Sarmizegetusa Dacian Fortresses Orastie Mountains

Dating from the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D., strewn from Orastie Mountains to almost inaccessible heights of the Retezat Mountains, the Dacian and later Roman fortresses are today recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites making the true archaeologist’s delights of the mysterious Sarmizegetusa Regia. The Sarmizegetusa (also known as Sarmisegetusa, Sarmisegethusa, Sarmisegethuza, (Zarmizegethousa), (Zermizegethouse) was the ancient royal capital and king Decebalus seat of power, the stronghold and the most important military, religious and political center of the Dacians. Erected on top of a 1200 meters high mountain, the Sarmizegetusa fortress was the core of the strategic defensive system in the Orăştie Mountains comprising six citadels, and thus the center of power easily defensible even against attack from the kingdom’s outlying regions. Sarmizegetusa Regia was the capital of Dacia prior to the bloody conquest by the Roman Empire. Built as a defense ring around the capital of the Dacian kingdom of Sarmizegetusa, this site includes the ruins of the fortresses at Banita, Capalna, Costesti – Blidaru, Costesti – Cetatuie, Luncani – Piatra Rosie, as well as pre-Roman Dacian capital (Sarmisegetuza). The Sarmizegetusa places themselves are extremely worth visiting as they are the only surviving examples of once powerful culture of pre-Roman Dacian state. The Dacian fortresses in Sargmizegetura Regia show an unusual fusion of military and religious architectural techniques and concepts from the classical world and the late European Iron Age. The most important remnant of the Sacred Area is Sarmizegetusa Regia, a large nearly circular astronomical temple and the Great Cosmic Dacian Calendar. The sacred zone of Sarmizegetusa includes a number of rectangular spiritual temples and the bases of their supporting columns are still visible in regular arrays.

The six defensive sites which were the nucleus of the Dacian Kingdom, had been conquered by the Romans at the beginning of the 2nd century A.D.; their extensive and well-preserved remains stand in spectacular natural surroundings and give a dramatic picture of a vigorous, advanced and innovative Dacian civilization. According to Ptolemy, King Decebalus’ Dacia was bounded in the west by Tisza River, in the north by the Carpathians, and in the east by the Dniester River. This immense territory, the greater part of which was inhabited by Celtic, Sarmatian and other peoples as well as the Dacians, must have been conquered progressively, and not without bloodshed.

The civilization of the Getes and Dacians can be distinguished in the Thracian world long before Herodotus first referred to them in the 7th century BC, as “the bravest and fairest of all the Thracians”. The Dacians were the only (and last) entity left in Europe to pose a real threat to Rome… culturally, economically, politically and military.  The Getes inhabited the Danube plain and the Dacians the central and western part of the region between the Carpathians and the Danube. It was a typical Iron Age culture, practicing agriculture, stock-raising, fishing and metal-working, as well as trade with the Graeco-Roman world. When Greek colonies were established along the northern shores of the Black Sea, the Geto-Dacian rulers established close links with them and extended their protection. The Geto-Dacian kingdoms of the late 1st millennium BC attained an exceptionally high cultural and socio-economic level, and this is symbolized by this group of fortresses, which represent the fusion of techniques and concepts of military architecture from inside and outside the classical world to create a unique style. The Dacian rulers became increasingly involved in the internal politics of the Roman Empire, and suffered accordingly from punitive expeditions. The lower Danube frontier (limes) was constantly the scene of cross-border raids and campaigns. This entered a new phase in AD 86, which marked the beginning of a series of Roman-Dacian wars.

In the spring of 101 the Roman Emperor Trajan, having secured his Rhine frontier, took the bloody offensive against the Dacians. King Decebalus unified the Dacian kingdoms and concentrated his forces in the Orašţie Mountains, where he submitted to Trajan. An uneasy distribution of territory ensued, broken in 105 when Decebalus seized the Roman governor Longinus. This time he could not hold the Dacians together against the powerful Roman army. His capital and his fortresses were overwhelmed and Decebalus himself committed suicide in eastern Transylvania to avoid capture. King Decebelus head was brought back to Emperor Trajan. This campaign is graphically depicted in the reliefs running round Trajan’s Column in Rome. With the demise of the kingdom, Dacian society also fell apart. Some of the common folk emigrated, and of those who remained, some were taken into slavery. A large part of the Dacian population was either exterminated or driven northward. The rigidly stratified society’s highest caste, were decimated and extinguished, and the survivors lost their status. The priesthood’s authority vanished along with the Dacian kingdom; there is no surviving trace of a Dacian religion during the Roman period. Those Dacians who remained in place had great difficulty in becoming integrated into the society of a Roman province. In other conquered lands, the Romans could work with the only interlocutors that they were prepared to acknowledge, the aristocracy; but in Dacia, the aristocrats had disappeared, leaving the people without representation. It was this social vacuum, as well as the loss of population, that prompted Trajan and his successors to encourage people from other parts of the empire to settle in conquered Dacia.

Trajan resettled Dacia with Romans and annexed it as a province of the Roman Empire. Trajan’s Dacian campaigns benefited the Empire’s finances through the acquisition of Dacia’s gold mines. The Romans seized an enormous amount of wealth as they immediately started exploiting the Dacian mines. The victory has been commemorated by the construction of Trajan’s Column, which depicts in stone carved bas-reliefs the Dacian Wars’ most important moments. Dacia became a Roman Imperial province, and its fortresses were slighted, but the Romans benefited both militarily and materially from this conquest. New Roman towns were created, but none of them on the site of the former Dacian settlements, with the exception of Sarmizegetusa, which was given the resounding Roman name Colonia Ulpia Traiana Augusta Dacica Sarmizegetusa.

Sarmizegetusa was the capital and the largest city of Roman Dacia, later named Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa after the former Dacian capital, located some 40 km away in mountains. Built on the ground of a camp of the V Macedonian Legion, the city was populated with veterans of the Dacian wars. With an area of 30 ha and a population around 20.000 and strong fortifications, Colonia Ulpia Traiana Dacica Sarmizegetusa was the political, administrative and religious center of Dacia Romana, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Colonia Ulpia Traiana Augusta Dacica Sarmizegetusa – the capital of the Roman Dacia – rose at the bottom of Retezat Mountains, in the South-Western part of the Hateg region, as the Roman capital of the Dacian provinces and the first Roman city north of the Danube, southwestern Transylvania. The exact period when the city was built is not known. Some say the first settlement was erected between 106-107, other say it was between 108-110. The town was situated at 8 km from the pass between Banat and Transylvania, whose ancient name was Tapae /present Iron Gates of Transylvania/. Bordering to the south the Gold Mountains with their extraordinarily well preserved Roman mining town of Alburnus Maior (Rosia Montana), the importance of this area is further enhanced by the immediate proximity of the most navigable waterway in Transylvania, the Mures River, and one of the imperial roads from Sarmizegetusa to Apulum (Alba Iulia), capital of Dacia Apulensis. The Historia Augusta records that the end of Roman Dacia occurred after attacks by the Carpi and Goths troubled Illyricum and Moesia, but other sources state that it came with the loss of the territory under Gallienus followed by Aurelian’s final abandonment!

Sarmizegetusa was the most important Dacian military, religious and political center. Erected on top of a 1,200 meters high mountain, the Dacian fortress was the core of the strategic defensive system in the Orăştie Mountains, comprising six citadels. The system developed by the Dacians to defend their capital, Sarmizegetusa Regia, was composed of three distinct fortified elements: the oldest is represented by fortified sites on dominant physical features, which consisted of palisaded banks and ditches. The second group is that of Dacian fortresses. The final category is that of linear defenses, which blocked access from certain routes and linked two or more fortresses. There are three components of Sarmizegetusa, the capital of Dacia: the fortress, the sacred area, and the civilian quarter. The Grădiştea plateau is dominated by the fortress, which was the center of secular and spiritual government. The sacred area is situated to the east of the fortress. Access is by means of a paved path on the west and a monumental stone stairway on the east. The civilians lived around the fortress, down the mountain on man-made terraces. Dacian nobility had flowing water, brought through ceramic pipes, in their residences. The archaeological inventory found at the site shows that Dacian society had a high standard of living and performed highly advanced culture.

The Dacian capital of Sarmizegetusa reached its acme under King Decebal who fought two wars against the Emperor Trajan of the Roman Empire in 101-102, the first successfully repelling the Roman invaders, and again in 105-106, the second culminating in the Battle of Sarmisegetusa, and the bloody defeat of the Dacians. An inscription discovered at the beginning of the 14th century, in the village Gradiste – Sarmizegetusa says: “On the command of the emperor Cesar Nerva Traianus Augustus, son of the devine Nerva, was settled the Dacian Colony by Decimus Terentius Scaurianus, its governor”.
Dacia was to remain part of the Roman Empire until 274, when the Emperor Aurelian abandoned it in the face of irresistible pressure and destruction from the Goths. The Sarmizegetusa site has been subjected to endless looting by professional thieves searching for the legendary golden treasure of the Dacian kings. Today Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa remains in ruins, with a partly conserved forum, an amphitheater, and remnants of several temples. At Sarmisegetuza visitors can still see the remains of the forum and the elliptical brick and stone amphitheater where gladiator shows were held. The National History of Transylvanian History is to coordinate a four-year research and restoration of the amazing Dacian fortresses and sanctuaries in Orastie Mountains because much still needs to be understood concerning the nature of the Roman occupation and the manner of interaction between Dacians and Romans.

Hiking enthusiasts can enjoy the trails in the nearby Retezat National Park, the oldest in Romania (established 1935), which is one of the most isolated and spectacular wilderness areas in the Carpathians. Covering 95,000 acres of pristine forests, alpine meadows, peaks, and some 80 glacial lakes, the Retezat Mountain area was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reservation and provides unforgettable hiking experiences among its peaks, valleys, rivers and gorges. Gradistea Muncelului Cioclovina is a protected area with the status of “natural park, established in 1979 at the borders of the Retezat Nature Park on the surface of 100 sqm, covering the massive of the Sureanu Mountains, with the Orăstie Mountains and Sebeşului Mountains as subdivisions which comprises the area of the Dacian and Roman ruins at Sarmisegetusa and other Dacian relics in the Gradistea Mountains east of Hateg.

The Dacians – People of Ancient Times

SHARE IT: