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THE DACIANS

by Cristinel Plantos


1900 years ago Traian, one of the greatest emperors of Rome, began what was to be the adventure of his last important conquering: Dacia.
Situated at the northern borders of the empire, the Dacia of year 100 appeared more as an enemy rather than an “amicus et socius populi romani”, as was stated in the treaty of 89.
In his attempt at reconstituting the political, economical, military and spiritual history of old Dacia the historian can use archaeological and literary sources. However, these have certain limits imposed by the vague, often contradictory information they contain (especially the written sources), and by the relatively limited possibilities allowed by a commonsense analysis of some archaeological discoveries.
Starting from these premises, it’s easy to understand why pre-Roman Dacia couldn’t avoid a large number of interpretations, both in nuance and content, and the result was the formation of real schools, rarely sharing the same perspectives.
On the other hand, we shouldn’t skip over a different aspect, still in fashion: that of proliferating a fantasist literature whose conclusions often trench on the absurd. Thus, the space of old Dacia became a mythical center of the universe, the Dacians appeared as builders of pyramids, while Sarmizegetusa became the meeting point of some spiritual leaders, astronomers and other key personalities of the pseudo-science. We should mention names such as Napoleon Savescu, Pavel Corut, continuers of Ovidiu Densusianu, the father of Dacomania.
As a history, be it a synthetically-written one, of the Geto-Dacian space cannot be treated in such an article, we shall try, along some episodes, to bring into the reader’s attention some general aspects of this world.
We should first answer this question: since when can we speak about Dacians? And we are already facing a controversial issue. From the perspective of the antic literary traditions, the Dacians were first mentioned by Caesar (that is, the middle of the 1st century BC), if not the end of the 2nd century BC( Frontinus, Stratagemata II, 4, 3). On the other hand, the Gets, who were said to speak the same language as the Dacians (Strabo), were mentioned a little bit earlier (the end of the 6th century BC) by Herodotus (History, IV, 93), on the occasion of Darius’ campaign against the Scythians. In this context, though we can speak about 2 communities, it is still difficult to prove an ethno-linguistic difference between the Gets and the Dacians, as some contemporary historians would say (K. Strobel). These were the first documentary attestations.
Archaeologically speaking, the invasion, at the end of the Eneolithic, of Indo-European tribes coming from the East, would put an end to the flourishing Eneolithical cultures, such as the Cucuteni culture, with its splendid civilization. New tribes, apparently diverse, were united by a warlike, solar ideology, opposed to the sedentary, chthonian-oriented character.
Thus, during some 2 millenniums, the northern branch of the great Thracian nation would form and develop, 2nd in size after the Indians, if we were to believe Herodotus, who also said: “had they had a unique ruler or had there been peace among them, they would be invincible and much stronger than all other nations… the Thracians have more denominations, according to regions, but their customs are almost the same, except for the Gets, Trauhs and those living north of the Crestons” (Herodotus, V, 3). This fragment from Herodotus clearly states what the Greeks used to think around the middle of the 5th century BC about their northern neighbors. Thracia as a geographical notion was known as early as the 2nd millennium BC, as it can be deduced from the word “Tre-ke-wi-ja”, transmitted through linear writing B. Back then the term probably referred only to the area of contact between the Greeks and the Thracians situated on the northern coast of the Aegean Sea and the straits.
Starting with the 14th century BC new tribes of nomad shepherds coming from the north Pontic (Pontus Euxin was the name of the Black Sea back then) steppes penetrate the areas east of the Carpathians and the lower Danube, causing a new ethnical and cultural synthesis. The fact that we can speak about Thracians at the end of the Bronze Age is proved by their being mentioned in Homer’s The Iliad, where the Thracian king Rhesos is mentioned because of his interference in the Trojan War.
The Greeks’ understanding of the Thracians and Thracia enlarged only during the great colonization (8-6 BC), when they settled colonies on the shores of the Black Sea, developing stronger relations with the inland tribes. Thracia was perceived as either the area situated between the Balkans and the Aegean Sea, or as the southern half of the Balkan Peninsula, from the Danube to the Aegean Sea. It should be mentioned that the Danube didn’t represent an ethnical and cultural border, thing that was known to the Greeks, too; the Gets whom Herodotus considered, with good reason, to be Thracians lived on both sides of the river. Similarities between the archaeological discoveries from Northern Bulgaria and Dobrogea and those from the Meridional Sub-Carpathians show that as early as the 6-5 centuries BC, the notion of Gets included the populations inhabiting these regions. Therefore, we shall define as nucleus of the area inhabited by Thracians the vast geographical space situated east of the BP, from the Northern Carpathians to the Aegean Sea, as well as the North-West of Asia Minor. Among the most famous Thracian communities living north of the Danube we shall mention the representatives of the Monteoru, Otomani, Wietenberg, Tei and Costisa cultures.
Gradually, these communities would face a growing uniformity until, around the 11th century BC, we witness the appearance of some large cultural entities that would stand at the basis of the Dacian and Getic civilization. It is probably in this period that the ethnical crystallization of the Gets and Dacians also takes place.
A new step forward in the history of the Geto-Dacians came with the evolution towards the 2nd Iron Age whose historical expression consists in a massive development of the society, reflected in archaeological discoveries.
We distinguish 2 important steps in the historical development (from the moment of its first literary attestation) of the Getic and Dacian societies. The 1st step spans between the 5-3/2 centuries BC and is characterized by the existence of some powerful tribal groups in the extra-Carpathian space. Archaeologically speaking, these are represented by the size and monumentality of some fortifications (Cotofenii din Dos, Bazdana, Cascioarele, Satu Nou, Butuceni, Cotnari, Arsura), the impressive graves and the richness of some thesauruses, such as the one from Baiceni.
Among the rulers that led such formations we shall mention the anonymous rex Histrianorum (king of Histria), who successfully stood against Ateas’ invasion in 339 BC, another one who contributed to the disaster of the Macedonian general Zapyrion in 326 BC (Curtius Rufus, X, 1, 43-45; Pompeius Trogus, XII, 2, 6), and the most famous personality of this period, Dromichaites, who won twice against the Macedonian king of Thracia, Lysimach, whom he would take prisoner, eventually. We shall also mention Rhemaxos, Phrad(amon?), Oroles, all of whom were chieftains of powerful tribal unions reflecting a strong social structure. There is no doubt that they were representatives of a military aristocracy, cultivating luxury and richness – a true princely ideology they would transpose through mythological sequences exposed in the found ceramic reminiscences.
The progress of the Getic society in this period was also favored by the cultural and economical exchanges with the Greek world that had been present in the region since the 6th century BC, when the first colonies were founded on the Black Sea Coast. It is from these colonies that the local rulers would take over and develop, in a personal manner, a culture in which the magnificence of the sovereign played an important role; that’s why this period is known as “the golden age of the Getic aristocracy”.
We cannot speak about the same level of development for the entire Geto-Dacian space; in this respect, the Transylvanian space presents certain particularities. The Celts enter this territory in the middle of the 4th century BC and, for more than 2 centuries; they will hold political and military supremacy, thus limiting the manifestations of the local population. Some authors even deny the existence of a local element (already Dacian in its structure at the Celts’ arrival), but the presence of some artifacts of the local tradition prior to the Celts’ arrival (some pottery) constitute a strong argument against such ideas. In this period, we witness a cohabitation between Celts and Dacians, the former having social and political power. As for the Celts’ disappearance from the political arena of the intra-Carpathian space, it was explained either through assimilation by the natives or, as I, too, believe, their being driven away by Dacians as a result of the latter’s political development; this was also mentioned by antic writers as “incrementa dacorum per Rubobosten regem” (the growth of Dacian power under king Robobostes). It was the moment when, politically speaking, the center would move to Transylvania, a fact that concurred with important structural changes in the history of the Gets and that of the Dacians. But I shall speak about these on a different occasion.