WHAT
WHERE

The fortress in antiquity

Area: REGION OF VÁC

The history of the Fortlet and its region

The territory of native tribes of the northern Dunántúl (Trans-danubia) region, which became dependent upon Emperor Augustus, was annexed by the Roman army during the late-Tiberio -Claudian period. First military camps along the Danube, in the Dunakanyar, were developed in Solva (present day Esztergom] and nearby Aquincum (today Víziváros, Budapest) somewhat earlier than the middle of the lst century AD.

Initiating from the second half of the lst century and during the beginning of the 2nd, the chain of riparian garrisons between the former two camps was growing denser, thus concluding the establishment of the auxiliary forts of Cirpi (Dunabogdány), and subsequently of Ulcisia (Szentendre). The strategic importance of the Dunakanyar was, however, increased in the 4th century indeed.

The territory of native tribes of the northern Dunántúl (Trans-danubia) region, which became dependent upon Emperor Augustus, was annexed by the Roman army during the late-Tiberio -Claudian period. First military camps along the Danube, in the Dunakanyar, were developed in Solva (present day Esztergom] and nearby Aquincum (today Víziváros, Budapest) somewhat earlier than the middle of the lst century AD.

Initiating from the second half of the lst century and during the beginning of the 2nd, the chain of riparian garrisons between the former two camps was growing denser, thus concluding the establishment of the auxiliary forts of Cirpi (Dunabogdány), and subsequently of Ulcisia (Szentendre). The strategic importance of the Dunakanyar was, however, increased in the 4th century indeed.

During the reigns of Constantine the Great (306-337 AD) and his son Constantius II (337-361 AD) at the latest, a ditch system - which is commonly known as the Csörsz Ditch or Ördögárok (Devil's Dyke) in the oral tradition - was accomplished that enclosed the Sar­matian occupation area on the Great Hungarian Plain in the north and east. Those fortifications had been intended to be a well transparent boundary, the might of which was not inherent in the depth of ditches or the height of palisades, but it lain in the fact that its inviolability was guaranteed by the Roman Empire. Whoever crossed those with hostile purposes had to face conflict with not only the Sarmatians but also Rome. The Goths could have experienced this when they were defeated by Constantine the Great in the Sarmatian territory in 332.

The earliest line of the ditch reached the Danube south of Dunakeszi where the contemporary boundary between two barbarian neighbouring tribes - the kingdom of Germanic Quadi and the Sarmatians,   who   were   often allies of each other - extended. The development of wall system involved the reinforcement of frontier fortification of the Dunakanyar, too. Former fortresses were modernized with U-shaped interval towers, which protruded significantly from the wall, and fan-shaped angle towers, moreover, newer fortifications were constructed on heights and in other spots of strategic importance. The most significant of these were un-earthed in Visegrád, on the Sibrik Hill and in the area of the Gizella­major.

 The Dunakanyar region became a highlight of the imperial foreign politics repeatedly and for the last time during the reign of Valentinian I (Flavius Valentinianus, 364-375 AD), the emperor who commenced as an officer and was commonly known for constructing numerous fortresses. The Emperor, who considered the fortification of boundaries of the Roman Empire a mission, elaborated a grandiose plan for developing a more efficient defense of the Duna­kanyar, and thus the province itself. As preparations of the aforesaid constructing fatigue parties contested to build newer fortifications after one another between Esztergom and Szent­endre, on the right bank of the Dunakanyar; those were then equipped with extensive inscriptions to show who the builder was.

As a first stage of the Valentinian I strategic project fortifications of two ports on opposite banks of the Danube - only a couple of km distance from the fortress of Göd - were initiated. Right bank fort of the crossing-place was built on the Szentendre Island, at the present day Szigetmonostor near the Horány passing-place; whereas its left bank counter fort was constructed in the built-up area of the present day Dunakeszi, at 28-31 Duna Row exactly facing towards each other.

The excellence of selection concerning their locations is verified by the fact that ferries are still operating between the same spots. The purpose of fortifying the two ports might have been to control the cross-boundary traffic and to safe-guard frequent and fast passes, as well as anchorings supplying the works and maintenance of the nearby Göd military complex. Furthermore, the left bank fort demonstrated the presence of Roman military authority in the area of the Barbaricum by breaching its boundary. We may conclude connection and coincidence between the fort at Dunakeszi and the construction at Göd from great amounts of bricks with military stamps unearthed in both places. Stamps named those military officers, e.g. Dalmatius, Maxentius and Ursicinus, who were in charge of brick manufacturing. We can notice the name Frigeridus on stamps, too, which sheds light unequivocally on the relation-ship between the fortifications and the fatal incident learnt from historical sources. For the constructions of particular importance they involved troops and resources of more provinces, too.

As a result of the construction works the Dunakanyar became one of the most fortified boundary sections of the Roman Empire. The plans of the emper­or did not, however, cease at the borders, but looking farther he intended to involve Barbarian territories in the defensive system of the province. Strategic purposes of Valentinian I were to push forward the internal earthwork line of the Great Hungarian Plain, and to develop a military territory between the new and the former lines along the opposite side of the Danube that would have been directly controlled by Roman military forces. This military zone would have been demanded upon a concocted claim concluding to split an area from the Quadian kingdom, in the surrounding of the Sarmatians. By this expropriation the emperor would have intended not only the direct military occupation of the new ditch line, but his most important aim was to separate the unreliable allies of the empire, the Quadi and the Sarmatians, and place their relations under Roman control. The accomplishment of the enterprise, which initiated in 373, was assigned to the military commander of the province (dux Valeriae), the talented Frigeridus, who was of Germanic origin.

Ammianus Marcellinus, an officer in the late Roman army who became a historian, gave an account of the tragic conclusions of the plans of Valentinian I that influenced even the history of the whole empire. In 373, the emperor had ordered the construction works of a fortress in the area of the projected military zone, in the forefront of the Dunakanyar, which had been already nearly expropriated – on the basis of the Roman law -from the Quadi. The Quadi strongly protested against the building of this fortress that breached the covenant with allies and against the unilateral expropriation that dismembered their kingdom. As a consequence of the objections, Frigedius suspended the construction works temporally so as not to exacerbate the situation. The influential Maximinus, who was a compatriot of the emperor, took advantage of Valentinian's obsession for fortifications and managed to make him displace Frigedius - who Maximinus charged with exaggerated cautiousness. The position was taken over by Marcellianus, the son of Maximinus, who was assigned to accomplish the constructions. Right after his arrival, Marcellianus ordered to proceed with the suspended works. In the meantime the young and haughty dux Valeriae invited the king of the Quadi, Gabinius, for a negotiation and feast. He hoped to persuade - or if otherwise impossible, to force - the king to forbear the fortress be constructed.

He hoped to persuade - or if otherwise impossible, to force - the king to forbear the fortress be constructed.   The reconciliation of the opposing point of views were out of reach, since on one hand Gabinius, the ally of Rome, could not have agreed on the truncation of his kingdom; whereas on the other hand Marcellianus must have had to accomplish his mission for the sake of his career. Therefore conflicts proved to be unavoidable, and unresolvable with further parleys. On the top of that, after seeing Marcellianus no chance whatsoever he assassinated the departing Quadian king after the unsuccessful negotiation, which breached the concept of guest-friendship. This deed provoked the joint attack of the infuriated Quadi and the Sarmatians in the summer of 374, which might have been begun with the elimination of the irritating fortress construction. Subsequently, nearly the entire area of the Pannonian provinces was overran and ravaged by the Quadi and their allies without any opposition. The assault did not stay unpunished, however, since the enraged emperor avenged the incursion with a peculiarly bloody invasion right in the area where the for-tification had been projected.

Nonetheless, the emissaries of the defeated Quadi, who were begging for peace, did not admit the righteousness of fortress construction. The hot-tempered Valentinian I, who was still adhering compulsively to his fortress, lashed-out against them, and angered so much that he suffered a stroke and died shortly afterwards.

Whereas the   known   tragic events finally obstructed the construction of the fortress at Göd, the defended harbours at Horány and Dunakeszi could have been accomplished as a consequence of their smaller extension and that their constructions had been begun earlier, and were garrisoned. The headcount of the soldiers on duty can be estimated at a minimum of 25-30, which equals the number of crew on a warship; but inside the fort, scarcely did more than 50 people stay at the same time.

Finds discovered during the excavation bore witness to the ordinary days of those who lived in the fort.

Besides more than 80 coins, the experts recovered vessel fragments, unusable clothing accessories, iron nails and rich militaria finds from the excavation site. As a point of interest, an abundance of female and children garments were recovered testifying that soldiers had moved to the fort together with their families.

During peaceful periods such forts at passing-places might have been important locations of cross-border commerce, where goods turnover was lively.

Consequently, finds in­dicate that soldiers of the outposts living together with their families were practicing industrial and commercial activities while securing the borders of the Empire. Based on the finds recovered at Dunakeszi and other defended harbours, the experts can reconstruct the later history of the counter fortifications along the Danube. It appears that destiny of the fortlets was not doomed by bloody sieges or barbarian destruction accompanied by fire, but it was a result of decay of the Roman Empire, and a gradual decline of its border defense. By the end of the 4th century AD, adequate numbers of recruits were enlisted neither for the right bank military fortifications; therefore they might have revoked the presumably already decreasing garrisons of pushed-forward outposts - which were exposed to permanent danger and for this reason their service was regarded as futile - with a view to concentrating the remained power in the right bank forts. Leaving soldiers had not been ordered to set the forts on fire, or to destroy them, only to a complete abandonment They might have supposedly hoped that their leaving was going to be a temporary state, and they would be able to return some day. This event could have happened according to finds.

The peaceful abandonment is also verified by the cleanness of internal places and their deficiency in artefacts. The inside of southeastern corner tower of the Dunakeszi fortlet was also perfectly 'swept-out,' all useful articles and equipments were taken away from it. The experts found no traces of boulversement caused by fights, or panic-like scuttle.

Late Roman defended harbours of the Dunakanyar might have been in use for a maximum of two decades after their completion, and then they were abandoned systematically. All those enormous ventures of Valentini­an I to develop an array of outposts on the left bank of the Danube proven to be futile. By the  failure  of  the  grandiose Valentinianic defensive strategy new military forts could not fulfill perfectly the connecting function they were planned to. In deficiency of conception, fortified ports were assigned roles to defend the province for a while, however, their existence became useless as a consequence of the termination of military expeditions led to the Barbaricum, and the disintegration of alliances; furthermore, they became vulnerable, too as a result of their individual, special location. Nor was the supplied military crew eligible for a successful self-defense. Thus their dereliction concluded necessarily, which indicates the initial symptom of the decay and finally a total disintegration of the gradually withdrawing Ro­man border defense strategy.

After its abandoning, a slow decay commenced in the life of the fort at Dunakeszi; however, ruins of its thick walls might have been stood for long. During the Age of Migration, peoples of the Carpathian Basin were not looking for shelter inside the ruins of walls anymore. The final destruction of walls were being caused, on one hand, by erosion of the weather and the Danube that was washing out and subsequently sweeping away the footing of the closer riparian wall sections. (Blocks of ruins, which can be seen even today, moved to the flood-basin this way.) On the other hand, people living around it accomplished the disintegration, since it yielded easily accessible construction matériái for them. Systematic dismantling might have begun in the Middle Ages, and reached greater degrees in the Modern Age.