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Thoughts on Borders and Salzburg History

AUSTRIA | Wednesday, 11 June 2014 | Views [706]


Thoughts on Boundaries and Salzburg History

Boundaries are funny things.  They are imaginary lines drawn on maps that become real reasons for killing people.  What is mine is mine, and if you have something I want, I can ignore the imaginary line as it is just imaginary, and take what I want. Unfortunately, not everyone sees the lines as imaginary and those living in the lands that have been transgressed become upset when one takes what they see as theirs.  This construct of land ownership, that is so foreign to some indigenous tribes, has caused havoc since hunter-gatherers ‘trespassed’ on newly urbanized agricultural fields. We haven’t learned much about how to settle our conflicts since then.  It only takes a puppy a few times to learn a new trick, but the human race has been making the same mistakes since the beginning of the species.

The geographical boundary issues that are most worrisome given their potential for all out destruction are on two fronts, the Ukraine and in the South China Sea. In the South China Sea, China clearly lays highly disputed claims to a large section of territory extending into the waters outside the island of Borneo.  This region is rich in oil and other potentially very profitable products, which the Chinese would like.  The people who live on the islands, however, are for the most part, with the major exception of Taiwan, not Chinese origin, nor is their language Chinese.  Clearly this hasn’t stopped China before as Tibet had it’s own culture and language, but it was invaded in 1959 and the Tibetan Government now resides in exile in Dharamsala, India. The Tibetan Plateau is home to the glaciers that feed the major Asian rivers as well as having large natural gas reserves. China’s claims include territories that currently belong to the Philippines, Japan, and Vietnam.  We have treaties with the first two and strong economic ties to the third.  It would be not only a political mess to become involved in these territorial issues, but an economic disaster.  China still owns more of our federal debt than any other party, and Japan owns a considerable share as well. 

On the other side of the continent, Russia, the Ukraine and the West are playing a dangerous game since the Russian re-annexation of the Crimea a few weeks ago. It should be remembered, however, that the Crimea, as also much of the lands to its immediate North, were part of Russia since the late 18th C.  The Western portion of the country belonged in part to Poland and a small part to Austria.  The Ukraine as a country is a fairly recent political construct that has little to do with a unified ethnic heritage.  What is even more disturbing to a historian is the fact that the Hun Invasions of the Crimea in 375 CE destroyed the resident Ostgothic tribal communities and started a chain reaction of migration, and with it invasions, that within a century ended up destroying the Roman Empire. 

Boundary conflicts are very much part of our current world politics and territorial issues seem to again be on the rise.  It is easy to see how futile these conflicts are when one looks at some of the same issues from one particular place in its very early history. I am now in Salzburg, which used to be Iavuvum, the Roman cultural center north of the Alps. The city was caught in these invasions destroyed, rebuilt, and then in 488 Odalier ordered all the Roman citizens to abandon the city.  Those who did stay remained on the hills, the former homes of the original Celts. The exodus led to a two hundred year period of stagnation and a tremendous loss of culture.

 Borders here have been flexible for millennia.  Archeological records indicate habitation in the mountains around the city from Neolithic times.  The Celts, whose first official culture, called the Hallstatt period, is named after one of the lakes in the region where a large burial site was found, are recorded in the area from around 750BCE. No one is sure where they came from, although speculation has it that they arrived over decades and perhaps centuries not as an organized front but as individual family clans from Bohemia, perhaps the area around the modern day western Czech Republic. They did not conquer the indigenous population, but seemed to have settled peacefully with their neighbors.  The Celts came from a number of different tribes, and each settled in distinct regions. What tied them together was their Druidic faith and their language. They were organized around trade, and the mountains provided the “white gold”, salt, that was highly prized in the ancient world. One later Roman author said that ‘man can live without gold, but not without salt.’ It was used to preserve meat and food products as well as to provide salt-licks for livestock.  It was essential to sustain life during the frigid winter months and for the transport of meat from one region to another.  From the Untersberg and Predigerstuhl, two nearby legend-rich mountains, the salt flowed into the valley via one of the earliest natural resource pipelines. The current border was non-existent and while there were many differing communities in the region, from what we can gather their borders were based more on economics than on politics. Some time around 200 BCE the thirteen Celtic tribes living between the Inn and Enn Rivers, around the Danube to the North and the Raub River in the South combined to form the Kingdom of Noricum.  Some of the tribes had been punished by Rome for helping Hannibal cross the Alps in 218 BCE and they may have thought it was best to have a united front.  In 15 BCE, Octavian/Augustus annexed all of Noricum, and did so without a fight, with the exception of one tribe in the South.  It seems that the annexation was actually beneficial to the region as the Romans settled in the plains while the Celts remained partially in the mountains. Trade flourished during the Pax Romana and by 45 CE Emperor Claudius established the imperial city of Iavuvum, from the Celtic name of the god of the River Salzach, Iavuvo. The city was a major trading center as it straddled the Alps creating a pathway between the Germanic tribes to the North, the more Slavic tribes to the East and the Romans and Greeks to the South. Iavuvum, as an administrative district governed from the city, included today’s Deutsches Eck, portions of Tyrol – including South Tyrol, Upper and Lower Austria, Carinthia, Steyr, Croatia and Slowenia. It was a culturally and natural resource rich territory. With the increase in trade, many of the Celts moved to the flatlands as well and remnants of Roman-Celtic names and gravestones are in some of the local museums. The Romanization of the Celts in former Noricum came through a peaceful process, through marriage and trade; not through conquest.  Celtic gods were honored along with Roman gods; Celtic words for the Alpine region and its products were incorporated into Latin the way English words for the computer are incorporated into many foreign languages today. While originally the citizens of Iavavum did not have voting rights as they lived outside of Rome and the Italian peninsula, they did not have to suffer under the yoke of a stationary army.  There was no large garrison in Iavavum.  It was also because of the city’s geographical position as a trade center that it became a target for invasions during times when the Romans were having problems internally or in other areas of the Empire.  The city of Iavuvum was destroyed by invaders a number of times while part of the Roman Empire.  Among them were the Markomannen and Quaden in 171 CE, and the Alamannan in 241.  Each time the city was rebuilt under order of the Emperor until the period after Constantine I, when Rome’s attention shifted further East.  It was after the first set of invasions that Emperor Caracalla issued the “Constitutio Antoniana” in 212 authorizing official Roman citizenship to all freeborn men in the provincial cities, among them Iavuvum. When the Empire finally fell, in 477 Iavuvum was left vulnerable again. By 488 Odoaker ordered all the Roman citizens to leave the city, basically this meant all the free-born by this time.  The ones who remained moved back into the hills where the early Celts had found shelter and especially onto the hills lining the Salzach in the center of the formerly great commercial city.  It was at this point that the city’s history goes fairly dark.  There was no political or social organization that has left any traces.  As political vacuums create opportunities, it didn’t take long for the next ‘invaders’ to arrive.

Sometime in the middle of the 6th century Bajuwaren dukes, from whose name Bavaria is derived, stepped into the political vacuum.  The Bajuwaren came from the North and West, and they took over the lands that had formerly been part of Iavuvum and then some. Their capital was in what was Iavuvum and is now Salzburg. Borders remained flexible and territory was gained with might as well as through negotiation. The Bajuwaren dukes retained control of part of the region, much of which is still called Bavaria, until the 19th C. while Salzburg went through a number of different political and administrative forms centered around the Catholic Church.

 Religious conflict does not seem to have been a problem early on in Salzburg’s history.  Christianity had come early to the region, with the first worship areas established probably by the 4th century.  This does not mean that everyone was Christian, but that there is nothing so far uncovered, to my knowledge, that would indicate there were religious fights beyond what the various Emperors dictated.  The Celtic gods lived side by side with the Romans and, while Christianity was distinctly different, the miracles of the various saints could be reconciled with aspects of the various pagan gods. St. Severin is the first wandering missionary to have left traces of his teachings in the area.  He is commemorized in Kuchl, where in the late 400s he found a hardened pocket of people still worshipping their pagan gods, and converted them. The Bajuwaren dukes seemed to have embraced Christianity as well, and at the end of the 7th C Rupert from Worms was sent to the city on the Salzach by the French King Pippin III to his son-in-law the Duke of Bajuwarii as its first official Church missionary. St. Rupert established first a monastery in 698 underneath the Monchsberg (Monks Mountain), then in 713 he established the first women’s cloister on what is now the Nonnberg (Nuns mountain). The Abyss was one of his relatives, most probably his niece. He is the patron saint of the city and his birthday is celebrated on the 24th of September each year.

After Rupert passed, there were a few years of stagnation before the head of the Church in Salzburg was given to St. Virgil who was born in Ireland.  His form of Irish Celtic Catholicism would resonate well in this Celtic region. By 739 the region was made a Bishopric and by 755 the city’s name as Salzpurc appears in written records. The first cathedral, probably initiated by St. Rupert, but finished by St. Virgil, was constructed on the site of the current Dome in 774. By 798, in other words within a hundred years from the arrival of St. Rupert, Bishop Arn was made Archbishop and ‘Metropolit’ of the Church Province of Bavaria.  It is from this time onwards that the political and sacred authorities are intertwined in this region.  While this model had been curtailed in Ireland, it flourished in Virgil’s adopted homeland. The subsequent Archbishops were for the most part astute enough to juggle their diverse responsibilities so that by 996 Emperor Otto II gave the Archbishop independent trade, coinage and tariff rights to all commerce within the Archbishop’s rather large – greater than modern day Land Salzburg – jurisdiction. This was a time of tremendous conflict within the Church and between the Emperor and Pope.  Salzburg’s archbishops walked a fine line between and amidst these fights and it was to both parties benefit to have a more of less neutral commercial border area. As in earlier times, salt was the prized commodity and it formed the backbone of the trade industry.  With increasing commerce, the city grew and the area around the Waagplatz became the trading center, Waag, comes from weigh and it was here that the large scales were set up.  The city hall is also on this square. It was the beginning of the citizen’s/merchant’s medieval city as opposed to the rulers who lived around the Dom, Kapitelplatz, Kaigasse down to the Nonnberg.

The city flourished, in spite of the ups and down of medieval political turmoils, doughts, floods, and the plague. The independent Archbishopric maintained its status and its ‘Bavarian’ lands until Archbishop Colloredo, the one who Mozart had so much trouble with, resigned as political head of state,making  it an electorate within the Holy Roman Empire.  It remained that way only until 1805, when, with the Treaty of Pressburg, it became part of Austria.  This lasted only until Napoleon came and swept most of Europe under the French flag in 1809.  After the ‘Little General’s’ defeat at Waterloo, Salzburg became known as the Salzach District of Bavaria and reverted to the much earlier political affiliation. This changed again on May 1, 1816 when Salzburg, like a ping pong ball, again became part of Austria.

A little over a hundred years later, in 1919 at the end of WWI, and the demise of the Hapsburg Monarch, the citizens of Salzburg voted to belong to “DeutschÖsterreich” a political entity that was envisioned to comprise the former German (Deutsch) speaking Austrian monarchial territories, which would be different from the Slavic and Hungarian languages used within other parts of the former monarchy. The Allies, however, did not allow this and once again the border between Berchtesgaden, Bad Reichenhall, Freilassing and neighboring Salzburg was drawn on a map.  Grossgmain was split in two, with the holy Marian pilgrimage church on the Salzburg side and slice of the town in what is now Bayrisch Gmain. When I was a student here in the 70s, I would ride my bike through the passport border controls to go to work in Freilassing, or hike in the Reichenhaller region, or on the Berchtesgaden side of the Untersberg.  Today with the European Union, the borders are marked by unobtrusive signs; the signs explaining the speed limits are four times the size of the signs for the national boundaries. And these are useful as police everywhere use speeding fines to supplement their agency budgets.

Salzburg is an amazingly beautiful area filled with glorious mountains dotted with crystal clear lakes.  The Untersberg, the largest mountain right by town, is partially in Austria and partially in Bavaria. When accidents happen mountain rescue teams from both sides help. There are clear differences in dialect between the two sides of the mountain and in dress, but no more so than in other Alpine regions.  The lines on the map that indicate the boundaries have changed and changed again over millennia.

It seems a true sin that we cannot learn from the past and continue to make these imaginary and flexible lines cause for war and destruction. Through much of its pre-Roman history Salzburg has been a land of culture and beauty. Today it is also blessed with peace.  I hope that the same will be true for those living within the entire region of modern day Ukraine and for the Asian-Pacific region. Borders are a figment of the imagination and are only real when we make them that way.

Tags: boundaries, european history, salzburg


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