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Augusta Raurica. Source: dariya/ Adobe Stock

Augusta Raurica and an Immense Silver Hoard


The Romans conquered vast regions, ranging from the west of Europe, across to what is now Armenia. They ruled the thousands of miles of north Africa, the lands all along the Mediterranean Sea, and across the waters into Germany. Not only did they conquer and rule, they also built towns and cities, and left behind many astonishing ruins. Augusta Raurica in Switzerland is one such site.

This Roman archaeological site and an open-air museum is one of Switzerland’s most popular heritage sites and provides visitors with real insight into the former empire. It is the largest Classical-era urban center north of the Alps that has not been covered by a later town or city.

A History of Rome’s Augusta Raurica

Augusta Raurica was initially founded as a military colony established to control the Rauraci, a Celtic tribe who lived between the Upper Rhine and the southern foothills of the Jura, in 40 BC. The colony did not flourish and was possibly abandoned during the civil wars that shook the Roman Empire after the assassination of Julius Caesar.

Extent of the Roman Empire under Augustus. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Extent of the Roman Empire under Augustus. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Augustus campaigned in the Alpine region and secured the territories of what is modern Switzerland for the Roman Empire. The colony was re-founded in about 6 BC and it became known as Augusta Raurica in honor of its founder, Augustus. It was one of three military settlements designed to secure the Roman frontier along the Lower Rhine.

Augusta Raurica was most likely inhabited by former legionnaires and their families and became a self-governing town, as was the case with many other colonies. By all accounts, it became an important commercial and trade center.

As Augusta Raurica expanded, it became a typical Roman town with amenities, public spaces, and temples. However, during the early years of the Crisis of the Third Century (235-284 AD) the town suffered and was attacked by marauding Alemanni tribes from across the Rhine. It may also have been sacked by mutinous Roman legionnaires at some point. In 250 AD an earthquake all but destroyed the settlement.

During the rule of Diocletian (284-305 AD), who is credited with ending the crisis and ensuring the future survival of the empire, a castle was built not far from the old town and garrisoned by Roman legionnaires.  A small urban settlement sprang up around the castle which eventually became a medieval town.

Excavations at Augusta Raurica

Many important archaeological finds, dating from the Roman period and later, have been made at the site. In the 1960s a treasure of silver coins and objects were found near the Roman castle, including an exquisite silver plate inscribed with an image of the Greek hero Achilles.

The magnificent silver found at Augusta Raurica (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The magnificent silver found at Augusta Raurica (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Archaeologists have also found evidence of how the Romans used snow from the Alps for refrigeration purposes and many of the finds can be seen at a local museum.

The Extensive Sights at Augusta Raurica

Archaeologists have been working on the site for decades and have unearthed and preserved many ancient buildings. These include sections of an amphitheater that could hold up to 10,000 people.

The remains of a 1 st century AD aqueduct, which carried water from the nearby River Liestal, are still standing, as is the forum of Augusta Raurica, which was the town’s main public space, where an assembly chamber for the local council once stood. There are also the remains of the basilica, the commercial heart of the town, and sections of Augusta Raurica’s theatre.

Remains of the old temple complex, Augusta Raurica (Pixel62 / Adobe Stock)

Remains of the old temple complex, Augusta Raurica (Pixel62 / Adobe Stock)

Smaller buildings to be viewed include the outline and walls of an inn, pottery, and a kiln. The columns of a temple and the remains of a Christian baptistery, one of the earliest in this part of Europe, has been discovered. And the hypocaustum (an ancient system for central heating) used to heat the public baths at Augusta Raurica, is on display.

Perhaps the most impressive remains at the site are the castle with it and military fortification.

Visiting Augusta Raurica

The remarkable site is located in and around the municipality of Kaiseraugst, in the Canton of Aargau, east of Basel.

An admission fee is charged to enter the open-air museum and all the ruins in the ancient town are open to the public. The site is extensive with a great deal to see and for those who wish to delve a little deeper into the history, guides are available. Accommodation in Kaiseraugst, ranging from hotels to hostels, is plentiful.

Top image: Augusta Raurica. Source: dariya/ Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan


Akeret, Ö., Deschler-Erb, S., & Kühn, M. (2017). The transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages in present-day Switzerland: The archaeobiological point of view. Quaternary International

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Fäh, D., Steinem, S., Oprsal, I., Ripperger, J., Wössner, J., Schatzmann, R., ... & Huggenberger, P. (2006). The earthquake of 250 AD in Augusta Raurica, Journal of Seismology, 10(4), 459-477

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Furger, A. R. (1995).  Augusta Raurica: English Guide. Römermuseum

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This is an interesting and instructive article, but it could use some editing. 

We are told that the Romans ruled “the lands all along the Mediterranean Sea, and across the waters into Germany.”  Geographically this makes no sense.  One doesn’t go “across the waters” to access Germany unless this is interprested as a reference to crossing the Rhine, or coming from Britain or Scandinavia.  Neither of the latter ever served as the springboard for a Roman invasion route into Germany, and perhaps more to the point, the Romans never succeeded in conquering Germany except for a small portion of the south and west. As to crossing the Rhine, that’s barely relevant as the article’s focus is on a settlement south of the Rhine. 

In that regard, it would have been helpful to have described the exact location of the Roman colony so that the reader would know that it was virtually adjacent to the modern city of Basel, and if one considers the extent of the colony as well as its center settlement, Augusta Raurica could even be viewed as the forerunner of Basel.  The map showing the extent of the Roman Empire under Augustus is a fine complement to the article, but what it most needs is a map of the vicinity of Augusta Raurica, perhaps showing its relationship to Augusta Vindelicorum.

Also, while the story’s “hook” is the “immense silver hoard,” we are given very little further information on the nature of the hoard, except for the Achilles plate. 

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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