Noricum (/ˈnɒrɪkəm/) is the Latin name for the Celtic kingdom or federation of tribes[1] that included most of modern Austria and part of Slovenia. In the first century AD, it became a province of the Roman Empire. Its borders were the Danube to the north, Raetia and Vindelicia to the west, Pannonia to the east and southeast, and Italia (Venetia et Histria) to the south. The kingdom was founded around 400 BC, and had its capital at the royal residence at Virunum on the Magdalensberg.[2][3]

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Area and population

Around 800 BC, the region was inhabited mostly by the people of the local Celtic Hallstatt culture. Around 450 BC, they merged with the people of the other core Celtic areas in the south-western regions of Germany and eastern France.

The country is mountainous and rich in iron and salt. It supplied material for the manufacturing of arms in Pannonia, Moesia, and northern Italy. The famous Noric steel was largely used in the making of Roman weapons (e.g. Horace, Odes, i.16.9-10: Noricus ensis, "a Noric sword"). Gold[4] and salt were found in considerable quantities. The plant called saliunca (the wild or Celtic nard, a relative of the lavender) grew in abundance and was used as a perfume according to Pliny the Elder.[5]

The Celtic inhabitants developed a culture rich in art, cattle breeding, salt mining and agriculture. When part of the area became a Roman province, the Romans introduced water management (Aqueduct) and the already vivid trade relations between the people north and south of the alps boosted - Noric steel was famous for its quality and hardness.

Archaeological research, particularly in the cemeteries of Hallstatt, has shown that a vigorous Celtic civilization was in the area centuries before recorded history, but the Celtic Hallstatt civilization was a cultural manifestation prior to the other Celtic invasions, The Hallstatt graves contained weapons and ornaments from the Bronze Age, through the period of transition, up to the "Hallstatt culture", i.e., the fully developed older period of the Iron Age.


The Noric language is attested in only fragmentary inscriptions, one from Ptuj[6][7] and two from Grafenstein,[8][9] neither of which provide enough information for any conclusions about the nature of the language.[6][8]

Steel for Roman weaponry

The kingdom of Noricum was a major provider of weaponry for the Roman armies from the mid-Republic onwards. Roman swords were made of the best-quality steel then available from this region, the chalybs Noricus.

The strength of iron is determined by its carbon content. The wrought iron produced in the Greco-Roman world contained traces of carbon and was too soft for tools and weapons. It needed at least 1.5% carbon content. The Roman method of achieving this was to repeatedly heat the wrought iron to a temperature of over 800 C (i.e. to "white heat") and hammer it in a charcoal fire, causing the iron to absorb carbon from the charcoal.[10] This technique developed empirically: there is no evidence ancient iron producers understood the chemistry. This rudimentary methods of carburisation made the quality of iron ore critical to the production of good steel.

The ore needed to be rich in manganese (an element which remains essential in modern steelmaking processes), and contain little or no phosphorus, which weakens steel.[11] The ore mined in Carinthia (S. Noricum) fulfilled both criteria particularly well.[12] The Celts of Noricum discovered their ore made superior steel around 500 BC and built a major steel industry.[13]

At Magdalensberg, a major production and trading centre, specialised blacksmiths crafted metal products and weapons. The finished arms were exported to Aquileia, a Roman colony founded in 180 BC.

From 200 BC the Noricum tribes gradually united into Celtic kingdom, known as the regnum Noricum, with its capital at a place called Noreia. Noricum became a key ally of the Roman Republic, providing high-quality weapons and tools in exchange for military protection. This was demonstrated in 113 BC, when Teutones invaded Noricum. In response, the Roman consul Gnaeus Papirius Carbo led an army over the Alps to attack the Germanic tribes at the Noreia.

Roman rule

Noricum was incorporated into the Roman Empire in 16 BC. For a long time previously, the Noricans had enjoyed independence under princes of their own and carried on commerce with the Romans. In 48 BC they took the side of Julius Caesar in the civil war against Pompey. In 16 BC, having joined with the Pannonians in invading Histria, they were defeated by Publius Silius Nerva, proconsul of Illyricum. Thereafter, Noricum was called a province, although it was not organized as such and remained a kingdom with the title of regnum Noricum, yet under the control of an imperial procurator. Under the reign of Emperor Claudius (41–54) the Noricum Kingdom was ultimately incorporated into the Roman Empire apparently without offering resistance. It was not until the reign of Antoninus Pius that the Second Legion, Pia (later renamed Italica) was stationed in Noricum, and the commander of the legion became the governor of the province.

Under Diocletian (245–313), Noricum was divided into Noricum ripense ("Noricum along the river", the northern part southward from the Danube), and Noricum mediterraneum ("landlocked Noricum", the southern, more mountainous district). The dividing line ran along the central part of the eastern Alps.[14] Each division was under a praeses, and both belonged to the diocese of Illyricum in the Praetorian prefecture of Italy. It was in this time (304 A.D.) that a Christian serving as a military officer in the province suffered martyrdom for the sake of his faith, later canonised as Saint Florian.[15]

The Roman colonies and chief towns were Virunum (near Maria Saal to the north of Klagenfurt), Teurnia (near Spittal an der Drau), Flavia Solva (near Leibnitz), Celeia (Celje) in today's Slovenia, Juvavum (Salzburg), Ovilava (Wels), Lauriacum (Lorch at the mouth of the Enns, the ancient Anisus).

Knowledge of Roman Noricum has been decisively expanded by the work of Richard Knabl, an Austrian epigrapher of the 19th century.

The transition from Roman to barbarian rule in Noricum is well documented in Eugippius' Life of Saint Severinus, providing material for analogies for this process in other regions where primary sources from the period are lacking.[16]

In modern politics

In 1919, Heinrich Lammasch, the last prime minister of Imperial Austria, proposed to give the young republic the name of Norische Republik or Noric Republic,[17] because the ancient borders were similar to those of the new state, which – at the time – did not wish to be considered the heir of the Habsburg monarchy, but an independent, neutral and peaceful state.[18]

Episcopal sees

Episcopal sees of Noricum that are now listed in the Annuario Pontificio as titular sees include:[19]

See also


  1. Mackensen, Michael (1975). "The state of research on the 'Norican' silver coinage". World Archaeology. 6 (3): 249–275. doi:10.1080/00438243.1975.9979607. JSTOR 124094.
  2. Heather, Peter (2010). The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History. Macmillan. p. 407.
  3. Cunliffe, Barry (1997). The Ancient Celts. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-19-815010-7.
  4. From a statement of Polybius, in his own time in consequence of the great output of gold from a mine in Noricum, gold went down one-third in value. Ridgeway, William (1892). The Origin of Metallic Currency and Weight Standards. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 139.
  5. Naturalis Historia xxi. 20.43)
  6. Eichner, Heiner; Istenič, Janka & Lovenjak, Milan (1994). "Ein römerzeitlisches Keramikgefäs au Ptuj (Pettau, Poetovio) in Slowien mit Inschrift in unbekanntem Alphabet und epichorischer (vermutlich keltischer) Sprache" (PDF). Arheološki vestnik (in German). 45: 131–142. Archived (PDF) from the original on 22 December 2015.
  7. "Vase de Ptuj". Encyclopédie de l'arbre celtique. Archived from the original on 29 June 2008.
  8. Eska, Joseph F. & Evans, D. Ellis (2009). "Continental Celtic". In Ball, Martin J. & Müller, Nicole (eds.). The Celtic languages (second ed.). London: Routledge. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-415-42279-6.
  9. "Tuile de Grafenstein". Encyclopédie de l'arbre celtique. Archived from the original on 29 June 2008.
  10. Healy (1978) 231
  11. Buchwald (2005) 124
  12. Buchwald (2005) 115
  13. Healy (1978) 236
  14. "The province of Noricum Ripense extended along the right or southern bank of the Danube, between the river and the Noric Alps, and was bounded on one side by Raetia Secunda and the river Inn (Aenus) and on the other by the confines of Pannonia Superior — the district included in the modern province of Carinthia in Austria. Noricum Mediterraneum lay directly to the south, beyond the Noric Alps." Mierow, Charles C. (1915). "Eugippius and the Closing Years of the Province of Noricum Ripense". Classical Philology. 10 (2): 166–187. JSTOR 261764.
  15. Stülz, Jodok (1835). Geschichte des regulirten Chorherrn-Stiftes St. Florian: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Landes Österreich ob der Enns (in German). Linz: Haslinger. pp. 2–3.
  16. Heather, Peter (2005). The Fall of the Roman Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195159547.
  17. Anna Maria Drabek, Der Österreichbegriff und sein Wandel im Lauf der Geschichte, in: Marktgemeinde Neuhofen/Ybbs (ed.): Ostarrichi Gedenkstätte Neuhofen/Ybbs, no date (1980), pp. 32–41
  18. Dieter Köberl, Zum Wohle Österreichs. Vor 90 Jahren starb Heinrich Lammasch, in: Die Furche, 18 February 2010
  19. Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), "Sedi titolari", pp. 819-1013


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