Limes Research

The Temple District of Iuppiter Heliopolitanus in the Canabae of Carnuntum

Project Leader: V. Gassner

Project Staff:

Dr. N. Birkle (Votivbleche); Dr. P. Eschbaumer (Terra Sigillata); Mag. K. Fegerl (Archäozoologie); Dr. G. Kremer (Architektur u. Plastik); Dr. G. K. Kunst (Archäozoologie); Dr. U. Lohner-Urban (Stratigraphie); Dr. M. Pfisterer (Numismatik); Mag. E. Profant (Keramik/Stratigraphie); Mag. S. Radbauer (Terra Sigillata); Mag. J. Schlager (Bronzen, Lampen); Dr. E. Steigberger (Stratigraphie); Dr. B. Tober (Wandmalerei); Dr. H. Winter (Numismatik)

Research History

From 1978-1991 rescue excavations due to the building of single-family houses were necessary in the so-called Mühläcker in the western area of the town Bad Deutsch-Altenburg. On an area of about 40.000 m² not only an important section of the canabae of Carnuntum was uncovered, but also two temple districts, of which the smaller one was dedicated to Liber and Libera, the larger one to Iuppiter Heliopolitanus.  After a lengthy pause the work on the publication of the temple district of Iuppiter Heliopolitanus resumed in 2000 and since then has continued in collaboration of various institutions. 

The Temple District

Golden tabula ansata

The temple district dedicated to Iuppiter Heliopolitanus, who originally comes from Baalbek in present-day Lebanon, is the only known sanctuary of its kind to the north of the Alps. The cult of Iuppiter Heliopolitanus and Venus Victrix, worshipped together, and Mercury/Bacchus is documented through consecrations and inscriptions on altars, two tabulae ansatae made of bronze as well as a scratched inscription. Fragments of several votive plates can be noted as well.

Fragment of a votive plate

The sacred district consisted of several temples, cult rooms and a bath which were joined together by halls and an enclosing wall to a larger architectural entity. The erection of Temple A and maybe Hall H with a portico in front dates to the first half of the 2nd century AD. It is unclear, if the Heliopolitan deities had at this time already been the cultic owners of the temple district, since their adoration in the Northern/Danube provinces is only documented from the second half of the 2nd century AD onwards. However, no discontinuity in the cult is known until now.

Votive in the form of a leaf

The prime of the complex can be dated to Severan times: Temple A was substituted by a new Temple (B), on the south side the tripartite Hall J was built onto Hall H and the portico was restored. The baths to the southeast were erected in this phase as well.

The sanctuary was destroyed by a devastating earthquake after the middle of the 4th century AD, which could be observed in several areas of Carnuntum. It is at this time however unclear, if the religious function remained until this time. Afterwards the terrain was not in use anymore, apart from one early medieval burial in the area of Courtyard C.  

Map of the temple district on the Mühläcker

Cult and Ritual

Proportional Study: sculpture fragments

The reconstruction of cult and ritual of the sanctuary is compromised by the often profound antique and post-antique destructions. Apart from epigraphic sources, clues to the worshipped deities can be provided by the remains of the statuary inventory, of which especially several fragments probably belonging to a single statue stand out. Presumably it depicts an image of Dea Syria or Venus victrix.

 

Of special importance for the question of cultic rituals were several ritual hoards, which were recognizable through the presence of cultic vessels adorned with snakes as well as a specific ceramics repertory.

Pit with ritual hoard (L-29)
Ceramics with the snake applique
Pottery with a snake appliqué
Osteological finds

They also contained a large amount of animal bones, characterized mostly by bones of cattle with a dominance of scull fragments, ribs and long bones (including methapodials). In addition, bones from sheep and goats (10%) as well as a significant percentage of poultry (16%) were found.

Sigillata from the pit (L-29)

Furthermore, these hoards represent so-called closed find contexts; the contained sigillata-finds are currently analyzed in regard to the review of the chronology of the manufactures of Rheinzabern and Westerndorf.

List of figures

Fig. 1: after M. Kandler in: F. W. Putzger. E. Bruckmüller (Ed.), Historischer Weltatlas zur allgemeinen und österreichischen Geschichte 2nd edition (2000); Fig. 2-4: N. Gail; Fig. 5: Map of the excavations 1978 – 1989; Fig. 6: G. Kremer, ÖAW; Fig. 7: V. Gassner; Fig. 8: N. Gail; Fig. 9: V. Gassner; Fig. 10: K. Kunst, VIAS; Fig. 11: V. Gassner.