Map of Danube Limes

Borders of the Roman Empire - Danube Limes

Signposting the border: Walking in the Romans’ footsteps

Around 2,000 years ago, the Danube formed the northern border of the Roman Empire. The Romans erected a chain of fortifications for security: The Danube Limes. The Limes have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2021 and demonstrate that borders don’t just divide, but that they can also connect.

We find ourselves in the year 150 AD, and the entirety of Lower Austria to the south of the Danube is occupied by the Romans. The region to the east of the Vienna Woods belongs to the province of Pannonia, and the west is part of the province of Noricum. Germanic tribes settle north of the Danube, particularly the Marcomanni: a nervous tribe with a thirst for the south, to the annoyance of the Romans. In response, the Romans built numerous watchtowers and military camps on the banks of the Danube in order to secure their northern border. These were the so-called Danube Limes.

Roman heritage

The Danube Limes stretched over a total of 2,400 kilometres from the source of the Danube to the Black Sea. The western section, located in Germany, Austria, and Slovakia, became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021. The Austrian section of the Limes is approximately 360 kilometres long and runs from the German border near Passau through Upper Austria, Lower Austria and Vienna to the Slovakian border near Bratislava. At that point in time, the border was not only secured by the natural river barrier, but also by a chain of fortifications. Military camps, watchtowers and forts monitored traffic at the border for almost five centuries. However, the river functioned not only as a border, but also as a route for communication, supplies, and trade. Those who travelled downstream in the area that is now Lower Austria passed by the camps of Adjuvense (now Wallsee), Arelape (Pöchlarn), Favianis (Mautern), Augustiana (Traismauer), Comagenis (Tulln), Cannabiaca (Zeiselmauer), Vindobona (Vienna), Ala Nova (Schwechat) and finally the provincial capital Carnuntum. Administrative centres such as Aelium Cetium (now St. Pölten) were established in the hinterland, as well as health resorts such as Aquae (Baden, near Vienna).

Searching for clues in Lower Austria

Following the end of the Western Roman Empire, the border fortifications of the Limes also fell into disrepair. However, some of the fortifications and settlements continued to be used in the Middle Ages, forming the basis of many towns and cities that still exist today. The archaeological sites and remains of the fortifications, as well as those of the civilian settlements, economic and traffic facilities continue to provide a valuable insight into the life of Roman antiquity. In Lower Austria, there are 14 sites which are part of the Danube Limes World Heritage Site. Just as the Limes Road once connected the individual fortifications and sites, the Danube Cycle Path now forms a convenient link between the sites. Remains of forts form natural waypoints, and the museums in Wallsee, Pöchlarn, Mautern, Traismauer, Zwentendorf (currently closed for refurbishment), Tulln and Klosterneuburg invite visitors to take cycling breaks inspired by the Romans. A particularly unique experience is the Roman town of Carnuntum, where the main architectural structures of a Roman town quarter have been reconstructed in working order at the original site, the only one of its kind worldwide. A town house, a Roman city palace, and public thermal baths open a window in time into the early 4th century AD, allowing visitors to experience first-hand what everyday life was like back then.