Translated by Kirsty Bennett and haiducul
The Dacian religion is one of the most controversial aspects of Dacian history. From the first mention of Dacian religion by Herodotus it has been the target of different theories and argumetns that give only a partial knowledge of it. What do we know for sure? We know the supreme god was Zamolxis, we know about the controversial Gebeleizis and of course Bendis had some believers too. The Dacian priests are known under the names of ktistai, kapnobatai or polistai. The sanctuaries from Sarmizegetusa have modest copies in other fortresses. What are historians saying? Was Zamolxis a htonian or uranian god? The historians contradict each other. Was the religion polytheistic or monotheistic? Is Gebeleizis one and the same as Zamolxis? Did Zamolxis really exist or it was it just in the imagination of the Dacians? How were the Dacians using the sanctuaries? Did they have roofs or not? What was the exact role of the priest in the religion?
As we can see there are a lot of unanswered questions. It seems it will be like this because of the lack of ancient documents that discuss the religion. The huge quantity of paper and ink used to try to solve this problem has been wasted in my view because a careful study of the old history of the old documents could give birth to some interesting theories. We can build a clearer image of the Dacian religion with correct information and a little bit of imagination.
The father of history, Herodotus, is clearly saying that Zamolxis was a man. The latest theory argues that Zamolxis lived around 1300BC. Why was he made a god? Because of the revolution that he gave birth to in religion, morals and science. The Dacians have seen in him probably the model of a complex man and they admired him until he became a god in their eyes. Some have argued that he was a slave of Pythagoras. This isn’t very probable though. If you read Socrates you will find out that Zamolxis helped Pythagoras to get rid of the tyranny of Policrate. It is almost impossible that a simple slave could do a thing that Pythagoras couldn’t do. After he went into Egypt he turned back on his native lands becoming for the first time a priest of the most important god of the Dacians and then with the help of the greatest Dacian king of those times he was considered a god. We can consider him a Uranian god after the elements that we know.
If we consider also Gebeleizis - god of the sky and the rain, Bendis – goddess of the moon and of the night worshipped by females and Derzelas – the god of the vital energy, we can say that the Dacian religion was probably polytheistic. The strange thing is that Socrates says that when Zamolxis came from Egypt he became the priest of the most important Dacian god. There are documents from which, we can assume that the Dacians have a god and his name was forbidden. Why is that? Maybe that god is very close to the one that we have today but it is hard to say. More closer to us there was Deceneu. He was another priest who worked closely with King Burebista. What we know about Deceneu is that he went into Egypt, he turned back into Dacia and became a holy monk. This is probably the way that Dacian priests were initiated. They had to know the major religions and philosophical concepts, even if they didn’t follow them. The Dacian priests had close links with the Dacian king. It is possible that the high priests after a certain time and after certain test could become gods. The Dacians probably had some old laws about this.
The high priests were called ktistai, kapnobatai and polistai. It is possible that there were three castes from which the names are derived. The first one, kapnobatai (the ones who are walking between the clouds) lived alone in the mountains, where the mountains reached the clouds. The second one, ktistai (the founders of nations) had special knowledge of medicine. It is clear that they were considered better than the Greek doctors from Rome. They sustained the unity between body and spirit. The third one, polistai (the founders of cities) possessed very good scientific knowledge. They created very exact calendars and knew the size of the sun and the earth. The Greeks admired their knowledge in philosophy, moral and logic.
Another controversial aspect of their religion is the holy mountain that was called Kogaionon. We have no precise location of it but we know that it is the place where Zamolxis retreated. Another thing that we know is that close to the mountain was a river with the same name.
We can only hope that in the future there will be more discoveries that could expand our knowledge about the Dacian religion.