Cults and temples in north-west Pannonia

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Corresponding to the main focus of settlement in antiquity, yet also appropriate with regard to the state of scientific research, the spatial distribution of evidence for Roman religion is very uneven. The majority of cultic monuments derive from Carnuntum, where all of the temple precincts known to date, which are in part well-studied, are also located. Leaving aside the frontier zone along the Danube, only a few religious monuments have been found thus far in the Pannonian section of Austria. This is due on the one hand to the poor state of research: until now, only a very few sites in this region have been systematically excavated. Another reason, on the other hand, is the fact that there were no settlements of any great size here, with the exception of the completely unstudied spa settlement of Aquae, the present-day Baden. Furthermore, major through-routes were really only found in the area immediately to the south and south-east of Vienna, since long-distance transport was primarily concentrated on the Amber Route, that is, the route linking Savaria/Szombathely – Scarbantia/Sopron – Carnuntum, that is, essentially western Hungary.

Altar of Publius Geminius, probably a legionary officer, dedicated to the goddess Salus. To the left of the inscription flies Victoria (Victory), with the wreath of victory in her hands; to the right, Pax (Peace) holds a palm branch; on the rear, the helmeted Virtus (manly virtue) stands with a vexillum (standard) and sword.

The central provincial sanctuary was located at Savaria, the oldest city of Pannonia; here, above all, the Imperial cult was worshipped. Furthermore, Capitoline precincts with statuary groups of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva are firmly attested at Savaria and Scarbantia, while to date no evidence for such groups has been found at the significantly later municipium of Carnuntum. At Vindobona, fragments of marble and bronze statues at least indicate a Jupiter- and Imperial-cult centre at the Forum.
In the central urban regions of both cities in north-western Pannonia, Carnuntum and Vindobona, no finds which can securely be connected with public temple structures are preserved. A podium temple oriented to the east lay on the south side of the Forum, although no more detailed or illustrative finds have come to light. In addition, small sanctuaries, integrated into the residential district, dedicated to Silvanus and various oriental divinities are known; these were probably operated by associations and served primarily the residents of the respective town districts as private cult places.
These were mostly integrated into the clubhouses of the associations. In form, they vary from simple single-room structures to larger complexes with temples in antis, meeting halls with podia for reclining, and numerous neighbouring structures in a courtyard or garden area, as for example the sanctuary of Dolichenus.

In contrast to the situation in the south-western part of the province around Poetovio/Ptuj and the Savetal, there is no clear evidence for indigenous-Celtic divinities in north-west Pannonia. Outside the civic settlements, the military, and the population of the canabae legionis of Carnuntum which was closely linked to the military, dominated the practice of votive dedications; due to this circumstance, divinities of the Imperial state, and allegorical figures which were appropriate in signalling loyalty to the Emperor, appear with particular frequency in inscriptions and representations.


Sanctuary of Silvanus in the fishpond of the animal garden of Schloss Traun during its excavation in 1983: in the area lay or stood various altars, and the gable pediment which formerly was erected over the door

Sanctuary of Dolichenus, Plan:
Temple, Meeting Hall, and Garden Area with additional structures

Indeed, the sanctuary of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the nearby Pfaffenberg, also important for the Imperial cult, must have played a significant role for the civilian town of Carnuntum. This sanctuary was originally laid out by legionaries and the inhabitants of the canabae legionis and controlled by their cult organisation, which was run by four magistri montis. In the later 2nd and the 3rd c., however, decurions of the municipium and of the Colonia Carnuntum were also counted amongst these ‘masters of the mountain.’ On the nearly flat plateau of the mountain, which since the beginning of the 1980s has almost completely fallen victim to industrial quarrying activities, stood at least two temple buildings, a cult theatre, numerous altars and columnar monuments as well as a total of a dozen seated statues of Jupiter or an emperor in the guise of Jupiter. Particularly noteworthy here is a monument dedicated to Jupiter, whose throne is supported by four giants. If the throne stood on a column, this monument may be understood as a hitherto unknown variation of the Jupiter column, a monument form particularly common in the Rhineland. Above such columns Jupiter is either enthroned, as in an example from the Pfaffenberg, or he rides victoriously over a giant; never, however, is he enthroned above giants.





Pfaffenberg, Carnuntum:
Column monument with enthroned Jupiter, reconstruction

Pfaffenberg, Carnuntum:
Giant as support for a leg of a throne (limestone)

One building which for a long time was identified as the main temple or Capitolium had a wide vestibule, a central room fitted with podia at the sides, and two side rooms, one of which would have been used as a kitchen; recently, however, this has been identified as the banquet building for a cultic community associated with oriental divinities. As a Hadrianic inscription referring to a ‘hundred foot long wall’ suggests, the building complex probably served as a meeting space for the iuventus of Carnuntum, a paramilitary civic youth organisation under the protection of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus. This association could have staged games and performances in honour of the emperor and to the glory of Rome, in the theatre which was fitted with a tribunal for spectators and which was enclosed by a ca. 2 m. tall wall.


Jupiter Sanctuary on the Pfaffenberg,
axonometric partial reconstruction

Jupiter Sanctuary on the Pfaffenberg,
reconstruction attempt

The background for the festival day of 11th June, dating back at least to the later 2nd c. (oldest preserved inscription from the year 178), is unclear; on this day, Jupiter received dedicatory inscriptions at least as regularly as a Jupiter with the epithet of ‘Teutanus’ from the region around Aquincum (Budapest) in the province of Pannonia Inferior. Scholars have tried to associate this June 11th with the so-called ‘miracle of lightning’ of 172, which struck during the wars of Marcus Aurelius with the Marcomanni and Quadi, and which apparently saved the Roman army. The fact, however, that this theory is based upon untenable restorations of certain inscriptions has resulted in different solutions being proposed: for example, the foundation day of both cities of Carnuntum and Aquincum; the birthdate of the undivided province of Pannonia or similarly the day of their division in the year 106; the day of the dedication of the capitol or of the Imperial altar in Savaria (Szombathely), the former capital city of Pannonia before its division; a summer equinox festival reflecting Celtic influence has even been suggested. Most recently has been proposed that the 11th June should be equated with the official foundation day of both sanctuaries, and carefully argued that this initiative might date back to the Governorship of Aelius Caesar in the year 137. Aelius Caesar, adoptive son and designated successor of Hadrian, was the only Governor of both provinces after the division of Pannonia into two provinces.
Nevertheless, one piece of evidence argues against this theory, namely, that the oldest – although very fragmentary – dedicatory altar from Pfaffenberg was erected in honour of Victory by a dependent of the legio XV Apollinaris, and therefore must have been already set up at the very latest by 62 A.D., the year of the withdrawal of the legion. Therefore the temple region seems to be only a little more recent than the stationing of the first legion at Carnuntum around the mid-1st c. A.D., while on the other hand the recognition of 11th June as a festival day, and the worship of a ‘Jupiter K(arnuntinus?)’, were added only later to the cult activities at the site. Following this, and on the basis of the sparse remains of a building inscription, one of the two temples might have been constructed by Aelius Caesar in honour of Antinoos, the youthful lover of Hadrian who drowned in the Nile.

In the canabae legionis of Carnuntum, three sacred areas lay in close proximity to each other: one was dedicated to Liber and Libera and had a small podium temple (9.60 x 6.60 m.) open to the east and standing in a court (21 x 24 m.) fitted with two colonnades, the second was a sanctuary until now identified as dedicated to Isis and Serapis only via a fragment from a building inscription from a temple, while the third was an extensive area for the divine triad of the city of Heliopolis-Baalbek.

Sacred area with podium temple to Liber and Libera in the canabae legionis: ground plan

With a combined area of 90 x 110 m., the sanctuary of I(uppiter) O(ptimus) M(aximus) H(eliopolitanus) was the largest known building complex in the canabae. The temple was built in the east of a central courtyard, and had to be reconstructed at a different location at least once. The older Temple (9.50 x 4.80 m.), according to the remains of the architectural facing from the façade, might have already been constructed in the Hadrianic period as a simple rectangular building with pilasters at the façade; the younger Temple, built in ca. 200 A.D., stood on a podium and contained a cella and vestibule. In the south-east corner lay a bathing complex with an area of ca. 400 m², which, according to an altar inscription found already in excavations of 1872, was erected by the legionary tribune Cornelius Vitalis in the 3rd c. A.D. in honour of Jupiter Heliopolitanus. To the west, extensive colonnades were attached to the bathing building; behind these, two cult rooms with podia for reclining could be accessed via a communal entrance hall.

Sanctuary of the Heliopolitan gods in the canabae legionis, provisional excavation plan:
1) older and younger Temples, 2 and 3) Meeting Halls, 4) Baths, 5) Courtyard

The smaller (10 × 15 m) of the two rooms was equipped with a hypocaust heating system. The podia only ran along the long walls. A base for a cult image was located on the side opposite the entrance. In the larger room (13 x 25 m.), the podia ran along three of the side walls, while against the fourth wall a base for an altar or a cult image was found. Two of the small rooms, which were built into the colonnades which lay in front, probably functioned as kitchens or storage rooms for the equipment and tableware necessary for the communal cult banquets. One section of the complex, suitable as a residence perhaps for priests or pilgrims, could not until now be completely excavated. All of the four inscriptions excavated from the religious sanctuary – two altars and two metal votive plaques – were dedicated only to Jupiter Heliopolitanus. Venus Victrix and Mercury have not been identified here. Therefore it is even more difficult to identify more particularly the function of both cult rooms and to determine who their audience was.

Peter Scherrer


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