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Álvaro Ibarra and Andre Gonciar (Session Organisers)
Archaeological Institute of America Conference
Chicago, January 5, 2014 - 8:30-11:30AM
Iron Age and Roman Dacia remains poorly understood. In particular, the Transylvanian Plateau—the heartland of Dacia—witnessed centuries of dramatic developments: unification and expansion under King Burebista in the early 1st century BC, wars with Rome in the 1st and early 2nd century AD, and an insurgency against Roman occupation in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Recent archaeological findings, increased international collaborations, and greater access to technology are finally helping to flesh out the image of a powerful Dacian nation, a vision once dismissed as the product of modern nationalistic fervor in Romania.
Certainly, ancient and modern biases continue to influence our notions Dacia. Negative views are still perpetuated by ancient Greek and Latin texts, for example. Ovid’s bleak visions of Greek Tomis still influence our opinion of the region. By comparison, Strabo’s account of a Dacia that rivaled Hellenistic powers is met with suspicion. The Roman-era narratives of Trajan’s Dacian Wars (101-102 and 105-106) by Cassius Dio and Tacitus portray an overwhelming, tragic defeat for the Dacians. These accounts inspire the belief that the Dacians became Roman.
Archaeologists that anticipated a backward Iron Age culture or privileged Roman-ness often excluded native artifacts and data that contradicted their expectations. The aim of the participants of this colloquium session is to present findings that showcase the success of Dacian society in the Iron Age, explore the complex political relations of the Geto-Dacian tribes during the Dacian Wars, and further our understanding of post-war dynamics between Rome and Dacia.
Current research reveals a powerful kingdom unified by two savvy Dacian monarchs during the Iron Age, a unity expressed in the cumulative survey of native-style hill-forts, walls, weapons, and pottery. Such Dacian material production did not cease after the Roman conquest, suggesting that many communities around the Transylvanian Plateau continued to identify themselves as non-Roman. Tellingly, heavily fortified Roman marching camps along the southern Olt were designed to continuously combat nearby threats rather than simply function as way-stations in the post-war era. It would appear that subverting the sovereignty of the Dacian state was a much harder endeavor than Roman accounts suggest.
The Evolution of Roman Encampments in Southern Dacia: An Analysis of Roman Operations and Military Fortifications along the Upper Olt River Valley
Álvaro Ibarra (College of Charleston)
This lecture presents recent geospatial analysis of five Roman marching camps along the Olt River, near the present-day villages of Boiţa, Feldioara, Cinşor, Hoghiz, and Homorod. The initial data regarding this system of defense reveals the castra were not designed to protect or police the interior of the province of Dacia to the north. Instead, the chain of camps faces the Carpathian Mountains to the south.
This information challenges the belief that the Dacian population was eradicated or assimilated after the Dacian Wars. The need for a permanent line of defense suggests the Dacians thrived in the rugged Carpathians throughout the Roman occupation (AD 106-271). Roman settlers may have lived in a more hotly contested and hostile environment than traditionally understood. Our findings point to the presence of a long-term insurgency in Dacia, evidence through the evolution of strategies developed by Romans over time.
The earliest camp, Boiţa, was constructed sometime during the first Dacian War in order to hold the Carpathian pass to the south. From Boiţa, the Romans built the line of camps to the east a decade after the end of the Second Dacian War implying renewed conflict. From west to east, Boiţa, Feldioara, and Cinşor all feature prominent sightlines to the south. Clearly these soldiers anticipated a conventional army. Their buffer zone gave them plenty of time to see a large force and react accordingly. This strategy is applied along many other Roman limes, such as at Hadrian’s Wall.
However, the strategy changes at Hoghiz and Homorod further east along the Olt. These two camps likely date to the Antonine Period. There is less of an emphasis on large fields of visibility and more of an emphasis on establishing “choking points” that restrict the movement of smaller forces. The forts here are smaller, closer to one another, and not aligned in linear patterns. The Romans probably implemented shorter patrols and abandoned long marches.
It is the kind of approach needed to fight guerrilla wars, tactics recently revisited to fight the current war in Afghanistan. We have every conviction that this part of Dacia became the site of an insurgency, the kind of unconventional war Romans were not adept at fighting. The notion of a long-term insurgency in Dacia requires that we change more than just our view on tactics; it may ultimately challenge our perception of Rome’s cultural primacy in the entire province.
Reassessing Hegemonies in Late Iron Age Transylvania
Andre Gonciar (ArchaeoTek - Canada)
During the Late Iron Age (Late La Tène: 1st c. BC to 1st c. AD), the interaction between the inhabitants of modern-day Transylvania and Wallachia and the Romans (and Greeks) was based on a complex interwoven pattern of aggression, economic and cultural exchange, and various forms of protectionist policies on both sides. Prior to the Roman conquest of AD 106, a series of recorded political events affected the Dacian political landscape. Towards the end of the first half of the second century BC, Burebista rose to kingship and united all Dacian tribes. This political and military entity of mixed ethnicities conquered the Greek colonies along the Black Sea, annexed Celtic and German territories to the west and northwest of the Carpathians. At this moment in history, Burebista’s expanded kingdom constituted a counter-power and purported threat to the Roman Republic in the Balkans.
Burebista was assassinated shortly after 44 BC. However, his kingdom did not revert back to its preexisting geographical configuration. Instead, it split into four or five separate kingdoms with an apparent primacy given to Sarmizegetusa Regia, the long-time royal capital. In AD 85, Diurpanaeus (later known as King Decebalus) reunited the region and led an army into Roman Moesia, thus starting the Domitianic Dacian Wars. This conflict ended in 88 in favor of the Dacians. Despite the advantages reaped from the treaty of AD 88, Decebalus attacked Roman territories yet again in AD 101. After an initial victory, he eventually lost this second war in 102. In the aftermath, Emperor Trajan kept Decebalus in power and even provided him with substantial support to create a powerful buffer state north of the Danube. Astonishingly, Decebalus was forced by his followers into a third war against Rome in 105, eventually lost in 106. At this point, Dacia became a Roman province.
Following Celtic and Germanic templates, Late Iron Age scholars have interpreted these well-known events as discrete phenomena, instantiating the dialectic opposition between centralization and heterarchical currents apparent throughout Iron Age Europe. However, that assumption needs to be questioned. I argue that, in the case of Dacia the above series of events are the result of a single, relatively stable and coherent political construct in which strong and permanent central powers are fundamentally interwoven with similar local heterarchical powers, both of which can only exist in a context of active integration.
Power, Fear and Identity: The Role of “Place” in Dacian-Roman Interactions
Alexander Brown and Andre Gonciar (ArchaeoTek - Canada)
The Dacians of Late Iron Age Transylvania have a mottled social history reflective of its turbulent political history. The Dacians are treated as one people by Roman historiography, and modern scholarship’s dependence on the Roman historical record concerning Romanian prehistory brings us in to that same conceit. While there is little doubt that Burebista’s massive campaign of political and social consolidation created a unified empire, its subsequent collapse and further fracturing, even under the re-unification of Decebal, supports the theory that the Dacians were a network of different peoples that prized their independence and acted on their individual or immediate tribal concerns.
Work at two Dacian hill-fort sites, at Tilişca and Piatra Detunata, illustrates the pronounced individual character of settlement that mediated interactions between Roman military forces and Dacians. The two sites show marked differences in the way that they prepared for and met Trajan’s incursions. These differences are indicative not only of strategy and circumstance, but also of the relationship between the individual settlements and their inhabitants. This lecture explores the affordances of the two hill-forts, their sources of power, that provide the physical and emotional context within which the inhabitants negotiated their relationship to and self-image against the invading Romans.
Such evidence may suggest the subversion of political authority and resistance to such overarching power-grabs as a recurrent theme the convoluted Dacian system of governance. It is possible that, on the local level, Dacian communities struggled as much against ambitious monarchs like Burebista or Decebal as they did against the Romans. Rome merely prompts the most radical example of tribal maneuvering in Dacia in the historical record.
Romans…A Dacian Perspective!
Florea Costea (Braşov County History Museum, Romania)
Angelica Balos (DPCNH, Romania) and Andre Gonciar (ArchaeoTek - Canada)
One of the most challenging tasks of the archaeologist is to critically negotiate the dynamics between archaeological realties, historical facts, and written sources. The Late Iron Age in the Carpathian region illustrates these academic tensions quite conclusively. The protohistorical context of this region/period, Geto-Dacian world, is further complicated by the scarcity and the highly one-sided (if not biased) nature of the preserved records. However scattered, fragmented, or even trifling these sources might appear, they infer a highly elaborate system of exchange as well as very complex social, cultural, and political relations between the Roman Republic/Empire, the Hellenistic world and the Geto-Dacian tribes and kingdoms.
Even more so, the Transylvanian Dacians, the power core of the Geto-Dacian political, economic and military construct, had a very substantial if not fundamental impact on these relations and events. In this context, we are going to assess the degree of veracity and/or validity of some of the historical sources as they relate to the actual, factual and material reality uncovered by recent archaeological excavations in south-east Transylvania, more specifically the area around the Olt River Canyons of the Persani Moutains. This approach will hopefully allow us to determine to what extent historical theoretical approaches can be implemented in this type of protohistorical textual and contextual environment.