Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.04.27 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.04.27

Lucreţiu Mihailescu-Bîrliba, Ex toto orbe Romano: Immigration into Roman Dacia; with Prosopographical Observations on the Population of Dacia. Colloquia antica, 5.   Leuven; Paris; Walpole, MA:  Peeters, 2011.  Pp. xiv, 166.  ISBN 9789042924000.  $65.00.  

Reviewed by Florian Matei-Popescu, Vasile Pârvan Institute of Archaeology, Bucharest (

Table of Contents

"When he (i. e. Hadrian) was proceeding, to act similarly with regard to Dacia, his friends dissuaded him, lest many Roman citizens should be left in the hands of the barbarians, because Trajan, after he had subdued Dacia, had transplanted thither an infinite number of men from the whole Roman world, to people the country and the cities ". 1 This is a well-known passage from the fourth century Breviarium of Eutropius (VIII, 6, 2), which briefly describes the massive colonization of the new conquered province of Dacia, a reality that Hadrian was forced to deal with at the beginning of his reign. For decades, a strong debate arose in the historiography around this passage, whether it was precise or not (a short discussion on the passage is to be found at p. 34-35). The debate was also influenced by the nationalistic approaches of the nineteenth and twentieth century of Hungarian and Romanian scholars, the first emphasizing the total destruction of the Dacian native population and the need for the colonization, and the latter asserting the continuity of the native population in the provincial framework alongside the colonists.2 These rather radical approaches are now a thing of the past, although some exaggerations are still to be found. This has given way to a more subtle understanding of the Dacian provincial society, composed of various populations, colonizers (Italians, Noricans, Pannonians, Thracians, Dalmatians, Greeks and Greek-speaking population, Easterners, etc.) and the colonized.3

The book here reviewed, which follows a book on the demography of the Roman Dacia published by the same author in 2004,4 deals mostly with the colonizers and little with the native population (only in the small last chapter, p. 31-35), and gives a very useful overview on the Roman colonization of the province. It is divided into two parts: 12 tables that synthesize the large amount of epigraphic data, and the text, which is in fact only a comment on the tables, to which some archaeological data is added. The author ranges the material “according to social criteria” (p. 4): urban elite, people of the mining region, lower and middle class people, and natives. As anyone can see, the social criteria are in fact not totally followed, since the natives could not be understood as a social class and the people of the mining region were probably part of the lower class bound together by the different ways they are involved in the mining operation (contractors [conductores], money-lenders and, finally, miners). To them the members of the administrative staff must be added, but, since many were wealthy freedmen, they were in fact part of the provincial elite. Moreover, it is not totally clear what the author understands by the “middle class”. It seems to me that this modern concept is inappropriate while speaking of the Roman society.5 All the population of Dacia that was not part of the urban elite, Augustales and wealthy freedmen included, were in fact members of the lower class, regardless their field of activity. The wealthy tradesmen, especially the ones involved in the long- distance trade, were in fact also part of the elite, since many of them became decurions in different towns.6

Astonishing is the lack of the equestrians from the first chapter dedicated to the urban elite (p. 5-12, tables 1-7). Although not many (around 35), equestrians are to be found between the descendants of the first and second generation of Dacian urban elite (mostly Italians: Cominii, Procilii and Varenii) and among the descendants of the army personnel who remained in the province upon their retirement.7 A particular case is M. Ulpius Gem[ellinus], prefect of a cohort (probably cohors II Flavia Commagenorum from Micia) and member of the elite from Sarmizegetusa (p. 58, table 3; IDR III/2, 123). It is impossible to determine whether he was a foreigner or he originated from the colonia. His name implies that he is a descendant of a person who received the citizenship in the time of Trajan, just like M. Ulpius Peregrinus from Napoca.8 It is therefore possible that his ancestor, a member of the auxiliary units who had fought in the Dacian war, was a part of the first wave of colonists settled in the area of the Sarmizegetusa. A separate discussion could have been also made on the P. Aelii who reached the equestrian status, mostly descendants of the retired members of the auxiliary units, but probably also descendants of different origins, including Dacians, who received the Roman citizenship in the time of Hadrian. M. Ulpii and P. Aelii were capable to reach the equestrian status in two or three generation, which is of course, from a social point of view, a remarkable achievement. Regarding the Augustales (p. 10-11, tables 6-7) Ioan Piso’s important study from 2006 is missing from the bibliography,9 which unfortunately leads the author not to take into consideration possible origins of some of the attested Augustales (e. g. C. Titius Agathopus, possible freedman of the C. Titii family from Pannonia; Domitius Hipponicus, North-African as his cognomen implies).

The chapter on the population from the mining regions of Dacia deals mostly with the epigraphic and archaeological evidence from the gold mining area of Ampelum and Alburnus Maior (p. 13-19, tables 8-9). Both types of evidence show an important colonization of the Illyrian population from Dalmatia and, possibly, Dardania (both also important mining regions), alongside the Greek-speaking population, especially from Asia Minor. The Illyrians were skilful miners and the easterners were mostly tradesmen and money-lenders. Together with these two important groups, there are also small groups of people from Italy, Thrace, North Africa and Syria attested in the mining regions.

The next chapter is dedicated to the origin of “the middle and lower social classes” in Dacia (p. 21-30, tables 10-12). The section is also divided in two parts: the epigraphic evidence and the archaeological evidence. Some origins could have been determined using the onomastic criteria, especially in the case of Syrians, Palmyrenes, Illyrians, Thracians and Celtic people. For the Celtic presence in the province, Alexander Falileyev’s book is now available.10 A part of this population originated in the communities with the “Latin Right” status from the Romano-Celtic milieu, as Radu Ardevan argued in an article overlooked by the author (in this publication the ghost-name Masotina was corrected as Mansuetinia, a nomen which is already attested in the Celtic areas, such as Belgica and Gallia Narbonensis; the erroneous form still appears in the book here reviewed, at p. 105).11 The archaeological evidence is inconclusive, with the exception of the cemeteries at Caşolţ and Calbor belonging to the Norico-Pannonian groups of colonists (p. 26). Q. Philippicus’ funerary stele (p. 26-27, IDR II 203 = ILBulg 49), which shows traces of artistic influences from the Rhine limes and from Pannonia, should have been left out from discussion, since it comes in fact from Oescus, Moesia inferior, and it dates from the first century.12 The so-called name Spirarches must be also taken out from the discussion (Napoca, CIL III 870 = ILS 4061, p. 124), since the spirarches is in fact the head of the male part of the (spira) Asianorum.

The last chapter deals with the native Dacian population (p. 31-35). From the epigraphic point of view they are almost totally absent with a few exceptions mentioned by the author. The Dacians are, in fact, mostly attested by the epigraphic sources outside of the province, like the neighbouring Moesia Inferior, and other parts of the Empire.13 Nevertheless, the rate of attestation is unusually low comparing with other rates of native populations’ in the various provinces of the Empire, which had led the author to exaggeration. The author argues that probably an important part of the Dacia elite was destroyed into the Dacian war (especially the one related with Sarmizegetusa royal centre and the hill forts around it), but that the natives continued to play an important role in the province alongside the colonists. (Here I must add that, although we do not have enough evidence, a previous submission of a part of the warrior elite to the Romans can be also envisaged: the auxiliary units raised in 103-104, like cohors I Ulpia Dacorum, was probably formed from the members of this military aristocracy already submitted to the Romans). Moreover, the author asserts that the demographic density of the Dacian population, both before and after the Dacian war, was low, which could be a possible explanation for the weak attestations of the Dacians in the inscriptions.

For the origin of the colonists, the archaeological evidence is inconclusive, with a few exceptions mentioned. The most part of the evidence comes from Dacia Superior and Porolissensis (the Trajanic Dacia), from the centres like Sarmizegetusa, Apulum, Drobeta, Napoca, Potaissa and Porolissum.14 Little is known of Dacia Inferior (former military buffer zone of the Moesia Inferior province before the reign of Hadrian), where only one or two Roman urban centres are attested (Romula and Malva, or Romula-Malva; for Sucidava there is no source to attest that the settlement ever became a municipium – in one inscription, IDR II 190 curial(es) territ(orii) Suc(idavensis) are attested, but that is no conclusive proof that the settlement was granted the municipal status).

In conclusion, the book is to be welcomed as a useful overview on the colonization of the Dacia province, based mostly on the epigraphic evidence.


1.   Eutropius, Breviarium ab Urbe condita, VIII, 6, 2 (translated by John Selby Watson).
2.   Although the debate started earlier, World War II and its political and territorial consequences for the area gave it a new life, see, for example, the books published by András Alföldy, Zu den Schicksalen Siebenbürgens im Altertum, Budapest, 1944, and Constantin Daicoviciu, La Transilvania nell’antichità, Bucharest, 1943 (with German and French editions). For the historiography of the debate and its political and ideological implications in the nineteenth and twentieth century, see Lucian Boia, History and Myth in the Romanian Consciousness, Budapest, 2001 (Central European University Press), p. 85-106 and Gheorghe Alexandru Niculescu, Archaeology, Nationalism and “The History of the Romanians” (2001), Dacia, N. S. 48-49, 2004-2005, p. 99-124.
3.   See for example Ioana A. Oltean’s, Dacia: landscape, colonization, romanization, London-New York, 2007, passim and p. 4-7 for a short introduction on the influence of the politics on the historical and archaeological research of the Roman Dacia.
4.   Lucreţiu-Mihailescu Bîrliba, Individu et société en Dacie romaine. Etude de démographie historique, Wiesbaden, 2004 (Philippika. Marburger altertumskundliche Abhandlungen 3).
5.   For the different social classes in the Roman empire see Géza Alföldy, Römische Sozialgeschichte, 4. völlig überarbeitete und aktualisierte Auflage, Stuttgart, 2011, p. 138-197.
6.   Florian Matei-Popescu, The origin of the tradesmen in Dacia, in Dilyana Boteva, Lucreţiu Mihailescu-Bîrliba, Octavian Bounegru (eds.), Pax Romana. Kulturaustausch und Wirtschaftsbeziehungen in den Donauprovinzen des Römischen Reichs. Akten der Tagung in Varna und Tulcea 01. – 07. September 2008, Kaiserslautern, 2012, p. 85-98.
7.   Lajos Balla, Equites Romani Daciae, in Studia Dacica. Collected papers, Debrecen, 2000, p. 115-126.
8.   ILBulg 279 = IDRE II 323; PME, U 13bis; Florian Matei-Popescu, The Roman Army in Moesia Inferior, Bucharest, 2010, p. 96.
9.   Ioan Piso, Die Augustalen in Sarmizegetusa, in György Németh, Péter Forisek (eds.), Epigraphica III. Politai et cives. Studia Sollemnia in honorem Geyzae Alfoeldy doctoris honoris causa Universitatis Debreceniensis, Debrecen, 2006 (Hungarian Polis Studies 13), p. 101-116.
10.   Alexander Falileyev, Celtic Dacia. Personal names, place-names and ethnic names of Celtic origin in Dacia and Scythia Minor, Aberystwyth, 2007.
11.   Radu Ardevan, Römische Bürger lateinischer Amstammung in Dakien, in Németh, Forisek (eds.) (above n. 8), p. 117-133.
12.   Matei-Popescu (above n. 8), p. 37.
13.   Constantin C. Petolescu, Inscriptions externes concernant l’histoire de la Dacie, I-II (IDRE), Bucharest, 1996-2000; Dan Dana, Les Daces dans les ostraca du désert oriental de l’Egypt. Morphologie des noms daces, ZPE 143, 2003, p. 166-186; Dan Dana, Florian Matei-Popescu, Soldats d’origine dace dans les diplômes militaires, Chiron 39, 2009, p. 209-256.
14.   Adela Paki, Onomasticon Daciae (I). Die Patronymika der Provinz Dacia Porolissensis, Acta Musei Napocensis 35/1, 1998, p. 119- 146; Ligia Ruscu, Die griechischen Namen in der Provinz, Acta Musei Napocensis 35/I, 1998, 147-186; Adela Paki, The prosopographical repertoire of the Roman Dacia (I), Acta Musei Napocensis 38/I, 1998, p. 61-85; Rada Varga, The peregrine names from Dacia, Acta Musei Napocensis 43-44/I, 2006-2007 (2008), p. 233-246.

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