BMCR 2005.03.12

Roman Dacia. The Making of a Provincial Society. Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 56

, , Roman Dacia : the making of a provincial society. International Roman Archaeology Conference series. Portsmouth, RI: Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2004. 190 pages : illustrations, maps ; 29 cm.. ISBN 1887829563. $79.50.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The past decade has seen a steady output of synthetic studies of particular Roman provinces, such as Britain, Spain, Gaul, and Germany. These studies have contributed much to such broader themes as Roman imperialism, the administration of the empire, and, above all, the dialectical process of acculturation. This present volume on Dacia, one of the latest fully incorporated territories yet the first to be abandoned by the empire, is a much-needed addition to this material. While there has been an increasing number of publications on the Dacian provinces in Western European languages,1 many archaeological reports and discussions have been published in Romanian — with some earlier ones in Hungarian — and thus are not easily accessible to non-specialists.2 Furthermore, as the editors point out, despite all that Dacia could potentially tell us about “the transforming impact of Roman imperialism at its height” (11) and “a key episode in the unfolding collapse of Roman control in the West” (12), there has been a dearth of syntheses and monograph-length surveys. The present volume, together with N. Gudea and T. Lobüsher’s forthcoming book on Dacia, the continued publication of multilingual reports from international archaeological programs such as the Apulum Project, and several forthcoming dissertations in English, will certainly make an understanding of the archaeology of Roman Dacia less elusive and the latest scholarly thinking more accessible to a broader audience.

The book contains seven papers, of various lengths, of which five are expanded versions of papers delivered at a session of the Roman Archaeology Conference held in Glasgow in 2001, and two are new. The editors note the omission of C. Gazdac’s paper on the monetary history of Roman Dacia due to the publication of Gazdac’s dissertation on the subject in English. Unlike many publications about Dacia, the flavor of this volume is more sociocultural than military or political. It is the editors’ stated intention to redress the balance in favor of the non-military aspects of the province. The first paper in this volume serves as an introduction and surveys the state of research and priorities of future research. The other six investigate different aspects of the nature and extent of Dacia’s “Roman experience,” addressing issues ranging from Late Iron Age background, demographic structure, and urbanization to rural settlements, funerary monuments, and religion. The theme of Roman-native relations runs throughout the book. Also quite visible throughout is a conscious effort to disentangle the scholarly discussion from the influence of Romanian politics and the issue of Romanian national identity.

Despite occasional differences of opinion, there seems to be a consensus among the authors that the indigenous population did not play a significant role in the creation of a new Roman provincial society in Dacia; that the integration model in Dacia was not based on civitates; that immigrants may not have been “Romanized” to any great extent; and that Roman Dacia was subject to multicultural influences. Examples from other Western provinces, especially Britain and Danubian provinces such as Pannonia and Noricum, are frequently cited, effectively illuminating the uniqueness of Roman Dacia vis-a-vis the common experience of the Roman provinces. All the articles contain a summary of the state of scholarship and present up-to-date archaeological discoveries, some of which are published for the first time in this volume. Most of the papers draw information not only from published works, but also from forthcoming ones, including dissertations in progress. In this connection, this volume offers not only the most recent scholarship but also a taste of what to expect in the near future.

The editors’ “An Introduction to Roman Dacia” offers an excellent outline of the geography of the region, a summary of the history of the province, its population, and its military background, and a brief historiographic survey (12). I do not intend to summarize the introduction here, especially since the more important conclusions will be presented below. What should be noted is that it is mainly an archaeological survey, which will best serve archaeologists and which is wholly appropriate to a JRA supplement. However, one might have wished the authors to include more discussion of scholarly opinions concerning civic life in the Dacian cities and social relations other than those between the indigenous people and Rome. After all, these are integral elements in “The Making of a Provincial Society,” which is the subtitle of the volume.3

“The Late Iron Age background to Roman Dacia” by K. Lockyear (hereafter “L.”) surveys the archaeological evidence, especially settlement types, sanctuaries, burial traditions (when recovered), and numismatic evidence. Based on the archaeological data generated by Romanian archaeologists, L. denies the existence of the putative state of the “great king” Burebista and concludes that “the evidence from Romania, whilst displaying some broad overall trends, can be seen as a period of distinct regional diversity” (69). In light of the Roman denarii in Late Iron Age Dacia, L. proposes a new interpretative framework for the complex of settlements, structures, and finds in Munt,ii Ors,atiei, as well as for how the concentration of material and power came about in southwest Transylvania by the time of the Roman conquest. Rather than seeing these coins as evidence of trade and markets, L. interprets their use as “a symbol of power” and suggests approaching them as “one expression of competition between and within polities” (69). Applying this model to the various sites, towers, and settlements, L. hypothesizes that they “represent not a unified plan but a series of competing elite residences.” Over the course of time, however, “one group gradually became more dominant in SW Transylvania,” which “became increasingly hostile to Rome, which led to conflicts with Domitian and finally to the Dacian wars” (70). This article is factually rich, with four tables and 27 illustrations. L. is at his best when it comes to numismatic analysis. In fact, a fuller development of the hypotheses proposed here can be found in L.’s forthcoming works Money matters. Coins, politics and polities in late Iron Age Dacia and State, swindle or symbol? The problem of Roman Republican denarii in Romania. On the other hand, as L. is perfectly aware, his proposed interpretation “is only one possible ‘story’ that can be woven around the data we have” (70). Indeed, his hypothesis is challenged by A. Diaconescu (hereafter “D.”) later in this same volume. D. argues in favor of the existence of a centralized political structure in Late Iron Age Dacia (123). Yet a definitive answer, as L. perfectly understands, is rendered unlikely by the difficulty of identifying the indigenous population archaeologically, the imperfect state and inaccurate chronology of the available data, the deficiency of the excavation reports, and the lack of high-quality distribution and topographic maps (34-36, 69).

“The Supposed Extermination of the Dacians: the literary tradition” by D. Ruscu (hereafter “R.”) investigates the demographic consequences of the Roman conquest of Dacia. R. lays out four factors that impacted the demographic structure in Roman Dacia: the annihilation of the Dacian elite, large-scale colonization by Latin-speakers, the relegation of indigenous communities to the periphery of the Roman settlement area, and the recruitment of Dacians into auxiliary units. All these imply that the contribution of the indigenous population to the “civilizing”/Romanizing process was slighter than elsewhere (84). In R.’s analysis, the demographic exhaustion mentioned in the literary references [Eutr. 8.6.2; Julian. Caesares 28.327 C-D; Schol. in Lucianum, ed. H. Rabe (Leipzig 1906) 24.16] is first and foremost the non-survival of the Dacian elite. R. supports this conclusion by a further examination of the paucity of Dacian names in inscriptions, the absence of civitates, and the disappearance of the indigenous divinities. To R., all these could be explained by the absence of that socially and politically active upper social stratum of indigenous society, which handled self-administration and supplied religious leaders. In general, R. makes a convincing case, which makes less persuasive H. Diacoviciu’s opinion that the native elite might have changed their names to Roman names and thus became epigraphically unidentifiable.4 The absence of L. Ellis’ article “‘Terra Deserta’: Population, Politics, and the [de]Colonization of Dacia” [ World Archaeology 30.2 (Oct. 1998) 220-37] from R.’s bibliography is, however, a bit surprising.5

“The Towns of Roman Dacia: an overview of recent research” by A. Diaconescu provides an extensive survey of the archaeological discoveries from the last 10-15 years that have challenged old theories about the emergence, development, and decline of Roman towns in Dacia. I will provide only a summary of the more important conclusions here. Based primarily on data from Sarmizegetusa, Napoca, and Apulum, D. concludes that apart from the Severan municipia at Potaissa, Apulum, and Porolissum, which were founded as a result of military dispositions, the towns — including Sarmizegetusa — had a civilian origin, having grown up from colonized settlements (121). The towns originating from groups of Trajanic colonists (mostly veterans) were originally subordinate to colonia Dacica Sarmizegetusa (122). The civilian towns were not related to any Late Iron Age settlements (121). In Dacia, the Roman authorities were not confronted by tribal communities similar to the civitates of the West. The native names for the newly founded settlements are not proof of the continuing occupation of purely native settlements (123). On the other hand, since Dacian auxiliaries were being recruited under Trajan and Hadrian, and native pottery is present at many Roman sites in Dacia, especially in the early layers, D. warns against accepting the almost complete extermination of the Dacians or the complete evacuation of the province after the Dacian Wars (125). D. then moves on to discuss the Dacian villages. D. subscribes to J. Nandris’ theory that the Dacians lived in small groups on individual smallholdings. That they were probably not concentrated in larger villages might explain the difficulties inherent in identifying rural sites in many parts of the provinces, as well as the absence of native civitates in Dacia (125-28). D. believes that it is possible to talk about links, “if not in terms of direct continuity,” between the Roman province and the Dacian kingdom, pointing in particular to the similarities between the military map of Roman Dacia and that of the kingdom of Decebalus (126). As to the question “How did the towns die?”, D. points out that with the exception of those in Dacia Inferior, the settlements of Roman Dacia were not touched by barbarian attack during the third century, and there was no organized or premeditated evacuation of the province. Nor did barbarians settle in formerly Roman towns (130). D. illustrates these points with the cases of Sarmizegetusa, Napoca, and Apulum. In the fifth and sixth centuries, “Dacia looks more like a rather primitive world, where descendants of Roman provincials managed to achieve some kind of ethnic-linguistic and folklore continuity, but eventually lost many of the ideals and mores of Roman civilization” (136).

“Rural Settlement in Roman Dacia: some considerations” by I. A. Oltean (hereafter “O.”) provides a careful and stimulating discussion of the development of rural settlement in Roman Dacia, challenging many of the current orthodox theories. Based on an examination of the archaeological evidence from villas in Dacia, O. argues in favor of the pre-Roman origins of these villas. According to O.’s analysis, the resemblance between villas and pre-Roman Dacian house plans would suggest that the pre-Roman societies of Pannonia, Moesia, and Dacia had more in common than is currently believed. On the basis of the lack of epigraphic evidence and traces of centuriation, O. refutes the current orthodoxy that “villas in Dacia were owned by Roman colonists, veterans and the municipal elite and formed their estates around the towns in which they lived” (151). In discussing the inhabitants of the vici, O. denies a simplistic dichotomy — that is, stone/timber houses vs. sunken houses and storage pits — in identifying the dwellings of Roman colonists and natives. Addressing the issue of the extent to which colonists were Romanized, O. points out that the immigrants must have been at different stages of Romanization when they arrived in Dacia. As a result, their material culture may not at first have been very different from that of the natives. Particularly illuminating is her suggestion that “the process of Romanization of both natives and colonists would have developed in parallel, which makes ethnic identification on the basis of artifacts difficult” (162). As to the hill-forts, a major focus of archaeological examination, O. cautions against the extrapolation of their destruction to the entirety of the Dacian settlement pattern. O. rightly notes that these hill-forts were elite sites, the purpose of whose location was primarily strategic, and that therefore the basis for their existence no longer existed after the military defeat and the introduction of Roman rule (162). O. denies the idea that rural sites in Roman Dacia consisted only of villas and vici. O. attributes the failure to recognize “other types of site, such as individual homesteads which may be related to native farming, or mansions, or the whole range of slightly larger settlements from small towns to villages and hamlets” to inadequate methods of data collection (161). O. concludes that the current archaeological data does not point to “a similar degree of colonized elements” in rural areas and urban and military contexts (162). It is O’s contention that “the impact of the Roman conquest on the landscape of Dacia with respect to the survival and treatment of the native population was probably not as dramatic as previously thought, but it may have been quite great in terms of modification of the landscape, both natural and human” (163). One might expect a fuller development of these landscape studies in O.’s forthcoming dissertation, entitled Later prehistoric and Roman settlement and land-use in western Transylvania.

“Burial monuments and their implications” by C. Ciongradi (hereafter “C.”) presents an overview of the art-historical aspects of the funerary monuments of Dacia Superior. Based on a topological and stylistic analysis, C. brings into focus the heterogeneous characteristics of funerary monuments throughout Dacia. The factors that decided the specific types of monuments in each center range from the status of the settlement (whether chiefly civilian or military) to the origins of the artisans, the particular taste of the colonists, and the customers. Funerary monuments evolved over time, showing an obvious link with Northern Italy only at the beginning of the second century, after which an orientalizing influence can be seen. This chronological evolution, C. notes, parallels that of other artifacts such as imported terra sigillata in Sarmizegetusa, Apulum, and Savaria. C. also examines the connection between the type of monument and the social status of the deceased. Unfortunately, no clear picture emerges from C.’s discussion. It seems that material, rather than typological or artistic elements, was the key indication of status. “The diffusion of religious belief in Roman Dacia: a case-study of the gods of Asia Minor” by Schäfer (hereafter “S.”) uses archaeological monuments to identify the cultural identity of the immigrants, focusing, in particular, on the worshipers and the dynamic process of the formation of a new religious structure in Roman Dacia. The large number of immigrant groups explains the heterogeneous picture of the gods in Roman Dacia. S. rightly points out the inadequacy of the model of “syncretism,” and suggests that the term “should be interpreted afresh along with its corresponding chronological, cultural, and ethnic dimensions” (180). As far as religion in Roman Dacia is concerned, S. thinks that we should be speaking more of a process of colonization, and less of Romanization. S. illustrates the point with an investigation of Dacian monuments to Asian gods. Focusing on the dedications to Glykon and the statue of Hekate Triformis, S. concludes that “the images of deities, the cults and the language of the old homeland will have served to bind together and confirm the minority who had come from Asia Minor” (187). S. completes his analysis by a discussion of the religious groups of natives from Asia Minor. S. sees migration as the main impulse for the formation of religious groups, and approaches them as “enclaves” or “self-contained networks” through which the immigrants preserved their social and cultural identity (188). However, other possible raisons d’être of these groups — such as a business relationship — are not explored. In order to get a complete picture of the religion of Roman Dacia, one would like to see discussions of gods from other regions, as well as groups from other ethnic backgrounds.6

There is some overlap between the papers in this volume. One conspicuous example is the discussion of the absence of civitates in Dacia. D. Ruscu, A. Diaconescu, and I. A. Oltean all offer explanations from different angles. R. points to the absence of the upper stratum of indigenous society (81). D. emphasizes the fact that Late Iron Age Dacians were living in small villages and hamlets controlled from citadels by professional soldiers, making it unlikely that structures similar to the civitates in the West could have existed in the province (126). To O., the answer lies in “the dearth of proto-urban settlements” as well as in “the relatively late date of the conquest and organization of the province” (162). Despite some omissions, cross-references are well done and generally very helpful.

Each article has its own bibliography, but no integrated bibliography is provided. It is a pity that there is no index. I do not know whether or not the absence of an index was due to the publisher. Some JRA supplements do have indices.

There are some minor slips in the volume: 318 for 319 (p. 23, note 61); omission of is (p. 113, paragraph 2, line 4); Parto_ for Partos, (p. 113, paragraph 3, line 6); carrier for career (p. 114, paragraph 2, line 6); became for become (p. 122, paragraph 1, line 2); missing period (p. 147, paragraph 2, line 20). The spelling of personal names is not always consistent. Schäfer, for example, is sometimes spelled Schaefer; Étienne is sometimes spelled Etienne. Latin words are not consistently italicized.


I. P. Haynes and W. S. Hanson, “An introduction to Roman Dacia”

K. Lockyear, “The Late Iron Age background to Roman Dacia”

D. Ruscu, “The supposed extermination of the Dacians: the literary tradition”

A. Diaconescu, “The towns of Roman Dacia: an overview of recent archaeological research”

I. A. Oltean, “Rural settlement in Roman Dacia”

C. Ciongradi, “Burial monuments and their implications”

A. Schäfer, “The diffusion of religious belief in Roman Dacia: a case-study of the gods in Asia Minor”


1. It is impossible to give a full list of the relevant publications in Western European languages here. I mention only some of the more important ones with an emphasis on those in English. Prosopographical works by Arthur Stein ( Die Reichsbeamten von Dazien, Budapest: Magyar Nemzeti Muzeum, 1930), and I. Piso (esp. Fasti provinciae Daciae I. Die senatorischen Amtsträger, Bonn 1993); military studies in Actes du IXe Congrès International d’Études sur les Frontières romaines 1972, edited by D. M. Pippidi, Mamaia, 1974; Proceedings of the XVIIth International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies 1997, edited by N. Gudea, Zalau 1999; numismatic studies in English include several articles by M. H. Crawford, including “Republican denarii in Romania: the suppression of piracy and the slave-trade,” JRS 67 (1977) 117-24; G. L. Duncan, Coin Circulation in the Danubian and Balkan Provinces of the Roman Empire AD 294-578, Royal Numismatic Society Special Publication 26, London: RNS, 1993; several contributions by K. Lockyear, esp. “Multivariate money. A statistical analysis of Roman Republican coin hoards with special reference to material from Romania,” Ph.D. diss., Institute of Archaeology, London: 1996; and C. Gazdac, Monetary Circulation in Dacia and the Provinces from the Middle and Lower Danube from Trajan to Constantine I (A.D. 106-337), diss. Daciae, Cluj 2003. English translations of several Romanian works appear in the BAR International Series (N. Gudea, The Defensive System of Roman Dacia; I. Bogdan Cataniciu, Evolution of the System of Defence Works in Roman Dacia, BAR Supplement 116, 1981, was translated from the Romanian by Etta Dumitrescu; L. T,eposu Marinescu, Funerary Monuments in Dacia Superior and Dacia Porolissensis, BAR Supplement 128, 1982; D. Alicu and A. Paki, Town-planning and Population in Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa, BAR Supplement 605, 1995. J. G. Nandris has published in English on the Iron Age. There are, of course, discussions of Roman Dacia in connection with Trajan’s Column (e.g., F. Lepper and S. Frere, Trajan’s Column, Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1988). Reflections on Romanian historiography include D. Deletant, “Rewriting the Past: trends in contemporary Romanian historiography,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 14.1 (1991) 64-86. L. Ellis, one of the few American archaeologists studying Roman Dacia, has contributed much: “Dacians, Sarmatians, and Goths on the Roman-Carpathian Frontier, second-fourth centuries,” in Shifting Frontiers in Late Antiquity, edited by R. Mathisen and H. Sivan, 105-25, London: Variorum, 1996; “‘Terra Deserta’: Population, Politics, and the [de]Colonization of Dacia,” World Archaeology 30.2, Population and Demography (Oct. 1998) 220-37. Three of the contributors in the volume under review, A. Diaconescu, I. Haynes, and A. Schäfer, are the directors of the tri-national Apulum Project. Their reports include “The Apulum Project. Summary report of the 1998 and 1999 seasons,” in The Impact of Rome on Settlement in the Northwestern and Danube Provinces, edited by S. Altekamp and A. Schäfer, 115-28, BAR Supplement 921, 2001. Two other contributors of this volume, W. S. Hanson and I. A. Oltean, published, among others, “Recent Aerial Survey in Western Transylvania: Problems and Potential,” in Aerial Archaeology. Developing Future Practice, edited by R. H. Bewley and W. Ra,czkowski, 109-15, Amsterdam: IOS Press, 2002.

2. Even the IDR (Inscriptiones Daciae Romanae) are published in Romanian.

3. While I. Piso’s indispensable works on the prosopography of Roman Dacia are duly mentioned in the bibliography, R. Ardevan’s book Viata municipala in Dacia romana, Timisoara, 1998, an important recent contribution to the study of municipal life in the province, is omitted. It is, however, cited by two of the other papers in the volume.

4. H. Diacoviciu, “La romanisation de la Province de Dacie,” Acta Musei Napocensis 21 (1984) 91.

5. Ellis’ article deals with a similar subject, and challenges the narrow interpretative framework based on the combination of “culture = people = linguistic group = ethnicity.” Ellis suggests that we not see “the absence of epigraphic evidence as singular ‘proof’ of ethnic and population discontinuity,” but rather approach it as an indication of “a more complex rural-urban dichotomy with cultural as well as economic implications for Roman colonial frontier society” (Ellis 1998, 237).

6. D. Noy’s discussion in his Foreigners at Rome: Citizens and Strangers (London: Duckworth, 2000) might serve as a model.