Dacia


Damita Hiemstra

Sources for the Roman occupation in Dacia abound in historical documents as well as archaeological finds. The best known find is Trajan’s column in Rome, on which the Roman defeat of Dacia is portrayed in seven scenes. Some images also depict Dacian peoples who had fled during the war returning to traditional methods of herding sheep. This legacy of shepherding is documented in several sanctuaries referring to shepherding in the form of stone cylindrical monuments.
Another excellent source about the Roman occupation of this province is the inscription commemorating the founding of the Roman capital, Sarmizegetusa (now Hunedoara, Romania).
Other archaeological evidence comes from excavations of Sarmizegetusa where scholars discovered coinage made under Trajan’s command and a wall dated to the Roman occupation. Inside that wall public buildings, religious and secular, were identified. Outside the wall are suburbs, temples, two necropoleis, and an amphitheater with a capacity of 5000 people built in second-century stone/brick masonry work. The governor’s palace, also discovered through excavations, was made of stone, brick, limestone, and marble. Paint still remained on some areas and the roof was tiled. Other discoveries were a third-century mausoleum and a gladiatorial school, two multi-colored mosaics, and temples to the god Mithras and Syrian gods.
An indication that Dacian people constituted a warring society before Roman occupation came from rock fortresses found in several places including Sarmizegetusa and Apulum. Apulum was a very important center of Roman Dacia, having hundreds of inscriptions (no longer existing) and a multitude of artifacts of Dacian daily life (e.g., baths, temples, streets, aqueducts, evidence of a collegium, coins, and statues of deities).
The major factor of Dacia’s location is its geographical isolation. Located on the Transylvania plateau north of the Danube, it is surrounded by mountains on almost three sides. Nevertheless, because its defenses were weaker than those of any other Roman province, it was a natural invasion route. Therefore extensive defensive measures were necessary in Dacia. In this respect Dacia was more of a liability for the Roman Empire then an asset.
Dacia’s natural resources were gold, iron, and silver, which were mined under Greek and Celtic influence. TheDacians developed superb metalcrafting arts under this influence and made various handcrafted items such as jewelry and other gold items. Dacia also traded with Greece, importing Grecian wine in exchange for Dacian goods. Other natural resources were cattle-raising, agriculture, and forestry, all traditional forms of living. After the Roman conquest of Dacia, a portion of that province’s wealth and resources were sent back to Rome.
Dacia’s native population moved into the region about the seventh or the sixth century BC. Possible ancestry could be from northern subgroups of the Thracians, sometimes confused or combined with the Getae or the most western element of the Scythian people. By the first century BC the Dacians were the leading tribe of region. They were fiercely defensive, and with the right leader could be successfully aggressive. Burebista became Dacia’s king around 60 BC and brought Dacia to the military and political attention of Rome. Rome felt threatened by them but Burebista died, leaving the kingdom to fall apart. Under Roman rule the native population tried to adapt as best they could to Roman ways. Many were forced into slavery, some committed suicide, and the Romans killed many to set an example for the rest of the provinces to fall in line. Trajan killed 10,000 men just in his gladiatorial games.
Burebista conquered surrounding peoples, while threatening the Danubian and Black Sea territories. Rome recognized the threat, and Caesar wanted to march on Dacia; however, both he and Burebista were assassinated in 44 BC. Even though the Dacian kingdom fell apart after Burebista’s death, Rome was still worried about its strong military. Augustus thought he had the Dacians contained but he was mistaken. The Dacians raided parts of Romania and Moesia as the warrior Decebalus took leadership of Dacia some time between 65 and 86 BC. Decebalus tried to restore the unity of the people and rebuild the military but he failed: Trajan began his battles in March 101 and finished in AD 106 declaring Dacia a province of the Roman Empire.
The degree of Romanization in Dacia was extensive. Rome wanted massive Romanization in Dacia for loyalty in case of invasion. Dacia was Romanized but it retained their traditional cattle driving and agricultural practices. Due to the influx of colonists and other Roman citizens populating the newly declared province, however, changes were happening. Many people escaped to “Free Dacia” to the north to hold on to their traditional peasant cultures and to wait until they could reclaim their homeland. Dacia’s original population remained strong enough throughout the occupation to revolt three times after conquest.
Rome’s mechanisms of administration in Dacia began with the people who moved in: colonists, citizens, pilgrims, merchants, mining specialists, and soldiers.
Although Roman occupation lasted only 164 years, many changes occurred. Mines were rapidly exploited. Dacia was run like a police state and divided up into Superior and Inferior Dacia in AD 118-119. Superior Dacia was divided again into another pair of provinces in AD 124. During the German War (ca 168) Dacia was consolidated once again into one military area. Latin was introduced as a unifying agent in order for the province to run smoothly and it remains today the foundation of the Romanian language. A customs station was set up in Sarmizegetusa to deal with the movement of goods and people across the borders.
Benefits for Rome during the occupation of Dacian territory were money, booty, mined materials (gold, sliver, and iron), and land. Manpower was also a benefit for Rome because Dacia provided the largest number of Roman troops after the occupation took place. There was occasional brutality, exploitation, and extortion from the Romans on Dacian peoples but Dacia also received some benefits from the conquest. The Roman peace made possible the transmission of Greek culture, a reduction of slavery (fewer war captives), and the reinvigorating of Greek art. Assimilated Dacians had career opportunities in Roman administration as well. The culture of sophisticated cities, organized laws, and an extended peace allowed the Dacian people to expand their culture.
Dacia passed out of Roman control due to threats of invasions from surrounding armies. Rome decided to pull out in AD 270, making Dacia the first province to be abandoned. As Roman citizens evacuated Dacia, they pushed Moesian citizens out. Dacia was a liability that Rome kept for a longer time because of wealth & strategic location, however, these factors were not enough to outweigh the severe drawbacks.