Capidava Fortress

Capidava fortified settlement is a tourist attraction in Dobruja area, next to Hârşova and Histria, in Constanţa County of Romania, on the east bank of the eastern channel of the Danube River on a hill overlooking a place where the river could be forded during low water. Capidava fort can be reached through the road from Hârşova (E61), or the road from Cernavodă /Feteşti-Cernavodă/. Capidava or Kapidaua, Cappidava, Capidapa, Calidava was the part of the Roman province of Moesia Inferior (later Scythia Minor), in modern Dobruja. Capidava is located in the village with the same name, in Constanţa County of Romania. Capidava is depicted in the form Calidava/Calidaua in Segmentum VIII of Tabula Peutingeriana (1st–4th century) on a Roman road between Axiopolis and Carsium. Capidava fort appears on an illustration from Notitia Dignitatum imperii roman. Capidava took its name from the old Getic dava word meaning “settlement” that was located nearby.

Based on the literary records that confirm both the existence and the importance of Capidava fort and also on the archaeological pre-Roman evidences, some scholar consider the hypothesis that the Getic fortress might have been razed to the ground through the building of the Roman castra itself. The development of a Geto-Dacian state in Transylvania within the context of multiple ethnicities on the Lower and Middle Danube is widely discussed by scholars and use of new archaeological discoveries to clarify narratives of the wars of 84–89, 101–102, and 105–106-is evaluated. Interpretations of scenes on Emperor Trajan’s Column and themetopes of the Adamklissi monument remain controversial.

Historians such as Suceveanu, Miclea and Florescu also consider that the pre-Roman indigenous Getic settlement of Capidava, located at some distance from the future Roman fortress gave the name Capidava. The early 20th century Romanian archaeologist and historian Vasile Pârvan identified the Geto-Dacian Capidava as the center of power for the Getic king Dapyx, within a territorium Capidavense. Pârvan identified the administrative form of Capidava as an old Dacian pagus, as per a local inscription. Following Pârvan’s research and view, many historians supposed a pre Roman dwelling in the area of the Roman fort. The archaeological material of the 2nd century AD is mixed in character: Geto-Dacian and Roman.

The Roman Empire had reached the Danube as early as 14 AD, when the commander Aelius Catus conducted an expedition beyond the river in order to keep away the restless Dacians and their new allies, the Sarmatians. But the legions deployed their troops only up to Durostorum, as modern northern Dobruja was left to the forces of the kings of the Sapaei, the allies of the Romans, helped by the forces commanded by a Praefectus orae maritimae (commander of the seashore). Emperor Trajan as part of his preparations for the Daco-Roman wars has built, with detachments of the Legio V Macedonica of Troesmis and Legio XI Claudia of Durostorum, a castellum on the cliff at Capidava which had to control the ford and he deploy a garrison probably made up of Cohors I Ubiorum. The initially indigenous center of Capidava developed due to the presence of the Roman army. At the time of Emperor Hadrian and even earlier at the time of Trajan, Roman farmers already dwelt in isolated settlements, in the so-called Roman villa and vicus. Separated from them, south Thracian colonists – Bessians, also inhabited isolated villages. The population of its district (pagus) consisted of Dacians and Bessi and of Roman citizens. The Capidava fortification measured 105 meters by 127 meters with walls 2 meters thick and 6 meters high. It seems that the such square-shaped fort at Capidava was only a chain in a system comprising many others including the fortifications at Carsium, Cius, Troesmis, Noviodunum, Aegyssus.

The Capidava fort continued to function as a guard of the river and ford, seemingly without many problems, except for the change in the garrison troops, after 243 AD when Cohors I Ubiorum was replaced by Cohors I Germanorum civium romanorum until the end of the 3rd century. The fortified settlement played an important role in the Roman defensive system belonging to the series of military camps and fortifications erected during the reign of Emperor Trajan, in the early 2nd century, as part of the measures to organize the Danube limes. The place is very suitable for this kind of construction providing a large surveillance area: a massive rock standing between the foot of the slope going down from the NE and the Danube River. The Capidava massif had a strategic advantage, namely a natural moat starting from the Danube, turning around it on the NE side, almost up to the east corner of the fortified settlement. Moreover, the shape of the massif entailed the shape and orientation of the camp. The following Roman legions and cohors have been stationed at the Capidava legionary castra: Legio XI Claudia, Legio I Italica, Legio II Herculia, Cohors I Germanorum and Cohors I Ubiorum.

Destroyed by Goths in 3rd century, the fortifications were rebuilt in the next century, then it became an episcopal center. Sources between the 4th to 6th centuries talk about cavalry units, Cuneus equitum Solensium, and also equites scutarii and vexillatio Capidavensium. The Capidava fort was abandoned in 559 after the invasion of the Cutriguri. After the official withdrawal from Dobrudja of the Eastern Roman Empire (ca. 600), the city was rebuilt by the Byzantines in the 10th century, also settled by local population. Fire caused by the Pechenegs in 1036 led to its final abandonment. In the spring of 1036, an invasion of the Pechenegs devastated large parts of the region, after which they established some form of domination until 1059, when Byzantine ruler John I Komnenos reconquered Dobruja. The ruins at Capidava were known by word of mouth from long ago, as the Turkish village (a military colony) founded in the 18th century under the name of Kale-koy, that is “the village of the fortified settlement”. The first scientific explorers of the Dobruja’s land, from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century were captain Mihai Ionescu-Dobrogeanu and archaeologist Grigore Tocilescu who mentioned the fortification and gathered antiquities from its area. In an archaeological survey conducted before World War I, Vasile Pârvan identified it and asked Pamfil Polonic Sr. to create a concise plan of the ruins. Right after the war, Pârvan intended to undertake a vast project of archaeological research in Dobrudja likely to be joined by all his pupils in Bucharest and Iaşi. Starting from 1924 and continuing in 1926 and 1927 they initiated here archaeological excavations, led by one of Vasile Parvan’s assistants, Grigore Florescu, later a lecturer in epigraphy and antiquities with the Faculty of Letters of the University of Bucharest. Grigore Florescu led the researches at Capidava until 1960, when he died on the archaeological site of Drobeta. Until 1954 he worked alone, helped from time to time by his students. Between 1949 and 1954, the excavations at Capidava as well as other field research on the Roman period were interrupted. The most important monuments uncovered at Capidava include epigraphic and sculptural ones, and also pottery: vessels, amphorae, clay buckets, jars, bowls, lamps. At the same time, they uncovered metal, bone, glass, stone, earth artifacts and coins. The coins date from the time of John I Tzimiskes, Basil II, Constantine VIII, and Theodora. Of the total of almost 50 epigraph monuments uncovered 25 are funerary steles, and the rest are altars, honorary or simple votives. The sculptural monuments uncovered number 15 and are capitals, a hand, a shaft-column, a leg, a serpent, an eagle. In 1969, in the ancient Geto-Dacian settlement of Capidava that subsequently become a Roman fortress, a pitcher of local make in the Roman-Byzantine tradition was discovered, which beside the sign of the cross and the Greek – carries the name Petre /common name in the Danube valley, interpreted as Romanian by some Romanian historians/.

Among the inscribed jewellery discovered in Roman Dacia count also the rings decorated with the phrase VTERE FELIX, most identified in military or army related contexts, at Resculum – Bologa, Potaissa – Turda and Aquae – Cioroiu Nou to which add two examples found in burial contexts at Sucidava and Dierna – Orşov. Ana-Cristina Hamat, Muzeul Banatului Montan, Reşiţa.

Visitors of the Capidava site can nowadays see the impressive precinct wall, the fortified settlement gate with a tower, the trajectory of the tower foundations in the shape of horseshoes. In the south part of the fortified settlement along 1/3 of its length one can see the foundation of the defensive wall and late fort, as well as the trajectory of the ditch protecting it. In this sector the guards building have been uncovered. Inside the fortified settlement one can look at several buildings raised around a square, fitted with porches, as well as access paths and sewerage canals.