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In ancient geography, especially in Roman sources, Dacia was the land in East-Central Europe inhabited by the Dacians. Ancient Greeks called the same people "Getae". This region had in the middle the Carpathian Mountainsmarker and was bounded approximately by the Danube (then known as Istros) or sometimes by the Balkan Mountainsmarker (then known as Hemus) to the south (Dobruja, a region south of the Danube, was a core area where the Getae lived and interacted with the Ancient Greeks), Black Seamarker (then known as Pontus Euxinus) and Dniestermarker (then known as Tyras) to the east (but several Dacian settlements are recorded in part of area between Dniester and Southern Bugmarker), and Tisza (then known as Tisia) to the west (but at times included areas between Tisza and middle Danube). It thus corresponds to modern countries of Romaniamarker and Moldovamarker, as well as smaller parts of Bulgariamarker, Serbiamarker, Hungarymarker, and Ukrainemarker.

Dacians, or Getae, were North Thracian. Dacian tribes had both peaceful and military encounters with other neighboring tribes, such as Celts, Ancient Germanics, Sarmatians, and Scythians, but were most influenced by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The latter eventually conquered, and linguistically and culturally assimilated the Dacians. A Dacian Kingdom of variable size existed between 82 B.C. until the Roman conquest in 106 A.D. The capital of Dacia, Sarmizegetusa, located in modern Romania, was destroyed by the Romans, but its name was added to that of the new city (Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa) built by the latter to serve as the capital of the Roman province of Dacia.


The Dacians, situated north of the lower Danube in the area of the Carpathiansmarker and Transylvania, are the earliest named people from the present territory of Romania. They are first mentioned in the writings of Herodotus (Histories) and Thucydides (Peloponnesian Wars).Later the Dacians were mentioned in the Roman documents, and also under the name Geta (plural Getae) in Greek writings. Strabo tells that the original name of the Dacians was "daoi", which could be explained with a possible Phrygian cognate "daos", meaning "wolf". This assumption is enforced by the fact that the Dacian standard, the Dacian Draco, had a wolf head. The late Roman map Tabula Peutingeriana indicates them as Dagae and Gaete.

Much later, in the Late Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church used on a few occasions the term Dacia to denote Scandinavia or Jutland, and refer to several royalty from northern Europe as "of Dacia". As the term did not catch and was disused soon after its (re)introduction, normally there is no confusion with the usage of the original.


Towards the west Dacia may originally have extended as far as the Danube, where it runs from north to south at Waitzenmarker (Vác). In the 1st century B.C., at the time of the first Dacian King Burebista, Julius Caesar in his De Bello Gallico (book 6) speaks of the Hercynian forest extending along the Danube to the territory of the Dacians. In the 2nd century A.D., after the Roman conquest, Ptolemy puts the eastern boundary of Dacia Trajana (the Roman provice) as far east as the Hierasus (Siretmarker) river, in modern Romaniamarker. Roman rule extended to almost all Dacian area; it however did not extend to what later became known as Maramureş, to the parts of the later Principality of Moldavia east of the Siret and north of the Upper Trajan Wall, as well as to areas in modern Ukraine, except the Black Sea shore.

The extent and location of the geographical entity Dacia varied in its three distinct historical periods (see History, below);


According to archaeological findings, the cradle of the Dacian culture is considered to be north of the Danube towards the Carpathian mountains, in the modern-day historical Romanian province of Muntenia. It is identified as an evolution of the Iron Age Basarabi culture.

The Dacian gold bracelets depict the cultural and aesthetic sense of the Dacians. They were made from a gold ore mixed with very small quantity of silver using techniques that are considered by archaeologists technologically very advanced for that period of time.


According to Herodotus History (book 4) account of the story of Zalmoxis (or Zamolxis), the Getae (speaking the same language as the Dacians, according to Strabo) believed in the immortality of the soul, and regarded death as merely a change of country. Their chief priest held a prominent position as the representative of the supreme deity, Zalmoxis. The chief priest was also the king's chief adviser. The Goth Jordanes in his Getica (The origin and deeds of the Goths), gives an account of Dicineus (Deceneus), the highest priest of King Buruista (Burebista), and considered Dacians a nation related to the Goths.

Besides Zalmoxis, the Dacians believed in other deities such as Gebeleizis and Bendis. Dacian religion and mythology was very elaborate.


Dacians were divided into two classes: the aristocracy (tarabostes) and the common people (comati). The aristocracy alone had the right to cover their heads and wore a felt hat (hence pileati, their Latin name). The second class, who comprised the rank and file of the army, the peasants and artisans, might have been called capillati (in Latin). Their appearance and clothing can be seen on Trajan's Columnmarker.

Dacians had developed the Murus dacicus, characteristic to their complexes of fortified cities, like their capital Sarmizegetusa in what is today Hunedoara County, Romaniamarker. The degree of their urban development can be seen on Trajan's Columnmarker and in the account of how Sarmizegetusa was defeated by the Romans. The Romans identified and destroyed the water aqueducts or pipelines of the Dacian capital, only thus being able to end the long siege of Sarmizegetusa.

Greek and Roman chroniclers record the defeat and capture of Lysimachus in the 3rd century BC by the Getae (Dacians) ruled by Dromihete, their military strategy, and the release of Lysimachus following a debate in the assembly of the Getae.

The cities of the Dacians were known as -dava, -deva, -δαυα ("-dawa" or "-dava", Anc. Gk.), -δεβα ("-deva", Byz. Gk.) or -δαβα ("-dava", Byz. Gk.), etc. . A list of Dacian davas 1 and, more actual, at SOLTDM:

  1. In Dacia: Acidava, Argedava, Burridava, Dokidava, Carsidava, Clepidava, Cumidava, Marcodava, Netindava, Patridava, Pelendavamarker, *Perburidava, Petrodaua, Piroboridaua, Rhamidaua, Rusidava, Sacidava, Sangidava, Setidava, Singidava, , Tamasidava, Utidava, Zargidava, Ziridava, Sucidava – 26 names altogether.
  2. In Lower Moesia (the present Northern Bulgariamarker) and Scythia minor (Dobrudja): Aedeba, *Buteridava, *Giridava, Dausadava, Kapidaua, Murideba, Sacidava, Scaidava (Skedeba), Sagadava, Sukidaua (Sucidava) – 10 names in total.
  3. In Upper Moesia (the districts of Nish, Sofia, and partly Kjustendil): Aiadaba, Bregedaba, Danedebai, Desudaba, Itadeba, Kuimedaba, Zisnudeba – 7 names in total.

Gil-doba, a village in Thracia, of unknown location.

Thermi-daua, a town in Dalmatia. Probably a Grecized form of *Germidava.

Pulpu-deva, (Phillipopolis) today Plovdivmarker in Bulgariamarker.


The chief occupations of Dacians were agriculture, apiculture, viticulture, livestock, ceramics and metal working. The Roman province Dacia is represented on Roman Sestertius (coin) as a woman seated on a rock, holding aquila, a small child on her knee holding ears of grain, and a small child seated before her holding grapes.

They also worked the gold and silver mines of Transylvania. They carried on a considerable outside trade, as is shown by the number of foreign coins found in the country (see also Decebalus Treasure).

Commercial relations flourished for centuries, first with the Greeks, then with Romans, as we can find even today an impressive collection of gold currency used in various periods of Dacian history. The first coins produced by the Geto-Dacians were imitations of silver coins of the Macedonian kings Philip II and Alexander III (the Great). Early in the 1st century BC, the Dacians replaced these with silver denarii of the Roman Republic, both official coins of Rome exported to Dacia and locally made imitations of them.


Some historians consider Dacian language to be a dialect of, or the same language as Thracian. Others consider that Dacian and Illyrian form regional varieties (dialects) of a common language. (Note: Thracians inhabited modern southern Bulgaria and northern Greece. Illyrians lived in modern Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Croatia.)

Political entities

The migrations of the fore bearers of Ancient Greece (ca. 750 BC— or earlier) most likely originated at least in part from periodic swelled populations in the easy living found in the fertile plains of the region. Such migrations were in mythological times, and well before historical records. It is likely that trade with communities along the Danube via the Black seamarker was a regular occurrence, even in Minoan times (2700 to 1450 BC).
Classical Dacia and environs, from Alexander G.
Findlay's Classical Atlas to Illustrate Ancient Geography, New York, 1849.

At the beginning of the 2nd century BC, under the rule of Rubobostes, a Dacian king in present-day Transylvania, the Dacians' power in the Carpathian basin increased by defeating the Celts who previously held the power in the region.

A kingdom of Dacia was in existence at least as early as the first half of the 2nd century BC under King Oroles. Conflicts with the Bastarnae and the Romans (112 BC-109 BC, 74 BC), against whom they had assisted the Scordisci and Dardani, greatly weakened the resources of the Dacians.

Under Burebista (Boerebista), a contemporary of Julius Caesar, who thoroughly reorganised the army and raised the moral standard of the people, the limits of the kingdom were extended to their maximum. The Bastarnae and Boii were conquered, and even the Greek towns of Olbiamarker and Apollonia on the Black Seamarker (Pontus Euxinus) recognised Burebista's authority.

Indeed the Dacians appeared so formidable that Caesar contemplated an expedition against them; something his death prevented. About the same time, Burebista was murdered, and the kingdom was divided into four (or five) parts under separate rulers. One of these was Cotiso, whose daughter Augustus is said to have desired to marry and to whom Augustus betrothed his own five-year-old daughter Julia. He is well known from the line in Horace (Occidit Daci Cotisonis agmen, Odes, III. 8. 18).

The Dacians are often mentioned under Augustus, according to whom they were compelled to recognise Roman supremacy. However they were by no means subdued, and in later times to maintain their independence they seized every opportunity of crossing the frozen Danube during the winter and ravaging the Roman cities in the province of Moesia.

Roman conquest

Trajan turned his attention to Dacia, an area north of Macedon and Greece and east of the Danube that had been on the Roman agenda since before the days of Caesar when they had beaten a Roman army at the Battle of Histria. In 85, the Dacians had swarmed over the Danube and pillaged Moesia and initially defeated an army the Emperor Domitian sent against them, but the Romans were victorious in the Battle of Tapae in 88 AD and a truce was drawn up.

From AD85 to AD89, the Dacians (under Decebalus) were engaged in two wars with the Romans.

In AD87, the Roman troops under Cornelius Fuscus were defeated, and Cornelius Fuscus was killed by the Dacians under the authority of their ruler, Diurpaneus. After this victory, Diurpaneus took the name of Decebalus. The next year, AD88, new Roman troops under Tettius Iullianus, gained a signal advantage, but were obliged to make peace owing to the defeat of Domitian by the Marcomanni, so the Dacians were really left independent. Even more, Decebalus received the status of "king client to Rome", receiving from Rome military instructors, craftsmen and even money.

Emperor Trajan recommenced hostilities against Dacia and, following an uncertain number of battles, defeated the Dacian general Decebalus in the Second Battle of Tapae in 101 AD. With Trajan's troops pressing towards the Dacian capital Sarmizegethusamarker, Decebalus once more sought terms. Decebalus rebuilt his power over the following years and attacked Roman garrisons again in 105 AD. In response Trajan again marched into Dacia, besieging the Dacian capital in the Siege of Sarmizegethusa, and razing it to the ground. With Dacia quelled, Trajan subsequently invaded the Parthian empire to the east, his conquests taking the Roman Empire to its greatest extent. Rome's borders in the east were indirectly governed through a system of client states for some time, leading to less direct campaigning than in the west in this period.

To expand the glory of his reign, restore the finances of Rome, and end a treaty perceived as humiliating, Trajan resolved on the conquest of Dacia and with it the capture of the famous Treasure of Decebalus and control over the Dacian gold mines of Transylvania. The result of his first campaign (101–102) was the siege of the Dacian capital Sarmizegethusa and the occupation of a part of the country. The second campaign (105–106) ended with the suicide of Decebalus, and the conquest of the territory that was to form the Roman province Dacia Traiana. The history of the war is given by Cassius Dio, but the best commentary upon it is the famous Column of Trajanmarker in Romemarker.

Although the Romans conquered and destroyed the ancient Kingdom of Dacia, a large remainder of the land remained outside of Roman Imperial authority. Additionally, the conquest changed the balance of power in the region and was the catalyst for a renewed alliance of Germanic and Celtic tribes and kingdoms against the Roman Empire. However, the material advantages of the Roman Imperial system wasn't lost on much of the surviving aristocracy. Thus, most of the Romanian historians and linguists believe that many of the Dacians became Romanised (see also Origin of Romanians).In 183 war broke out in Dacia: few details are available, but it appears two future contenders for the throne of emperor Commodus , Clodius Albinus and Pescennius Niger, both distinguished themselves in the campaign.

Nonetheless, Germanic and Celtic kingdoms, particularly the Gothic tribes made a slow progression toward the Dacian borders and soon within a generation were making assaults on the province. Ultimately, the Goths succeeded in dislodging the Romans and restoring the independence of Dacia following Aurelian's withdrawal, in 275. The province was abandoned by Roman troops, and, according to the Breviarium historiae Romanae by Eutropius, Roman citizens "from the town and lands of Dacia" were resettled to the interior of Moesia. [7486]However, Romanian historians maintain that the bulk of the civilian population remained and a surviving aristocratic Dacian line revived the kingdom under Regalianus. About his origin, the Tyranni Triginta says he was a Dacian, a kinsman of Decebalus. Nonetheless, the Gothic aristocracy remained ascendant and through intermarriage soon dominated the kingdom which was absorbed into their larger empire.

During Diocletian, circa AD296, in order to defend the Roman border, fortifications are erected by the Romans, on both banks of the Danube.By AD336 Constantine the Great had reconquered the lost province, however following his death, the Romans abandoned Dacia for good.

See also


  • Hoddinott, Ralph F., The Thracians, 1981.
  1. Dacian, North Thracian Language
  2. Charles Matson Odahl: Constantine and the Christian Empire
  3. Goldsworthy, In the Name of Rome, p. 322
  4. Matyszak, The Enemies of Rome, p. 213
  5. Matyszak, The Enemies of Rome, p. 215
  6. Matyszak, The Enemies of Rome, p. 216
  7. Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, p. 53
  8. Matyszak, The Enemies of Rome, p. 217
  9. Matyszak, The Enemies of Rome, p. 219
  10. Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, p. 54
  11. Goldsworthy, In the Name of Rome, p. 329
  12. Matyszak, The Enemies of Rome, p. 222
  13. Matyszak, The Enemies of Rome, p. 223
  14. Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, p. 39

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