A lost civilisation


Dacia, in ancient geography the land of the Daci or Getae, was a large district of Central Europe, bounded in to the north by the Carpathians, to the south by the Danube, to the west by the Tisa (Tisza river, in Hungary), and to the east by the Tyras (Dniester or Nistru, now in eastern Moldova). It thus corresponds in the main to modern Romania and Moldova. The capital of Dacia was Sarmisegetusa.

The inhabitants of this district are considered to belong to Thracian stock. The Dacians were known as Geton (plural Getae) in Greek writings, and as Dacus (plural Daci) and Getae in Roman documents; also as Dagae and Gaete — see the late Roman map Tabula Peutingeriana. Ancient writers are unanimous in considering the Getae the same as the Daci.

dacia preromana

There were three distinct historical periods of Dacia.

* One was the Dacia of King Burebista, stretching from Bug river in what is today the Ukraine to the Danube river in what is modern day Slovakia, and from Balkan mountains in what is modern Bulgaria to Transcarpathia in what is modern dayUkraine.
* The second one was the Roman province Dacia Trajana, established as a consequence of the Dacian Wars during 101-106AD, comprising of the regions known today as Banat, Oltenia and Transylvania.
* The third one was the Roman province Dacia Aureliana, reorganised inside former Moesia Superior after the abandonment of former Dacia to the Goths and Carpi in 271AD.

Accordingly the territory of Dacia varied according to the above timeline.

Towards the west it may originally have extended as far as the Danube where it runs from north to south at Waitzen (Vacz). Julius Caesar in his De Bello Gallico (book 6) speaks of Hercynia forest extending along the Danube to the territory of the Dacians. Ptolemy puts the eastern boundary of Dacia Trajana as far back as the Hierasus (Siret river, in modern Romania).


On the top of orastie Mountains, well guarded by the natural towers and waves of the highs, there is over 2000 years a complex of fortifications of which remarcable is the Sarmizegetusa fortress from Gradistea Muncelului, a political and military centers of the Dacians. The ruins show pieces of that was one the jewell and pride of the old Dacian State.

The fortress, a quadrilateral formed by massive stone blocks, was constructed on five terraces, on an area of almost 3 ha. In the fortress the roads were paved with stones. Near the ruins of the fortress there are the ruins of some constructions, probable with religious character: The big quadrilateral Sanctuary and the little round Sanctuary. The stones from the litlle sanctuary are put in a certain order, symbolizing the sun rays, having of course, a role of a calendar. The ruins of a temple and a guard tower, fragments of ceramics, fire places, tools and installations of spring water collection, are proofs of the life on this places.

Some inscriptions descovered on the stone blocks of the sanctuaries, coins, arms as well as a ceramic vessel with the stamp “Decebalus per Scorilo” (“Decebal son of Scorilo”) have given to the researchers the possibility to consider that this settlement existed in the times when in Dacia was rulled by Burebista and next Decebal.

After the defeat of the Dacians the fortress was conquerred by the Romans, which established here a military garrison, from which we can see the ruins of a building and of a bath.

Sarmizegetusa was the capital of Dacian, the main political and religious centre of the Dacian kingdom. Around it they built an entire system of fortifications. Sarmizegetusa was split into three parts, a civil area, the sacred area, and the fortification itself. Sarmizegetusa contained the most important industrial workshops because of its importance. The Dacian kings and a number of nobles resided within the capital along with various tradesmen, constructors, doctors and other workers.

The Fortification

Access into the capital from the Mures valley was protected and controlled by fortifications at Costesti and Blidaru and also by several solitary towers situated close to the road. The fortifications from Cucuis-Golu and from Hulpe Top, along with several other towers, protected the way to the capital from two valleys, Cucuis and Sibisel. From the west it was protected by the Piatra Rosie fortifications, and the Linear fortifications from Cioclovina-Ponorici. In addition to these the capital was protected by fortifications at Capalna, Banita and Tilisca.

The Dacian capital was built upon the most practical vantage point in the Gradiste mountains around 1,000 metres high. The walls of the fortification surrounded the mountain according to the configuration of the terrain and were built in the classical style that was called “murus dacicus”. As with Costesti and Bildaru, they built bunkers at the highest point of the west side. Archaeologists cannot be certain if the fortress had a bulwark because of the later devastation and subsequent rebuilding by the Romans. In the interior wooden barracks for the soldiers were discovered. A part of the wall was destroyed because of the agreement between the Romans and the Dacians from the wars of 101AD and 102AD and rebuilt before the war of 105AD. The fortress suffered heavy damage in the last siege, and the roman reconstructions didn’t use the Dacian techniques, nor respect the original plan. The new roman plan increased the area to twice the size.

The Civil Settlement

Whilst rebuilding the wall the Romans used large blocks of stone from the civil buildings of Sarmizetusa which, suggest the original constructions were of a considerable size. The civil settlement was made up of houses, workshops, drainage facilities, and fresh water sources. In the house of one Dacian noble, a water supply was discovered that still functions today.  The majority of the terraces have not yet been researched. The archaeologists know that the entire area was excavated and terraced by the Dacians and the artificial terraces were reinforced by thick walls. The civil buildings were constructed from wooden and clay materials however, there are few remains of these due to decay over time. The archaeologists found only rocks from the base of the buildings, remains of the walls, carbonized pillars, clay floors and fireplaces.

The Houses

The houses can be grouped into three categories: single room dwellings, multi-roomed dwellings, and multi-sided buildings, i.e. octagonal. The single rooms were built directly on to the ground and were few in number. The houses with two or more rooms were constructed around supporting pillars, dug into the ground or a rock base. The majority of the dwellings constructed were multi-roomed. The circular and multi-sided dwellings usually had one room though some consisted of one or two levels of equal dimensions.  In one of the houses that was excavated a wooden box with two iron handles, containing medical equipment has been found. Inside this box the following items were found: five small pottery phials which probably contained ointment, one scalpel and a pumice stone with astringent properties.  Close to the houses were several outbuildings, including granaries.  The wealthiest households were built close to the fortifications and water sources, or ‘Tau’, thus creating a neighbourhood of aristocrats. Close to these they built a terrace upon which they probably built the town square.

Workshops and Utilities

Workshops were probably only built in wood and therefore it has been difficult to exactly determine their plan. However we know that inside the settlement three large and several other smaller workshops were constructed. From archaeological evidence we can see that one of these larger workshops was used as an iron foundry and the others were used to make iron goods.  In the iron foundry they have found a total of eight ovens, used for extracting iron from iron ore. In one of the ovens two drawknives (wood working tools) were discovered, bearing the mark ‘Herreni’ from Aquileia, Northern Italy. (We are uncertain of how they got there).

The sites at Sarmizegetsua, Fetele Albe and Fata Cetei are probably the most important civil settlements from the Orastie Mountains.  They were all built on a large scale and some distance from the nearest water source.  For example the water supply at Sarmizegetsua was taken from three springs and transported through terracotta pipes to storage tanks and from there further pipes distributed the water to some houses, workshops and religious buildings. Drainage systems, both open and buried, were built in order to effect the removal of rainwater from the buildings. In the sacred areas the drains were cut into the limestone to ensure that rain water from the mountains was also diverted away.

Sacred Areas

All of the sacred buildings were constructed on large man-made terraces. There are two types of sanctuaries, circular and rectangular. All were built between the reigns of Burebista and Decebal (circa 86BC – 106AD).

At Samizegetsua the first constructions were built using limestone and later buildings employed andesite. In the large circular sanctuary, wooden posts have been placed within the walls during the Communist era to give a more impressive look. However there is no evidence to suggest that the poles should actually be there.

There are also three rectangular sanctuaries, one of which is much larger than the other two.  Close to the smaller of these sanctuaries and the circular sanctuary mentioned above, sits the small circular disc, called the ‘Andesite Sun’, which is a very important site. Within its centre sits yet another smaller disc which has a radius of 1.46 metres.  The ‘Sun’ is divided by ten spokes, creating arcs at its circumference measuring 2.76 metres.  Protruding from the edge of the ‘Sun’ is a line made from rock pointing north.



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