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ARGEDAVA

Alexandru Vulpe


The most important economic, military-political and spiritual centre of the Geto-Dacians in the Romanian Plain has been identified and investigated through archaeological excavations carried out at Popesti, Mihailesti commune, Ilfov county. The Dava-type fortified settlement unearthed there is located on a promontory on the right bank of the Arges river terrace.
This complex archaeological area covers the whole surface of the eminence which, towers over the surrounding area. It consists of three sectors divided by three defensive ditches. The first sector, topping the promontory, had been a residential site. An acropolis is situated next to the settlement area which, despite its modest aspect shows definite evidence of intense habitation. The third sector which, is also the largest, used to be a place of refuge for the population in the surrounding area when danger was foreseeable.
Excavations conducted at Popesti over a substantial period of time have revealed a big structure on the acropolis. It consists of several rooms amongst which is a SE-NW oriented dome with an apse-like NW extremity. This edifice had obviously been a religious place since it comprises several hearths one of which, is decorated with religious symbols. Other rooms in this residential construction were used for economic-household purposes (one is a pantry full of big supply vases, another shelters a large oven, in another there is a weaving loom. etc.).
This structure had clay walls and a wattle-twined framework and had been covered with tiles, elements seldom encountered in other Dava- type settlements (2nd century BC). The uncommon features of this big construction prompted the speculation of it having been the residence of a Geto-Dacian chieftain. In other parts of the acropolis diggings brought to light rather modest dwellings characteristic of the Geto-Dacian lowland type of houses.
The traces of material culture discovered at Popesti are characteristic of the apex of the Geto-Dacian civilization. Among the finds there is a large number of burnt earthen cups with decorations in relief, luxury items made by native craftsmen after the model of Hellenistic cups. The pattern is either an imitation of Greek motifs or largely original. The workmanship of these vases shows specific Geto-Dacian pottery details. It is worth mentioning that some 80 per cent of the total discoveries of such pottery in Dacia belong to the Popesti site. This impressive quantity, together with the moulds found there, indicate the existence of some important workshops in which these cups were being produced. Another feature of the Popesti pottery is the imitation of various Greek amphorae, the Kos type in particular. Local artisans would occasionally follow the Greek custom of having the handle engraved but their stamping was purely ornamental and is today called "anepigraphic engravings". The fact that such items have been unearthed in other sites in the Arges basin, e.g., a large quantity at Cetateni on the Dimbovita river, is suggestive of their having been largely meant for domestic exchanges in the Geto-Dacian market. Unlike the rich finds of autochthonous pottery, such imported objects have rarely been found. Instead, both local Geto-Dacian issues and foreign coins are quite numerous (silver Roman Republican denarii, coins of the Greek city-states Odessps, Mesambria, Apollonia, Amisos, pieces from Dyrrhachium, Tassian tetradrachmae, both original and imitations). All these stand proof to the intense economic life that had been going on at Popesti.
The stratigraphic layers of the excavated sections on the acropolis are usually well delimited presenting a telling picture of the development of this settlement. Next to the sediments from the Bronze and the Early Iron Ages (Basarabi culture), there appears the 1.50 m-thick layer of the Geto-Dacian fortress with 3 to 5 settlement levels. As the following archaeological strata are hardly disturbed the evidence they supply is highly valuable not only for dating the settlement proper but also for assessing chronologically the Geto-Dacian culture in general. It has been assumed in the present stage of investigations. that the Geto-Dacians began living on the acropolis in the early half of the 2nd century BC but not later than circa 150 BC. These imposing structures described previously belong to the first two levels of development and are dated to 150 BC. and early 1st century BC which, is prior to Burebista's reign. To the time of that king's rule the intermediate levels could be assigned. The last one, well delimited from the others by a compact gravel layer at its base, contains a series of items among which fibulae from the second half of the 1st century BC. The latest coin discovery at Popesti. A silver denarius from the year 29 BC, proves that the city had already been in existence at that time.
At some 1 to 1.5 km SW of the acropolis, outside the last defense moat that skirts the whole settlement, there lie some twelve tumuli of, which, only four have been investigated so far. Each of these four tumuli contains a cremation grave, belonging to a warrior. The inventory found inside would indicate that the cremated warriors had been respected chieftains. Cremation was presumably performed at the base of the tumulus, the funeraral remains being subsequently mixed with earth and deposited in a grave. Among the weapons there are La Tene spades, curved knives, lance points, iron shirts, and shield parts all made of iron and a parade helmet made of bronze. Adornments are rare, a few fibulae, rings, harness ornaments. The pottery shows characteristic Geto-Dacian forms (hand-made fruit dishes, cups decorated in relief and here and there an amphora of the Kos type). As yet no graves of ordinary people have been identified which, is again a confirmation of the absence of funerals in Dacia all through the late La Tene period. Investigations conducted so far justify our conclusion that at that time both the fortress and the settlement had been the most important ones in the whole region. Due to this evidence it has been hypothetically advanced that they stand for Argedava, the residential centre mentioned in the decree issued in honour of Akornion,a famous citizen of the Greek city Dyonissopolis on the western coast of Pontus Euxinus (the Black Sea). Our assumption is based mainly on the interpretation of the toponym Argedava as Dava on the Argesis, a hypothetic etymon of the Getic word Arges, as proposed by archaeologist Vasile Parvan. This identification would hold because the rather numerous investigations conducted in the area have not led to discovery of any other fortified settlements on the course of this river bigger than the Popseti one, neither in point of habitation nor of the defence system, dating from the years when Akornion had rendered a series of diplomatic services to his native city and to Burebista alike. Taking into consideration the fact that most epigraphers have interpreted the Dyonissopolis inscription to the effect that Argedava (Argedabon in the text) would have been the residence of Burebista's father, then that place stands a good chance of having been the birthplace of the great king of all the Getae and the Dacians.

Article from: ROMANIA, Pages of history, 3rd year, no. 2/1978