Part 1: From the Neolithic to a Roman encampment
In Celto-Roman times Vienna was known as Vindobona, derived from the Celtic name for a forest-stream: Vedunia. The name Vienna (“Wien” in German) has nothing to do with wine (“Wein” in German). After the Romans quit the region in the 5th century AD, the town was mentioned by the names Vindomina and Venia; later still, after 1000, as Viennis and Wienne.
What began in Neolithic times around 5000 BC with small settlements in the Vienna area - such as the Antonshöhe flint quarry (now under Nature Protection Order) in the Mauer Woods (23rd district) – is now the Austrian federal capital and a federal province in its own right: Wien (Vienna in English).
Danubian culture is generally split up into a western main group and an eastern one. Interestingly enough in present-day Vienna – e.g., in Ober St. Veit (Vienna 14th) and in the Wertheimstein Park (Vienna 19th) – one finds relics of both main groups. In other words: before the town ever existed the Vienna region was a gateway between east and west.
Dating from around 1800 BC there are traces in the Vienna region of the so-called “Glockenbecherleute” (bell-beaker people), whose name comes from the typical shape of their pottery with a rounded base. Their settlement district is thought to have been the town terrace which can still be recognised as the steep incline between the Danube Canal and the churches of Maria am Gestade and St Ruprecht’s.
Just where the original name for Vienna comes from is still under debate. What is certain is that “Wien” developed through a process lasting a thousand years or more from a Celtic settlement name. Some prefer the version that the name Wien came from Vedunia (“forest stream”) in the Celtic La-Tène days of the 4th century BC, and point to the name of a settlement area in the present-day 3rd district on the right bank of the river Wien. From Vedunia, the name was modified to Veidinia and then, in late Old High German, to Venia, Wenia or Wennia and subsequently (Middle High German) to Wienne which can still be heard in the dialect name for the city: “Wean”. If this is correct the name Vindobona has nothing to do with the name Wien. This is contradicted by a second opinion. The argument is that the Celtic “oppidum” (small town) on Leopoldsberg was called Vindobona, which could be translated as “white soil” or “white property”, and subsequently underwent many transformations (Vindovona, Vindovina, Vindomina, Videnica, Vidunj, Viden, Wienne, Wien).
First network of roads in Vienna
In the 1st century AD, the Roman legionary encampment of Vindobona with an adjoining civilian town was established in the heart of the present-day 1st district (Inner City) under Emperor Trajan. While Vienna in those days was considerably smaller in extent, the Danube was a lot closer to the city than at present. The street known as Porzellangasse (9th district) was then an arm of the Danube. The Liechtensteinstrasse was a woodland way along the river shore; and Salzgries (1st district) served as a docking place for river-craft. The remains of a bathing establishment during those times can be seen in the Roman Ruins beneath the Hoher Markt.
The first network of roads in the Vienna area was planned and built by the Romans. Quite a few of the main streets in today’s traffic network still reflect that outline. Thanks to this planned development Vindobona gained in importance and in 212 AD was granted the status of a municipium (town). The ramifications of the Migration Period and, linked to it, a fire led to great devastations in 400 AD. As a result the Roman occupiers withdrew from Vindobona. What then remained, between the 5th and 8th centuries, was just a residual settlement between Hoher Markt and St Ruprecht. In the 7th century there were increasing numbers of Slavs and Avars in the Vienna region. The Roman military camp Vindobona had finally ceased to exist. In 881 AD the settlement was first referred to as Venia (or Weniam).