23 January 2013


It all started, when I found a piece of pottery on a Visegrád hillside with dense shrubs. At least it seemed like one. This piece of pottery is a meaningless garbage in ones hand, but it starts to talk in another persons hand. It tells a tale of the Danube, of wars, of mighty rulers, of huge forts and of the final collapse of an empire.

The question may arise, why does one bends down for a piece of pottery, which resembles a thin brick? After all, nowdays no sane person is taking up the garbage from the forest. But there are many reasons to pick this up from the ground: first, its thickness. Such bricks are not manufactured today this one is only 1.3 inch (3.2 cm) thick. Since both sides are smooth it is impossible that it has been broken lengthwise.

Concluding from its size, this brick represents a tegula (marked with t in the picture), which was used to cover the roof of roman camps, watchtowers and other fortifications. It had a thick rim on both sides, which was broken off. These rims made the tegulas to fit on the roof. To keep away the rain and precipitation, the gaps between the tegulas were covered by ridge-tiles, in latin: the imbrex (i). The antefix closed the imbrex on the edge of the roof (a).

Secondly, the surface of the tegula may attract our interest. It has many scratches on its irregular surface that is not supposed to be on a modern-age brick. Thirdly, there is a regular indentation on its surface. This was the main reason why I have picked this pottery up. This indentation could have been a result of an injury received in the furnace, because it was covered by dirt. After cleaning it with my hand, a letter “T” appeared (in the picture) and I knew I was holding a stamped roman brick in my hands.

Other letters came out, after more cleansing. An “N”, which was slightly more difficult to read than the first “T”, than a fragmented “E”. Several hours later, when I found water for the cleaning an “R” and one more “E” became visible Read together: -ERENT-.

Although I have seen many stamped brick from the roman age, but I have not heard such combination of letters so far. Fortunately Sándor Soproni and his work from 1978 "Der spätrömische Limes zwischen Esztergom und Szentendre" on my bookshelf helped me. Since the Sibrik hill and this Danube section of Visegrád is discussed in this book, all I had to look up the fort: PONE NAVATA. Sándor Soproni has lead the archeological excavations personally on this site, so it is quite possible, that he already found one brick similar to mine.
Ruins of Pone Navata
The stamped bricks can be divided into several types. At the beginning of the roman rule in Pannonia, mainly legion and auxilliarian troop names were stamped on bricks. Later, military factories also started to use stamps, it was the OF ARN type. For example, the OF ARN MAXENTI A VIN inscription is commonly resolved as a brick “from Maxentius’ military office in Vindobona", Vienna today. There is also a third type, from the late-roman period with stamped person names. The Visegrád tegula fragment belongs to the last type.

At first I thought all I have to do is to look up the appropriate name from the existing brick stamps according my brick fragment. Well, the situation is not so simple. There are two names in which we can fit this name fragment in. We have evidence that there was tegulas manufactured under their names. The first person was Dux Terentius, military leader of Pannonia Valeria province (latin: Dux Valeria Ripensis) between 367/68-371 A. D. Troops under his command produced tegulas with stamps T[ERENT]IVS VP DVX (VP means Vir Perfectimissimus = excellent man). DVX was a title, for those commanders, who had two or more legions under his command. Only the governor of the province had a higher rank than a dux. 

At the same time, in the same province, lived Terentian, a tribun of the Roman army whose soldiers also made bricks for military constructions. One of the several known stamps of his was T[ERENT]IANUS TRB. He might have been also a military officer, below the rank of Terentius, commanding a subdivision of a legion. In older literature it was suggested, that these two persons were the same. Both military officers lived under emperor I. Valentinian.

In 2005, near the town of Esztergom, on the northern slope of the Castle hill a roman-age brick-yard has been excavated. Among other things they found bricks with the names of Terentianus TRB on it. Was this piece of a tegula also made in this Danube-side brick-yard? However, these bricks can be found on Hungarian archeologic sites from Komárom to Paks all along the river.

According to the Museum in Visegrád, it is more likely that this is a tegula of Terentius dux.

But what do we know about the place the tegula fragment was found? Visegrád is a small town in the Danube bend, Hungary. The Roman fortress, Pone Navata is situated on a hill, east from the town, below the Castle hill, and above the Danube. Probably the tegula was delivered like most of the materials to the Sibrik hill: on the Danube. The Roman barge was lied to the banks of the Danube, under Roman ensign mostly german soldiers handed the building materials ashore. Pone Navata was finished by the 360s. According to the findings, this irregular triangle-shaped fort, whose largest dimension is 370*430 feet (114*130 m) was constructed during the reign of Constantine. Findings from prior periods are not known. From its towers, roman soldiers guarded the banks of the ripa, the river crossing and the northern tip of the large Szentendrei Island. About 300 soldiers of the auxilia Ursarensia were garrisoned here, if we accept the data from the late-roman Notitia Dignitatum. The fort is very likely looked like this:

View of the castellum of Pone Navata from the citadel

Roman soldiers stayed between the Pone Navata 4.3 feet (1.3 meters) thick walls less then 80 years. My tegula fragment could have fallen down from one of the 3 fan-shaped and 11 horseshoe-shaped towers, or from the bulidings, built in the courtyard, next to the walls. The fort had been rebuilt two times, this tegula could have been used at the second reconstruction. In the 370s, the auxilia was deployed to Ad Statuas (Ács-Vaspuszta, near Komárom). For the remaining troops a new watchtower had been erected from the debris, on the Danubian side. It was quite common in the late-roman period, that in the ruined camps and forts a new, smaller tower was erected for the remaining garrison, which was abandoned soon by the Roman army.

The Danube-bend in the Roman-age

This process took place at the same time in all along the Pannonian ripa. The huge, antic "Iron curtain", which was the dream of emperor I. Valentinian against the Barbarian incursions, barely survived the emperor, who got an apoplexy while debating with barbarians in Brigetio (Szőny). His unbeliveable will to build forts and watchtowers along the 1764 mile (2800 km) Danubian ripa unfortunately lacked from his successors. Finally, in 433 A.D. the Romans resigned from this territory for the benefit of the Huns.

Emperor Valentinian the first
The new inhabitants had no sense for stone walls and watchtowers. Some of them moved into these ruins seeking shelter, lighting a campfire from the wooden structures, and then walked away. These ruins were overgrown with weeds, and was weathered by time.

Sibrik hill and Pone Navata was asleep for 600 years, like the sleeping beauty, when new stonemasons arrived. Trees had been cut off, walls had been repaired and it became capital of the newly formed Hungarian Pilis county. Then it stood for another 200 years. King Salomon was inprisoned here, it burned down several times, and after the devastating Mongol attack in 1241 its walls were never repaired anymore. Its stones were needed somewhere else. King Béla IV. built a new castle over the old one. There is a splendid view over Pone Navata from the new citadel in Visegrád.

Recommended literature: Sándor Soproni: Der spätrömische Limes zwischen Esztergom und Szentendre. 1978, Budapest.

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