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Life by the Imperial Roads: Identity and Wealth on the Roman Frontier
Roman Villa and Settlement Excavation

          The Roman conquest of Dacia, the last Imperial expansion in Europe, began in 87AD with the relatively disastrous campaigns led by Domitian and ended with Trajan’s Dacian Wars of 101/2 and 106AD. The plethora of wealth and resources the Roman Empire harnessed in Dacia (especially in Transylvania) contributed significantly to the “solvability” of the imperial economy until the Aurelian Retreat of 270AD, the funding of the construction of Trajan’s Forum in Rome being a very concrete illustration of the potential of the new province.


          The mechanisms of Roman occupation of Dacia are very complex and not well understood. The Dacian aristocracy and upper classes were in continuous contact with the Roman world well prior to the final fall of the Dacian Kingdoms. These interactions took many forms, ranging from raids and limited warfare, to intensive and extensive trade, to use of Roman techniques, technologies and craftsmen.


          With the defeat and “suicide” of the last Dacian King, Decebalus, in 106AD, the structures of the local social system collapsed in parts or in whole. The new Roman presence generated a dynamic and continuous process of creolization in the new province, redefining the concepts and practices of identity, wealth and class representation along Roman traditions, in theory.


          However, the realities in the field are quite more subtle. First of all, the local population was still present, controlling if not the resources proper, the various technical aspects of harvesting them. Second, the new Roman population was a very diverse aggregate of ethnic groups from across the Empire, the heavy Syrian presence in Sarmizegetusa Ulpia Traiana and the many auxiliary garrisons along the various Transylvanian limes illustrating emphatically this aspect. Third, the Dacian Province presented de facto a frontier environment, constantly under pressure from foreign incursions from Germanic tribes from the north and west and the free Dacians and the Sarmatians/Scythian riders from the east.


          This liminal environment generated very dynamic vectors of creolization and associated practices of identity construction. The Roman “civilizing” social constructs, based on an urbanized way of life implementing processes of alienation through technical and technological dependencies, was constantly threatened by external and internal pressures. The very rapid process of urbanization of the Dacian Provinces forced a lot of dynamic negotiation and practical creolization in the definition, construction and display of social identity and status.


          This particular excavation will attempt to address these aspects of identity perception, presentation and representation. Our site is situated half way between Sarmizegetusa Ulpia Traiana and Apulum, the two most important cities of the Dacian Provinces, very close to the largest gold deposits in Europe in the Apuseni Mountains, and on the main Imperial road in Dacia. Our ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey from 2015 and 2016 has revealed a rural villa of “palatial” size, unique in the Dacian Provinces, covering ca. 0.7ha of built space. Our test excavations have unearthed a rich environment, with 2 story buildings, painted walls, potential colonnades, several buildings outside the villa complex itself and a plethora of artifacts.


          We have started in 2014 the systematic excavation of the gate complex as well as surveying the region around the villa itself, and in 2016 the intensive excavation of the villa’s main building, with spectacular results. In 2020, COVID-19 slowed us down significantly, but we still managed to answer some interesting questions as we uncovered the hypocaust location in the central building of the villa, the access road to the main gate, as well as what appears to be the cemetery of the earliest village of Rapoltu Mare. In 2021, after a gap year due to Covid-19, we got back in the field and had an amazing excavation year! We have discovered a wooden floor in situ in one of the earliest buildings of the villa, which we partially explored in 2022. In 2022, we uncovered a brand new building and what looks like a bone workshop. In 2023, we will continue excavating and uncovering the wooden floor, looking for the identity of the first occupants of our villa, as well as continue all vectors of research and expand our exploration of the villa's internal arrangements.


          Combined with a series of lectures covering Daco-Roman history and archaeology, material culture analysis, photogrammetry and associated hands-on laboratory and field training, this extraordinary environment and its associated monuments, with extraordinary surrounding natural landscapes and beautiful Transylvanian churches and castles, guarantees all students and volunteers with an incredible archaeological and cultural experience.


          To achieve a more encompassing archaeological field experience, we encourage all our participants to consider our Medieval Cemetery Funerary Excavation as well, for a total of 8 weeks in the field.



Location: Rapoltu Mare, Hunedoara County, Transylvania, Romania


Dates: June 9 - August 3, 2024

  • Session 1: June 9 - July 6, 2024

  • Session 2:  July 7 - August 3, 2024


Housing: a nice hotel, about 20km from the site,  2-3 participants per room,  private bathrooms available in each room. Transportation provided to and from the site and lab.


Meals: breakfast and lunch are served Mon-Fri; traditional country cuisine; we can accommodate vegetarian diets. However, we are not able to offer a vegan or gluten-free option.


Cost: US$ 2395 per 4 -week session (4 weeks mandatory)


Fee includes: registration and field fees, lectures, field and laboratory gear, housing and meals as described above

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