Settlements and Urbanization

With the conquest, Dacia's land became property of the Roman state, to be classified, according to its administrative status, as military, municipal, or belonging to the Emperor. Dacia was granted the status of province by Trajan soon after the conquest. It would have been difficult to draw settlers to this sparsely populated region if it had remained under military administration, which denoted insecurity. To introduce civil administration, Trajan needed {1-92.} to create autonomous towns, and this came about, at the latest, between 110–112. The first such town, Colonia Ulpia Traiana Augusta (known later as Sarmizegethusa) was founded on Trajan's instructions by the governor; those who were settled there included veterans of the Dacian Wars from the XIV Gemina, V Macedonica, and XI Claudia legions. The remaining native Dacians earned less consideration than the veterans; since agricultural land was scarce, there was a greater incentive here than in other new colonia to move out the indigenous population. Colonia Ulpia Traiana Augusta remained Dacia's sole town until the reign of Hadrian. The establishment of the province of Dacia had a greater effect on urbanization in other parts of the Balkans, which the defeat of the Dacians had made more secure. Trajan founded a series of towns in the Balkan provinces, including Ratiaria, Oescus, Nicopolis, Tropaeum Traiani, Marcianopolis, Traianopolis, and Augusta Traiana (Beroe). The Emperor thereby gave strong impetus to urbanization and the consequent spread of Roman culture in the regions south of the Danube. The scale of urbanization in the Balkan peninsula is all the more remarkable when one notes that in Pannonia, Trajan founded only one town, Poetovio (Ptuj, Yugoslavia).

Dacia's newly-founded town soon regained the name of Sarmizegethusa Regia, despite the fact that it was situated on previously unsettled land, some 37 kilometres to the west of Decebalus' capital. It is likely that the site had been briefly occupied after the war by the legion IIII Flavia, before the unit's transfer to Bersovia (Zsidovin), in the western Banat. To be sure, it was the Romans' common practice to preserve earlier place names. The Romans could note these names because the settlements were still in existence when their army occupied the region. In his history of the wars, Trajan listed the localities that were progressively invested by his troops, e.g., 'we advanced to Bersobis, and then to Aisis'. There are other known reports on the campaign, and these probably {1-93.} helped the Romans to name their camps after more or less proximate Dacian villages. The adoption of indigenous place names does not, however, indicate survival of the settlements — least of all in Dacia, where towns were generally established on or near the sites of former Roman camps. The installation of a military camp at a village resulted in the displacement of the local population. When a camp was located at some distance from a local settlement, the name of the latter was sometimes adopted, as with Aquincum and Brigetio, in Pannonia, or Singidunum in Moesia. The conquerors' free use of Dacian place names is exemplified by Sarmizegethusa Regia and Colonia Dacica. In short, it cannot be assumed that adoption of Dacian names for Roman camps signifies the survival of the original settlements or the continued presence of indigenous people in the vicinity. At times, the Romans also gave their installations the Dacian names of rivers, compounding the toponymic confusion.

When Dacia was reorganized by Hadrian into three provinces, Colonia Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegethusa became the administrative center of Dacia Superior, and a new town was founded in each of the other two provinces. The town in the southeastern province, Dacia Inferior, was located on the vicus of the military camp guarding the north end of the Danube bridge at Drobeta. Heavy traffic across the bridge had promoted the natural development of a settlement on the vicus, making it the logical site for an autonomous town. In the northern province, Dacia Porolissensis, Napoca (Kolozsvár) was raised to the rank of municipium. Due to insufficient archaeological research, nothing is known about the previous settlement or about the new town's topography. That the town was situated on the site of the former Roman camp is suggested by some bricks bearing military stamps, as well as by a milestone, found at Ajtony, which marked the highway between Napoca and Potaissa and bears the names of those towns. The road had been constructed right after the war, in 109–110. Since the Romans' first priority {1-94.} in the conquered territories was to assure a strategic link between military garrisons, it follows that Napoca-Potaissa road connected two camps.

Contrary to general opinion, evidence shows that the urbanization of the province proceeded very slowly. The founding of the first colonia was necessitated by the introduction of a civilian administration, while the other two came about in consequence of the creation of additional provinces. There is less information on the date and circumstances of the foundation of other towns. The vicus of the camp at Romula (Reşca, Oltenia) became a municipium after the transfer of the garrison, probably under Antoninus Pius or Marcus Aurelius. The civilian settlement near the legion camp at Apulum was raised by Marcus Aurelius to the rank of town (Apulum I); it was upgraded to a colonia no later than Commodus's reign. The pace of urbanization picked up during Septimius Severus' reign, probably helped by the Dacian army's support for the new Emperor and by the appointment of his brother as governor. The canabae of the legion camps at Apulum (Apulum II) and Potaissa were granted the rank of municipium at this time. The vici of two camps along the Danube, at Dierna (Orsova) and Tibiscum (Zsuppa), became municipii in the third century, possibly by the reign of the Severus emperors. Concurrently, Drobeta became a colonia, and Caracalla (211–217) granted that privilege to Potaissa and Apulum II. Sources indicate that a town named Malva was a colonia in 230; opinions are divided on whether it can be identified with Romula. The legal status of the largest settlement in the mining district, Ampelum, is also uncertain, for there is no clear evidence that it was an autonomous town. If Ampelum did win this status, it must have been in the third century.

The pattern of Danubian legion camps was repeated at Apulum, where two settlements materialized in close proximity to each other and to the military installation. One, the canabae, was on a site under military supervision, and was occupied mainly by families {1-95.} of the legionaries. The other, civilian settlement grew up around the province's military headquarters. However, in contrast to other Danubian towns, both of these settlements were granted autonomy. The sources do not reveal clearly which of these towns corresponds to Marcus Aurelius' municipium and Commodus' colony, and which to the municipium of the Severan period. The settlement on the Maros (Maros-Portus, Partoş) may well have been the forerunner of the civilian municipium, and later Colonia Aurelia Apulensis; it also bore the name Chrysopolis ('Golden Town') in 252–53. The municipium of the Severan period (the military settlement) was elevated to colonia by Trajan Decius in the middle of the 3rd century.

Thus there were three or four municipii and eight coloniae in Dacia; the status of Ampelum is uncertain, as is the identification of Malva with Romula. The number is fewer than in the region's other provinces. Moesia Superior, with a smaller territory, had 13 towns, and Pannonia, which was only slightly larger than Dacia, had 20–23. Moreover, towns were distributed relatively evenly across the other provinces, whereas in Dacia they were all located in the western regions. What might have caused this disparity?

Rome's administrative network encompassed towns endowed with local government, the municipii and coloniae. Some, or all of their inhabitants enjoyed the rights of Roman citizens. The authority of local government extended to the town's hinterland, where lay the townspeople's garden plots, the villages, and manorial farms. The first towns in the Danubian provinces came into being when settlements spawned by military camps, indigenous communities formed into entities called 'civitas', and settlements of veterans who had benefited from land-grants (deductio) were given the legal right to self-government (lex municipalis). Eventually, other major civilian settlements, notably those at highway junctions, were also raised to town status.

{1-96.} Despite the lack of adequate topographical research, the broad outlines of Dacia's urban development are clear. In contrast to the pattern in other provinces, no civitatis were organized in Dacia, and their absence predetermined the nature of urbanization. Elsewhere, these administrative structures, which were designed for the indigenous population, paved the way for the emergence of towns; they fostered Romanization and facilitated the eventual introduction of local government. The absence of civitatis in Dacia was probably the main reason why many significant settlements — some five or six in number — were granted town status only during the reign of Septimius Severus. In Pannonia, only two towns were clearly established in the corresponding period, for that province's urban development had been essentially concluded by the end of the 2nd century.

Dacia's towns had to be based on the settlements near army camps, the only places where larger communities sprang up. In the 2nd century, there remained obstacles to this process. The soldiers' families, veterans, merchants, and craftsmen lived in the canabae of the legion camps and the vici of the auxiliary units, both of which were under military authority. The municipalization of the canabae would have required transferring some military land to the towns; but that land supplied the needs of the military. The result was a considerable delay in Dacia's urban development, for such land transfer became feasible only during the reign of Septimius Severus. Thanks to the large number of camps (around 80), the military controlled vast areas, and settlements in these areas could only be converted to towns when they ceased to be under the authority of the army. Apparently, Dacia's larger communities all fell in this category.

The late conquest of Dacia did not leave enough time for purely civilian communities to grow to sufficient size. In contrast, Pannonia's communities benefited from a hundred years of development before they were made into towns by Hadrian. Moreover, for fifty years, only one legion was stationed in Dacia. In sum, {1-97.} Dacia's problem was that it had no civilian communities large enough to be raised to town rank, except for those whose elevation was blocked by their location in military zones. After the first colonia had been founded on the basis of deductio, further urbanization in Dacia could only come by raising the vici to town rank, and that had to await the closure of the proximate military camps. This may have been the case with Napoca under Hadrian. Drobeta, the other municipium, was anomalous, for the military units identified in epigraphs belonged to the Moesian, not the Dacian army. The authority of provincial legati was strictly confined to their territory, yet it is highly unlikely that the two ends of this important bridge came under the authority of different legati. It is therefore possible that Drobeta's territorium, a source of military supplies, lay not in Oltenia but south of the Danube. If so, the vicus, or purely civilian settlement near Drobeta might have been detached from the camp, and removed from the jurisdiction of Moesia Inferior, allowing it to be raised to town status and granted a territorium within Oltenia.

In any case, the conversion of the settlements at Napoca and Drobeta into towns was motivated, not by some plan for Dacia's urban development, but by administrative necessity arising from the creation of two new provinces. Romula, established under Marcus Aurelius or Commodus, was also sited on a former military camp and vicus.

Thus, only one civilian settlement, Apulum I, was raised to town status in Dacia, and it, too, owed its existence to the legion. With regard to Potaissa, where a legion was garrisoned in 167, it is unclear whether a civilian community large enough for municipalization had emerged by the end of the 2nd century, or whether it was the canabae that was raised to town rank. Four other municipalities were founded in the 2nd century, pursuant to the closure the camps of auxiliary units. In the Severan era, it was the turn of these camps' vici to be turned into towns. This departed from the practice in other Danubian provinces, where the vici — however large — of auxiliary units were not municipalized. In these provinces, there {1-98.} existed civilian communities ripe for municipalization, which was not the case in Dacia, even at the time of the Severus dynasty.

Clearly, urbanization in Dacia had been more dependent on the presence of the army than in the other provinces, and it is just as clear that the remnants of the indigenous population played no role in the process. In these circumstances, the region's few towns, concentrated in western Dacia, could not serve as effective propagators of Roman culture.

The slow pace of urbanization is not the only indication that Dacia remained underpopulated in the 2nd century. A purposeful wish to embellish reality may be seen in the attribution of the term 'metropolis' to the sister towns at Apulum, Colonia Aurelia Apulensis Chrysopolis, and Sarmizegethusa; or in the minting of coins inscribed 'Dacia felix' ('Happy Dacia') at a turbulent moment in the 3rd century, just before Rome abandoned the province. Dacia also enjoyed a more tangible distinction, one in which it outdid the other Danubian provinces: up to five of its towns — Sarmizegethusa, Napoca, Apulum, Potaissa, and perhaps Dierna — were granted the ius Italicum under Septimius Severus, if not earlier. (There is no evidence that this right, which entailed exemption from land tax, was held by any of Pannonia's towns.) The purpose was to make Dacia more attractive to settlers, for early efforts at resettlement had not brought the desired results; indeed, by the 160s, people were emigrating from Dacia. The long-lasting Marcomanni wars and the plague epidemic also contributed to reduce Dacia's population. The shortage of people had a negative effect on the development of an urban culture and, consequently, on Dacia's ability to attract new settlers. After the wars, economic hardship and the delay in establishing local government led to civil disturbances. Radical remedies were needed to improve the situation and induce immigration — hence the granting of ius Italicum. This measure clearly paid off, for it drew Syrians and other settlers from the east.

{1-99.} It seems that a provincial council was established in the same period, as were civilian institutions dedicated to the cult of the Emperor; it is certainly odd that the latter had not materialized earlier in Dacia. In any case, there is no record of high priests of the Emperor's cult (sacerdos arae Augustorum) before the Severan era, nor of a provincial council (concilium provinciae). In the Roman empire, these councils were the highest-level organizations encompassing towns as well as the civitatis of the indigenous population. Beside nurturing the cult of the Emperor, they had an important function in representing popular interests: at the end of a governor's term of office, the council could appeal to the Emperor against his excesses and unjust measures. In the Severan era, references in epigraphs to a provincial council multiply. The title 'metropolis', denoting the seat of the provincial council, is mentioned in connection with Sarmizegethusa only during the reign of Alexander Severus (222–235). Two reasons could explain the late formation of a council. First, the authorities might have considered that the small number of towns in the 2nd century did not warrant such an institution or the organized promotion of the emperor's cult. In any case, the cult was nurtured both in the army camps, and, by the augustali, in the few existing towns. Second, the authorities may have felt that the small indigenous population, which lacked a network of civitatis, had no need for a full-fledged organization devoted to the cult and to Romanization. In the Severan era, however, the population grew, as did the number of towns, making timely the creation of a council and a cult organization. As in the eastern province, the cult's high priest was called coronatus (stephanephoros in Greek), meaning 'one who wears a laurel crown'. The high priests were chosen from among the province's wealthiest citizens, and most of them held the rank of knight. The high priest's title and the designation of Sarmizegethusa as a metropolis suggest an eastern influence, due perhaps to the number of eastern immigrants.

{1-100.} Thus full-fledged towns, with appropriate institutions, finally materialized in Dacia during the Severan era. The province had already been in existence for a hundred years, but it was to enjoy only a few more decades of peace, a time-span that would limit the Romanizing impact of the towns.

Less is known of about rural settlements. It appears that the spread of manorial farms, the villas, was linked to urbanization. Traces of the manors of agricultural estates are concentrated around towns in the western half of the province, mainly in Transylvania. They were most numerous along the Sarmizegethusa-Porolissum road: Hobica, Őraljaboldogfalva, Magyarosd, Déva, Rehó, Nagyenyed, Apahida-Pusztaszentmiklós, Csomafája, Magyargorbó, Kajántó, and Szenterzsébet. Excavations were confined to the principal buildings; the most complete traces are those of the villa at Csomafája, including its outer stone fence. These manor houses generally had an area of around 400 sq. metres, which, together with the absence of adornments such as mosaics, murals, and marble panelling, puts these villas in the category of small to medium estates. The extent of the properties was dictated by the amount and distribution of agricultural land. Few traces of villa buildings have been found on the Oltenian plain, despite that region's suitability for agricultural production. Judging from some epigraphs, most of the estates must have been owned by veterans. They must have grown crops suited to the mountainous region, such as barley and millet. An epigraph in Oltenia mentions a vineyard.[42]42. CIL III, 14,493 = IDR II, 187. The breeding of sheep, goats, and cattle was probably an important activity on the villas, and covered domestic demand for meat.