FreightWaves Classics/ Infrastructure: The Konstantinsbrücke spanned the Danube

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The river

Along with the Nile, the Yangtze, the Amazon and the Mississippi, the Danube is one of the most famous rivers in the world. Along their routes lie places of great natural and man-made beauty, as well as important sites of human history and culture.

The Danube is the second longest river in Europe. His path takes him through large parts of central and south-eastern Europe, from the Black Forest to the Black Sea. The river makes its way through 10 nations – more than any other river in the world. The Danube begins in Germany and flows southeast for 1,770 miles. On its route it crosses or borders Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine before emptying into the Black Sea. The river’s catchment area extends to nine other countries. Many European borders, especially in the Balkans, also follow the course of the Danube.

The route of the Danube through Europe.  (Image: Public Domain/commons.wikimedia.org)
The route of the Danube through Europe. (Image: Public Domain/commons.wikimedia.org)

Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade and Bratislava are among the largest cities on the Danube. They are also the capitals of their respective countries, which also means that the river flows through more national capitals than any other river in the world. In addition, there are five other capitals in the Danube basin – Bucharest, Sofia, Zagreb, Ljubljana and Sarajevo.

Interestingly, it is not called the Danube in any of the countries through which it flows. In Germany, for example, the river is called the Danube, in the Czech Republic Dunaj and in Hungary Duna. The Romans called it Danubius, based on an older Celtic name from which all modern names derive.

This map shows the darker area that includes the Danube Basin.  (Image: CC BY-SA 4.0/ commons.wikimedia.org)
This map shows the darker area that includes the Danube Basin. (Image: CC BY-SA 4.0/ commons.wikimedia.org)

The Danube divided nations and provided a trade route

The banks of the Danube have been the site of human habitation for millennia, and the river has been instrumental in many historical events and has defined historical boundaries. For almost its entire length, the Danube was once the northern border of the Roman Empire. It provided a line of defense for the empire as well as a “water highway” to transport troops and material to Roman settlements downriver.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Danube continued to form a defensive frontier for the Eastern Roman Empire and then the Ottoman Empire. The division of the river between east and west shaped the river’s history for centuries, most notably through World War I, World War II, and the Cold War.

Since ancient times, the Danube has also served as a traditional trade route in Europe. Today over 1,500 miles of its total length are navigable. In addition, the Danube is now connected to the North Sea via the Rhein-Main-Danube Canal, which connects the Danube at Kelheim with the Main at Bamberg. The river is also an important source of hydroelectric power, drinking water and food.

The Danube in Vienna.  (Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl/commons.wikimedia.org)
The Danube in Vienna. (Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl/commons.wikimedia.org)

Constantine the Great

Constantine I (February 27, 272 – May 22, 337), also known as Constantine the Great, was Emperor of the Roman Empire from AD 306 to 337. He was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. Born in modern-day Niš, Serbia, Constantine was the son of Flavius ​​Constantius, a Roman army officer who had been one of the four rulers of the Tetrarchy. The Tetrarchy was the system instituted by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in 293 to govern the ancient Roman Empire by dividing it between two older emperors and two younger emperors. The Tetrarchy marked the end of the third-century crisis. Constantine served with distinction under Diocletian and Galerius. His career as a soldier began in campaigns in the eastern provinces (against barbarians and Persians). Then he was recalled in AD 305 to fight with his father in Britain.

A modern bronze statue of Constantine I in York, England, near where he was proclaimed emperor in 306.  (Photo: Chabe01/wikipedia.org)
A modern bronze statue of Constantine I in York, England, near where he was proclaimed emperor in 306.
(PhotoChabe01/wikipedia.org)

After the death of his father in 306, Constantine became emperor. He was hailed by the Roman legions at Eboracum (modern day York, England) and was eventually victorious after civil wars against Emperors Maxentius and Licinius. In 324 Constantine became sole ruler of the Roman Empire.

After his rise to the throne, Constantine began a series of reforms to strengthen the empire. He separated civilian and military leaders and restructured the government. To fight inflation, he introduced a new gold coin (the soliduswhich was also known as nomisma or the bezant). Constantine introduced the coin, and its weight of around 4.5 grams remained relatively constant. It became the standard for Byzantine and European currencies for more than 1,000 years.

A solidus with an image of Constantine.  (Photo: educalingo.com)
A solidus with an image of Constantine. (Photo: educalingo.com)

Constantine also reorganized the Roman legions into two distinct armed forces – mobile units (comitatenses) and garrison troops (limitation) – to make the army more capable of countering internal threats and barbarian invasions. Constantine then led successful campaigns against various tribes on the Roman frontiers (such as the Franks, the Alemanni, the Goths and the Sarmatians). He then settled lands abandoned by his predecessors during the third-century crisis with citizens of Roman culture.

Parts of a huge statue of Constantine.  (Photo: Khan Academy)
Parts of a huge statue of Constantine. (Photo: Khan Academy)

Although Constantine lived much of his life as a pagan, in 312 he began to favor Christianity. He became a Christian and was baptized. Constantine played a key role in the Edict of Milan in 313, which declared tolerance of Christianity in the Roman Empire. He also convened the First Council of Nicaea in 325; it produced the statement of the Christian faith known as the Nicene Creed. On his orders, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built on the alleged site of Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem and was considered the holiest place in all of Christendom. Historically referred to as the “first Christian emperor,” Constantine is known for bringing Christianity into mainstream Roman culture.

Constantine’s reign was a special era in the history of the Roman Empire; Many believe that he began the transition of the empire from classical antiquity to the Middle Ages. Among his actions, he built a new imperial residence in Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople (now known as Istanbul) after himself. Constantinople then became the new capital of the empire for more than 1,000 years. The later Eastern Roman Empire is referred to by modern historians as the Byzantine Empire. He replaced Diocletian’s Tetrarchy; Constantine introduced the principle of dynastic succession, leaving the empire to his sons and other members of the Constantinian dynasty.

The northern and eastern borders of the Roman Empire at the time of Constantine with the territories acquired over the course of 30 years of campaigns between 306 and 337.  (Image: Cristiano64/commons.wikimedia.org)
The northern and eastern borders of the Roman Empire at the time of Constantine with the territories acquired over the course of 30 years of campaigns between 306 and 337. (Image: Cristiano64/commons.wikimedia.org)

5 July 328

On this date 1,694 years ago, a bridge over the Danube was ceremoniously opened. Constantine was present at the opening of the bridge that became known as Constantine’s Bridge. It was built between the town and fortress of Sucidava (now the Romanian port of Corabia) and the town of Oescus (near the present-day Bulgarian village of Gigen).

The Roman architect Theophilus Patricius designed the Constantine Bridge. The main architectural features of the wooden arch bridge included the brick piers and the wooden superstructure. It also had two abutment piers at each end. “Abutments are used at the ends of bridges to hold the embankment and carry the vertical and horizontal loads from the superstructure to the foundation.” The abutments also served as gates for the bridge, helping to protect it from attack at both ends protection. The bridge’s wooden deck was 19 feet wide and crossed the river 33 feet above the water.

Carnuntum Archaeological Park in Petronell: remains of an inn between reconstructed public baths (left) and a large town house (right).  The inset is the
Carnuntum Archaeological Park in Petronell: remains of an inn between reconstructed public baths (left) and a large town house (right). The insert is the “Hypocaust” (heating system) in the baths. This 4th-century outpost was located near the Danube and the border between Austria and Slovakia. (Photo: Roberto Piperno)

While the bridge was destroyed within 50 years of its construction, it is still remembered today for its total length of 7,995 feet. Of this, 3,730 feet spanned the river bed of the Danube. The Constantine Bridge was the longest ancient river bridge and one of the longest ever.

The Dacian kingdom in 82 BC.  (Image: commons.wikimedia.org)
The Dacian kingdom in 82 BC.
(Image: commons.wikimedia.org)

A major reason for building the Bridge of Constantine was to try to retake Dacia. Between 82 B.C. A Dacian kingdom of various sizes existed between 100 BC and the Roman conquest in 106 AD. The capital of Dacia was in modern Romania; It was destroyed by the Romans but the same name was used by the Romans for the new city built as the capital of the Roman province of Dacia.

As the Roman Empire weakened, the Dacians overthrew their Roman rulers until Constantine reconquered the area. The Dacian Kingdom included what are now the countries of Romania and Moldova, as well as smaller parts of Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine.

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