For other uses, see Noricum (disambiguation).
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Noricum is the Latin name for a 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 ca. 400 BC, and had its capital at the royal residence at Virunum on the Magdalensberg.[2][3]

Area and population

Its area corresponded to the greater part of modern Styria and Carinthia, Upper/Lower Austria west of Vienna, Salzburg, a part of Bavaria, and a part of Slovenia. The original population appears to have consisted of Illyrians, who, after the great migration of the Gauls, became subordinate to various Celto-Ligurians tribes, chief amongst them being the Norici (so called after their capital Noreia), who were possibly identical with the Taurisci of Roman sources.[4]

The country is mountainous and the soil relatively poor except in the southeastern parts, but it proved rich in iron and 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[5] 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.[6]

The inhabitants were a warlike people, who paid more attention to cattle-breeding than to agriculture, although it is probable that when the area became a Roman province the Romans increased the fertility of the soil by draining the marshes and cutting down timber. Noric steel was famous for its quality and hardness.

When the Celts had superseded the Illyrians, Noricum was the southern outpost of the northern Celtic peoples and, during the later period of the Iron Age, the starting point of their attacks upon Italy. It is in Noricum that we first learn of almost all those Celtic invaders. Archaeological research, particularly in the cemeteries of Hallstatt, has shown that there was a vigorous civilization in the area centuries before recorded history, but the Hallstatt civilization was a cultural manifestation prior to the Celtic invasions and close to the earlier Illyrians. 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. William Ridgeway made a strong case for the theory that the cradle of the Homeric Achaeans was in Noricum and neighbouring areas.[7][8]


The Noric language, a continental Celtic language, is attested in only fragmentary inscriptions, one from Ptuj[9][10] and two from Grafenstein,[11][12] neither of which provide enough information for any conclusions about the nature of the language.[9][11]

Steel for Roman weaponry

The kingdom of Noricum was a major provider of weaponry for the Roman armies from the mid-Republic onwards. Especially the Roman swords were made was made of the best-quality steel then available, the chalybs Noricus, from this region. The strength of iron is determined by its carbon content. The wrought iron produced in the Greco-Roman world generally contained only minimal traces of carbon and was too soft for tools and weapons. It thus needed to be carburised to at least 1.5% carbon content. The main 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.[13] This technique had been developed empirically, as there is no evidence that ancient iron producers understood the chemistry involved. The rudimentary methods of carburisation used rendered the quality of the 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), but also to contain very little, or preferably zero, phosphorus, whose presence would compromise the steel's hardness.[14] The ore mined in Carinthia (S. Noricum) fulfills both criteria to an unusual degree.[15] The Celtic peoples of Noricum (predominantly the Taurisci tribe) empirically discovered that their ore made superior steel around 500 BC and established a major steel-making industry around it.[16] At Magdalensberg, a major production and trading centre was established, where a large number of specialised blacksmiths crafted a range of metal products, especially weapons. The finished products were mostly exported southwards, to Aquileia, a Roman colony founded in 180 BC.

From 200 BC onwards, it appears that the tribes of Noricum were gradually united in a native Celtic kingdom, known to the Romans as the regnum Noricum, with its capital at an uncertain location called Noreia. Noricum became a key ally of the Roman Republic, providing a reliable supply of high-quality weapons and tools in return for Roman military protection. Although there was no formal treaty of military alliance, the Norici could count on Roman military support, as demonstrated in 113 BC, when a vast host of Teutones invaded Noricum. In response to a desperate appeal by the Norici, the Roman consul Gnaeus Papirius Carbo rushed an army over the Alps and attacked the Germans near Noreia (although, in the event, he was heavily defeated).

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, 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.[17] 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.[18]

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.

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,[19] because the ancient borders were similar to those of the new state which, at that time, did not wish to be considered the heir of the Habsburg monarchy but an independent, neutral and peaceful state.[20]

Episcopal sees

Episcopal sees of Noricum that are now listed in the Annuario Pontificio as titular sees include:[21]


  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. While Pliny states that they are identical (Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia), the Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde places the celtic Norici northwest of the celtic Taurisci. Hungarian historian Géza Alföldy suggests that the Norici were a federated tribe of the Taurisci. Alföldy, Géza (1966). "Taurisci und Norici". Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte (in German). 15 (2): 224241. JSTOR 4434926.
  5. From a statement of Polybius we learn that 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.
  6. Naturalis Historia xxi. 20.43)
  7. William Ridgeway, The Early Age of Greece, vol. I, chapter 5. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1901
  8. Goodale, Stephen Lincoln (1920). Speer, James Ramsey, ed. Chronology of iron and steel. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh Iron & Steel Foundries Company. p. 21. OCLC 345148.
  9. 1 2 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 from the original on 17 December 2015.
  10. "Vase de Ptuj". Encyclopédie de l'arbre celtique. Archived from the original on 29 June 2008.
  11. 1 2 Eska, Joseph F. & Evans, D. Ellis (2009). "Continental Celtic". In Ball, Martin J. & Müller, Nicole. The Celtic languages (second ed.). London: Routledge. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-415-42279-6.
  12. "Tuile de Grafenstein". Encyclopédie de l'arbre celtique. Archived from the original on 29 June 2008.
  13. Healy (1978) 231
  14. Buchwald (2005) 124
  15. Buchwald (2005) 115
  16. Healy (1978) 236
  17. 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" (PDF). Classical Philology. 10 (2): 166187. JSTOR 261764.
  18. 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. 23.
  19. 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
  20. Dieter Köberl, Zum Wohle Österreichs. Vor 90 Jahren starb Heinrich Lammasch, in: Die Furche, 18 February 2010
  21. Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), "Sedi titolari", pp. 819-1013


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