Religious beliefs in Roman Dacia

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Sanctuaries within towns

The Temple of Liber Pater from Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa

The construction is located in the north-western corner of a holly area (area sacra). It is composed of a rectangular space of approximately 25 x 20 m (templum), surrounded by a wall with only one entrance on the southern side. The way in is called into attention by a fronton sustained by two columns.


A portico with sandstone columns was located inside the precinct on the other three sides. The altar occupied the center of the courtyard (area). The sacred building (aedes), where the images of the god were fostered, was located on the northern side, opposite to the entrance. Only the foundation of this construction is preserved. The chapel was placed on a platform, being two steps higher than the surrounding level. It consisted of a pronaos and a naos (cella). Two corridors and side rooms (cubicula) were located on the flanks. The western cubicle is better preserved. Votive reliefs, dedicated to Silvanus, were found inside this room. Several fragmentary reliefs and statue basis were dedicated to Liber Pater. The name of the god appears in the foundation inscription, on a marble plate. The text refers to the rebuilding of the portico and cubicles destroyed through fire by the enemy. The benefactors are a decurion and a quaestor of the town.

In this official temple Liber and Libera – an ancient Italic couple of divinities – were worshiped. Another Italic god of vegetation, Silvanus, was hosted in the western cubicle. The existence of the two cubicles represents derogation from the plan of the temple with an interior portico. The arrangement was explained as a "Dacian triad" composed of Liber Pater, Silvanus, and Diana, as they are represented on Trajan’s triumphal arch from Benevento (Italy).

Based on an inscription and a relief, a temple of Liber Pater was presumed at Porolissum, inside the area of the military vicus.

Another sanctuary of Liber Pater was recently uncovered at Apulum. In this case it is not a temple, but the reunion building of a private Dionysian association, which practiced Greek and Oriental mysteries. A statuary group centered on Liber Pater /Dionysos was found here. The work was made from Phrygian, Aphylon marble in the workshops of Minor Asia.


The temple of the goddess Nemesis from Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa

The temple is located near the Eastern gate, the main access gate of the amphitheatre. The plan is still uncertain; the construction phases were presumed after the restoration of the building, which makes them fairly hypothetical. Its identification as temple of Nemesis is based on its location and on the inscriptions dedicated to the goddess which were found inside the construction.


A small sanctuary of Nemesis existed inside the amphitheatre from Porolissum. It was located in a room beneath the stands, near the main, North-Western gate. The room was partially turned into a sanctuary by the addition of an apse. There were two entries, one from the gate’s corridor, and the other one facing the apse, from the exterior of the amphitheatre. A portico seems to have been standing in front of this primary entrance.


The identification of the sanctuary is based on an altar stone dedicated by a soldier of Numerus Palmyrenorum to Nemesis.

The temple of Aesculap and Hygeia from Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa

The sanctuary of the gods of medicine is composed of several buildings grouped inside a sacred precinct.


Edifice I is a Celto-Roman fanum with two construction phases. The cella in the middle of the temple held a rectangular brick altar. After a fire which was most probably caused by the Marcommanic attack, the outer precinct is extended, while the cella remains the same. Edifice II consists of a pronaos of 7 x 6.5 m, a rectangular cella and a cubiculum on the West side. During the second stage of existence the pronaos and the cella were demolished, and the land was covered with stone slabs. A square-shape fountain, 0.75m wide and 4.5 m deep is dug where the cella was located. Edifice III was a rectangular construction 7.5 m long and 5.1 m wide. A sand-stone blocks alignment parallel with the Eastern side could be the substruction of a four columns portico, otherwise said - a tetrastyle temple. In the second phase, the temple was demolished and another construction of 12.8 x 8.10 m was built. Edifice IV was a 5.9 x 5 m building with a brick altar in the middle. The traces of a portico are placed in front of it. Several other constructions were found inside the precinct: a stone platform, 5 m wide, identified as a sculpture workshop after the traces of marble carving found, a brick platform and a well. An inscription in Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa mentions the reconstruction of a sacred building dedicated to the two divinities.

Other temples of the gods of medicine are mentioned in inscriptions at Apulum and Ampelum.


The Temple of Mithras from Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa

The temple of Mithras from Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa was excavated in the 19th century. Today its ruins are no longer visible and the plan was reconstructed. The temple was 44.23 m long and 12.44 m wide. The author considered the existence of three naves delimited by two rows of columns. The naves had arched ceilings and a portico was located in front of the entrance.

From the archaeological information it can be presumed that the temple suffered two fires, but the time when they took place cannot be established. What was left of this temple are the over 200 inscriptions and reliefs concerning the cult of Mithras.


The Temple of the Palmyran Gods from Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa

This temple was also excavated in the 19th century and is no longer visible today. After a recent reinterpretation, the construction had a pronaos with an access door, a central nave and a cella. The most significant information about the temple is given by the construction inscription, dedicated to the "fatherly gods" (diis patriis), Malagbel, Bebellhamon, Benefal, and Manavat by P. Aelius Theimes, duumvir of the colony who built it on his own money.


To the outer side, a building breaks the symmetry of the initial plan; it is probably the kitchen (culina) added during the reconstruction, as it is mentioned in the inscription. Three of the divinities, Bel Bel Hamon, Fenebal, and Manavat are gods of the Palmyran tribe of Bene Agrud. The ancestors of P. Aelius Theimes had come to Dacia from the Phoenician coast, as it is indicated by the presence of the goddess Benefal (Fenebal). Among the colonists arrived in Dacia, the Palmyrans strongly kept their traditional religion.

The Temples from Alburnus Maior

Older discoveries and recent ones made during the recent rescue excavations in the region of the golden mines from Roşia Montană (Alburnus Maior) identified several temples. For example in the Hăbad area 27 votive altars were previously uncovered. Recently, several buildings were surveyed – two rectangular, one of them with a lateral apse. Inside the courtyard were found in situ several votive altars dedicated to Liber Pater, Iupiter Depulsor, Venus, Diana, Iupiter Optimus Maximus, Mercurius, Terra Mater, Minerva, Neptun, Nymphs, Silvanus, and Apollo. A lucus, or a sacred grove is presumed to have been existed here – or, more likely, an area sacra, composed of edifices and open areas with monuments.


Another temple was excavated in the same area. It is a rectangular building of 18.45 x 19 m. In addition to a courtyard, the temple had three rooms; one of them could have been a cella, while the other ones, cubicula. The authors of the excavation consider it a sacellum. Three votive altars dedicated to Neptun, Mercur, and Apollo were uncovered.


A second cultic edifice was found at Drumus point. Six votive altars and 7 or 8 fragmentary ones, dedicated to Terra Mater, Iupiter Optimus Maximus, Ianus Geminus, and Apollo were found inside the courtyard. The cella was located in the middle. There were porticoes on both sides of the precinct.


The Temple from Potaissa

Five votive altars and fragments of walls were found at Potaissa (Turda), on Cheii Street; a temple was presumed, though its plan was not identified. The gods mentioned are Iupiter (on two altars), Mercurius, Hercules, and Terra Mater. The uncovering of the monuments in a masonry free layer supports the idea that, after being taken out of use, they were deposed in a special holly place for out of use altars and offerings, (favissa), sometime in the 3rd century; this chronology is supported by the fact that some of the inscriptions date back to the first two thirds, while another from the last third of the 2nd century.



Sanctuaries in the countryside

The Temple of the Moorish Gods from Micia

No isolated sanctuaries revered as pilgrimage places for the surrounding areas are known in Roman Dacia. One of the causes for this absence is the lack of continuity of native Dacian population religion and monuments during Roman epoch. The only sanctuaries besides the ones in towns are the ones inside the rural settlements. One of the few excavated temples in this category is the temple of the Moorish gods from Micia. An inscription found in situ provided the identification.

Until now, it is the only known temple dedicated to these Dii Mauri outside Africa. A family of veterans who served in this unit is mentioned on an inscription at Micia. A Moors cavalry unit took part in Trajan’s Dacian war, under the orders of Lusius Quietus; later on they are mentioned in the area of the Danubian provinces. Several numeri of Moors are mentioned in Dacia, like: Numerus Maurorum S..., Numerus Maurorum Tibiscensium at Tibiscum, Numerus Maurorum Optatianensium at Sutoru (Sălaj County), and Numerus Maurorum Hisp. in Ampelum region. The building of the temple from Micia was excavated in 1937. It is a rectangular building of 18 x 11.90 m. The temple consisted of a pronaos with three naves separated by porticoes with columns and a naos separated in three similarly sized rooms.

Several groups of divinities like Jupiter Ammon-Bel Hammon, Caelestis-Tanit-Fenebal, and Saturn-Baal were probably worshiped here. An altar of Silvanus was also uncovered. This could indicate that this popular Roman god was revered here as well, or that under this name an African god, like Iupiter Hammon Barbarus Sylvanus, attested at Cartagina, is worshiped. We have no information concerning the importance of this temple, but it must have been associated with the Moors from the auxiliary unit stationed at Micia.

Other temples in the countryside are only mentioned by inscriptions. For example, in the military vicus from Ilişua (ancient Arcobadara, as it was recently attested on an inscription), an epigraphic text mentions a templum for a Genius Sanctus of the schola decurionum.

In vicus Samum, statio of beneficiarii near the auxiliary fort at Căşei, an inscription mentions the rebuilding of a sacrarium dedicated to Nemesis, by a consular beneficiarius.

Another inscription, from Sucidava, mentions the reconstruction of a temple of the same Nemesis.

At Marga (Caraş-Severin county), the epigraph which mentions the completed construction of temple for Nemesis was viewed as connected with the temple from Ulpia Traiana, which is a conclusion, hard to be accepted, in our opinion.

A temple of Mithras, called Invictus Sol Deus is attested at Doştat (Alba County).


The Dating and the Construction Phases of the Temples

The most important information concerning the chronology was found in the foundation inscriptions. At Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa a construction inscription mentions hat the temple of the goddess Caelestis Virgo Augusta was erected by an imperial slave. Based on the Punic origin of the divinity, it was presumed that the action took place under Septimius Severus or Caracalla, but this is not very certain.


Another foundation inscription is the one for the temple of Malagbel, Bebellahamon, Benefal şi Manavat, but the building time is also left out. Another temple, dedicated to the goddess Regina, was erected by Marcus Cominius Quintus, pontifex and duumvir of the colony; it is not yet identified in the field.


The temple of Liber Pater was partially rebuilt by Lucius Apuleius Marcus, decurion of the colony, after being burnt by the enemies. Although the date of construction cannot be established, it is commonly accepted that the rebuilding took place after the Marcommanic attack, during Marcus Aurelius’s reign, to whome the town is grateful in another epigraph for being saved from danger.

The cultic buildings from the temple of the gods of medicine from Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa were also dated in correlation with this event. Several archaeological excavations show that the surface used later for the buildings of the temple was initially occupied by a large wood and stone building destroyed by a fire and leveled down afterwards. The building was dated at the beginning of the 2nd century AD. It is plausible that the fire was connected with the attack of the Iazyges from AD 117-118. As for the temples, the first phase of construction of the first edifice (fanum) burnt most likely during the Marcommanic attack; the second phase lasted until the end of the Roman rule. The same chronology fitted for the second and third edifices.

In case of the temple of the Moorish gods from Micia, a construction plate mentions the restoration of the temple of the "fatherly gods", which had deteriorated due to old age, in AD 205. The sponsors are the military unit Numerus Maurorum Miciensium and their commander, Iulius Evangelianus; they ensured the financial resources and the labor force for the completion of the work.


Three construction phases were presumed for the temple of Bel from Porolissum. The first phase is assigned on stratigraphy reasons to the first half of the 2nd century AD. The construction date from the 2nd phase could not be determined; the building was destroyed in a fire. The restoration which corresponds to the third phase is mentioned in an inscription from Caracalla.

During the excavation of the temple of Apollo at Tibiscum an inscription was uncovered; it mentions the restoration of the temple, which had deteriorated through age, by a tribune of the cohort I Vindelicorum in AD 200-202, during the joined reign of Septimius Severus, Caracalla, and Geta.

A sanctuary of Jupiter Dolichenus was recently researched at Porolissum. An inscription previously uncovered mentions the construction of the temple during the reign of Gordianus, in AD 241-244. Based on some older inscriptions the authors presume that another temple of Apollo existed during Marcus Aurelius’s and Lucius Verus’s reign (160-170 p. Ch.) and at the beginning of the 3rd century, but its location remains unknown.


Two monetary deposits were found; one contains 21 silver coins; the last one dating to the reign of Traianus Decius (249-251); the second one consists of 41 silver coins, dated up to Volosianus (251-253). Traces of ashes were found inside the building; its destruction took place sometime after AD 251-253, far after the systematic destruction of the temples from the Danube’s and Rhine’s regions during the reign of Maximinus Thrax .

A very interesting inscription from Potaissa mentions the temple of Azisos (the morning star) Bonus Puer Conservator, finished in AD 256-258 by the praefectus of the 5th legion Macedonica. The construction had obviously started before, perhaps at the middle of the 3rd century AD.

To sum up, the first temples in Dacia were built in the colony Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa, the first Roman city, despite the sparse epigraphic sources concerning their construction date. Some of them were certainly rebuilt after AD 170, the time of the Marcommanic attacks. Another epoch of intense building activity, caused mainly by decaying, is the Severan time, particularly the first decade of the 3rd century when the province undergoes a period of maximum prosperity and urbanization. Despite the economic difficulties from the middle of the 3rd century, temples are built up in Gallienus’s reign, a decade before the abandonment of Dacia by the Roman army and administration.


Temple types in the province

No pure Mediterranean temples exist in Dacia. There is no temple in antis, prostyle, tetrastyle, hexastyle, or periptherus. Nevertheless, the main elements of the Roman temple are there: the cella, the pronaos, the naos, and the altar. Some temples are official, like the one of Liber Pater from Sarmizegetusa. A typical Celto-Roman fanum is one of the edifices from the cultic complex dedicated to Aesculap and Hygeia from the same colony. There is no connection with the religious architecture of the Late Iron Age architecture of the Dacians.

The location of the temples from Dacia

At Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa, the temples are generally located outside the city walls, some even further away, like the ones dedicated to the Palmyran gods or to Mithras. The others, like the temples of Liber Pater, Aesculap and Hygeia, the "Big" Temple and probably the temple of Rome and Augustus (which was not identified until now), were located in a sacred area in the proximity of the northern gate of the city, near the imperial road to Tibiscum and not far from the amphitheatre. At Porolissum, the temple of Bel and the one of Jupiter Dolichenus are located near the military vicus, the fortress, and the imperial road.


The situation seems to be the same at Micia and Tibiscum, but exact topographical determinations are impossible at the moment.

Coriolan Opreanu

Illustration: Stanca Pitner, Sorana Mişca



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