In 35 BCE Roman legions led by Octavian (the future Emperor Octavian) crossed the Alps and headed for Dacia. First, however, they had to overcome the Celtic and Illyrian tribes living between the Drava and Sava rivers. They did so after heavy fights, but instead of continuing their march towards Central Europe, the legions were turned back to Rome, where Octavian took up the legacy fight after Julius Caesar. This fight ended with his undoubted success.
When thirteen years later a revolt was raised by the same tribes inhabiting the areas between the Drava and Sava, their resistance was quickly broken by Roman armies under the command of the adopted son of Octavian Augustus and the future emperor – Tiberius. During military operations, the Romans reached the middle reaches of the Danube. On its right bank, Roman fortifications began to emerge, which took the form of a strongly fortified border (the so-called limes Romanus) with four large legionary fortresses (castra): Vindobona (today’s Vienna), Carnuntum (located between Petronell and Bad Deutsch Altenburg, in Lower Austria, Germany), Brigetio (in near Komárom) and Aquincum (Budapest).
The province of Pannonia was established in the territories occupied by the Romans on the right bank of the middle course of the Danube. From the territory of today’s Slovakia, only the Transdanubian part of Bratislava belonged to Pannonia. In the Rusovce district during the Flavian dynasty, a border fortress and a civil town (vicus) – Gerulata (name of Celtic origin) were established. In the first half of the 2nd century CE wood and earth, fortifications were replaced with stone fortifications. In that castellum cavalry unit ala I Cannanefatum and troops from the legions: X Gemina et Pia Fidelis, XIV Gemina and XV. At the end of the 3rd century CE the camp was destroyed and in its place, a tower-shaped structure measuring 30 by 29 meters was erected, with a well in the middle. Soldiers from various parts of the Roman Empire, as well as civilians, were buried in the nearby graves. Gerulata was abandoned at the end of the Roman period.
Also on the left bank of the Danube, the Romans built several camps and civil settlements. Devín was the first town on the left bank of the river to be occupied by the Romans in Octavian Augustus. At that time, there was a Celtic settlement there. The Romans built fortifications in Devín, which were at the forefront of the Danube border, guarded by units from the 14th and 15th legions. Roman coins found at this site (including a treasure of Celtic imitations of Roman denarii), clasps, pins, rings, terra sigilata, wine amphoras, bronze and glass vessels and bone combs testify to a strong, not only military but also economic importance of this place.
Roman activity in this area increased during the so-called Marcomannic Wars (166-180 CE). It was then that the castellum in Iža near Komárno and a smaller hostel in Stupava were built. Stupava, located on a small hill, was chosen for its strategic importance. This town was located on the route of the so-called Amber Road, a trade route connecting the Baltic Sea with the Mediterranean Sea. From there, it was also possible to make visual contact (by means of fire signals, for example) with Carnuntum 30 kilometres south. At this site, the commander’s house with the remains of the underfloor heating system and the remains of the painted wall decorations, baths and many other buildings were discovered.
The inscription on the rock in Trencin also comes from the time of the Marcomannian Wars. At the turn of 179 and 180 CE, 855 soldiers of the 2nd Legion under the command of Marcus Valerius Maximian arrived and wintered near the Germanic settlement of Laugaricio, more than 120 kilometres from the Roman border. As Roman troops had never travelled so far north in Central Europe before, a commemorative inscription was carved on the rock. Unfortunately, to this day, neither the Roman camp nor the Germanic settlement has been found, although their presence is indicated by numerous finds of ancient ceramics (including terra sigilata), coins and small bronze objects.
Several other sites from southern Slovakia can also be dated to the times of the Late Empire, from which the following were examined: Bratislava – Dúbravka, Milanovce and Pác near Trnava. In Dúbravka Teutonic in the 1st century CE, they built a small settlement, which at the beginning of the 3rd century already covered an area of several hectares. Its inhabitants were involved in farming, breeding and iron production. The best-preserved ancient building north of the Danube comes from this site. It was a rectangular building measuring 13 by 12 meters with three apses and four internal rooms, preserved in some places up to a height of 150 centimetres. The walls, 56-62 centimetres thick, were built of broken stone combined with mortar. The plan of the building indicates that these may have been Roman baths, perhaps built in the 3rd century CE. for a Germanic governor collaborating with the Romans. In the second half of the 4th century CE, Romano-Germanic relations deteriorated, but it did not affect the existence of the settlement in Bratislava-Dúbravka in any way; contacts with the Empire in the 5th century CE is evidenced by the discovery of a bronze figurine of the god of fertility – Priapus.
Victoriae Augustorum exercitus, qui Laugaricione sedit, mil (ites) l (egiones) II DCCCLV. (Maximi) anus leg (atus leg) ionis II Ad (iutricis) cur (avit) f (aciendum), meaning “Created by 855 legionaries of Augustus the Victorious army stationed in Laugaricio. Created under the supervision of the legate of the 2nd Maximus Legion”.
In 1966, on the basis of the remains of buildings and bricks with Roman stamps, a site resembling a Roman settlement was identified in Cífer – Pác. Initially, it was believed that there was a villa structure there, a residence built in the Roman way (more Romano) for a Germanic prince with a pro-Roman orientation. However, further research, especially the discoveries of Roman marching camps in Lower Austria, South Moravia and south-eastern Slovakia, as well as finding some Roman armament in the vicinity of the site, prompted researchers to recognize the military nature of this site.
It cannot be ruled out that it was the Romans who laid the foundations for the development of the urban core of medieval Bratislava. It is clear to everyone that together with the Roman troops, elements of ancient civilization were also brought to southern Slovakia, which then spread through trade routes to the Germanic territories. Both Roman civilian settlements and military centres became commercial centres. They remained on Slovak soil after the fall of the Empire as testimonies to the history of the first four centuries CE. In the Middle Ages, Roman buildings were used as sources of building material, so only scant remnants have survived to our times. But even these are now protected as part of the cultural heritage of a young country like Slovakia.