Sarmizegetusa Regia, a huge Dacian metropolis?

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Leo Radutz
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9 minute
Scris de 
Leo Radutz
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9 minute

This statement sounded absolutely incredible a year ago, but today, the hypothesis is taking shape! The latest results of the "aerial archaeology" show that, in fact, the area of extension and habitation of the former Dacian capital far exceeds the sacred area and the area of the Roman fort, the only vestiges dug there by our historians in the last half century. If the theories are confirmed, we could discover in The Mountain Garden a true ancient metropolis, with nothing lower than the most beautiful cities in Greece and Rome at the beginning of the millennium!

"Last minute" news about the ancient Dacians

Recent researches, carried out with the latest technologies of aerial photography and scanning of soil, at the command of the British public television BBC, for the production of an ample documentary about the Roman Empire, bring to light novel information, which put in a completely different light what we knew about the Dacians and about their capital, Sarmizegetusa. The interpretations made by the specialists consulted by "Formula AS", based on the photographs made available to the Transylvanian History Museum by the documentary makers, indicate that Sarmizegetusa was not a simple fortress, as it was believed, but a metropolis in all the power of the word, arranged on terraces cut on top of the mountain, according to all the norms of urbanism of the time, by the most skilled craftsmen of the ancient era, paid royally by Decebalus and his forefathers. In addition, the highlighting of unknown Roman fences, most likely belonging to the last period of sarmizegetusa's habitation, indicates the existence of a castrum much larger than was known until now.

Treasure hunters

When they began pre-documenting the filming of the film "The Lost Empire of Rome", the English presenter Dan Snow, from bbc, and archaeology expert Sarah Parcak, from Alabama State University in Alabama, had no idea that they were going to radically change the theories of specialists in Romania regarding Sarmizegetusa Regia, the old capital of the Dacian Kingdom. The two based their television project on Sarah's previous spectacular results in Egypt. With the help of images captured by satellites and processed by special computer programs (an imported technology, belonging to military espionage), Sarah had discovered there over 1,200 unknown archaeological sites, from long-lost temples to new pyramids! As veritable "treasure hunters", as experienced archaeologists call those who strictly pursue the discovery of spectacular objectives, and not the systematic revealing of the past, the two presenters of the BBC-produced documentary hoped to find such a thing during the filming of "The Lost Empire". The first target was, predictably, Rome, where they turned their attention to the old port that served the empire's capital. There, Sarah and Dan activated the satellite lenses in search of the famous lighthouse in Portus, one of the great wonders of the Roman world, which had not yet been discovered. As, however, because of the numerous modern constructions that cover the place of the old port near Rome, the research of the train, the two decided to try their luck in the old Dacie, the kingdom conquered by Emperor Trajan in 106 AD. In the Orastie Mountains, Dan and Sarah, however, faced a problem that they had not had either in Egypt or in Rome, the extremely dense vegetation that covers the remains around the Dacian Sarmizegetusa made it practically impossible to use satellite images. Instead of some ruins, the satellites could only see the sea of raw green covering the sacred mountains of the Dacians.

The simulation of the two Roman castrums, from Sarmizegetusa Regia, in the vision of the BBC documentary

Impressive results...

In order to penetrate, however, the mysteries of the Dacian Sarmizegetusa, the producers of the BBC documentary turned to the Romanian researcher Ioana Oltean, from Exeter University, in the UK. "The BBC contacted me as a specialist in the archaeology of Dacia. They knew of my book «Dacia: Landscape, Colonization, Romanisation», published in 2007. I happened to be a specialist in aerial archaeology as well, and from this position, I was able to offer them a more complex consultancy. The BBC wanted the documentary to obtain unpublished archaeological information that would be useful for ground research. I, who had made aerial archaeological reconnaissance flights in Romania, knew that at Sarmizegetusa Regia the archaeological traces are covered by forests, so undetectable from satellite. That's why I suggested to the BBC to use the only technology capable of 'seeing' through the crown of trees, namely LIDAR, a technology that uses laser beams projected from a special aircraft", ioana Oltean tells us.

Basically, the LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) system penetrates vegetation, no matter how dense it is. The technology had been successfully used by archaeologists who discovered the Mayan city of Caracol. There were enough four days for the technology to provide archaeologists with a much more detailed map than what they had obtained after a quarter of a century of ground research! Now, in the case of Dacia, the budget made available by BBC allowed the rental of a plane with LIDAR technology, which overflyed the Mountain Guard.

The novelty of the discovery from Grădiștea de Munte is also confirmed by Ioana Oltean. "The images that were sent to me gave enough security to identify at least one large circumvalence, until then unknown in the area of the fortification on the Grădiștei Hill, and which is now known to have been built by the Roman occupation army. Of course, there are other new data about the site from Dealul Grădiștei. Right now, I am processing the original LIDAR data, which was recently offered to me by the BBC...", explained the Romanian researcher from Exeter University. New surprises could arise from one moment to another in connection with the Dacian Sarmizegetusa!

The first Roman castrum, the big one, discovered by BBC, compared to the new castrum, about which the Romanian archaeologists knew

An unfortunate ending

The presentation of the results from Grădiștea de Munte in the documentary "The Lost Empire of Rome", broadcast in our country in the spring of this year, is, unfortunately, disappointing. Superficial in the description of the Dacians, whom they categorize as "barbarians", without any other nuance or explanation, and concerned only with the emphases of the civilizing force of the Roman Empire, Dan Snow and Sarah Parcak are content to note the presence of a Roman castrum of much larger size than the one known before the LIDAR results, castrum which, presented in a simulation in a straight plane, completely contrasting with the peaks and level differences on the spot, populates it with Roman barracks, explaining by this that Trajan left numerous troops in Sarmizegetusa in order to impose peace in the area... But even if Dan Snow's film deceived the expectations of the Romanian public, the results revealed by the LIDAR scan – an important direction assumed by the BBC project – are now within the reach of specialists in Romania and can be used to truly understand the realities of pre- and post-Roman Dacian Sarmizegetusa.

Dacian urbanism surpasses any imagination

The information provided by the images obtained by BBC, plus a series of other indisputable arguments, to which he had access over the years, during his research, helped Dr. Alexandru Diaconescu, archaeologist of Roman times and associate professor at the Faculty of History of the "Babeș-Bolyai" University of Cluj-Napoca, to structure a courageous theory related to the capital of the Dacian kingdom. "Our vision so far was that the Mountain Guard will have been a fortress like all the others, a fortress where several dozen people lived, the civil settlement stretching on the secondary plateaus and at the foot of the hill. Or, Grădiștea is something else! The Dacian sarmizegetusa was, in fact, a city, which we do not find too easy to believe, after reading that between the walls there were only a few sanctuaries and that's about it. There was found, in two or three workshop buildings, a large quantity of iron, which quantitatively exceeds all the iron in the so-called barbaric Europe. You have, at Sarmizegetusa, the largest industrial production in Europe, after Greece and Rome! Recently, Simion Stefan, in his book dedicated to the wars of Domitian and Trajan with the Dacians, written in French, showed that at Sarmizegetusa Regia there was a very large dwelling, which he places approximately on the entire ridge of the hill Grădiștei. In addition, he intuits that the precincts of the Dacian fortress must have been much more extensive, but without additional data, the plans proposed by Simion Stefan are inaccurate... But now, lo and behold, these photographs are coming in, paid for by the English at the BBC: and the LIDAR images show that, apart from a well-known Roman castrum, one can still see the traces of another castrum, as well as numerous other constructions. The details of a Dacian urbanism that surpasses any imagination are distinguished", says, enthusiastically, Dr. Alexandru Diaconescu, while showing me the photos captured by the plane equipped with LIDAR technology.

In 102, when, after the first war with King Decebalus, Emperor Trajan imposed the conditions for the conclusion of peace, the first of them was the expulsion from Dacia of architects, engineers and military instructors, Alexandru Diaconescu tells me. "This hurt Trajan the most! They were military instructors who had helped the Dacians to fight well against the Romans and they were engineers and architects that the Dacian kings used to be up to date with everything that meant the architecture and fortifications of the time." "Having a monopoly on precious metals, Decebalus was so rich that he did not even need his own currency. What should he do with a coin on which to write «Decebalus per Scorilo»? The Dacians perfectly copied the Roman currency and, thus, practically, they paid in «strong currency» these foreign specialists, about which the 1st point of the peace treaty of 102 speaks. When they returned home, the specialists hired by the Dacian kings went with beautiful money «and without smell», earned over the Danube. Where else do you put that the Dacian coins were made of quality metals, of better silver than the one in Rome...", continues his reasoning Alexandru Diaconescu. The Dacians, he says, had for centuries close contacts with the Pontic fortresses and with the Greek world and made full use of experts and specialists from the friendly fortresses. "The Dacian elites were no strangers to the principles of classical urbanism. The recently discovered Getic city, dating from the third century BC, from Sboryanovo, in Bulgaria, is the possible predecessor of the Dacian Sarmizegetusa. The entire site, including the famous scholapolis of Sveștari, occupies almost 100 hectares and is located immediately south of Rousse", argues Professor Diaconescu.

"Everything has an incredible scale compared to what we knew before"
The first archaeological researches from 1922-1924, from Grădiștea de Munte, of professor D.M. Teodorescu

"Aerial photographs open a new perspective in understanding the Dacian world, because we are dealing with a kind of Machu Pichu from Peru. We can talk not only about constructions on terraces with an ample sewerage system and about walls with optical correction, for which Greek insignia were used. On the photos you can see buildings beyond the area known so far. Everything has an incredible scale compared to what we knew before", considers Alexandru Diaconescu.

"The new photos show that there are two Roman castrums and a Dacian enclosure, much larger, which includes a rectangular acropolis and an agora, where the sanctuaries are. Then, very spectacular is the fact that the great processional road continues much to the west, on hundreds of meters. To the west you can see, in fact, several monumental stone buildings on both sides of the road, about which we knew nothing before", remarks Professor Diaconescu, studying the photos of those from BBC. "It is an unusual road, because it is of an impressive width, compared to the normal Roman roads, which were very narrow, enough to pass a chariot, only the main ones reaching 12 meters wide. Plus, the Dacian road was paved with blocks of stone so fine, that it was as if there were clay caps cut with the sword. It can only be a ritual road, for only at religious ceremonies you go with two or three who side by side. To the south-east, from the great processional road starts, perpendicularly, a road, probably parallel to the one that led to one of the gates of the Dacian fortress. These paths, which cross at right angles, are specific to Hellenistic urbanism. In fact, both the south-eastern gate of the Dacian precinct and the hexagonal curtain tower were built, according to archaeological researches, from blocks shaped according to hellenistic urban techniques. This enclosure should be followed by archaeologists step by step, as it does not seem to have had a regular trajectory."

If the LIDAR scan managed to virtually eliminate the forest that covers the ancient remains, in reality, archaeologists will have to actually do so, in order to be able to dig the old Sarmizegetusa. "It is obvious that the first measure to be taken is the deforestation of the forest that has invaded the ruins of the Dacian capital," said in unison several specialists consulted by "Formula AS", who consider that, in this case, the historical arguments must prevail before any other type of arguments, environmentalists, for example.
"Formula AS" put together the most important information, revealed over time by the excavations at Grădiștea de Munte, with the results of the recent lydar scan to demonstrate as clearly as possible the true dimension of the Dacian Sarmizegetusa, about which little was known before the BBC documentary

Sarmizegetusa must have had a part surrounded by a wall, with public buildings and luxury residences, "the upper city", and another much wider, "the lower city", says Alexandru Diaconescu. A good example of such a city, built on terraces supported with walls, is Pergamon, in Asia Minor. "Up there were the royal residence and the temples, then, on the next terraces, there are placed public squares and religious edifices, and below, the civil habitation begins", imagines Professor Diaconescu the beautiful capital of the Dacians. Just a year ago, before the BBC's documentary, such a dream would have seemed pure madness...


Source: article by Ciprian Rus taken from:

SARMIZEGETUSA REGIA – Noutăţi spectaculoase despre fosta capitală a dacilor

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