BMCR 2021.03.33

Limes, economy and society in the Lower Danubian Roman provinces

, Limes, economy and society in the Lower Danubian Roman provinces. Colloquia antiqua, 25. Leuven: Peeters, 2019. Pp. xviii, 260. ISBN 9789042938120 €87,00.

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

Although various features of the provincial life of the Lower Danubian provinces have been the object of study for more than a century, many aspects still remain unexplored or need further exploration. The necessity arises from the enormous material that archaeological excavations provide every year, as well as newly-discovered epigraphic and numismatic material, which contributes to scholarly understanding of military, social, economic, and religious life, but also raises new questions.  As these provinces are also limes provinces, there is additional interest since their study may also benefit from comparison with other limes—especially riverine—provinces. In some cases, this new evidence confirms earlier hypotheses, in others it broadens them or even poses new questions. The present volume of the series Colloquia antiqua of Peeters Publishers comprises the papers presented in a conference on Roman frontier studies held in November 2017 at ‘Alexandru Ioan Cuza’ University of Iaşi, Romania. The focus of this conference are two Danubian provinces, Moesia Inferior and Dacia, which, as limes provinces, shared some similarities. Despite the small number of contributions, 13 in total, various aspects of the economic, social and religious life in the two provinces and elsewhere are studied. Eight chapters are dedicated to Lower Moesia: they reveal the importance of the River Danube as a vital, and not solely natural, frontier of the Roman empire. It divides two worlds, the Roman and the Barbarian, and also enhances the economic, social, and religious interchange. The Ovidian poetic conception of the Danube as the protective river, but also as a kind of bridge (Tr. 3.10.33: novos pontes subter labentibus undis) that united them, is studied in the contribution of Marius Alexianu. He provides a vivid picture of the importance of the river not only as a military defensive issue, but also as bringing together the two worlds. Rada Varga and Annamaria-Izábela Pázsint discuss traders’ interprovincial networks and mobility based on the epigraphy of the two ends of the Danubian limes: to the east with both provinces under consideration and to the west with Germania. The study confirms that the Danube was among the most important routes in the empire for transporting goods in both directions; Lower Moesia served as a trade intermediary, transporting people and ideas, between Asia Minor and the west. The overview of Sever-Petru Boţan of the typology and circulation of Roman glass vessels is based on published and unpublished finds in the Lower Danubian castra during the first three centuries CE. The study outlines the importance of the military presence for urban, economic, and commercial life in the region and its integration into the economic and commercial network of the empire.

As Moesia Inferior was a limes province and therefore militarized, some of the contributions treat the legions, their castra, and the impact of their presence on local populations, from either inland or the old Greek colonies on the Pontic coast. The contribution of Dan Aparaschivei treats the facilities and other medical evidence attested epigraphically and archaeologically in both provinces, as well as Moesia Superior. The significant lack of military hospitals in Dacia attested so far is explained as a result of Imperial strategy that excluded this province from any major military activities, which meant that no such investment was required; moreover, the military hospitals located in the castra south of the Danube, with their trained and qualified personnel, would act accordingly when needed (p. 65). Another contribution that should be included in this group is that of Valentin Piftor on the phenomenon of age-rounding in the Roman army in both Danubian provinces. He compares the values of the military (i.e. soldiers and veterans) and civilian populations. His study led him to the observation about the lower degree of age-rounding among the military population, as well as higher percentages of the military in Dacia compared to those in Moesia Inferior (p. 93).

The impact on locals and existing customs of the militarization of the province is revealed in several papers. Florian Matei-Popescu discusses the organization of the rural territory of the two Danubian provinces under consideration with respect to the interrelation of territoria and regiones. The terms are not used consistently and it is not possible to establish any patterns concerning the legal status of the community to which these terms are applied without further clarification; each case should be approached separately (p. 98). Roxana-Gabriela Curcă treats code-switching as a linguistic form for expressing identity, including ethnicity, in rural and urban Moesia Inferior, based on historical and philological considerations. The taxonomy is studied via various determing factors such as (for example) the civilian and military milieux and ethnic origin, which was strongly defined by Hellene, Roman and Thracian influences. This phenomenon and its features do not differ from similar cases in other areas of the empire. Lucreţiu Mihailescu-Bîrliba comments on the recruitment of soldiers from the rural areas of the province based on the known military diplomas. A detailed analysis allows him to conclude that in fact the province seems to have been used as a reservoir for various types of troops in the Roman army such as the auxilia, fleet and later the Praetorian Guards, a use which in some cases dates as early as Tiberius.

Three contributions focus entirely on provincial life in Dacia. Ioan Piso and Csaba Szabó present a detailed overview of Hecate’s cult in Sarmizegetusa based on a revised reading of a long-known inscription on a relief of Hekate Triformis (IDR III/2. 365). They study the epithet Dea placida, its iconography combining a goddess and a dog, and possible links with Persephone. Ana Odochicuic comments on those particular individuals who donated de sua pecunia for the construction, restoration, or decoration of public cult buildings. Templum, fanum, sacrarium, and aedes are all mentioned in various places. Among the benefactors one finds freedmen, decurions, curiales, Augustans, military officers or even milites, patrons and members of collegia, priests, and perhaps women. Although the contribution of Lucian Monteanu and Ştefan Honcu focuses on the distribution of the denarii subaerati and antoniniani subaerati in Roman Dacia, it turns out that this is not a “Dacian” issue, but imperial, as they were produced in official workshops along with the original pieces (p. 180-181, 186). The authors arrived at the conclusion for the entire overlap in the circulation between the plated and genuine coinage with the denarii subaerati as late as Gordian III and the antoniniani subaerati till the end of the Roman rule in Dacia.

The last two contributions refer to more general topics concerning the empire as a whole in late antiquity. Alexander Rubel reassesses the phenomenon of so-called ‘client management’ by drawing on recent archaeological research in Germany and Romania on the use of subsidies and gifts beyond the limes to control intra-barbarian relations and conflicts. Nelu Zugravu considers references to the limes of the Roman empire in the Panegyrici Latini as important elements of imperial ideology and propaganda. The frontiers are presented as areas of confrontation as well as coexistence and integration within the new strategy of venia or clementia (victrix clementia).

The studies presented are based on the comprehensive study of archaeological, epigraphical, philological, numismatic, onomastic, and literary evidence. This consideration of such a broad range of sources indeed deepens our understanding of the specific problems treated here and opens up new attitudes and approaches to them. The papers cover some of the most important issues in limes society and therefore contribute to the understanding of the phenomenon of the frontier areas and the limes of the empire as a whole. This strength reflects the managerial skills of Prof. Dr. Lucreţiu Mihailescu-Bîrliba from the University of Iaşi, who acted as an editor of the volume, and is a sign of his continuing interest in the Lower Danubian provinces.[1] Although the territory of the province of Lower Moesia is located mostly within the borders of modern Bulgaria and Bulgarian scholars are absent from the volume’s contributors, the appropriate epigraphic and archaeological material is extensively used in the relevant papers. The present book will without doubt find its place in the historiography of the Lower Danubian provinces and serve as a source for many further fruitful discussions on the matters concerned.

Authors and titles

Series Editor’s Preface (Gocha R. Tsetskhladze)
Volume Editor’s Introduction (Lucreţiu Mihailescu-Bîrliba)
Chapter 1. Ovid: The Double Face of the Danube (Marius Alexianu)
Chapter 2. Code-Switching: Expression Forms of Linguistic Identity in Moesia Inferior (Roxana-Gabriela Curcă)
Chapter 3. Soldats du milieu rural de la Mésie Inférieure recrutés dans l’armée romaine (Lucreţiu Mihailescu-Bîrliba)
Chapter 4. Trade Economy in Riverine Provinces: A Close-Up Look at the Trader’s Networks and Mobility (Rada Varga and Annamária-Izabella Pázsint)
Chapter 5. Facilities and Medical Staff of the Lower Danubian Roman Army (Dan Aparaschivei)
Chapter 6. Observations on Age-Rounding for Soldiers from the Lower Danubian Provinces (Valentin Piftor)
Chapter 7. Territoria and regiones in the Lower Danubian Provinces (Florian Matei-Popescu)
Chapter 8. Glassware from the Lower Danubian Limes (1st-3rd Centuries AD): A Brief Survey (Sever-Petru Boţan)
Chapter 9. Die Göttin Hekate in Sarmizegetusa (Ioan Piso and Csaba Szabó)
Chapter 10. Private Initiative and Buildings of Public Worship in Roman Dacia (Ana Odochiciuc)
Chapter 11. Silver-Plated Coins in the Sites of Roman Dacia (Lucian Munteanu and Ştefan Honcu)
Chapter 12. Römische Einfluss in Barbaricum zwischen Diplomatie, Klientelpolitik und Defensivstrategie: neue Methoden des Machtmanagements in der Spätantike (Alexander Rubel)
Chapter 13. Terminus huius Imperii: The Frontiers of the Empire in the Panegyrici Latini (3rd-4th Centuries AD) – Between Propaganda and Reality (Nelu Zugravu)


[1] See for example Dilyana Boteva-Boyanova, Lucreţiu Mihailescu-Bîrliba, Octavian Bounegru, Pax Romana: Kulturaustausch und Wirtschaftsbeziehungen in den Donauprovinzen des römischen Kaiserreichs, (Antiquitas 1), Pantheon Verlag, 2012 and Lucrețiu Mihailescu-Bîrliba, Colonisation and Romanization in Moesia Inferior. Premises of a contrastive approach, (Antiquitas 3), Pantheon Verlag, 2015.