Aquincum - the roman Budapest

Roman legions arrived to the present territory of Hungary about 10 AC, and settled western Hungary, using the line of river Danube as border. They called the newly conquered lands Pannonia Inferor, which soon became a prosperous colony.

The once upon a time  ‘capital’ of Pannonia was Aquincum – named after the many hotspring outbursting from the earth here – , where Óbuda part of Budapest locates today. With its 40 000 inhabitans Aquincum was an important trade center and legion’s basis of the Roman Empire. It is believed that  Marcus Aurelius wrote at least part of his book ‘Mediations’  at Aquincum.  Two open-air theatres, amphitheatrum for the soldiers and another one for the citizens, public bathes, merchants’ villas, buildings for the municipality, the old legion’s camp, temples – these Roman structures built mainly during the 2nd and 3rd century AD are still today witnesses of  life of the Pannonia province. The excavations and ruins remained show evidence of the lifestyle of this period. The objects foundhere by archeologists  are collected and on display in Aquincum Museum today. The museum exhibits a reconstruction of the hydraulic system, Roman houses, statues, reliefs, coins, potteries, paintings, mosaics and many more that have been recovered on site.

The waterorgan – part of the museum’s collection – is an extremely unique and rare finding. According to the chronicles, in 228 AC, Gaius Julius Viatorinus, a prominent official of the civilian town of Aquincum presented a portable organ to the collegium of textile-dealers. The craftsmen and merchants of the city joined such associations (collegia) based on their occupations. The collegia carried out public services (e.g. maintenance of the aqueduct or fire fighting). It was also their duty to give burial assistance to their members. These associations played a large role in the social life of these groups, the focus of which was the schola, the ‘clubhouse’, where members would congregate for festivals and feasts. The hall of the association of textile-dealers (collegium centonariorum) was located within the town walls, next to the southern gate of the Aquincum civilian town. The collegium played an important role not only  in the social life of its members, but also in the public service allocated to it, namely fire detection and fire fighting in the city. The instrument donated by the Aquincum dignitary, too, was kept there, and it was probably played during festivities. In Antiquity, Vitruvius and Heron gave descriptions of organs. Based on the finds and these descriptions, it is certain that the Aquincum organ was small and portable by hand. The organ was probably built using wood, leather and metals (bronze, copper). The organ had altogether 52 pipes in 4 rows, with 13 pipes in each row. The way the hydra operated is still the subject of debate, since, although its name in Latin indicates an organ operated by water, according to some the organ was operated by air instead. In the mid-3rd century, a fire ravaged the civilian town, destroying, among others, the headquarters of the firemen. The organ fell into the basement beneath its place of storage and was buried by the collapsing debris. During foundation work for the substation of the Electricity Company, the ruins of the clubhouse were found and within it the remains of the organ. In 1931, the excavating archaeologist, Lajos Nagy, found nearly 400 intact and damaged pieces of the organ. During the Second World War, unfortunately numerous pieces were lost, and so barely 300 pieces remain, but the surviving metal parts made it possible to reconstruct a working replica now in the Aquincum Museum in Budapest.

In Aquincum ‘Floralia’ – Spring Feast of the Romans – is held regularly, usually in May, with gladiator games, flower compositions, Roman sacrificial ritual, craftsmen, and ‘Roman’ soldiers and citizens in contemporary clothes.

Photos by:  Carole Raddato,; Wikipedia


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