Roman Dacia

Provincia Dacia
Ἐπαρχία Δακίας
Province of the Roman Empire

107–275
Location of Dacia
Roman province of Dacia (125 AD)
CapitalUlpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa
Historical eraClassical Antiquity
 • Annexed by Trajan107
 • Withdrawal by Roman Emperor Aurelian275
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Roman Dacia (also Dacia Traiana "Trajan Dacia" or Dacia Felix "Fertile/Happy Dacia") was a province of the Roman Empire from 106 to 274–275 AD. Its territory consisted of eastern and south-eastern Transylvania, the Banat and Oltenia (regions of modern Romania). It was from the very beginning organized as an imperial province, fitting a border area, and remained so throughout the Roman occupation. Historians' estimates of the population of Roman Dacia range from 650,000 to 1,200,000.[1]

The conquest of Dacia was completed by Emperor Trajan (98–117) after two major campaigns against Decebalus' Dacian Kingdom. The Romans did not occupy the entirety of the old Dacian kingdom, as the greater part of Moldavia, together with Maramureș and Crișana, was ruled by Free Dacians even after the Roman conquest. In 119, the Roman province was divided into two departments: Dacia Superior (Upper Dacia) and Dacia Inferior (Lower Dacia; later named Dacia Malvensis). In 124 (or around 158), Dacia Superior was divided into two provinces: Dacia Apulensis and Dacia Porolissensis. During the Marcomannic Wars the military and judicial administration was unified under the command of one governor, with another two senators (the legati legionis) as his subordinates; the province was called tres Daciae (Three Dacias) or simply Dacia.

The Roman authorities undertook a massive and organized colonization of Dacia. New mines were opened and ore extraction intensified, while agriculture, stock breeding, and commerce flourished in the province. Dacia began to supply grain not only to the military personnel stationed in the province but also to the rest of the Balkan area. It became an urban province, with about ten cities known, eight of which held the highest rank of colonia, though the number of cities was fewer than in the region's other provinces. All the cities developed from old military camps. Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa, the seat of the imperial procurator (finance officer) for all the three subdivisions, was the financial, religious, and legislative center of the province. Apulum, where the military governor of the three subdivisions had his headquarters, was not simply the greatest city within the province, but one of the biggest across the whole Danubian frontier.

There were military and political threats from the beginning of Roman Dacia's existence. Free Dacians who bordered the province were the first adversary, who, after allying themselves with the Sarmatians, hammered the province during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Following a calmer period covering the reigns of Commodus through to Caracalla (180–217 AD), the province was once again beset by invaders, this time the Carpi, a Dacian tribe in league with the newly arrived Goths, who in time became a serious difficulty for the empire. Finding it increasingly difficult to retain Dacia, the emperors were forced to abandon the province by the 270s, making it the first of Rome's long-term possessions to be abandoned.[2] Dacia was devastated by the Germanic tribes (Goths, Taifali, Bastarns) together with the Carpi in 248–250, by the Carpi and Goths in 258 and 263, and by the Goths and Heruli in 267 and 269.[3][4] Ancient sources implied that Dacia was virtually lost during the reign of Gallienus (253–268), but they also report that it was Aurelian (270–275) who relinquished Dacia Traiana. He evacuated his troops and civilian administration from Dacia, and founded Dacia Aureliana with its capital at Serdica in Lower Moesia.

The fate of the Romanized population of the former province of Dacia Traiana has become subject of spirited controversy. One theory holds that the Latin language spoken in ancient Dacia, where Romania was to be formed in the future, gradually turned into Romanian; in parallel, a new people—the Romanians—were formed from the Daco-Romans (the Romanized population of Dacia Traiana). The opposing theory argues that the Romanians descended from the Romanized population of the Roman provinces of the Balkan Peninsula.

Dacian Kingdom and the Roman Empire

Dacian Kingdom around 100 AD, before the Roman conquest.

The Dacians and the Getae frequently interacted with the Romans prior to Dacia's incorporation into the Roman Empire.[5] However, Roman attention on the area around the lower Danube was sharpened when Burebista[5] (82–44 BC)[6] 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.[7]

By 74 BC,[7] the Roman legions under Gaius Scribonius Curio reached the lower Danube and proceeded to come into contact with the Dacians.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11][12]

From the death of Burebista to the rise of Decebalus, Roman forces continued to clash against the Dacians and the Getae.[5] 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.[5] 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.[5] 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.[5] 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.[13][14]

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.[15] 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.[15] 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.[15]

Trajan receives homage from a Dacian chieftain who has betrayed Decebalus.

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.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18] Yet this episode was merely a prelude to the emperor Trajans wars of conquest in Dacia.[16] Trajan led the Roman legions across the Danube, penetrating Dacia and focusing on the important area around the Orăştie Mountains.[19] In 102,[20] 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.[19] Trajan also ordered his engineer, Apollodorus of Damascus,[21] to design and build a bridge across the Danube at Drobeta.[20]

Trajan's second Dacian campaign in 105–106 was very specific in its aim of expansion and conquest.[19] The offensive targeted Sarmizegetusa Regia.[22] The Romans besieged Decebalus' capital, which surrendered and was destroyed.[20] The Dacian king and a handful of his followers withdrew into the mountains, but their resistance was short-lived and Decebalus committed suicide.[23] Other Dacian nobles, however, were either captured or chose to surrender.[24] 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.[24]

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.

— Pliny the Younger: Letters (Book VIII, Letter 4: To Caninius Rufus)[25]