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City of Vienna

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Vienna Tourist Board

Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)


  Vienna (Ouiena, Ouienna: Eth. Viennensis: Vienne), a city of the Allobroges (Ptol. ii. 10. § 11) in Gallia Narbonensis, on the east bank of the Rhone; and the only town which Ptolemy assigns to the Allobroges. Stephanus (s. v. Biennos) gives this form of the word and an Ethnic name Biennios, and he suggests also Biennesios and Biennaios from a form Bienne. He has preserved a tradition about Vienna being a Cretan colony from Biennus in Crete; and accordingly, if this were true, its origin is Hellenic. Dion Cassius (xlvi. 50) has a story about some people being expelled from Vienna by the Allobroges, but he does not say who they were.
  The position of Vienna is easily fixed by the name and by its being on the Roman road along the east side of the Rhone. There is a difficulty, however, as D'Anville observes, in the Antonine Itinerary, which makes Vienna xxiii. from Lugdunum, and adds the remark that by the shorter cut it is xvi. The number xvi. occurs also in the Table. It is remarked, too, that Seneca (De Morte Claudii, c. 6) says that Claudius was born at Lugdunum (Lyon), ad sextum decimum lapidem a Vienna. The real distance from Vienna to the Rhone at Lyon is about 17 M. P.; but D'Anville suggests that the territory of Lugdunum may have had a narrow strip on the south side of the Rhone. There can be no road of 23 M. P. from Lugdunum to Vienna, unless it be one on the west bank of the Rhone. Strabo (iv. pp. 184, 186) makes the distance between Lugdunum and Vienna 200 stadia or 20 M. P., which is too much.
  Vienna is first mentioned by Caesar (B. G. vii. 9), and only once mentioned. He had crossed the Cevennes into the Auvergne in the depth of winter, and he went again over the mountains to Vienna to meet a newly-levied cavalry force, which some time before he had sent on thither. Under the Empire Vienna was a great city and there was rivalry and enmity between it and Lugdunum. (Tacit. Hist. i. 65.) Mela speaks of it as a flourishing place; and under the Empire it was a Colonia (Plin. iii. 4; Tacit. Hist. i. 66), before the time of Claudius, who speaks of it in his Oratio (super Civitate Gallis danda); Ornatissima ecce Colonia valentissimaque Viennensium, quam longo jam tempore senatores huic curiae confert. (J. Lipsius, Excurs. ad Tacit. Ann. lib. xi.) This passage shows that Vienna had already supplied members to the Roman senate, and it must have been a Romana Colonia. Martial (vii. 88) calls it pulcra :
Fertur habere meos,
si vera est fama, libellos, Inter delicias pulcra Vienna suas. So Pliny says that his works were in the booksellers' shops at Lugdunum. These facts present a curious contrast between the book trade in a French provincial town under the Empire and at the present day, when a man would not find much. Vienna was also noted for the wine (Martial, xiii. 107) that grew in the neighbourhood; and some of the best wines of the Rhone are still made about Vienne. This town afterwards gave name to the subdivision of Narbonensis named Viennensis.
  The modern town of Vienne is in the department of Isere, on the little river Gere, which flows through Vienne to the Rhone. The modern town is in the narrow valley of the Gere, and extends to the banks of the Rhone. The Roman town was placed on two terraces in the form of amphitheatres. There still exist the foundations of the massive Roman walls above 19,000 feet in circuit which enclosed Vienna. These walls, even in the weakest parts, were about 20 feet thick; and it appears that there were round towers at intervals. There are at Vienne the remains of some arcades, which are supposed to have formed the entrance to the Thermae. They are commonly called triumphal arches, but there is no reason for this appellation. One of the arcades bears the name of the emperor Gratian. There is a temple which M. Schneider has conjectured to have been dedicated to Augustus and Livia, if his deciphering of the inscription may be trusted. This is one of the best. preserved Roman monuments of its kind in France after the Maison Carree of Nimes. It is now a Museum, and contains some valuable ancient remains and inscriptions. This building is of the Corinthian order, with six columns in front and eight on each side; the columns are above 3 feet in diameter, and 35 feet high, including the base of the capitals.
  There is a singular monument near Vienne, sometimes called Pontius Pilate's tomb, there being a tradition that Pilate was banished to Vienna. But even if Pilate was sent to Vienna, that fact will not prove that this is his monument. It is a pyramid supported on a quadrangular construction, on the sides of which there are four arcades with semicircular arches at the top; and there are columns at each of the angles of the construction. Each side of the square of this basement is about 21 feet long, and the height to the top of the entablature of the basement is nearly 22 feet. The pyramid with its smaller base rests on the central part of the quadrangular construction; it is about 30 feet high, and the whole is consequently about 52 feet high. The edifice is not finished. It has on the whole a very fine appearance. There is a drawing of it in the Penny Cyclopaedia (art. Vienne), made on the spot in 1838 by W. B. Clarke, architect.
  The remains of the amphitheatre have been found only by excavation. It was a building of great magnitude, the long diameter being above 500 feet and the smaller above 400 feet, which dimensions are about the same as those of the amphitheatre of Verona. It has been used as a quarry to build the modern town out of. Three aqueducts supplied Vienna with water during the Roman period. These aqueducts run one above another on the side of the hill which borders the left bank of the Gere, and they are nearly parallel to one another, but at different elevations. The highest was intended to supply the amphitheatre when a naumachia was exhibited. There are also remains of a fourth aqueduct large enough for four persons to walk in upright and abreast. These aqueducts were almost entirely constructed under ground, with a fall of about one in a thousand, and for the most part lined inside with a red cement as high up as the spring of the arches.
  The Roman road, sometimes called the Via Domitia, ran from Arelate (Aries) along the E. side of the river to Lugdunum (Lyon). Where it enters Vienne, it is now more than 3 feet below the surface of the ground, and this depth increases as it goes farther into the town. It is constructed of large blocks of stone. Another road went from Vienna to the Alpis Graia (Little St. Bernard) through Belgintrum; and it is an interesting fact to find that several villages on this road retain names given to them in respect of the distance from Vienne: thus Septeme is 7 miles, Oytier 8 miles, and Diemoz 10 Roman miles from Vienne. Another road led from Vienne through Cularo (Grenoble) to the Alpis Cottia (Mont St. Genevre). (See Richard et Hocquart, Guide du Voyageur, for references to modern works on the antiquities of Vienne, and particularly M. Mermet's work, 8vo. Vienne, 1829, which contains the answers to a series of questions proposed by the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres; also the references in Ukert, Gallien, p. 453.)

This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited September 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

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