The Dacians, also known as Getae, developed a sophisticated culture and united under their king Burebista.
The Dacians were people who inhabited the land that is now Romania from the middle of the 7th century B.C.E. Of Thracian origins, the Dacians were written about by ancient historians like Herodotus and Ovid. Today’s scholars have used the information gained from historic texts and archaeological finds to learn more about the Dacian’s culture and rulers like Burebista.
Dacians or Getae?
Dacians are sometimes called “Getae,” but these are two names for essentially the same group of people. While the Getae inhabited the region south and east of the Carpathian mountains on the lower banks of the Danube River, the Dacians made the mountains of Transylvania their home. Despite their geographic differences, these people spoke the same language. The name “Getae” comes from the Greeks, while the name “Dacians” comes from the Romans. As a compromise, the Dacians are sometimes referred to as the “Geto-Dacians.”
The Dacians left evidence of their culture behind in the form of archaeological artifacts. Iron tools and weapons, as well as precious metal jewelry, have been found in the area the Dacians once occupied, which indicates that the Dacians were skilled in metalwork. The Dacians also practiced pottery making and used pottery wheels to create vessels for their grain. Dacian farmers worked fields with plows and used horses. The Dacians were also skilled at animal husbandry.
Dacian culture was centered in fortified settlements. Dacian families lived in houses of wood and clay, and the wealthier members of society had houses that consisted of several rooms. Upper class citizens distinguished themselves from lower class citizens through their choice of dress. The Dacian class system included a priest class.
Religion played an important role in Dacian culture. While the Dacian religion appears to have been polytheistic in nature, a central deity, called Zamolxis, was worshiped. Dacians practiced human sacrifice and believed that immortality could be achieved through the act of dying in battle.
The Dacians and Burebista
Burebista (70-44 B.C. E.) was the Dacian’s first king. Burebista joined the people of the lower Danube with the people of the Transylvanian mountains and established a center for the early state in the mountains. Threat of invasion by Rome encouraged this unification.
After Burebista’s death, Dacian culture reached its height. A population boom created the need for more fortified settlements. Trade increased with outside peoples. The Dacians traded grains, precious metals, salt, and iron tools for products they could not produce, like glass.
The Dacians eventually fell under Roman rule, but before the Romans conquered them, their culture thrived and was influenced by neighboring peoples, particularly the Celts, Illyrians, Greeks, and Scythians.
- A Concise History of Romania. Ed. Andrei Otetea and Andrew MacKenzie. London: Robert Hale, 1985. 67-87.
- Bolovan, Ioan, et. al. A History of Romania. Ed. Kurt W. Treptow. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. 12-22.
- Castellan, Georges. A History of the Romanians.Trans. Nicholas Bradley. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. 8-10.