{1-78.} Commerce and the Economy: the First Growth Phase

For the empire, the central European provinces were of little economic significance and offered negligible exports, yet required great expenditures for the stationing of troops. Nevertheless, the mineral deposits in Transylvania must have enhanced Dacia's importance to Rome. There were stone quarries as well as iron and salt deposits, but the most valuable resource was gold. Although much is known about Transylvania's gold, there is no evidence of its exploitation in Dacian times — archaeological finds indicate that the Dacians preferred silver jewellery — or about the goldmines' yield in Roman times. New information surfaced in the form of wax-coated wooden writing tablets, several of which were discovered at Verespatak in 1786, 1790, and in the 19th century, and which bear a variety of commercial texts, contracts, and accounts dating back to 131–167.

The exploitation of gold deposits (aurariae Dacicae) began shortly after the occupation of the creation of the Roman province. The goldmining centre was in the Érc Mountains (Muntii Apuseni), where miners lived in larger settlements — Ampelum (Zalatna, Zlatna) and Alburnus Maior (Abrud-Verespatak, Roşia Montana) as well as smaller ones (Deusara, Kartum, Immenosus Maior, and Vicus Pirustarum).

The mining district (territorium metalli) was the property of the Emperor, and its settlements did not benefit from local government. It is not clear whether the largest settlement, Ampelum, was granted the status of municipium. A mine procurator (procurator aurariorum) was in charge of local administration and of the gold mines. In keeping with Roman practice, these officials (ten names survive) were chosen mostly from among former slaves of the imperial household. Slaves who had earned their freedom at around age 30 might, if they performed meritoriously in other official capacities, be appointed procurator at age 40–45. The first procurator {1-79.} known by name, M. Ulpius Hermia, had been freed by Trajan and administered the district under Hadrian. This, together with the date of the earliest tablet, 131, indicates that mining began, at the latest, during Hadrian's reign. It is likely that the Dacian gold mines were under the joint administration of two procurators, one a freed slave, and the other a knight. This dual system, reserved for important installations, provided better checks and supervision, as well as administrative continuity, for the terms of office were staggered: the former slaves served longer terms as procurator than did the knights. Most of the lower-rank officials who looked after administrative and technical matters (vilici, tabularii, dispensatores) also came from the ranks of imperial slaves and freed slaves. In some cases, the librarii who served in the procurator's secretariat (officium) were drawn from the ranks of the legion XIII Gemina. They were not the only soldiers in the mining district. This important area, situated near the frontiers of the empire, had to be guarded against bandits as well as external attack. Internal security and the protection of ore and precious metal shipments was entrusted to North African soldiers of the numerus Maurorum Hispaniorum; the location of their garrison is not known. The ore was mined both in open pits (currugus) and by tunneling.

The wax tablets offer some information about this mining society, as do the epitaphs at Ampelum and Alburnus. Most of the mine workers were brought from Dalmatia, and belonged to Illyrian tribes — the Pirusti, Sardeati, and Buridusti. Some 64 per cent of the Illyrian names found in Dacia belonged to the mining district. These Illyrian miners lived in closed communities (Vicus Pirustarum), with their own tribal leaders (princeps). Following the practice in their homeland, they often called their settlements a castellum. The mines also employed workers from Asia Minor.

Most of the actual mining was probably done by wage labourers, who earned 70 or, more likely (the sources are unclear), 140 denarii a year. This was a considerable sum at a time when a lamb {1-80.} in the Alburnus region cost 3.5 denarii, and a piglet 5 denarii, prices comparable to those prevailing in the rest of the empire; wine, at 1.3–1.8 denarii a litre, was expensive.

Surviving records make no mention of the prisoners sentenced to labour in the mines (damnati ad metallum) or of the employment of slaves in other than administrative work. Slaves fetched exceedingly high prices in northern Dacia: in 139, a six-year old girl was sold for 205 denarii, while in 142, a boy was bought in the neighbourhood of the legion camp at Apulum for 600 denarii. These rates suggest that slave labour would have been unprofitable in the mines, and that there could not have been many slaves in the district or, indeed, in northern Dacia.

It also seems likely that, despite the efforts at resettlement, the mines suffered from a shortage of manpower. High wages are indicative of a tight labour market. One of the wax tablets clearly indicates that by the late 160s, the district's population was declining. On 9 February 167, before the outbreak of the great wars (and before the concealment of the tablets), the officers of the Jupiter Cernenus collegium at Alburnus disbanded the association because the membership had dwindled from 54 to 17. Thus the population was shrinking even in Dacian districts that offered well-paid employment.

Less is known about the Transylvanian iron and salt mines. These were also state property, though managed by leaseholders (conductores). The surviving epigraphs bearing a mention of the latter date from around 200. One records that Flavius Sotericus, a man of Greek origin who leased an iron mine, was also a member of the emperor's cult association at Sarmizegethusa. That inscription was found at Alsótelek (Teliucul Inferior), where the Romans had begun to exploit the large iron ore deposits of the Ruszka Mountains. The remains of an iron smelter have been uncovered at Gyalár (Ghelar), in the vicinity of Alsótelek. A number of salt mines were in production inTransylvania, in the northern part of the {1-81.} province (Homoródszentpál-Sînpaul, Szék-Sic, Kolozs-Cojocna, Homoródszentmárton-Mărtiniş, Marosújvár-Ocna-Mureşului, etc.); the operators leased not only the salt deposits but also the surface land and, in some cases, the right to trade salt.

Besides mining, little is known about the economic life of Dacia. As in other provinces, domestic crafts served mainly local demand. Agricultural and mining implements were probably fashioned from local iron. The most thoroughly investigated craft is that of ceramic houseware, although very few workshops and kilns have been discovered.

The province did not develop a common style of pottery. Shapes and finishes common in southern Dacia reveal influences coming from south of the Danube. Northern styles were more influenced by Noricum and Pannonia, as seen in the typical tripodal dishes. Northern Transylvania did give birth to a distinctively decorated ceramic that, as far as can be ascertained, was not used in other parts of the province; the sides of the roughly hemispherical bowls bore sigillary imprints. The style of the grey and pink dishes produced in large quantities in Porolissum can be readily traced back to their south Pannonian models; the sigillary decoration on the sides had been simplified, figures being replaced by geometric patterns.

Good land and fluvial communications potentially favoured trade with distant markets, while the domestic market was buttressed by the presence of a large and well-paid military force. The existence of far-reaching trade is attested by the merchant M. Secundianus Genialis (negotiator Daciscus),[30]30. CIL V. 1047. who came from Colonia Claudia Agrippinensium (Cologne), a city that traded actively with the Danubian region; he died in Aquileia, a center and meeting point for northern and eastern trade. By way of the Sava valley and Aquileia, Dacia could link up to a major commercial artery, the Amber Road, which crossed western Pannonia. The family of Titus Fabius, which originated from Augusta Treverorum {1-82.} (Trier), on the Mosel River, also became involved in Dacian trade through Aquileia; one of their members, Fabius Pulcher, became the augustalis of the colony at Apulum (a body made up mostly of wealthy merchants and libertines). The epitaph of a woman who died in Salona (Dalmatia) relates that her husband, Aurelius Aquila, had been a town councillor at Potaissa and gives the latter's occupation as negotiator ex provincia Dacia. Macrobius Crassus styled himself protector of the merchants of Dacia Apulensis (the name given in 167 to Dacia Superior). There is evidence of close contacts between the Sava valley and Siscia: C. Titius Agathopatus had been at one and the same time the augustalis of both Siscia and Sarmizegethusa. Bricks produced in Siscia have been uncovered in the Maros valley, and the products of south Pannonian potteries also found their way to Dacia.

The presence in Dacia of many people of eastern origin facilitated contact with Syrian traders, who played an important role in the commercial life of the Roman world. The names of some of Dacia's Syrian merchants (Suri negotiatores) survive: altars to a deity of Syrian origin, Jupiter Dolichenus, were erected in Apulum by Aurelius Alexander and Flaus, and in Sarmizetgethusa by Gaianus and Proclus Apollophantes.[31]31. CIL III, 7761, 7915.

Excavations have produced scant evidence of the actual activities pursued by Dacia's numerous merchants. It may be that they traded in goods, such as food and clothing, that leave little or no trace. There is a similar dearth of information about the export trade. The longer-established iron mines of Noricum as well as of Moesia limited the prospects of Dacia, which may, however, have exported iron to Pannonia Inferior and Moesia Inferior. The exports of salt were probably more significant: one epigraph refers to the leasing of both salt mines and trading rights. As for agricultural products, Dacia was a net importer to satisfy demand from the large number of troops stationed in the province. In any case, Transylvania's mountainous terrain did not favour grain production; most {1-83.} suitable land lay in the southeastern part of the province, on the Oltenian plain. Wild animals, such as bears and wolves, may have been exported to satisfy the Roman taste for circus games. Sheep and goats were plentiful and cheap enough to satisfy domestic demand, and perhaps some export demand as well.

A very limited range of imported goods has been unearthed in Dacia — mainly sigillated earthenware, along with some amphorae from the Mediterranean region, which were used to transport oil, wine, and grain. Food for the soldiers and their families must have accounted for a major share of the imports. According to the wax tablets, wine was expensive; this was probably due to the fact that Burebista destroyed Dacia's vineyards. Fragments of an epigraph in Thrace speak of two merchants of Syrian origin who shipped wine to Dacia. A merchant from Sarmizegethusa, Aelius Arrianus, left an epigraph on the island of Delos, where he may have been drawn by the oil or wine trade. As the economy improved, some resourceful people were inspired to replant vineyards in southern Dacia.

The biggest import item, as noted, was earthenware — fine, red, partly embossed, terra sigillata pots, dishes, bowls, and cups. In the 2nd century, these items were produced in the potteries of central Gaul and the Rhineland, and shipped down the Danube to Noricum, Pannonia, and Dacia. Such ceramics are prized by archaeologists, for it is easy to date them and identify their provenance. The finds of imported, sigillated ceramics are modest in number, but sufficient for analysis, all the more since the same pattern of dates is found throughout the province. In the 130s, following the Roman conquest, imported earthenware in Dacia Inferior came from central Gaul. Between 130–160, the main supplier was a pottery at today's Lezoux: its products account for close to half of the terra sigillata items found in Dacia. The early boom was followed by a sharp slump. The potteries at Rheinzabern and Westerndorf, which were established somewhat later than the one at Lezoux, continued to export well into the 3rd century, but their market in Dacia {1-84.} Inferior was rapidly shrinking. The origin of the sigillated earthenware found in Apulum reflected this pattern, while the incidence of central Gallic and Rheinzabern products was more uneven in Oltenia. Even there, however, there was a sharp drop in the number of Westerndorf products. The latter, which came after the central Gallic products, are completely absent in Napoca, and very few were found in the camps at Porolissum and Bucsum. Steadily growing exports from the same sources to Pannonia make the Dacian slump even more remarkable. Since reports of Transylvanian finds are few, the only observation that can be made is that the absence of late sigillatae in Napoca seems anomalous when contrasted with their continuing incidence in Apulum. This disparity may simply be the result of an unbalanced pattern of excavations. The other plausible explanation is economic. In Dacia, as in the other Roman provinces, the army was the principal beneficiary of economic expansion during Severus' rule, and Apulum was a garrison town, while purely civilian settlements like Napoca ceased to offer a ready market for imported products.

The decline of the sigillata market in Dacia may be better understood if one examines earthenware found outside the empire, in the Great Hungarian Plain. The products of the Rheinzabern and Westendorf potteries appeared in small number before 200, then came to dominate the Pannonian market for earthenware. Thus exports from Rome's western provinces continued to reach Pannonia in considerable number at a time when sales in Dacia petered out. The merchants presumably found a more proximate market, among the Sarmatians. The terra sigillatae represent the main surviving indicator of economic activity, and they suggest that after an initial spurt, Dacia's foreign trade declined in the 160s–170s. The decline cannot be fully accounted for by the appearance of domestically-produced copies, which were few in number and could complement, but not substitute for the imported product. The other type of decorated earthenware, produced in the {1-85.} northern part of the province, was only distributed in its home region. Thus the domestic production of sigillata imitations was not a cause of the decline in imports, but rather a consequence, to fill the gap in supply. The absence of imported, western ceramics confirms Dacia's economic slump in the last third of the 2nd century; future finds may facilitate a more differentiated analysis of this process.