Collapse and Withdrawal

The decade of the 220s were the last peaceful period in Dacia's history. In 231, when Emperor Alexander Severus's headed off with units of the Illyrian army for an ultimately unsuccessful Persian campaign, the Goths' southeasterly migration came to a stop. Earlier, the Goths had wrought havoc among the peoples who lived on the perimeter of the Roman empire in the Carpathian Basin. Now, they settled down in southern Ukraine and along the shores of the Black Sea. A short period of peace followed as the Goths gathered their strength. Beginning in the mid-230s, they renewed their attacks, and over several decades they caused unprecedented destruction on the Balkan peninsula and in Dacia. Together with their allies, the Goths confronted the empire and, {1-117.} with land and sea forces, besieged the provinces in the Balkans and Asia Minor. Concurrently, in the Near East, the Persian wars went on with occasional pauses; gaining ground as they gained strength, the Persian armies even managed to capture Emperor Valerian (258–260). In the Rhineland, too, the Romans faced a critical situation due to attacks by the Alemanni, Jutes, and Franks. The empire was ill-prepared to defend its borders from multiple, widely dispersed attacks. Constant warfare ultimately led to domestic anarchy.

The war must have reached Dacia during the reign of Emperor Maximinus (235–238), for the latter assumed the title of Dacicus Maximus in 236 to celebrate a victory. The attacks came mainly from free Dacians and Carpi, who were being pushed westwards by the Goths. Fighting continued under Gordianus III (238–244), when the Carpi attacked the Limes Transalutanus. The relentless progress of the war is indicated by the many treasures buried during these two emperor's reigns, never to be retrieved by their owners. In gratitude for Gordianus' defensive efforts, Dacia's provincial council raised an epigraph honouring the Emperor.[58]58. CIL III, 1454. In 245–247, the Limes Transalutanus gave way under the fierce attacks of the Carpi. Pannonian troops were marshalled to Dacia to withhold the Carpi, and Emperor Philippus travelled to the battlefront; in 247, he took the title of Carpicus Maximus. Despite momentary successes, the Romans had to abandon the Limes Transalutanus. There is no archaeological evidence to indicate the date, but it must have happened by 248, when, judging from stone fortifications built around Romula by legion detachments from Moesia Superior and Germania Romula, the Olt limes had become the front line.[59]59. IDR II, 324-328.

In 246–47, after the mints in Moesia were closed, a new mint was established at Viminacium to facilitate the payment of soldiers in the lower Danubian region. This mint helped to supply Dacia's needs for some eleven years, and the province was also granted the right to strike coins.

{1-118.} There was no letup in the fighting. An epigraph in Apulum hails Traianus Decius (249–251) as restitutor Daciarum, the 'restorer of Dacia', and a bronze statue of the Emperor was erected at Sarmizegethusa. In 250, he, too, assumed the title of Dacicus Maximus, presumably because of his military successes. After occupying a southeastern strip of the province along the Limes Transalutanus, the enemy made further gains during — or shortly after — the reign of Philippus. Already greatly reduced, the circulation of coins appears to have ceased in the camps of eastern Transylvania by the middle of the 3rd century, probably indicating that the camps had been abandoned. The Tabula Peutingeriana, a map drawn in the same period, shows neither the Limes Transalutanus nor the Roman roads of eastern Transylvania, and thus also points to the evacuation of the northeastern territories. As the Carpi advance advanced, Dacia's inhabitants began to seek refuge south of the Danube, in Moesia; during Philippus' reign, one of the no doubt many who fled Dacia was the mother of Galerius, who later became emperor.[60]60. Lactantius, de mortibus persecutorum 9,2,; Aurelius Victor, Epitomae de Caesaribus 10, 16.

Sources say little about the attacks on Dacia, for that much-tried province had already lost much of its military significance, and the crucial battles were being fought to the south, in the Balkans. A wealth of concealed treasure shows the Gothic offensive against Moesia Inferior and Thrace, where they attacked relentlessly from the 230s onwards. In or around 235, the Goths and Carpi occupied Histria and sacked the Danube delta's prosperous commercial centres, which had also served as important economic links for Moesia and Dacia. Moesia came under attack in 238, and in 244 the enemy laid siege to the town of Marcianapolis, in Moesia Inferior; that battle was won by Decius, whose soldiers thereupon proclaimed him Emperor. Moesia was attacked again in 248, and, the following year, two towns on the right bank of the lower Danube, Iatrus and Novae (Svishtov), were sacked; the roads leading to Dacia now came under threat. Decius was unable to hold {1-119.} back the relentless pressure of the Goths, who defeated him at Abrittus (near the site of his victorious battle in 251); he lost his life in the battle, as did his son and thousands of his soldiers. Two years later, the Goths laid siege to Thessaloniki, while the Romans reinforced the defences of Macedonia's towns, of the pass at Thermopylae, and of Athens. The attacks by land and sea went on unceasingly for fifteen years.

Dacia itself is hardly mentioned; Emperor Gallienus took the title Dacicus Maximus in 257, presumably for resisting the Carpi. A final effort was made around this time to fortify some of the province's military camps, but it may have coincided with the beginning of military withdrawal. To enhance security, the broad portals of the camps at Énlaka, Barcarozsnyó, Sebesváralja, and Porolissum were partially or completely walled up. The erection of inscribed monuments in Dacia was essentially halted in 260, during Gallienus' reign.[61]61. CIL III, 875, 8010. The circulation of coins in western Dacia fell back; few coins of this period have been found in towns and camps, except at the military headquarters in Apulum. The shortage of coins that accompanied the crisis in the middle of the 3rd century was accentuated in 257–58 by the dismantling and removal of the regional mint at Viminacium.

The thirty-year war brought military reverses on several fronts, a catastrophic economic situation, a persistent shortage of money (partly due to the vast amount of gold expended to buy peace from the Persians), and an internal power struggle. A low point was reached towards the end of the 250s, when Rome suffered devastating setbacks at the hands of the Alemani and Franks in Germania, Rhaetia, and Gaul, and of the Sarmatians and Quads in Pannonia. Spurred by these reverses, Emperor Gallienus made a determined effort to reorganize the empire. In 260, a mobile, mounted army, formed from former legion units, helped to repulse the Alemanni, who had reached Italy's borders, and the empire's defensive line on the Rhine was consolidated.

{1-120.} To improve the defences of Italia and Illyria, Gallienus established a new military headquarters at Poetovio (Ptuj, Yugoslavia), which was situated at a key road junction. Sometime in the 260s, units of Dacia's legions (the V Macedonica and the XIII Gemina), under the command of the praepositus Flavius Aper, took up permanent quarters in Poetovio. Finds of marble epigraphs and bas-reliefs bear witness that these troops reconstructed and decorated the town's third Mithras shrine. To secure Gallienus' well-being, Flavius Aper and his officers raised altars to this sun god, who was believed to have slain the primordial bull. The altars, together with the presence of the legions' headquarters, indicate that many, or all of the two legions' units were stationed in the town. Evidently, Gallienus had withdrawn his elite troops from a Dacia encircled by Barbarians. There is no evidence that all or part of the legion V Macedonica was still stationed at its former camp in Potaissa after the end of the 250s; the coin traffic at the camp ceased at this time. In contrast, coin traffic at the camp of the other legion, the XIII Gemina, continued until Aurelianus' reign. That legion's commander remained in Dacia after 260, for he erected an altar in the southern part of the province;[62]62. IDR 54. that altar, found at Mehadia, is the last relic of Dacia's Roman defenders. As the Goths encircled and then invaded Dacia, the province lost its military importance, and Rome progressively withdrew its armies.

The reorganization of the Danubian provinces was facilitated by the fact that after their protracted offensives, the Goth armies were running out of steam. After raiding Athens, Corinth, and Sparta, they suffered a tremendous defeat in 269 at the hands of Emperor Claudius II, at Naissus (Niš, Yugoslavia). For once, the title assumed by the Emperor, Gothicus, was justified by an authentic triumph, and ever since, it has been linked to his name. The Goths' next probe, in 270, in Dobrudja, was of little consequence.

Claudius Gothicus' successor, Aurelianus, mounted a campaign against the rebellious queen of Palmyra, Zenobia, who had {1-121.} occupied Egypt, an important source of wheat for Rome. Aurelianus first cleared the rampaging Barbarians out of Illyria and Thrace, then crossed the Danube and inflicted a defeat on the Goths in their homeland; the Goths' king, Cannabaudes, fell in battle. Much to the relief of the population, the lower Danubian region could enjoy a respite from war, but the victories came too late to save Dacia. Coins minted in 270, at the beginning of Aurelianus' reign, bear the inscriptions PANNONIA and DACIA FELIX next to GENIUS ILLYRICI, testifying to Illyria's importance and to Dacia's good fortune. Although that reference may allude to the deliverance of the original Dacia founded by Trajan, it could also evoke the rescue of its population and the founding of a new Dacian province to the south of the Danube. Aurelianus, on an inspection tour of the province, had found devastation and depopulation; concluding that the territory did not merit retention, he proceeded to have it evacuated in good order. The remaining military units were withdrawn in 271–72, and the remnants of Dacia's inhabitants were resettled in Moesia. For the sake of appearances, the Romans created a new province that bore the name Dacia and lay between Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior; Aurelianus established a mint in its capital, Serdica (Sofia). Aurelianus also evacuated the Danube-Rhine triangle (agri decumates) and pulled back the legions in Germania and Raetia behind a more easily defensible frontier line of rivers.

The last forty years of Dacia's history confirmed what had already been evident under Hadrian's reign: the province contributed little to the defence of the empire's central and Balkan regions. Dacia had not served to prevent attacks by Jazyges and Goths on the two Moesiae and Thrace. The tens of thousands of troops stationed in Dacia were incapable of defending its long borders. By the middle of the 3rd century, the recurrent attacks, and the resulting insecurity, had induced a mounting wave of emigration. Before turning his attention to the eastern front, Aurelianus took {1-122.} steps to consolidate the situation in the lower Danubian region. He evacuated the Romans from Dacia and established a shorter and more defensible border for the empire along the Danube limes, which were once again fortified. The V Macedonica legion set up camp in Oescus, which it had left 170 years earlier, while the XIII Gemina legion returned to Ratiaria. Having shortened the front line, Aurelianus was confident that the Danubian provinces were secure, and he headed eastward, taking with him part of the Illyrian army.