May Danubius be kind to us ...
May Danubius be kind to us and the Teutons peaceful...
Such a pious saying may have stood at the beginning of a boat trip along the Noric section of the youngest Austrian World Heritage Site, the Danube Limes, almost 1800 years ago. From the provincial border to Rhaetia in Passau, to Zeiselmauer at the provincial border to Pannonia, we accompany a Roman merchant with his spicy thoughts on his almost 275 kilometer long journey on the Danube – Danubius.
At the beginning of our cruise in Boiodurum/Boiotro – Passau is a strong elixir of thymum – thyme. This is not only a popular spice for dishes, but mixed with honey helps against coughs in this harsh climate and soothes the stomach in case of seasickness. It also calms the nerves after the customs formalities, since here not only the provincial borders of Raetia and Noricum met, but at the same time two inner Roman customs districts, the Illyrian and the Gallic.
The sacrificial bread with fresh laurus for Danubius seems to have reached the river god. The journey is quiet, and the remaining libum – sacrificial bread is a welcome snack while looking at the picturesquely situated burgus of Stanacum (?) – Oberranna. The more than 10 m high round towers of the Quadriburgus give us a certain sense of security, as they allow the garrison to overlook a wide stretch of the Danube (Danubius) and thus to excellently monitor the river traffic. Today, however, a modern protective structure secures the best preserved Roman building in Upper Austria.
At our first stop in the small fort of Ioviacumn (?) – Schlögen we enjoy a relaxing visit to the small balneum – bath building. The warm water and the scent of lavendula – lavender in the bath are a welcome change from the strong smell of sweat of the rowers. It is hard to believe that a gold coin of Emperor Diocletian found there in 1837 was the reason for the first scientifically motivated excavations both in Upper Austria and on the Austrian section of the Danube Limes.
What a beautiful sight and what a fragrance, all full of yellow flowers of anetum – dill around the equestrian camp of Lentia – Linz. As a spice, dill is almost unbeatable for fish and wine. Hopefully Pliny is wrong that dill consumption harms eyesight, otherwise we will be protected by a unit of blind mounted soldiers. Through military diplomas and other inscriptions, two units of horsemen have survived to control the important trade routes that connected the Vltava region with the Danube region.
Arriving in the vibrant port of Lauriacum – Enns, one not only notices the smell of over 25,000 people in and around the legionary camp of the 2nd Italic Legion stationed here, but also that from the kitchens of the countless taverns. Asa foedita – laser is a miracle of nature. How can such a stinkweed, such a devil’s filth, make porcellum – roast pork a true lucullan taste experience? The presence of a whole legion of 6,000 men and many a sip of Fallern wine makes us sleep soundly in the provincial capital.
With a view of the ruins of a (still) nameless fort in the area of St. Pantaleon-Erla at the mouth of the Aist, the captain distributes a snack strongly flavored with saturegia – savory. This serves the ship’s climate well, since its effect against strong flatulence is well known and so the wonderfully fat-soaked pork of the tavern of Lauriacum can be digested better.
Ten Roman miles (15 km) later, the fort of Adiuvense or Locus Felix – Wallsee is enthroned. Whatever it is called, the perfumed ointments and oils produced here from camelina – gold of pleasure are known far beyond the borders of Noricum. In the stores it is also offered as exclusive lamp oil, and even the seeds are a popular snack for in between. The fort was built in the last decades of the 1st century and rebuilt several times with the support of legio II Italica from Lauriacum, as shown by bricks stamped by the legion.
Passing many watchtowers along the wet border, we reach the cohort fort and the fleet base Arelape – Pöchlarn. Here, too, has been vigorously expanded for safety’s sake. Instead of the old wooden-earth fort in the south, there is now a stone fort in the north. In the adjacent vicus – camp village the roasted Danube fish in a wonderful sauce of senape – mustard is very popular. The dish according to Apicius with mustard paste, vinegar, salt and honey and attracts even barbarians from across the Danube.
In Favianis – Mautern, a crossroads of important trade routes from all directions, secured by a fort, a wine tasting is announced and there the wine enriched with resin of the mastic – mastic runs down the throat particularly easily. Roman “chewing gum” made of mastic resin, mixed with mint and honey, is also something special. In the last decades of Roman rule, St. Severin often retreated to a hermitage near the vineyards – ad vineas in Mautern. He founded a monastery here, where he was also originally buried before his bones were transferred to Italy.
After unloading the ships in the equestrian camp of Augustianis – Traismauer, the commander invites us to a local specialty. We enter the fort through the right gate (porta principalis dextra), today’s Wienertor, in the direction of the official residence. The crayfish with menta – mint are a real treat. Mint is a well-known herb with many uses in cooking and cosmetics. It is often mentioned in connection with puleium – fleabane. Various cults took care of the spiritual well-being. A large building could represent a sanctuary and a votive plate could refer to the cult of Iupiter Dolichenus.
From the railing we look to the fort and vicus of Asturis – Zwentendorf. Even from a distance, the lush grave decorations with the bright yellow flowers of the apius – celery can be seen on the burial grounds located to the south and west of the extensive vicus. Incidentally, only a few wall structures have been found for the civilian settlement; for the most part there were probably simple huts, earth cellars, wells, ovens and storage pits. Celery is not only an ornament, but also served as a vegetable and spice for the occupation that gave the site its name, the cohors I Asturum, from present-day Asturias in northwestern Spain.
Between the mouths of the Small and the Great Tulln, the ship docks at the equestrian fort Comagenis – Tulln and delivers exotic spices for the 1000-man strong equestrian unit coming from the Asia Minor Kommagene in the province of Syria. Whether the small bushes of mirta – myrtle can be grown well here remains questionable. However, myrtle berries are in great demand as a substitute for pepper. To what extent myrtle also had a special meaning in sacrifice to the god Mithras, who was very popular with the Roman soldiers, is not known, because the found votive relief of Mithras is silent about it.
Our journey along the northern border of Noricum ends in Cannabiaca – Zeiselmauer. In the easternmost fort of the province, near the border with Pannonia, we thank Danubius for the safe navigation with a sacrifice. The remaining meat of the sacrificial lamb, seasoned with corona bubula – oregano tastes excellent. Whether it is the local dost or real oregano remains the secret of our ship’s cook Plaga. The building fabric of the Roman fort is still visible in several places in today’s village and provides a good insight into its size and location, as the medieval village center beautifully reflects the Roman layout.
As part of the INTERREG project Transdanube Travel Stories (2020-2022) was also written one of the travel stories on the theme of the Romans, which follows a route from Ulm to Hungary.
There is this story and 5 others, with the itinerary and info about the author, also available for download as a PDF e-book. (also includes 5 other stories)
The Travel-Story about the Romans with the title “The Danube Adventure – Legions heading for the Danubius – The river that attracted cultures. Or: An empire of flourishing culture without borders” was written by Guido Pinkau.
On www.danube-pearls.eu you can also find itinerary suggestions and offers for trips along the stories of tour operators.
Visit the Lauriacum Museum in Enns/Upper Austria: https://museum-lauriacum.at
Bernhard Schlag, a native of Passau, studied archaeology and ancient history in Passau and Salzburg. In addition to many years of archaeological excavation and research work, his main focus is on teaching, as well as museum work, as a mediator, museum director and curator of many exhibitions. With the appointment as scientific assistant for the Upper Austrian Provincial Exhibition 2018 “The Return of the Legion – Roman Heritage in Upper Austria” followed, in addition to his teaching and tour guide activities, the management of art and cultural education at the Museum Lauriacum in Enns.