Virunum – Julia's home town

Julia Bacausa’s home city of Virunum, or more formally, Municipium Claudium Virunum, was founded under Emperor Claudius (AD 41–54) as the capital of the province of Noricum which covered more or less today’s Austria and northern Slovenia. It’s gone, but there are some fascinating ruins you can visit today.

Virunum lay in the valley below the Magdalensberg, widely believed to have been the earlier royal capital city of the pre-Roman Celtic kingdom of Noricum. The Roman new town was built on the main route from the Adriatic to the Danube, with a branch of that route running through south-eastern Carinthia connecting Virunum with the Amber Road (hence the amber traders in Chapter 1 of JULIA PRIMA).

Aerial view of the Magdalensberg from the southwest, with a laser scan marked with early buildings (1. summit fortification 2. main wall 3.curtain wall 4. early Roman town) and street map*

The city enjoyed Latin Rights, a series of privileges roughly equivalent to those of the citizens of Rome itself, and was the seat of the provincial governor (procurator Augusti provinciae Norici) until the middle of the second century. After the Marcomannic Wars (AD 166 until 180), the centre of civil government for Noricum moved north to Ovilava, but the administration of the province’s finances remained in Virunum. When Emperor Diocletian later split Noricum in two, Virunum became the capital of the southern province of Noricum Mediterraneum.

A note about a legendary capital

The kingdom of Noricum was formed, albeit it loosely with many sub-chiefs, hundreds of years before, around 400 BC, complete with royal residence in a city called Noreia which, unfortunately, nobody has been able to locate conclusively.

Many (rather romantic) theories float about even today concerning its location. As a result of excavations in the 1920s at Sankt-Margarethen am (or bei) Silberberg (west of Graz in Austria), much excitement and campaigning led to the village’s name being changed to Noreia. After further examination, the ruins and finds proved to be those of a medieval settlement. But the name of Noreia stuck. You can even find it today on online digital maps.

According to Julius Caesar, Noreia was known to have been the capital of the Celtic kingdom of Noricum, but it was already referred to as a lost city by Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79). We’ll leave it in the romantic legend category for now…


Street map of Virunum

Later Virunum

From AD 343 at least, the city is known to have been a bishop’s see (hence the character of Bishop Eligius). Virunum (Virunensis) is still a titular see of the Roman Catholic Church today. Little is known about the decline of the city. However, being unfortified and lying in an open, flat valley and unable to be defended, Virunum was probably partially or probably completely evacuated by its inhabitants during the Migration Period of the fifth to seventh centuries. They would have left for more secure walled settlements on the surrounding hills such as Ulrichsberg or Grazerkogel. Perhaps some might even have gone back up to the safety of their ancestors’ Magdalensberg.

A rather lovely travel video of the Magdalensberg and Virunum today… from

Wirtschaftsbauten in der antiken Stadt, Ulrich Fellmeth, Jürgen Krüger, Karlfriedrich Ohr, Jürgen J. Rasch, Karlsruhe, 2012
Town plan of Virunum:
Noricum, Géza Alfödy, 1974, (Routledge, 2014)


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, is now out.

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