Gorsium Archaeological Park: Once A Thriving Roman City Forgotten For Centuries
Gorsium-Herculia, once strategically important enough to host Roman Emperors, was rediscovered in 1866 by Floris Romer, ‘the father of Hungarian archaeology.’
One Roman mile (1,620 yards) from the village of Tác in Hungary, stand the ruins of a settlement dominated by Roman rule from the early first century. Gorsium Archeological Park opened in 1962 and is open all year round. Visitors can stroll down the ordered avenues of an ancient Roman city discovering the forum, temples, shrines, baths, palaces and articles associated with daily life.
Keszthely Culture ( Public Domain )
Although excavations began in 1934, it was in 1958 that the remains of what first appeared to be an early Christian basilica was discovered. It was, in fact, a palatial villa and streets bordered by colonnades, shops, private estates, and even an intact graveyard. As the 200 acres were excavated, the vibrant picture of Gorsium emerged.
A Roman City With Roots In The Neolithic Age
Artifacts indicate that the region was inhabited as early as the Neolithic Age as well as during the late Bronze and early Iron Ages before a Roman military post was established at Gorsium during the reign of the Emperor Claudius, in around 50 AD.
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As civilians and traders moved in, the original military stronghold became a permanent town. Building was continuous from about 107 AD onwards as were military skirmishes between the Roman Empire and Dacia. The conflicts were triggered by the constant Dacian threat and by the increasing need for resources (such as their valuable gold mines) during the reign of Emperor Trajan.
Emperor Trajan at Tower Hill ( Public Domain )
As Gorsium was no longer of military importance once the Romans defeated the Dacians and established a defensive line along the western banks of the Danube, Trajan divided the province of Pannonia into two administrative regions. Gorsium became the religious center of Pannonia Inferior (Lower Pannonia), while Aquincum remained the administrative, economic and political center.
Sarmatian Raid of 178 AD
The development of the region was abruptly interrupted during the Marcomann wars (160-180 AD) and Gorsium, along with numerous other settlements in Pannonia, was burnt down by the Sarmatians in 178 AD.
Sarmatian-Persian Necklace and Amulet ( Public Domain )
The nomadic Sarmatians of central Asian heritage, flourished from the fifth century BC to the fourth century AD. Unmarried females, especially in the society’s early years, fought alongside men which may have inspired the Greek tales of the Amazons. Their customs were often described as ‘barbarous’ by those who had little understanding of their culture although they were highly skilled in horsemanship and warfare and due to their administrative capability and political astuteness, they gained widespread influence. Their weapon making showed great skill - a specialty of theirs being the Sarmatian long sword, which had a hilt of wood, laced with gold, and topped with an agate or onyx knob.
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Tac, Gorsium Decumanus Maximus foutca ( Public Domain )
As the result of peace settlements, the Sarmatians freed 100,000 captured prisoners and a number of those who were taken from Gorsium, returned and participated in rebuilding the city, this time using cut stone rather than mud bricks.
Gradual Decline To Ultimate Destruction
In 258 AD the new golden age ended and Gorsium too, deteriorated. Exploiting the undermined and weakened authority of the Roman Empire, the Roxolani destroyed much of Pannonia, including Gorsium, in 260 AD. The city was once again rebuilt in 295 AD and its name changed to Herculia, which became larger and more imposing than the former Gorsium.
By the time of Constantine the Great (who ruled between 306 and 337 AD), the city had reached its zenith with a population estimated at eight thousand inhabitants. Christianity gained popularity and two basilicas can be dated to this period, the first completed within 15 years of Constantine's victory at the Milvian Bridge in Rome (312 AD).
Constantine at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (Public Domain )
The junctions of important trade and military routes at Gorsium-Herculia ensured its early strategic importance and as indicated by the considerable growth of industry, local craftsmen started producing high quality items, relying less and less on imported commodities.
By 375 AD the last golden age of the city was over and after the defeat of the Roman army at Hadrianopolis in 378 AD, the years of gradual decline started in Herculia and in the province as a whole.
In spite of this, improvements to the city can be traced to the mid-fifth century when the roads were repaired once more and new buildings were erected. Different ethnic groups —such as the Huns, eastern Goths, Svabians, Langobards, and Avars —appeared in the region, travelling on the well-preserved roads and their dead were ultimately buried within the city walls, indicating that they settled within.
The once bustling city was destroyed for the last time during the Turkish invasion of Hungary during the 16 th century and thereafter lay forgotten for centuries.
Top image: Gorsiumi freskok Source: ( Public Domain )
Benario, HW. 2003: Trajan (AD 98-117). De Imperatoribus Romanus.
Available at: http://www.roman-emperors.org/trajan.htm
Bowman, AK. Peter Garnsey, P. Rathbone D. 2000: The Cambridge Ancient History . Cambridge University Press.
Available at: Amazon
Stillwell, R. MacDonald, WL. McAlister, MH. Princeton, N.J. 1976: GORSIUM later HERCULIA Hungary . Princeton University Press.
Unknown: Gorsium Archeological Park . Atlas Obscura: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/gorsium-archeological-park