Metal Extraction and Quarrying in Noricum

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Gold from Noricum

Gold Extraction before the Romans in Noricum

The oldest historical evidence for gold extraction is handed down in the source quoted by the historian Strabo after Polybius, whereby in the 2nd c. B.C. Norican Tauriscans, together with Italians, exploited a gold seam made accessible in open cast mining near Aquileia; the quantity of gold which reached the market after this resulted in a fall in price in Italy. After this, the Tauriscans separated from their Italian partners and imposed a monopoly on the exploitation of gold. Furthermore, gold washing is attested in the late 2nd c. B.C. in the region around the town of Noreia, which has not been definitely located.

Gold Extraction under the Romans in Noricum

The extraction of gold can be proven to have been economically significant for the Roman province of Noricum in the early 1st c. A.D. The gold which was worked in the settlement on the Magdalensberg during the reign of Gaius Caesar (Caligula, 37-41 A.D.) originated, according to scientific analysis, from the Tauern region in central Noricum. Nothing is known regarding the mining of gold in Noricum, while the open-cast working of mined gold and the extraction of placer gold can be assumed based on evidence from central and south-east Noricum.

Processing of Gold in Noricum

The processing of the raw material of gold into ingots can best be illustrated by the finds of two casting moulds for ingots at the settlement on the Magdalensberg. The dating to the period of rule of Gaius Caesar (Caligula, 37-41 A.D.) is confirmed by the inscription in the casting moulds and therefore on the finished ingots: C(aii) Caesaris Aug(usti) Germanici imp(eratoris) ex Noric(is metallis oder auraris). The ingots weighed between 5.6 kg. and 14.5 kg. In addition, a workshop to the south of the Forum of the settlement on the Magdalensberg has also been connected with the processing of gold. In work room AA/41, 15 furnaces erected on tile slats were documented, which were utilized for the smelting of gold during the early 1st c. A.D. (15 A.D. up to ca. 50 A.D.).

Magdalensberg, Location of the gold foundry

Magdalensberg, Casting mould for gold ingots

Magdalensberg, Smelting furnaces of the gold processing

Proprietors of Gold Deposits in Noricum

Imperial sovereignty over the raw material of gold is made plain by the inscription in the casting moulds and therefore on the completed ingots from the settlement on the Magdalensberg: C(aii) Caesaris Aug(usti) Germanici imp(eratoris) ex Noric(is metallis oder auraris).

Mine Workers and Mining Settlements for Gold Extraction in Noricum

There are no sources of evidence for the miners, or for their settlements.


Iron from Noricum

Iron Extraction before the Romans in Noricum

Concerning the town of Noreia, which has not been located, Strabo reports that this site was distinguished by plentiful iron mines, in addition to gold washing. The working of iron in the late Celtic period can be recognised at sites in north-west Noricum: on Burgkogel near Kaprun an iron ingot in the form of a discus was found, while at Walchen a roasting oven for the processing of iron ore, and at Uttendorf in addition to three smelting furnaces similarly a roasting oven are attested.

Iron Extraction under the Romans in Noricum

The most important region for the working of ferrum Noricum was the region between Hüttenberg and Mösel, in south Noricum. That the extraction of iron also took place in underground mines is shown by the discovery of coins from the time of Gallienus in an adit near Hüttenberg; investigations into the particular appearance of the Roman adits and tunnels have not been undertaken. The extraction of iron ore in surface mining must have been a common phenomenon. Evidence of smelting slag is found in many areas of Noricum, as for example at Lentia-Linz and Hallstatt (northern Noricum) as well as Gleisdorf, Pichling near Köflach, Feldkirchen and Baldersdorf (southern Noricum).

Processing of Iron in Noricum

In the region of Mösel-Raffelsdorf, southern Noricum, iron smelting furnaces have been documented which could date already to the second half of the 1st c. B.C. or to the first half of the 1st c. A.D. The smelting of the raw material and the separation of the compact puddle balls from the slag took place at temperatures of 1100 to 1300コ in wide shaft furnaces with a diameter of up to 1.6 m.; in Mösel, these were used more than once, and were not broken open after the single smelting process. This is shown by the traces of smelt on the inner walls of the furnaces. A roasting process before the smelting was not absolutely necessary for the smelted raw materials in Mösel.

In addition to five of these shaft furnaces set up on the banks of the Görtschitz brook, traces of a settlement have also been established. At Mösel, slag beds similar to the findings from Feldkirchen lay underneath a building with sub-floor heating dating to the 2nd c. A.D. A coin of Nerva from the year 96/98 A.D. provides the terminus post quem dating for the slag dumps underneath this building.

Mösel, Map showing the iron smelting furnaces (red) and building (pink)

Mösel, Iron smelting furnace

Mösel, multi-room building with inner-wall heating, constructed above a 1 m. deep slag bed (red)


The processing of raw iron during the early Roman period can also be identified at the Route-/Industry settlement of Feldkirchen, southern Noricum, where numerous slag beds can be dated to the period between 15 and 45 A.D. The working area with shaft furnaces lay on the river bank, therefore providing a good comparison with the situation at Mösel. Furthermore, an additional analogy with the findings at Mösel can be established, namely, that residential buildings with sub-floor heating were constructed on top of deposits of slag and remains from the shaft furnaces.

Feldkirchen, Find spots of the smelting furnaces and slag beds (red dots)

Feldkirchen, Early Roman slag beds (red)

Feldkirchen, Imperial structure on top of slag beds

Proprietors of the Iron Deposits in Noricum

Norican iron (ferrum Noricum), which was in great demand supra-regionally and which, according to the historical sources, was used in particular for the manufacture of swords, knives, hunting weapons and medical instruments, was placed under the control of a conductor ferrariarum Noricarum in the 1st/2nd centuries A.D.; this official is to be understood as the lease-holder of the iron tax and/or of the iron mines. As far as information is available regarding any other standing of this Roman citizen, it can be concluded that he was a high-ranking official who did not come from Noricum. The employees of the conductor ferrariarum Noricarum were family members, free citizens or slaves. Five people who held the position of conductor ferrariarum Noricarum are known by name, whereby two of which are identified as having close connections to Aquileia. Leaving aside the inscription from Aquileia, all additional references occur in the region of the provincial capital of Virunum and near to the most important iron processing and iron smelting areas in southern Noricum; for example, an inscription from Wieting located ca. 1.5 km. away from the iron smelting site of Mösel, one from Friesach located 11 km. away from the iron exploitation site of Hüttenberg, and one from Tiffen ca. 3 km. away from the smelting site of Feldkirchen:

Tiberius Claudius Macro (inscription from Aquileia)

Marcus Trebius Alfius (eques, praefectus iure dicundo from Aquileia) (inscription from Tiffen, southern Noricum)

Quintus Septueius Clemens (inscription from Hohenstein, southern Noricum)

Quintus Calpurnius Phoebianus (inscription from Friesach, southern Noricum)

Campilius Verus (inscription from Wieting, southern Noricum)

Mine Workers and Mining Settlements for Iron Extraction in Noricum

There are no sources of evidence for the miners, or for their settlements.


Marble from Noricum

Marble quarrying under the Romans in Noricum

While the economic branches of gold- and iron-extraction go back to pre-Roman, Celtic roots, the quarrying of marble on the other hand is a typically Roman phenomenon which can be recorded after the beginning of the 1st c. A.D. The marble deposits in southern Noricum which were exploited and which had in part supra-regional significance were located at Gummern and Manteln-Šmartno na Pohorju; additional deposits were located, inter alia, at Kainach/Salla, Spitzelofen, Kraig, Tentschach, Tiffen and Treffen. In northern Noricum, the working of Untersberger and Adneter marble in the area around Municipium Iuvavum-Salzburg is particularly prominent.


Southern Noricum, Marble Deposits

Techniques for working marble in Noricum

At Spitzelofen, evidence of Roman marble working allows the conclusion, based on the traces of striations and the partially-worked blocks still standing at the site, that the extraction of the stone occurred in blocks, with the aid of wooden and iron wedges, on working terraces at different levels. The discovery of half-completed worked pieces, an altar and an altar attachment, at Gummern, for example, indicates that after extraction in this fashion, the raw material was worked directly in the area of the quarry itself.

Spitzelofen, southern Noricum, marble quarry with traces of striations and partially-worked blocks

Šmartno na Pohorju, Saxanus-Altar with the representation of the extraction of stone in blocks, and traces of striations


Transport of Marble in Noricum

The wide distribution in particular of the marble from Gummern and Pohorje was based on, in addition to the good quality of the raw material, the location of the quarries near rivers and streams, and the resulting best possible transportation conditions. The marble quarried at Gummern, lying directly on the river Drau, could be transported down-river, for example, to the legionary camp at Poetovio-Ptuj, also located on the river Drau in Pannonia. Trade in semi-finished products is attested on the one hand by the worked pieces at Gummern itself and on the other hand by a sarcophagus of marble from Gummern, complete up to the relief carving, found at Poetovio-Ptuj.


Poetovio-Ptuj, semi-finished sarcophagus fragment from Gummern

Trade in Marble from Noricum

Marble from Gummern would have been the most widely traded; trade downstream on the river Drau as far as Poetovio-Ptuj and further into Pannonia has been identified on the basis of petrographic analysis. In northern Noricum, the working of Untersberger and Adneter marble near Iuvavum-Salzburg was particularly important, especially since this stone provided the raw materials for the mosaic workshops of Iuvavum-Salzburg, and was traded within the region as far as Ovilavis-Wels.

For the quarry at Gummern, it has been proven, on the basis of the raw materials exported to Poetovio-Ptuj and the semi-finished products that the exploitation of the marble already occurred at the beginning of the 1st c. A.D. The working of the stone at Pohorje commenced after ca. 20 A.D.


Proprietors of the Marble Deposits in Noricum

C. Bottius Mercator, [a]edilicius, has been connected with the exploitation of marble at Tentschach near the provincial capital of Virunum; he is mentioned in a funerary inscription from Großbuch near Tentschach (close to the working site).


Quarry workers and their settlements in Noricum

Nothing is known concerning the external appearance of their settlements, although certain quarry workers are known from dedicatory inscriptions:

Gummern: the slaves Messor and Postumus. The slaves (?) Cautus, Hoponinus, Pusinnus. The peregrin (?) Rufinus.

Spitzelofen: Adiutor, Secundinus.

Šmartno na Pohorju: Aurelius Aprilis, Aurelius Ursulus, Aurelius Angulatus.


Metal Extraction and Stone Quarrying: An Overview

Gold- and iron-working counted amongst the most important economic undertakings in Noricum. Italian interest in these raw materials can be traced back historically to the 2nd c. B.C.; under Roman domination, the marketing and distribution methods were modified. Extraction of gold was under Imperial sovereignty, while the iron tax was leased on the part of the state to private, so-called conductores ferrariarum Noricarum. A typically Roman phenomenon was the exploitation and working of marble in Noricum; for this, the outcrops in southern Noricum, favourably situated as regards transport next to rivers, were significant beyond the borders of the province itself.

H. Sedlmayer



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