The Romanization of Dacia: A Study Through Secondary Sources

By 106 A.D, the Roman empire under Trajan took a step closer to its full territorial extent by annexing the kingdom of Dacia. After the defeat of Decebalus, the last Dacian king, the Dacian wars were proudly exhibited on Trajan’s column, in Rome, which perpetuated the idea of “pax Romana” and the might of the Roman empire. However, Rome did not only seek glory in its conquest of Dacia, rather it sought after essential resources needed to sustain the empire-more specifically, gold. Over the course of the next two centuries, Dacia experienced extensive Romanization in its demographics, culture, and language which led to the formation of the Daco-Roman people. Beyond the short term goals of wealth acquisition, it became evident, especially during Hadrian’s rule, that Dacia also held great value as a defensive strategic point against potential barbarian invasions from the north. Although historians have argued over the political and economic reasons why Rome valued Dacia to such great extents, it is evident that military strategy and resources played an integral part. Specifically, with a focus on the socio-economic and strategic factors that led Rome to spend such excessive amounts on securing Dacia as a province. To what extent did Rome’s militarization of Dacia affect Roman resources in the Carpathians?

The amount of sources that deal with Roman Dacia are extremely limited and do not offer anything beyond the general or the extremely specific. It is evident that the reason for this is because most published works about Roman Dacia are derived from archaeological studies and reports by non-Western archaeologists and scholars, who mostly correlate their findings with minor ancient historical accounts. There seems to be a lack of connection between archaeologists and western scholars which leads to fewer published sources about Dacia. Although there are a few ancient sources that pertain to Dacia, most of the accounts do not offer more than standard generalities, and do not insist much on detail. The difficulty lay in the fact that I needed to find sources that maintained a balance between relevancy and reliability; a challenging task when researching ancient history. Despite these inconsistencies within many of the sources I have come across, there are a few extremely thorough and thoughtful accounts which all hold a respectable degree of reliability.

In my preliminary research I chose seven sources that deal with Roman military and economic activity in Dacia. However, I have narrowed down the research field to three sources: I will be examining a useful article in Britannia entitled “The Defensive System of Roman Dacia”, by Gudea Nicolae, Secondly, I chose a fairly recent book entitled Dacia: Landscape, Colonization and Romanization, by Ioana Adina Oltean. The final source is an older book, published in 1975, by the name of The Dacian Stones Speak, by Paul MacKendrik. As I asses these sources, I will consider scholarly proficiency and historical reliability in order to determine whether they are both trustworthy and relevant to my thesis question. It is important to note that I will center my assessment particularly on the content of these sources, but will keep their scholarly standing in mind by analyzing the author’ use of external sources. For example, footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies, all of which are integral parts to concrete historical writing.

Author: Jniemenmaa Public Domain
Author: Jniemenmaa
Public Domain

These sources are written by scholars who all hold degrees and are known for their focus on Roman Dacia. They have published numerous articles and theses on this topic and other subjects, pertaining to Roman history. Despite the author’s foreign names, I wish to emphasize that these are original sources have been either written or translated into English.

Gudea’s “The Defensive System of Roman Dacia” is an impressive and elaborate article on the Roman militarization of Dacia, as well as its relationship to the economic frameworks of the frontier province. It is very clear that Gudea believes that the Romans highly valued Dacia both because of its military sustaining capabilities and economic potential. In his introduction he states that “military interest of the empire was closely linked to its economic advantage”, suggesting that Roman Dacia’s fortification was meant to defend both the empire’s frontiers and the Carpathian gold. Moreover, he gives a comprehensive analysis of the reasons and the ways Romans fortified the province to act as a “bastion of defense” in a “barbarian world”, as he words it in his introduction. Gudea continues to examine the strategic placement of a defensive line along the Carpathians using numerous archaeological studies and excavation reports. He described the formation of a Romanized defense system based on the physical evidence of military sites found in Romania in correlation to known Roman words. It is evident that Gudea himself sees a correlation between the military and resource mining in Dacia. He notes that “the defensive system guaranteed the Roman peace and the development of economic and social life in the province. Throughout his article he puts a great deal of emphasis on the geographic formation of Dacia in relation to the placement of Roman forts and military encampments. Fort construction and particularly places of great value, such as mines and urban centres, became heavily sectional in relation to the topography of the Carpathians.

Even though, Gudea did not put an extensive amount of emphasis of economic activity in relation to the forts, I found his explanation of the exact locations of defensive encampments and lines to be essential to understanding Roman Dacia. The reason for this is because there are very few sources, and certainly of this quality, about the Roman military in Dacia. Moreover, the fact that this article was published in 1979 does not undermine its quality, precisely because there are very few detailed accounts like it. The footnotes of this article are admirable not only their explanations and accuracy, but for their variety. A large portion of Gudea’s citations originate from different countries by experts in Dacia’s Romanization. This is an excellent source.

It is rare to see such devotion to a subject as Ioana Adina Oltean’s for Roman Dacia. I found her book, Dacia: Landscape, Colonization and Romanization, to be a very insightful and reputable source. Oltean concentrates primarily on the Roman exploitation of the Dacian landscape in terms of socio-economic activity. She provides deep insight into the wars Romans utilized the landscape and physical topography to construct Roman towns and cities which would become beacons of Roman culture. Throughout her book she uses Yoram Wollman’s various articles on archaeological findings, in the Dacian and Getae regions, to emphasize her points. For instance, in her introduction she briefly explains Rome’s desire for gold, and denotes that throughout Roman control of Dacia experts estimated that they managed to extract 1.3 tons of gold from the Carpathians. After some research, I discovered that Wollman is praised to be one of the leading experts on the subject of Romanization in the Danube region. On of the chapters that I find to be salient to understanding Roman history is “The Roman Social Landscape”. Oltean provides an analysis on the ways Romans rooted themselves into Dacia be means of economic encroachment in the Carpathians, which in turn had a significant impact on the architectural and cultural evolution of Roman Dacia. She provides an impressive amount of detail on the structure of Roman mining particularly in Rosia Montana and Apuseni, as well as the importance it had for the Romans throughout their attempts at colonization and assimilation. Throughout this chapter she emphasize the importance Romans put on securing Dacia’s gold and iron mines for exploitation. She ends her economic section by implying that “the importance of the economic factors in Tajan’s decision to annex” cannot be overlooked. The second chapter, ‘The Romanization of the Landscape’. deals with the presence of the Roman military and its strategic emplacement throughout Dacia. She says that the Roman army had great influence over Dacia’s landscapes in its  attempt to turn into a highly militarized frontier province. Oltean puts a great deal of emphasis on the construction of Roman forts throughout the Carpatho-Danube area as a defensive initiative.

Engraving of the Trajan's Column depicting a scene of the Dacian Wars: Dacians retreating. by: Pietro Santi Bartoli, 1650. Romanian Academy Library
Engraving of the Trajan’s Column depicting a scene of the Dacian Wars: Dacians retreating.
by: Pietro Santi Bartoli, 1650.
Romanian Academy Library

Overall, Oltean provides a very interesting analysis based on physical archaeological evidence found in modern day Romania. Her descriptions of the correlation between Roman economic and military influence on Dacia’s landscape have proved very useful in assessing the importance of each. Moreover, the source provides well integrated figures and diagrams of the distribution of economic and military agents in Dacia, which have given me an idea of the amount of effort exerted in each sector. The bibliography is extremely diverse and gives evidence to a lot of research and specificity, making the source quite reliable.

The last source, The Dacian Stones Speak by Paul MacKendrick, slightly leans towards a more narrative form of historical writing. This source is specifically different from the others I have assessed, as it offers some insight on the sociological and cultural result of militarization. However, this does not mean that it in not a splendid account of both the Dacian people and Roman occupation of Dacia. It provides intuitive analyses of Romania’s archaeology to depict star and real pictures of the formation of Roman Dacia, particularly during Hadrian’s rule. He uses extensive statistics and facts to formulate detailed diagrams of towns, cities, forts and economic sectors which he applies towards his cultural definitions.

MacKendrick’s book to be particularly helpful in providing me with the historical context behind Dacia’s military and economic structures. There are numerous chapters that contain information on these factors throughout the book. The first, The Roman conquest: A column and a trophy” discusses the Roman incentives on annexing Dacia. In this chapter, he puts a great ordeal of emphasis on the cultural growth of Roman Dacia as a result of the military. MacKendrick suggests that, while referring to economic centres, “such prosperity as they enjoyed was due to a complicated system of defences”. He than proceeds to give detailed accounts of the culture born out of this relationship. More specifically the production of gold and bronze artefacts undoubtedly were a sign of prosperity. In “Dacia Under Roman Rule”, MacKdenrick does not forget to give a thorough explanation of the mining system, particularly in Apelum and Alburnus Major, the largest mining sites in Dacia. He again correlates the prospect of mining in Dacia with Roman cultural growth. Lastly, later on he makes a very valid point where he explains that there was a chance that large mining centers, such as Apelum, could have had an impact on the division of Roman Dacia into a few significant ‘municipia’.

Although MacKendrick’s The Dacian Stones Speaks concentrates primarily on the cultural growth of the Roman occupation, it does so in parallel with the geographic dominance of political, military and economic agents. Therefore, by taking culture into account and the amount of artifacts built, I can make a distinct assumptions to the extent of the army’s presence in resource mining sectors, such as Apelum. Overall, I found MacKendrick’s book extremely useful in providing me with a story behind all the facts, statistics and figures around Roman colonization. This source, like the others, has a comprehensive bibliography for each chapter, with numerous archaeological studies and ancient sources to back up many of MacKendrick’s claims. The only negative is that at times he deviates away and begins to theorize based on his own principles. However, I only found instances of this in the chapter “The Dacian Heartland”.

The amount of detail, in regards to the Roman military presence around Dacia’s economic basins of wealth, is unlike the other two articles. I can use Gudea’s explanations of the defensive line to support my topic readily. However, it is important not to underestimate the importance of Oltean’s MacKendrick’s sources, as they provide me with the possibility of formulating a fuller picture. For instance, Oltean’s descriptions of the mining procedures and topography in the Carpathians can be related to Gudea’s insightful record of the defensive line and fortifications. When two sources are studied together, it is very easy to see a pattern between Roman military and mining. The weaker of the three sources, MacKendtrick’s The Dacian Stones Speak, is useful as a contextual source in terms of its descriptions of culture along the defensive line, and in the key economic sectors, which are discussed by Oltean. Essentially, if all three sources are used accordingly, they will provide just enough info to foster a basic understanding of Roman presence in Dacia.

It was never rally apparent how significant Dacia truly was to the Roman empire in terms of military strategy. Moreover, these sources have also brought to light the fact that resource mining and military activity along the Carpathians were mutually related to on another. The army’s expansion to defend locations such as Apelunum or Apuseni, through fortification, also had an affect on the use of auxiliaries and Dacian slaves in the mining process.

Further Reading:

“The Defensive System of Roman Dacia” by Nicolae Gudea

The Dacian Stones Speak by Paul MacKendrick

Dacia: Landscape, Colonization and Romanization by Adina Ioana Oltean


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