Dacian Kingdom and the Roman Empire
The Dacians and the Getae frequently interacted with the Romans prior to Dacia's incorporation into the Roman Empire. However, Roman attention on the area around the lower Danube was sharpened when Burebista (82–44 BC) unified the native tribes and began an aggressive campaign of expansion. His kingdom extended to Pannonia in the west and reached the Black Sea to the east, while to the south his authority extended into the Balkans.
By 74 BC, the Roman legions under Gaius Scribonius Curio reached the lower Danube and proceeded to come into contact with the Dacians. Roman concern over the rising power and influence of Burebista was amplified when he began to play an active part in Roman politics. His last minute decision just before the Battle of Pharsalus to participate in the Roman Republic's civil war by supporting Pompey meant that once the Pompeians were dealt with, Julius Caesar would turn his eye towards Dacia. As part of Caesar's planned Parthian campaign of 44 BC, he planned to cross into Dacia and eliminate Burebista, thereby hopefully causing the breakup of his kingdom. Although the planned expedition into Dacia did not happen due to Caesar's assassination, Burebista failed to bring about any true unification of the tribes he ruled. Following a plot which saw him assassinated, his kingdom fractured into four distinct political entities, later becoming five, each ruled by minor kings.
From the death of Burebista to the rise of Decebalus, Roman forces continued to clash against the Dacians and the Getae. Constant raiding by the tribes into the adjacent provinces of Moesia and Pannonia caused the local governors and the emperors to undertake a number of punitive actions against the Dacians. Yet for all this, there existed a measure of social, diplomatic, and political interaction between the Roman Empire and the Dacians during much of the late pre-Roman period. This saw the occasional granting of favoured status to the Dacians in the manner of being identified as amicii et socii – friends and allies – of Rome, although by the time of Octavianus this was tied up with the personal patronage of important Roman individuals. An example of this was seen in Octavianus's actions during his conflict with Marcus Antonius. Seeking to obtain an ally who could threaten Antonius's European provinces, in 35 BC Octavianus offered an alliance with the Dacians, whereby he would marry the daughter of the Dacian King, Cotiso, and in exchange Cotiso would wed Octavianus' daughter, Julia.
Although it is believed that the custom of providing royal hostages to the Romans may have commenced sometime during the first half of the 1st century BC, it was certainly occurring by Octavianus's reign and it continued to be practised during the late pre-Roman period. On the flip side, ancient sources have attested to the presence of Roman merchants and artisans in Dacia, while the region also served as a haven for runaway Roman slaves. This cultural and mercantile exchange saw the gradual spread of Roman influence throughout the region, most clearly seen in the area around the Orăştie Mountains.
The arrival of the Flavian dynasty, in particular the accession of the emperor Domitian, saw an escalation in the level of conflict along the lower and middle Danube. In approximately 84 or 85 AD the Dacians, led by King Decebalus, crossed the Danube into Moesia, wreaking havoc and killing the Moesian governor Gaius Oppius Sabinus. Domitian responded by reorganising Moesia into Moesia Inferior and Moesia Superior and launching a war against Decebalus. Unable to finish the war due to troubles on the German frontier, Domitian concluded a treaty with the Dacians that was heavily criticized at the time. Yet this episode was merely a prelude to the emperor Trajans wars of conquest in Dacia. Trajan led the Roman legions across the Danube, penetrating Dacia and focusing on the important area around the Orăştie Mountains. In 102, after a series of engagements, negotiations led to a peace settlement where Decebalus agreed to demolish his forts while allowing the presence of a Roman garrison at Sarmizegetusa Regia (Grădiștea Muncelului, Romania) to ensure Dacian compliance with the treaty. Trajan also ordered his engineer, Apollodorus of Damascus, to design and build a bridge across the Danube at Drobeta.
Trajan's second Dacian campaign in 105–106 was very specific in its aim of expansion and conquest. The offensive targeted Sarmizegetusa Regia. The Romans besieged Decebalus' capital, which surrendered and was destroyed. The Dacian king and a handful of his followers withdrew into the mountains, but their resistance was short-lived and Decebalus committed suicide. Other Dacian nobles, however, were either captured or chose to surrender. One of those who surrendered revealed the location of the Dacian royal treasury, which was of enormous value: 500,000 pounds (226,800 kilograms) of gold and 1,000,000 pounds (453,600 kilograms) of silver.
It is an excellent idea of yours to write about the Dacian war. There is no subject which offers such scope and such a wealth of original material, no subject so poetic and almost legendary although its facts are true. You will describe new rivers set flowing over the land, new bridges built across rivers, and camps clinging to sheer precipices; you will tell of a king driven from his capital and finally to death, but courageous to the end; you will record a double triumph one the first over a nation hitherto unconquered, the other a final victory.