The ‘lost’ town wall of Aquincum

After over 120 years of excavations, this summer saw the discovery of the eastern wall of the Aquincum Civil Town. During the reconstruction of the Budapest-Esztergom railway rich finds – coins, pottery and the statuette of the god of forests – too have been unearthed.

Excavations connected to the reconstruction of the Budapest-Esztergom railway began this spring with great expectations, since the railway line cuts through the ancient Roman town and its immediate environs from east to west. A team from the Budapest History Museum’s Aquincum Museum monitors the earthmoving and carries out the necessary excavations under the leadership of archaeologists Orsolya Láng and Gábor Lassányi.

The good working relationship between the museum, the investor National Infrastructure Development Co. Ltd, and the contractor Híd Group helps make the excavations fast and efficient.

During the current construction works, smaller excavations took place primarily west of the town, in the Roman villa belt, where the museum’s archaeologists collected Roman and Mediaeval finds.

Thus far the most important stage in terms of archaeology was the excavation at the eastern edge of the Roman town, where the pillar abutments of the railway bridge will be built.

In the foundation pit of one of the pillars – outside the ancient town – archaeologists found a well and a large refuse pit. The latter contained 2000-year-old garbage from the town: kitchenware, tableware, food waste (animal bones), coins, board game tokens, and wasters from a nearby pottery workshop. Finds include over 1800- year-old ornamental vessels (terra sigillata) made in what is now France and Germany and a bronze coin of the Emperor Hadrian.
At the foundation of the other pillar to the west – inside the ancient town – archaeologists managed to determine the precise location of the settlement’s eastern edge, discovering the large moat, the remains of the town wall (already demolished in antiquity) as well as a paved road running parallel to the town’s boundary. The moat contained brooches (fibulae), coins and vessel fragments – which indicate that the Romans dug the ditch during the first half of the 2nd century.

The recently discovered finds are particularly significant as – while the other three sides of the town wall have been found – archaeologists have been looking for the eastern wall for 120 years without any success – until now.  A few years ago one of the ditches in front of the former town wall was identified, but only now could the eastern wall be observed for the first time.

Among the rich finds listed above there is a small lead statuette of Silvanus the protector of gardens, estates and forests. Similar objects were usually placed in temples as gifts to the gods.

In this north-eastern corner of the town, there has been practically no opportunity for systematic excavation since the start of the Aquincum excavations 120 years ago; hence the remains discovered now are of great significance.

Excavations and surveys will continue during the earthmoving connected to the railway construction, but it is already clear that a significant part of the archaeological remains survived under the embankment and tracks during the 100 years since the construction of the railway line. The excavations connected to the current reconstruction offer in this location a unique – and for a long time presumably final – opportunity to discover the secrets of Aquincum.

Excavation leaders: Dr Orsolya Láng and Dr Gábor Lassányi

Photographs for the press release can be found in the Gallery.

Széchenyi 2020
Széchenyi 2020