Mining in Roman Dacia

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Mining in Dacia before the Romans

The most important mining district of the Roman period, that of the Western Carpathian Mountains, where the gold resources are located, doesn’t seam to have been much inhabited during the late Iron Age period. In fact, until now, there are not identified Dacian settlements or fortifications in the region. It is possible that the area might have been seasonally inhabited by shepherds and that the habitat was composed of small scattered hamlets which left no archaeologically identifiable traces. On the other hand, in the Roman time the Dacian population was compleely absent in the area of the two most important mining centers, Ampelum and Alburnus Maior, fact that supports the idea of a sparse population before the Romans’ arrival.
The evidence concerning mining activities before the Roman occupation is also very poor. Reconstructing the mining activities in the late Iron Age period is mainly based on indirect proofs.
The Dacians extracted undoubtedly the gold, mainly by washing off gold-bearing sands. We have no clear evidence on actual golden mines, but we learn about the great amount of gold taken by the Romans from Dacia after the war, as Ioannes Lydus informed us.

The Dacians produced and used splendid silver vessels, jewels and accessories that counted for an important part of the war spoils. Silver may have been extracted through pits in the area of the silver seam.

In 1804 were discovered in Sarmizegetusa – Grădiştea Muncelului (the residence of the Dacian kings) 1700 kg of galena in large pieces of approximately 44 kg, proof of the mining activities. It is very probable that the king had a monopoly over the precious metals and iron resources in Dacia.

Mining in Roman Dacia:

It is obviously that the Romans thoroughly knew the location and the economic potential of the goldfield in the Western Carpathians. This could explain the rapid organization of the golden mines on a large scale.

During Trajan’s reign, Illyrian residents from the mining districts of Dalmatia were colonized. Inscriptions and wax tablets found inside the mine tunnels attest them. They preserved their tribal organization from Dalmatia. The tribes of Pirustae, Baridustae, Sardeates, and Maniatae are documented in Dacia. They kept their institutions, being led by principes and founded settlements called kastella (kastellum Ansum, kastellum Baridustarum are mentioned in inscriptions).Unfortunately none of this type of settlements has yet been identified in the field. Another type of settlement, specific to the entire Roman World is mentioned on a wax tablet: vicus Pirustarum, which seams to refer in this case to a district of Alburnus Maior.

Concerning the funerary rites, the Illyrian colonists brought to Dacia for gold digging were in different degrees of Romanization. When their integration was stronger we have burial graves and tombstones with Latin inscriptions, but cremation graves are frequent also. The charting of the last type of tombs has indicated that they are mainly ascribed to Illyrians. Numerous Illyrian cemeteries were found in the goldfield of The Western Carpathian Mountains, such as at from Boteş-Corabia, near Ampelum (today Zlatna, Alba County), with groups of burial mounds surrounded at the base by stone circles; several cemeteries were excavated in the neighbourhood of Alburnus Maior (today Roşia Montană, Alba County). The best knowns are the ones from Ţarina, Găuri, Tăul Secuilor, Tăul Cornii. On the site Găuri “Hop” 171 graves were uncovered in 2001 through a rescue excavation. Some of these cremation graves had ritually burnt pits and all of them comprised Roman funerary inventory. A new cremation cemetery with ritually burnt pits was excavated at Tăul Cornii, while another one is known at Brad-Muncelul, with 126 cremation graves.

Finally, similar cemeteries are known in southern Transylvania, like the one from Cinciş (Hunedoara County).

The funeral rites identified in these cemeteries are frequent in Illyricum. This type of cremation with the remains placed in a ritually burnt pit can easily be connected with the Dalmatian inhabitants colonized in Dacia. The graves’ ascribing to the Illyrians, despite the Roman funerary inventory, contained also iron ore (limonite), as at Cinciş, or quartz pieces from the gold seam from Ruda – Brad found in the cemetery from Brad – Muncelul, or the silex and quartz fragments from Roşia Montană (Găuri-Hop necropolis), which were all connected with the deceased’s mining activity. It seems that the Illyrian groups from Dacia kept their ancient funerary believes and rites.
Further more, three tombstones with the portraits of the dead people and Latin inscriptions were found in the cemetery from Brad–Muncelul. Their images are typical for the representation of Illyrians on the monuments from Dalmatia. The inscriptions contain Roman, Illyrian, and Thracian names. On the funerary monuments the Illyrians can be easily recognized thanks to a particular manner of representation, specific to the area inhabited by them. In Dacia these iconographical traits appear on monuments discovered at Brad – Muncelul and Alburnus Maior.

They belong to the so called “Illyrian art”, where men are depicted with cap-shaped hair and long perforated ears, while the women are wearing a turban or a hairstyle resembling one. There are monuments dedicated under the formula sub ascia in Alburnus Maior, a type of monument that originates in Dalmatia and was brought to Dacia by the colonists from the mining districts.
The wax tablets discovered in the 18th and 19th centuries in Roman galleries from the Alburnus Maior area are especially important. They provide valuable information concerning the economic life of Roman Dacia and elements referring to the social structure, toponymy and onomastics of the area.

Three tablets mention the sale contracts between miners, merchants, and soldiers from legio XIII Gemina stationed at Apulum. A tablet dated in AD 139 states the terms of the purchase of a slave girl, Passia for 205 dinars. Another one refers to the purchase of a 10 to 15 years old child named Apalaustus by the Illyrian peregrine Dassius Beucus for a sum of 600 dinars. The third tablet dated in AD 160 mentions a Cretan slave Theudote, sold for 420 dinars to a soldier from the same legion.

These examples cannot prove, at any rate, the extensive use of slaves in gold mining activities. More likely they are domestic slaves. Further more, three other tablets contain work contracts sign by miners, fact witch proves the usage of employed manpower in mining industry.

Some settlements not yet identified in the field, or mentioned in other epigraphic sources are recorded in the wax tablets, like Cartum, Deusara, Immenosum Maius, Resculum (referred to as statio).
The technique of gold extraction, besides washing of gold-bearing sands, comprised digging galleries up to 300 m deep, with rectangular section and relatively reduced dimensions. Numerous such galleries are preserved in the Alburnus Maior area, together with some traces of installations, iron and wooden tools.

Some other mining tools were found in different parts of Dacia.

Iron mines existed in Roman Dacia also, mainly in the surroundings of Hunedoara and in the north eastern part of Poiana Ruscă Mountains, but also in the Banat region.

Lemonite was extracted from opened pits while lodestone was extracted from mines. The most important iron mines are the ones from Teliuc, where some mining tools where discovered, and Ghelari. Other mines are known from Trascău, Ocna de Fier, and Valea Secaşului.

The most common non-ferrous ore in Dacia is copper, extracted in Deva (Hunedoara County), on the Olt Valley at Turnu Roşu, in Banat region (Tisoviţa, Moldova Nouă and Dognecea) and at Cânepişte. Flank galleries were commonly used, together with open pits. It is probable that besides copper, lead might have been extracted at Moldova Nouă and Dognecea.

The province contained valuable salt resources also. The most important salt-mines were those from Salinae (today Ocna Mureşului/Războieni, Mureş County), Potaissa (today Turda, Cluj County), and Ocna Sibiului (Sibiu County). Salt was probably also obtained at Cojocna, Sic, Pata, and Ocna Dejului (all in Cluj County) at Domneşti (Bistriţa-Năsăud County), and at Ocnele Mari (Vâlcea County). It was transported mainly on the Mureş River and probably on other rivers, like the Someş. It is possible that this valuable asset was transported on land routes also.

Stone quarries were abundant in Roman Dacia. Transylvania and Banat are very rich in marble. The best-known quarry is the one from Bucova (Caraş-Severin County), near Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa. There are numerous limestone quarries in the province, like at Mănăştur, Baciu, Suceag (Cluj County), in the close vicinity of Napoca, at Sănduleşti and Podeni (Cluj County) near Potaissa, or at Ighiu (Alba County), close to Apulum.
Numerous quarries existed in the south-western part of Romania, close to the Danube. Andesite was extracted at Uroiu (Hunedoara County).

The tools used in quarries are relatively simple. Three hammers with pointed heads were found at Deva–Bejan, another important quarry. A blacksmith’s workshop was discovered at Cheile Baciului (Cluj County), where three pairs of tongs and an iron hammer were found.

It was calculated based on the constructing activity from Dacia that approximately 10.5 millions m3 of quarry stone were used for building the towns, the fortresses and the roads of the province.

Legal status and organization of the mining administration in Roman period.

As we previously showed, Roman interest in gold extraction in Dacia is documented from the beginning of the occupation. The mountains where the gold was to be extracted from became the Roman state property immediately after the conquest, as it is recorded in an inscription that mentions Hermias, one of Trajan’s freedmen in charge with the administration of the gold mines.

In opposition to the case of gold and silver mining from Pannonia and Dalmatia, where Rome involved directly only in the 3rd century, in Dacia the administration of the golden mines was from the beginning held by a procurator aurariarum (Augusti). Ten such imperial clerks are known in Dacia from inscriptions. They managed the incomes obtained from the mining district and counted on staff comprising mainly of imperial slaves and freedmen, known in AD 165-166 at Alburnus Maior as liberti et familia et leguli aurariarum.

From the inscriptions found at Ampelum, the headquarters of the mining administration, they were vilici, supervisors of various activities, tabularii, managing the fiscal office and the archives, dispensatores, the ones who made the payments, and librarii, some sort of secretaries, soldiers from the 13th legion.
The iron mines from Dacia were patented to lease holders, conductores ferrariarum, as it is shown in an inscription from Teliucul Inferior, dated in Caracalla’s time.

Numerous salt mines were imperial properties, patented to conductores pascui et salinarum, mentioned in inscriptions from Apulum, Micia, and Domneşti. The last one mentions also one of this conductor’s staff, an actor (probably a cashier).


The gold district of Roman Dacia seams to have been hardly populated in pre Roman time. Likewise mining is scarcely documented. Although Dacian gold mining is certain, it was probably done by washing off gold-bearing sands; presently there are no gold mines documented. It is possible that silver was obtained from seams, and large quantities of lead glance found in Sarmizegetusa Regia demonstrate the existence of iron mining. This one, together with gold mining might have been a royal monopoly.
The second one was organized immediately after the conquest of Dacia. Illyrian Colonists, attested by numerous epigraphic sources, were brought into the region. They kept their tribal organization form, their specific settlements and institutions. These colonists’ different degree of Romanization is proven by the alternation of burial and cremation graves in the cemeteries ascribed to this ethnic group. Their necropolis were excavated in Zlatna area (at Boteş-Corabia, with groups of burial mounds surrounded at the base by stone circles), at Roşia Montană, Brad-Muncelul, and Cinciş. Their ethnical assignment to the Illyrians, despite the Roman funeral inventory, is based on the funerary rite, on ore fragments found in the graves and connected with the deceased’s profession and a particular manner of representation on monuments.
The wax tablets found in the mine tunnels from Roşia Montană are an important source. They certify the employment of free manpower and less conclusive that of slaves in mining activities. Gold extraction, besides washing of gold-bearing sands, comprised digging galleries. Some wooden and iron tools used in the Roman mines were found in various locations.
In addition to gold, iron and non-ferrous ore were extracted in Roman Dacia, the most common of the last ones mentioned being copper. Another very important resource was salt, extracted mainly in the northern area of the province; the largest salt mines were the ones from Ocna Mureşului, Turda, and Ocna Sibiului. Quarry stone used in constructions was excavated in the vicinity of the most important towns, Sarmizegetusa Ulpia Traiana, Apulum, Potaissa, and Napoca. Marble was mainly extracted from Bucova quarry. Hard rocks like basalt and andesite were also employed.
Mining in Dacia was since its beginning complexly organized. Gold mines were managed by a procurator aurariarum, assisted by a diversified staff. The mines, similarly to the salt pits and pastures were rented to conductores.

Coriolan Opreanu, Mihaela Mihalachi
Illustrations and maps: Mihaela Mihalachi, Coriolan Opreanu, Sorin Cociş

Selective bibliography:

V. Wollmann, Mineritul metalifer, extragerea sării şi carierele de piatră în Dacia romană. Der Erzbergbau, die Salzgewinnung und die Steinbrüche im römischen Dakien, Cluj-Napoca, 1996
I. Nemeti, S. Nemeti, Tracii şi ilirii, în Funeraria dacoromana (ed. M. Bărbulescu), Cluj-Napoca, 2003, p. 394-439.
Alburnus Maior, (monographic series), Bucharest 2003
Simion M., Apostol V, Vleja D., Alburnus Maior II Monumentul funerar circular. (The Circular Funeral Monument), Bucharest 2004
R. Slotta, V. Wollmann, I. Dordea_Silber und Salz in Siebenbürgen, Bochum, 2002