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Carnuntum – Roman urban landscape

The archaeological landscape of Roman Carnuntum is located 45 km east of Vienna and will serve for testing methods of analysis for AHS (WP1.2.4). The landscape of Carnuntum is characterised by the river Danube and its accompanying slightly undulating gravel terraces. The northern border of the ancient city of Carnuntum is defined by a 30-45 m deep cliff towards the river Danube. As the Roman capital of the province Pannonia superior, Carnuntum was an important town during the first four centuries of the first millennium AD.

The Roman remains extend over an area of 5 km2, of which 4 km2 are undeveloped agricultural landscape. The climate is warm and dry with a high potential evapotranspiration. Therefore, even in years with high rainfall, the buried walls and roads of Carnuntum show relatively clear as moisture- and crop-marks. During the last years, the total area could be systematically mapped from hundreds of aerial photographs, which had been made during the last 50 years. Additionally, a large part of the Roman civil town in the western part of the project area has been surveyed using various geophysical prospection techniques.

Carnuntum is the ideal project area for the evaluation of AHS using existing data scanned in April 2009 by the County of Lower Austria (AISA Eaglet: spectral range 400-1000 nm; spectral resolution 3 nm; spatial resolution: 0,3 x 1,2 m and AISA Hawk: spectral range 970-2500 nm; spectral resolution 6 nm; spatial resolution: 0,8 x 0,5 m)



Case Study 2011 - First Results


Human settlement over thousands of years has left traces in the ground – traces that  can be made visible on the computer screen with the aid of state-of-the-art technology.  In Carnuntum an international team of archaeologists, geophysicists and computer experts from the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection und Virtual Archaeology (LBI-ArchPro) is exploring Roman remains hidden in the ground using the latest technological developments.  Last year this team made several sensational discoveries.  In Norway and Sweden graves and settlements from Viking times were discovered.  Much attention was aroused by the LBI-ArchPro discovery in Stonehenge.  Using motorized magnetic field sensors and 900 metres from the world-famous stone circle, a similar monument made of wood was made visible after more than four thousand years. Newly developed ground penetrating radar devices, which examine the ground three-dimensionally, have led to a sensational discovery in Roman Carnuntum and throw new light on the Roman gladiators and their lives and deaths.

The devices (developed by LBI-ArchPro) are highly efficient at finding archaeological remains and provide images of the subsurface with unparalleled detail to a depth of several metres. In Carnuntum, one of the largest Roman landscapes that has been preserved to the present day, a new motorized multi-channel ground penetrating radar device was used in close cooperation with the Province of Lower Austria and the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics, in order to examine closely areas that had been localized by aerial photography.
This area is situated to the west of the amphitheatre which was built in the first half of the 2nd century AD outside the civilian city of Carnuntum. The archaeologists were thrilled when the new sensors showed an extensive and self-contained building complex: the gladiator school in Carnuntum (Latin ludus).
The Amphitheatre, which was excavated from 1923 to 1930, had a capacity of up to 13000 spectators, and according to contemporary inscriptions was the fourth largest amphitheatre in the entire Roman Empire and scene of numerous gladiator games.  Despite the excavations, the area where the gladiator school has now been discovered received little attention.  The aerial photographs show buildings with shops and taverns along the east side of the Roman road, which led out of the ancient city to the arena.  There are no appropriate buildings on the opposite side of the road.  Using penetrating ground radar the LBI-ArchPro team decided to investigate the shadowy outlines in the aerial photos to the west of the amphitheatre.  After only a few hours, the gladiator school (which is still preserved today in the ground) was discovered and made visible once again on the computer screen.

Carnuntum’s gladiator school is a self-contained building complex covering 2800 square metres, in a plot of land of 11000 square metres surrounded by a wall.  The buildings are laid out around a large inner courtyard, where ground penetrating radar disclosed a circular training arena with a diameter of 19 metres with wooden spectator stands.  Detailed radar images show the foundations of a 100 sq. metre heated training hall, an extensive bathing complex, 300 sq. metres which could have been an administration wing and the living quarters of the gladiator school’s owner, and the gladiators’ cell-like living quarters (on average 5 sq. metres).

The necessary infrastructure such as water lines, underfloor heating systems and drains as well as paths to the amphitheatre, gateways, or the foundations of memorials can be clearly seen in the high resolution radar data.  The archaeologists also believe that a gladiator burial field (with individual large grave monuments, stone sarcophagi and different simpler graves) is to be found just behind the gladiator school.  At the moment the explicitness of the building structures in Carnuntum can only be compared with the large gladiator school, the ludus magnus to the east behind the Colosseum (amphitheatrum flavium) in Rome.  However, this sensational archaeological structure was discovered with the most modern and non-destructive methods and is at the moment unique throughout the world in its completeness and dimensions, and has now been reconstructed as a virtual model.  The result can be viewed with Wikitude World Browser software, a mobile augmented reality application, which embeds the virtual contents of a specific geographical location into the real camera image in the mobile phone or iPad.  Thus the gladiator school can be made visible once more directly on site.  

West-East view of the Ludus

Interpretation map of the gladiator school in Carnuntum/Austria (© LBI-ArchPro).