Dr. Karolina Paczynska

            I. The progress in archaeological studies made it  possible to reconstruct and retrace the routes, history and importance of main antique traffic arteries that connected the North sea and the Baltic sea coasts with the Adriatic sea. The southern sections of these arteries that ran through the Roman empire are called Amber Roads while the northern once that ran from the Danube to the North are named Amber Routes (WIELOWIEJSKI 1980 : 7).  In that sense a route was a long land, water or land-water way that apart from permanent stretches of  road had also those once that were changing according to the seasons, weather conditions, etc. (WIELOWIEJSKI  1980 : 8).


            II. The AMBER  ROAD connected Aquileia with Carnuntum in Pannonia (today’s Bad Deutsch - Altenburg in Austria), running through Emona, Poetovio, Scarbantia  (WIELOWIEJSKI 1980 : 9). Carnuntum was the starting - point of the main AMBER ROUTE. Then the route was running along Morava river, White Carpathian Mountains to Brama Morawska. Further northwards on the territory of today’s Poland it probably ran along western bank of the Odra. It crossed the river at Krapkowice and then it was going along the Prosna. After having crossed Prosna river the main AMBER ROUTE passed through eastern Wielkopolska, Kujawy and Ziemia Chelminska (Poland) all the way down to maritime regions and to the mouth of Vistula river to the Baltic sea (KOLENDO 1998: 171).  There are however many variants of the AMBER ROUTE . It is also known when each route was in use and which were dominant trade directions in each period (KOLENDO 1998 : 171).


            III. The amber route’s itinerary is being reconstructed on the basis of many different both archaeological and written sources. Among archaeological sources of a great importance there are fragments of antique  roads’ surfaces that are being uncovered on the territories of the Roman empire as well as  inscriptions on  mile stones that were put along the roads to inform travellers about the distances.

            There are also amber nodules and wares being found both on the territories of the Roman empire   and  of central - eastern Europe territories. In Szarazd - Regoly (Hungary) to the south from Balaton lake a Celtic treasure of amber beads and silver, gold and glass jewellery was found. It is dated to the 1st century B.C.  At the Celtic oppidum of Stare Hradisko in Moravia (Czech Republic) abundant quantities of amber were found. In Wroclaw - Partynice (Poland)  an amber emporium  dated to the turn of the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century A.D. was uncovered. There are also remains of the amber workshops known. One of such examples is located in Jacew (Poland) where in 1968 the amber nodules, over 4 thousand of amber cuttings and over a 100 of broken amber beads were found. On the ground of the Roman imports the workshop at Jacew is dated to the second half of the 2nd or the first half of the 3rd century A.D.  Some of amber wares being produced on the territories of the empire were also taken back to the North. Those were mostly amber beads made in  turnery technique that was not known to the northern tribes in the early Roman period. They are dated to the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. Such beads  were probably being made by Aquileia workshops or their Pannonian trading - posts that both imported amber from the Baltic sea coasts. There are also so called „spindles” that were probably produced in Aquileia. They were uncovered in women and children tombs in Aquileia, Poetovio, Scarbantia   region that is to say on the AMBER ROAD. (WIELOWIEJSKI 1970: 68).


            Among antique written sources that help to reconstruct the ways of ancient  roads and routes there are first of all Roman itineraries:

1. Tabula Peutingeriana  is an illustrated itinerarium named after its owner. The version that is known to us is a 13th century copy of a Roman map that was compiled with two different once: a map  from the 3rd century A.D. and the other one dated to the end of the 4th or to the beginning of the 5th century A.D. There are two roads of a great  importance for us marked on this map: 1. Aquileia - Virunum and Lauriacum; 2. Aquileia - Emona - Savaria - Vindobona - Carnuntum - Brigetio and Aquincum.

2. Itinerarium Antonini compiled in the middle of the 2nd century A.D.

3.   Itinerarium Burdigalense (Hierosolymitanum) that is a Christian pilgrim’s work from 333 A.D.  It also illustrates the roads from Aquileia, through Emona, Celeia, Poetovio to Sirmium in the 4th century A.D.


            We have also ancient authors’ relations in our disposal. The most important and significant once are: Historia Naturalis by Plinius Maior (23 - 79 A.D.), Germania by Tacitus (55 - 120 A.D.) and Geographike hyphegesis by Klaudios Ptolemaios (100 - around 147 (178?) A.D.).


            Almost all the amber used on the territories of the Roman empire was imported from the North, first of all from the Baltic sea coasts between the mouth of Vistula river and Mierzeja Kuronska.


IV. The problem of amber affluence intensity from the North to the South can be solved only when both archaeological and written sources will be taken into consideration. There is unfortunately lack of full cataloguing of amber wares from the territories of the empire. It makes it difficult to compile a chronological list of such artefacts that would be the most simple solution. Only a small part of such wares can be dated on the basis of archaeological contexts (KOLENDO 1998: 132).  Some information about the intensity of the amber trade and the ways of amber routes can be given by the archaeological  findings on transitional territories through which amber was being transported and also Roman imports that were coming to Barbaricum as an equivalent of amber (KOLENDO 1998: 132). Amber  in abundance was being imported to the Apenine Peninsula  in two different periods: from the 7th to the 4th centuries B.C. and from the 1st century B.C. until the beginning of the 3rd century A.D. Between the 7th and the 4th centuries the North sea amber was of a great importance. The Roman expansion of the 1st century B.C. brought the Mediterranean world closer to the territories of central and eastern Europe. The Romans reached the amber areas by the North sea in 12 B.C. for the first time. But it is to be underlined that the North sea amber was not very  popular in the Roman period (KOLENDO 1998: 133). Since the 1st century B.C. the Baltic amber was much more important. In the 1st century A.D. the Roman interest in amber became much stronger and  commercial relations between the Roman empire and central-eastern Barbaricum were closer. The expedition of a Roman eques to the Baltic sea  under Nero mentioned by Plinius Maior (XXXVII 3(11), 45) was an official Roman expedition. The purpose of that mission was to bring the amber to Rome for the contests organised by Nero. At the same time the routes coming from the Danube to the Baltic sea were more stable and better known. Most of the amber found on the territories of the empire is dated to the 1st and the 2nd  centuries A.D.(KOLENDO 1998: 134).  It does not seem to be the truth that at the beginning of the 3rd century A.D. amber was not being imported to the empire any more. Commercial relations were still strong enough at that time. It is however possible that such situation could have had place in the second half of the 3rd century A.D. and was caused by the wars with Barbarians and by the Roman empire inner crisis (KOLENDO 1998: 134 - 135). The needs of amber must have been limited at that time. New interests in amber appeared  on the turn of the 3rd and the 4th centuries A.D. Amber was mentioned in Edictum Diocletianii et Collegarum de pretiis rerum venalium from 301 A.D. It let us think that on the turn of the 3rd and the 4th centuries when Roman managed to force back Barbarian attacks and to rebuild the fortification system on the borders also the amber trade got back its importance. The amber was being imported again to the South and Diocletian’s coins were coming to central Europe. The last antique source that proves the import of amber to the South is the letter of Theodoricus - Goths king, written by Casiodorus (Variae V, 2) which is  dated to the years  514/517 (KOLENDO 1998: 135 - 138)





J. Kolendo, Swiat antyczny i barbarzyncy. Teksty, zabytki, refleksja nad przeszloscia, Seria Podrecznikow, vol. 1, Warszawa 1998.





J.    Wielowiejski, Kontakty Noricum i Pannonii z ludami polnocnymi, Wroclaw, Warszawa, Krakow 1970




J. Wielowiejski, Glowny szlak bursztynowy w czasach cesarstwa rzymskiego, Wroclaw 1980