Ancient Romans in Alpes Carnicae

Ancient Romans in Alpes Carnicae

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Arrival of Romans

Gurina, the temple of Herakles
A renewed temple of Heracles in Gurina
Already the Ancient Romans were distinguishing between the Alpes Carnicae and Alpes Juliae. According to Pliny the former were inhabited by the Carni, people whose origin was very likely Celtic. From the iron age, when Celtic tribes succeeded Illyric tribes in the area of Alps (Hallstatt era), there is a lot of archeologic evidence. They lived on fortified hilltop villages, trading with a very broad area around. But when Ancient Romans were expanding northwards, across the Alps, Celtic tribes offered no major resistance. The whole big area which Romans called Noricum, and which stretched across most of the Eastern Alps, was more or less peacefully incorporated into the Roman Empire in 16 B.C. The southern part, the mountains above the plains of Venetia, Romans took earlier, in the times of Julius Caesar to Octavian Augustus.

Roman Towns and Roads

Since it was founded in the 2nd century B.C., Aquileia was more and more prospering and soon became one of the biggest cities in the world. From its area, Romans were expanding east and westwards. In Carnic and Julian Alps soon two bigger towns were established: Iulium Carnicum (today's Zuglio) and Forum Iulii (today's Cividale del Friuli). Being focused here in Carnic Alps, of our primary interest is the road, running from Aquileia through Iulium Carnicum and further across the Alps. It was called "Iulia-Augusta", and its course was: Aquileia - Iulium Carnicum - Loncium (in the valley of the Gail) - Aguntum (in the valley of the Drau) - and then further to the west, where below today's Brenner pass it joined the other road, coming up from Verona. One branch of the road, going from Aquileia northwards, and then eastwards to Virunum (a major hilltop town of the Celtic Noricum kingdom, and below it the new Roman center of Noricum), was following the today's river of Fella/Bela and thus encircling Carnic Alps by their eastern side. On the northern side of Carnic Alps, through today's Gail/Zilja valley also a good Roman road was built. And finally, there are many archeological findings also in the valley of Piave, so a quite good road must had encircled Carnic Alps also by the western side. Along these Roman "highways" there were stations, supporting the trade and traffic. Many of them are today not known any more, but of many we have good archeological evidence. In addition to the newly established Roman towns and garrisons, above the valleys there were many fortified hilltop villages - oppidia. After the era of Ancient Romans, some of them ceased to exist, of some others only old paleochristian churches remained and in the rest of them life continued into the middle ages.

Interesting Sites To Visit

Piave Valley

From the Ponte nelle Alpi, where dwellings and necropolis were found, we can go northwards along Piave. Near today's Castellavazzo the remains of Castellum Laebactium can be visited, then higher the necropolis and temple near Pieve di Cadore, and near Lozzo di Cadore another necropolis and remains which indicate that the place was controlling the traffic from the east (Passo Mauria) and the north (towards Innichen).

The Hills Above Tagliamento

On the place where Tagliamento river comes out of the Carnic Alps, there is an interesting geological formation - a broad area of hills, being modified by huge glaciers in the last ice ages. On top of those hills there are many picturesque live towns, which grew from ancient oppidia, and some abandoned oppidia (San Daniele del Friuli, Buja, Artegna, Gemona, Osoppo, Ragogna, Col Monaco, Castel Raimondo, and others). For a biking tour there are many ups and downs, but nice is also a car trip with all those sightseeings. Then the road Iulia-Augusta went by the valley of Tagliamento (in Friulan: Tilment, in Ancient Roman: Tiliaventum or Taliamentum) and on the place where from the north Fella/Bela flows into it, the road branched. The main branch went towards the north-west and near today's Tolmezzo branched again. The branch further west went on Passo Mauria, but from Villa Santina (Ibligo) one branch went also northwards, into the valley of Degano creek. This branch was less important, because on the end of those valleys there is no good pass over the Alps. But in Degano valley there are Roman remains near Raveo (two oppidia: Cuel Budin and Monte Soranti) and higher near Ovaro (a paleochristian church).

Iulia-Augusta Road

Pieve di San Floriano
Pieve di San Floriano
Morning in Canale di San Pietro
Canale di San Pietro
The main Iulia-Augusta however followed the valley of river But. The importance of this traffic connection is clear. Near today's Zuglio there was a big town of Iulium Carnicum, on the hilltops above the valley there are many old churches, in Arta Terme there was an Ancient Roman spa (and is still a modern one). But in later ages of Roman Empire the valley saw also many raids of barbaric people, coming from the north. So the town of Iulium Carnicum was after the destruction of Avars in 808 abandoned and people fleed to the castello above it, around Pieve di San Pietro. The seat of bishop was moved to Forum Iulii. The church of San Pietro is today dubbed the "mother of all churches in Carnia" and originates from paleochristian times. Of a very similar age is also Pieve di San Floriano, near Illegio. And many other "pieve" (the word means a rural church with a baptistery, upon which other churches without baptisteries depended). A bit higher in the valley of But, there was a roman town of Sutrio, In today's Paluzza there was a road station (Statio Timaviensis) and an old tower of it is still preserved. Then the road, on some places not broader than 1.5 m, climbed on the Passo di Monte Croce Carnico / Ploecken Pass, 1357 m. On the other, today Austrian side of the pass, many stretches of the Ancient Roman road are still preserved and by it a marked hiking path is nowadays arranged. It comes down to the present Koetschach-Mauthen, very likely the ancient Loncium. On the nearby Wuermlach Alm inscriptions in Venetian language were found, a clear proof that the mountain pass has been in use since ancient times. From the Roman times the remains of a watch tower were found, indicating that in Mauthen there was a road station (in German Maut/Muta means a customs station). In Roman times more important than Koetschach-Mauthen was the town of Gurina. It was situated on a nice terrace above the valley of Gail/Zilja, near Dellach (on the slopes of Gailtal Alps). That was a strong center of Celtic Noricum, later of Roman Empire and was abandoned only in the middle ages. Its wealth was coming from rich mines on Jauken mountains.

The Road By Fella Valley

Dobrac from south. You can...
Finally let's follow also the eastern branch of Via Iulia-Augusta. Along the river of Fella/Bela, the following road stations were found: Near Resiutta (Statio Plorucensis), near Chiusaforte (Larice) and near Camporosso, Tarvisio (Statio Bilachiniensis). On the very eastern side of Carnic Alps main ridge there the river Slizza/Ziljica near Thoerl/Maglern cuts its way between Carnic Alps and Karavanke/Karawanken. As already the pass near Camporosso is one of the lowest main passes in the Alps (800 m), the area around Thoerl/Maglern was always of a major strategic importance. Also in Ancient Roman times there was a road station, but also fortifications and a temple nearby. Visit Hohenthurn (in Slovenian language Straža - which means a guard) and the ruins of Straßfried castle to feel the place which guarded the junction of roads.

After Ancient Romans

With the collapse of Ancient Roman empire the area of Carnic Alps remained inhabited by romanic-speaking people. Despite many raids of people like Langobards, Goths, Avars, Slavs and despite melting with them (Langobards and Slavs stayed there) the people among mountains preserved their romanic dialect, today known as Friulian. And with it also their culture, stories and pride. Today it is clearly distinguished from the formal Italian language.

Outside Links

Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire


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Silvia Mazzani

Silvia Mazzani - Mar 16, 2015 1:49 pm - Voted 10/10

Minor languages and dialects

Nice historical article! The language from Friuli, as you wrote, it's not a dialect, but a real language, so that people speaking italian often don't understand it completely. Unfortunately the Furlan - as many Italian dialects - is spoken less and less... It's a pity!
Thanks and ciao, Silvia

Vid Pogachnik

Vid Pogachnik - Mar 17, 2015 6:29 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Minor languages and dialects

Yes, Silvia, you're right. I'm only missing English words to distinguish it. Friulan language is kind of equal to Ladinian, Rhaetoroman and other old languages which are a mixture of languages of original people on those locations and Ancient Roman influences. So, yes, they are not a dialect of Italian.

Are they spoken less and less? I don't know. I have a feeling, but it's only a personal impression, that it can be even the opposite. Whenever we go in Carnia, Furlania, people say "hello" always in Furlan ("Bon di" or "Mandi"), many of them are immediately ready to teach us, visitors, the difference in pronounciation of toponymes. I will not forget how one young lady on an alpine pasture tried to tell us the difference how Monte Chiampon is pronounced in Italian and how in Friulan.

So, yes, I hope the language with all its richness survives. At the end, it is some 300 000 of people who can use it.


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