall with an outer façade, articulated by a series of buttresses (plan no.15). The courtyard was surrounded on all sides by open colonnades. Inside were three plinths, for supporting statues. To judge from the size of the plinths, these seem likely to have been equestrian statues and bronze fragments from the monuments have been found in the forum. Inside the courtyard, the remains of a two room structure have also been partially excavated, which is usually interpreted as a ritual building, and a complex with several heated rooms at the rear of the forum served administrative purposes. An imposing entrance results from a later alteration, but beyond this no further data on the forum are available.
To the west of the forum, a large public bath (plan no.9) lay along the main road, although little is known beyond the plan. Nine rooms, some heated, were found within the (c. 40 x 40m) enclosure which, in combination with a drain provides the evidence for a bath building, but no information on its date is available. Immediately to the west, along the road, lay an open area backed by a two aisled hall, which has been interpreted as a ambulatory/covered promenade. It had no direct access to the baths and it is unclear whether the two structures formed a functional unit.
To the east of the forum, a podium temple stood within a further (32.5 x
25.9m) enclosure. I may have had a tripartite cella, which would suggest the
cult of the Capitoline Triad: Jupiter, Juno and Minerva (plan. No. 19), but
a dedication found at the site commemorates ‘all gods and goddesses’. A hoard
of c. 80 mid 1st century AD brooches probably also came from here and may
have been a foundation deposit.
Further east along the main road was a small sacred district containing two Gallo- Roman temples and a small shrine within the remains of an enclosure wall (Plan no. 38-41). Whether a walled enclosure found to the west of the forum formed another ritual compound (plan 75), is unclear, however.
The specific role of other possible public buildings remains in doubt. Immediately east of the forum was a building whose only partially excavated plan (plan no.16), contained flanking halls. This may have been used for some public function, but it is more likely to be residential (see below). Three houses at the western end of the main road have been suggested as an inn/hostel (plan 5-7) but the interpretation as a public building of a U-shaped building with a courtyard and flanking rooms (no. 7), seems justified because a table of measures was found inside it.
The residential buildings of Roman Bregenz differ markedly in size and decoration. The smaller houses of traders and artisans lay to the south of the main road, whilst better appointed houses have, so far, only been found to the north of the road. The most common type of artisan's houses were long, rectangular strip buildings, whose narrow sides fronted onto the road and were faced with a portico. The front part of the houses served as shops, whilst the rear area was occupied by workshops and living quarters. The structures could reach lengths of up to 55m (e.g. Plan nos. 5; 8; 23-4 and 55), but there were also a number of smaller houses within the built-up area that differ from this design.
To the north of the main road and in some places on the margins of the settlement proper was a series of larger, well appointed houses. These made very good use of the surrounding topography and a number of their courtyards and porticoes faced north, towards Lake Constance as, for example, two atrium houses in the eastern part of the town (plan no. 17-18). The building next to the forum (discussed above) was probably also a luxurious residence, and it too ended in a portico looking out over the lake. At least one of the buildings at the western end of the main road (plan no. 6) seems likely to have been a peristyle house, as does the courtyard mentioned above (plan no. 7), unless this really did serve a public function.
Brigantium-Bregenz. Atrium house east of the temple.
Brigantium-Bregenz. Houses on the western fringe of the settlement.
At the edge and slope (respectively) of the ‘Oelrain’- Plateau, lay two villa-like complexes (plan 14 and 20). The (50 x 44 m) building close to the forum contained a large internal courtyard, around which living and service quarters and a small set of baths were arranged. Fragments of wall paintings and marble veneers survive from its high quality decorations. Further downhill in the so-called ‘villa am Steinbühel’, a series of rooms surrounded a (10 x 22.8m) central courtyard. It had a garden, partially surrounded by colonnades also included a free-standing bathhouse and its ground plan has led to the assumption that it served a public function (see above).
Brigantium-Bregenz.Villa west of the forum.
Brigantium-Bregenz. Plan of the main building of the so-called ‘villa am Steinbühel’.
Brigantium-Bregenz. Reconstruction of the main building of the so-called ‘villa am Steinbühel’.
The harbour quarter beside Lake Constance was probably equipped with some imposing architectural features, although our understanding of the area is too fragmentary to allow definitive statements. Several groups of columns have been reconstructed as a roadside colonnade. A harbour temple has been postulated on the basis of further column fragments, and a section of hypocausted building has been interpreted as a bath. Most of the finds from the latter date to the late Roman period.
Brigantium-Bregenz. Heavily reconstructed plan of the harbour quarter.
Brigantium-Bregenz. Reconstruction of the harbour quarter.
The foundations of the ‘villa am Steinbühel’ have been conserved and can be visited.
The finds from Roman Bregenz are displayed in the Vorarlberger Landesmuseum.
Text: Thomas Schmidts
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