Nothing. They only gave us the Sió Channel, the roads and the Tihany ferry. And wine! And villas, fortresses and one of the most famous antique treasures of the world. Oh, and the Pagan Madonna. Roman attractions at Lake Balaton.
What were the Romans up to on the shores of Lake Balaton? Farming, at a high level. The remains of their manors around the Lake prove that the Romans once settled here were not only experts of farming but also of consuming - mostly from silver vessels -, which they practiced in style within the walls of their fresco- and mosaic-adorned villas. The memory of these practices is best preserved by the Roman manor at Balácapuszta, near Nemesvámos: the Villa Romana Baláca. The mosaic floors, frescos, gardens and the visitors' center give you a good idea of the glorious past both in reality and virtually. A master of similar magnitude must have also resided in the other large villa of the area, which is found in Szabadbattyán, by main road M7, near the east shore of the Balaton.
The large cities of Pannonia stood somewhat further from Balaton, however, there was a Roman town just a village away from Szabadbattyán, on the edge of today's Tác, which has been preserved to the joy of tourists. There is no Colosseum here and you will not see gigantic palaces either, but just as they spared Pompeii, later ages have neither eradicated the ruins of Gorsium. This means, you can walk the excavated streets and squares, among the fountains and temples of the one-time settlement and imagine the rest. Gorsium archeological park is just a 25-minute drive from the eastern edge of Lake Balaton. The Mediterranean trees and bushes planted around the ruins make you feel like you're in Latium instead of Pannonia.
When not in the vineyards, Romans used to hunt Barbarians. Or the other way round. At the time of the decline of the Roman Empire, thy built fortresses instead of villas near Lake Balaton. The large fort Valcum in Fenékpuszta, near Keszthely defended war roads just like Fort Tricciana south of Siófok, in Ságvár. You can still see the ruins of Valcum today, however there are only a few metres left o the walls of Tricciana in the ruin graden next to the reformed church of Ságvár.
The foundations of today's transportation forms were also laid down by the Romans at Lake Balaton. The Tihany ferry? Used by the Romans already. Sió Channel? Built by Emperor Galerius - present-day Siófok honoured him by naming the Galerius Bath after him. Roads? It is not by chance that there is a "Római út" (Roman Road) in Zamárdi and Badacsony as well, while Kővágóörs boasts of a spot called „Római-híd” (Roman Bridge).
There are not only stone walls left of the province of Pannonia. Valuable objects, tools, statues and treasures have been uncovered in various settlements around the Balaton. The majority of these are exhibited in the major museums of the area, like the Balaton Museum in Keszthely and the Lackó Dezső Museum in Veszprém. It is worthwhile, however, to explore the surroundings of Balaton with eyes open as there are many Roman memories all around, like smaller ruins, location names, tombstones and local history exhibitions. For example on the Kőkoporsó-domb (meaning: Stonecoffin Hill; named after Roman sarcophagi) of Csopak, or in Hévíz-Egregy, where you can see the original grave of a Roman soldier.
Just like in the movie 'The Life of Brian', we have the Romans to thank for the wine. At Lake Balaton, the Romans started to cultivate grapes originally. Fortunately, the lords of the following eras have preserved this noble tradition, although the grape varieties found here today are not the ones that the Romans had planted. There is one exception. The Tabunello wine of the 2HA Winery on Szent György-hegy is made of Sangiovese, a famous Italian grape variety. Its name ('Jupiter's blood') and its origins both reach back to the Roman Empire. The lords of Pannonia must have drunk something similar.
What do one of the most significant antique treasures, the Scotland Yard, a rich British lord, the Getty Museum of Los Angeles and a few suspicious treasure hunts do with Lake Balaton? According to the unanimous opinion of scholars and detectives, the sensational story of the Sevso Treasure began at Lake Balaton in the 1980ies. The silver objects that bear the name of their owner, Seuso and the inscription of the Latin name of Balaton, Pelso were probably uncovered near Polgárdi. The person who was suspected to have made the discovery was, however, killed and the treasure later turned up in London with fake documents. The origins of the silver objects have not been officially clarified, thus Hungary cannot reclaim them. Parts of the treasure were returned to Hungary, but in Polgárdi you will only find the place where the treasure was found. So, we can only imagine how Seuso, the master of the villa in Szabadbattyán, drank Balaton wines from the silver vessels.
A golden statuette from the Roman Age, the Pagan Madonna, which was found in Sajkod, is stolen from the museum of the Tihanyi Abbey. The thief is then killed by those who entrusted him with the task and who want to smuggle the valuable treasure abroad. This is not the story of the Sevso Treasure, but the plot of a popular Hungarian movie, which was shot at Lake Balaton, - by some strange coincidence - shortly after the real events. The fistfighting crime story of 'Pogány Madonna', however, reached a happy ending and has became a cult movie. Its popularity is best described by the fact that some of its fans still insist on seeing the non-existent statuette in the museum of the Abbey. The movie, in reality, is not a memory of the Roman Age, but of the "Golden Era" of the 1980ies.