Fragments of Roman fittings discovered in the Kujawi (Kuyavia) region in Central Poland giving strong evidence for the first time of Roman military presence in Poland. Photo: archaeologist Marcin Rudnicki / Science in Poland
The first ever evidence of the presence of the Ancient Roman military, i.e. the Roman Empire, on the territory of today’s Poland has been discovered by archaeologists in the Kujawy (Kuyavia) Region the in central part of the country.
The discoveries appear to be the first conclusive evidence of the presence of the military of the Roman Empire in Poland, and so far north at that, in Kuyavia / Cuyavia / Kujawy.
The evidence comes from newly discovered fragments of equestrian gear and Roman legionnaire outfits. The artifacts have been found first by treasure hunters who donated some of their findings.
Many of them were discovered for the first time outside the borders of the Roman Empire, says Dr. Bartosz Kontny, as cited by Science in Poland.
Most of the newly discovered Roman military artifacts come from the area between the villages of Gaski and Wierzbiczany in Poland’s Kuyavian – Pomeranian province.
“Among the many donated metal objects there were also numerous fittings made of copper alloy, which turned out to be decorations for equestrian gear and Roman legionaries’ clothing, many of them unique in this part of Europe,” says Dr. Bartosz Kontny from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw, who has identified the objects.
Archaeologists alerted by the treasure hunters’ finds ventured into the area themselves and carried out excavations and surface surveys.
In the past few months, the team led by Marcin Rudnicki from the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Warsaw has discovered more artifacts of similar nature.
“This is the first strong evidence of the actual presence of Roman soldiers in the territory of today`s Poland,” Kontny is quoted as saying.
The closest territories to what is today’s Poland to become part of the Roman Empire were the Roman provinces in Central Europe – Raetia, Vindelicia, Noricum, and Pannonia in today’s Switzerland, Southern Germany (Bavaria), Austria, and Hungary, more than 600 kilometers (nearly 400 miles) to the south.
Polish archaeologists have been participating – alongside their Bulgarian colleagues – in the annual archaeological excavations of the Ancient Roman military camp and city of Novae – near today’s town of Svishtov in Northern Bulgaria, at the southermost point of the Danube River – for nearly 60 years.
This map of the Roman Empire in 117 AD, i.e. at the end of Emperor Trajan’s reign, and the height of its territorial expansion, shows the Roman provinces which were closest to the territory of today’s Poland: Raetia, Vindelicia, Noricum, and Pannonia in today’s Switzerland, Southern Germany (Bavaria), Austria, and Hungary, more than 600 kilometers (nearly 400 miles) to the south. Map: Wikipedia
Among the unique Ancient Roman military artifacts to have been found in Poland’s Kujawy (Kuyavia) Region are metal pendants that decorated the straps of the Roman horse gear. They were in the shape of phalluses or vulvas (female womb).
“These amulets were believed to ensure happiness and protect against evil forces, they had apotropaic meaning,” Kontny explains.
As a truly unique artifact among the analysed finds, the archaeologist mentions a gold-plated copper application for a hip belt, depicting a spear of a beneficiarius, a high-ranking officer of the Roman army.
“It was an attribute of his power,” says the archaeologist with respect to the item.
The excavations at Gaski and Wierzbiczany in Poland’s Kuyavian – Pomeranian province which have found more conclusive evidence of the Roman military presence in Poland. Photo: archaeologist Marcin Rudnicki / Science in Poland
Such a large accumulation of similar Roman objects in other places in “barbarian Europe" – for example, in central Germany (where, for example, the local population was recruited to the legions), is clearly associated with physical Roman presence.
“However, there are only a few such places on the map of Europe,” the archaeologist points out.
In his view, such a large accumulation of artifact related to the Roman military presence in Kujawy (Kuyavia) shows that the area had to be a regional cultural and social centre.
“This could also be connected with the Amber Road – the Romans valued this material,” emphasizes the Polish archaeologist.
The Amber Road during the Antiquity: amber is known to have moved from Northern Europe, namely, the Baltic region, to the Mediterranean, which was the center of the Roman Empire, as early as the 16th century BC. Map: Wikipedia
In his words, the Ancient Romans could be present in the area of today`s Kujawy (Kuyavia) for several reasons depending on the period, because the artifacts attesting to their presence are between 2,000 and 1,600 years old.
At the end of the Antiquity, the Romans may have ventured into Kujawy (Kuyavia) in order to recruit soldiers from among the Germans – during this period, barbarians, people from outside the Roman Empire, also served in the legions.
At the end of the first century AD, the Romans may have come to this area in today’s Central Poland at the request of the Lugii (Vandals), who were fighting the Suebi.
Archaeologists believe that the Lugii were among the representatives of Przeworsk culture (living also in the area of Kujawy (Kuyavia) in the first centuries of our era).
“According to the records of Roman historian Cassius Dion, Roman Emperor Domitian (r. 81 – 96 AD) sent a hundred riders to help them. It is possible that some of the items we discovered were parts of equipment of one of those riders,” says the archaeologist.
Research in the area of Gaski and Wierzbiczany in Kuyavia / Cuyavia / Kujawy in Central Poland has been carried out as part of the Polish National Science Center Maestro project “Migration period in the Odra and Vistula basin” led by Prof. Aleksander Bursche from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw.