Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.10.09

Ioan Piso, An der Nordgrenze des Römischen Reiches: ausgewählte Studien (1972-2003).   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2005.  Pp. 527.  ISBN 3-515-08729-X.  €90.00.  

Reviewed by Chris Epplett, University of Lethbridge (
Word count: 1340 words

Few regions in the Roman Empire, it might be argued, had a more interesting history than that of Dacia. The conquest of Dacian territory north of the Danube was the crowning military triumph of Trajan's reign, and represented one of the last substantial territorial additions to the Empire. The Dacian provinces, however, also possessed the dubious distinction of being the first abandoned by the Romans, amidst the chaos of the third century crisis on the frontiers. Despite the undoubted importance of Roman Dacia, however, archaeological and historical research on the province has been lacking, or largely inaccessible to many scholars, until recently.1 The book under review, by the well-known Romanian scholar Ioan Piso, is therefore an important addition to the corpus of work on Roman Dacia. Piso's book is a collection of thirty-one articles, predominantly written in French and German, published by the author between 1972 and 2003 in a variety of journals and colloquium proceedings. As Piso himself explains, the main purpose of this collection is to make his best articles accessible to a wider audience, both Romanian and non-Romanian (p. 9).

The articles within the book are arranged in chronological order of publication, rather than by subject matter, allowing the reader to follow the progression of Piso's scholarly work over the last three decades. Although the articles encompass a wide variety of subjects, they all reflect Piso's contention that the history of Roman Dacia contributes to a greater understanding of the Roman Empire as a whole, and vice versa (p. 9). The original text has been left largely unaltered, although a brief appendix has been added at the end of each article. The main purpose of these appendices is to update the articles by providing a supplementary bibliography of relevant works appearing since the publication of the article in question. A comprehensive index has also been added (pp. 507-27).

Many of the articles in the collection were originally inspired by recent epigraphic discoveries in Romania, or by a re-examination of previously-studied inscriptions. Piso's discussion of the evidence in question often sheds light upon particular details of the Roman administration in Dacia, and upon the turbulent history of the province. For example, in the article "Zur Entstehung der Provinz Dacia Porolissensis" (pp. 143-50), the author examines a number of inscriptions pertaining to the creation of the new province of Dacia Porolissensis in the second century. Contrary to the earlier assumption that it could not have emerged before the reign of Antoninus Pius, he argues that Dacia Porolissenis could have existed as early as 119. In another article, "Sarmizegetusa et les guerres marcomannes", Piso discusses the later second century attacks upon Dacia in the context of an inscription discovered in 1974 on the site of the temple of Liber Pater in Sarmizegetusa (pp. 61-66). The inscription in question, commemorating the restoration of the temple by a decurio and quaestor of the colony, not only gives an example of the destruction wrought by the Marcomanni and their allies (who destroyed the temple in the first place), but also indicates that the residents of Sarmizegetusa were nonetheless able to recover from the attacks in a relatively short period of time.

A number of other articles in Piso's collection deal specifically with aspects of the Roman military presence in Dacia. For example, in "Das Militärdiplom von Drobeta" (pp. 109-42), the author discusses a recently-discovered military diploma from 179, and the information that it provides on the deployment of troops in the region. One of the important conclusions that Piso reaches, based upon the evidence provided by the diploma, is that the Marcomannic wars had no major effect upon the auxiliary forces stationed in Dacia. In a subsequent article, "Die Legio XV Apollinaris in den markomannischen Kriegen" (pp. 347-55), the author argues, inter alia, that the legion in question participated in Marcus Aurelius' campaign against the Marcomanni, based upon the evidence provided by an inscribed statue base from Sarmizegetusa.

Piso also examines various aspects of the society and religion of Roman Dacia. For example, "L'aristocratie municipale de Dacie et la grande propriété foncière" (pp. 249-55), discusses the landholdings of the local aristocracy in the Dacian provinces. Epigraphic and archaeological evidence suggests that the scale of such properties was relatively modest until the early third century, when wealth, including property, became increasingly concentrated in the hands of a select group of local elites. In the article "Studia Porolissensia: le temple dolichénien" (pp. 467-86), Piso discusses the temple of Jupiter Dolichenus built at Porolissum during the reign of Gordian III, while in the article "Zum Cultus der Dea Caelestis" (pp. 203-07), he examines certain aspects of the goddess' worship in Dacia. Piso notes the interesting detail that the offering of mead to Caelestis, mentioned in a third century inscription from Apulum, is otherwise unattested in the Roman Empire.

A number of other articles in Piso's book involve much broader topics, relevant not only to Roman Dacia, but the other provinces of the Empire as well. In one such article, "Die Inschriften von Pfaffenberg und der Bereich des Canabae Legionis" (pp. 151-93), Piso argues that the term intra leugam, recorded on a pair of inscriptions from Carnuntum, denotes a circle with a radius of some 1.5 Roman miles surrounding the legionary fortress, within which military veterans and non-citizens lived under the authority of the fort's commander, as opposed to the civil authority existing outside of this area. In Piso's view, this system of demarcation involving the leuga, originally a Gallic unit of measurement, was implemented by Drusus the Elder during his organization of the Roman frontier in Germany, and subsequently spread to other forts along the northern frontier of the Empire.

Another broadly-themed article within Piso's book concerns equestrian officers in the Roman army. In "Les chevaliers romains dans l'armée impériale et les implications de l'imperium" (pp. 375-99), Piso discusses the increasing importance of equestrian military and administrative posts during the Principate, and shows that the provinces like those of Dacia on the Danube frontier played an important role in this process, since the third century military crisis in that region created a demand for experienced equestrian officers to hold more important administrative duties and commands within the military,

The final article in the book under review, "L'urbanisation des provinces danubiennes" (pp. 487-506), contains a very useful discussion of the various factors, geographic, economic, and social, which drove the process of urbanization in the region. Piso also emphasizes important differences between the Danubian provinces which facilitated, or hindered, this process. In provinces such as Noricum, for example, the long familiarity of local elites with the Romans, and Roman military occupation, fostered the emergence of municipia, which in many cases were formed out of pre-existing native communities (civitates). The presence of long-standing Greek communities along the Black Sea coast of Moesia Inferior had a similarly positive influence upon urbanization. In Dacia, by contrast, there were no such local demographic factors. The local aristocracy of the region had been almost annihilated by Trajan's campaigns of conquest, and as a result, an influx of settlers from elsewhere in the Empire was necessary to facilitate the urbanization of the province.

The above discussion gives only a sample of the wide variety of topics addressed in the collection of articles under review. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with all of Piso's conclusions, his book, nonetheless, is a very useful work for the scholar interested in Roman Dacia, as well as the other topics that the author addresses. Only a few minor criticisms can be leveled at the work under review. There are spelling errors in the book, although they are few and far between. More significantly, in the opinion of the reviewer, a general map of Roman Dacia might have been included at the beginning of the volume, for those not intimately familiar with the sites and topography of Dacia. Such minor faults, however, do not seriously affect the value of Piso's book, which deservedly makes his work on Roman Dacia and the Roman Empire accessible to a wider scholarly audience.


1.   Unfortunately, many members of the former Communist leadership in Romania were, for ideological reasons, not particularly interested in the 'bourgeois' Romans who had once occupied the territory. As a result, archaeological investigation of many Roman town-sites in Romania has only been started again in earnest since the fall of Ceausescu's government. See A. Diaconescu, "The towns of Roman Dacia: an overview of recent archaeological research" in Roman Dacia: The Making of a Provincial Society. W.S. Hanson and I.P. Haynes, edd. (Portsmouth, R.I. 2004) pp. 87-88.

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