On the steps of Marcus Aurelius: visiting Carnuntum
If you have a chance, go to Carnuntum, near Vienna, and visit the site where the emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote some of his famous Meditations
Some people go to Mecca. Others to see the Pope in St. Peter’s Square. I go to sites that are connected to ancient Greco-Roman history, especially to philosophers, and more often than not in particular to Stoicism.
I call these episodes my “secular pilgrimages,” as they serve a function similar to what — I assume — is the function of a pilgrimage for a religious person. My dictionary provides the following helpful definition:
“Pilgrimage: a journey to a place associated with someone or something well known or respected.”
Mecca, officially known as Makkah al-Mukarramah, is one such important place because it was where the Prophet Muhammad was born around 570 CE. St. Peter’s Square, in the Vatican City, is where the Christian Pope regularly appears to the faithful to deliver messages of hope and charity. And Carnuntum is a location on the Danube River, between Vienna and Bratislava, where the emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius spent several years fighting the Marcomanni and other German tribes while writing parts of his Meditations.
It is there, to Carnuntum, that I had the opportunity to go recently, during a trip to Vienna to attend the 22nd Congress of the European Skeptics, where I delivered a talk entitled “Skepticism as a way of life.” It was my chance to walk in the steps of Marcus, and I eagerly took it.
In fact, walking is a lot of what I did there! About 20km, according to my Apple Watch. This is not because the site itself is that big — though it certainly spans quite an acreage — but because I didn’t have a car, and the train only gets you so far. There are six main sites at Carnuntum: the civilian city, the amphitheater, the triumphal arch, the gladiator school, a second amphitheater near the remains of the military encampment, and the museum. If you are considering a visit, keep in mind that the first four sites are near the town and train station of Petronell-Carnuntum, while the last two are located near the town (and train station) of Bad…