Sarmizegetusa Regia, the capital of the Dacian Kingdom

Nestled in the rugged Carpathian Mountains of modern-day Romania, Sarmizegetusa Regia stands as a testament to the enigmatic history and rich cultural heritage of the ancient Dacian Kingdom. This remarkable archaeological site, often referred to as the spiritual heart of Dacia, holds a captivating allure for historians, archaeologists, and curious travelers alike.

In this article, we embark on a journey through time to explore the captivating story of Sarmizegetusa Regia. As we delve into the annals of its history, we encounter the rise and fall of the Dacian Kingdom and the pivotal role played by Sarmizegetusa Regia as its political and religious capital. From its foundation in the 1st century BCE to its eventual conquest by the Roman Empire, we unravel the secrets held within its ancient walls.

Venturing further, we delve into the remarkable archaeological discoveries made within the site’s sacred precincts. From the imposing temples adorned with andesite columns to the enigmatic stone formations and sacrificial altars, these findings shed light on the religious practices, architectural marvels, and cultural nuances of the Dacian civilization.

However, Sarmizegetusa Regia holds more than just historical and archaeological wonders—it is shrouded in legends that speak of its mystical energy. We delve into the tales that paint Sarmizegetusa Regia as an energetic vortex, a place where ancient forces intertwine with earthly energies, attracting seekers and enthusiasts from across the globe.

Join us as we embark on an immersive exploration of Sarmizegetusa Regia, where history, archaeology, and folklore intertwine to create a tapestry of wonder and intrigue. Discover the echoes of a long-lost civilization and unravel the mysteries that continue to captivate our imaginations to this day.

Sarmizegetusa Regia – location and layout of the ruins

Sarmizegetusa Regia, the capital of the Dacians before their wars with the Roman Empire, was a vital center for military, religious, and political affairs. Located atop a 1200m high mountain in present-day Romania, the fortress comprised six citadels and served as the core of a strategic defensive system in the Orăștie Mountains.

It is crucial to distinguish Sarmizegetusa Regia from Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa, the Roman capital of Dacia built by Emperor Trajan, which was not the Dacian capital. Sarmizegetusa Ulpia was discovered earlier and was initially mistaken for the Dacian capital, leading to misconceptions about Dacian military history and organization.

Tourists who wish to visit the Dacian fortress of Sarmizegetusa Regia can drive up to one kilometer from the walls of the former capital of Dacia. The road starts from the town of Costeşti, Hunedoara County, and covers a distance of 19 kilometers. It is possible to reach a point about 850 meters from the entrance gate of the fortress by car. The final portion must be traversed on foot by tourists along a paved path made of andesite slabs.

The exact population of Sarmizegetusa Regia is not known, but it is estimated to have been between 10,000 and 40,000 inhabitants during its heyday. This number was based on the area occupied by the civilian settlement, the number of houses, and the capacity of the defense system.

Sarmizegetusa Regia consisted of a citadel, residential areas, workshops, and a sacred zone. The fortress, a quadrilateral made of massive stone blocks known as murus dacicus, occupied an area of nearly 30,000 m² spread across five terraces.

The sacred zone featured significant Dacian sanctuaries, including rectangular temples with visible bases of supporting columns. Notably, the circular sanctuary, resembling Stonehenge in England, comprised timber posts arranged in a D shape within a timber circle and a low stone kerb.

An intriguing artifact known as the “Andesite Sun” is believed to have served as a sundial. This suggests that Dacian culture was influenced by Hellenistic learning in geometry and astronomy, acquired through contact with Hellenistic Greece.

Civilians resided in settlements below the citadel, constructed on artificial terraces like Feţele Albe. A sophisticated ceramic pipe system ensured running water reached the noble residences.

Archaeological findings at the site reflect a relatively high standard of living in Dacian society.

The Great Circular Temple

The great circular temple at Sarmizegetusa Regia has captivated interest for centuries. It gained attention in the early 19th century when the Austrian fiscal authority conducted excavations and mistakenly identified it as a “church.”

Throughout the 20th century, scholars proposed various interpretations. Vasile Pârvan considered it a funerary monument, while D.M. Teodorescu believed it to be a solar sanctuary. In 1950 and 1951, Constantin Daicoviciu’s team uncovered most of the temple, and further research was carried out in 1980 for restoration purposes.

The temple’s perimeter was marked by a double andesite structure, consisting of massive blocks and groups of pillars. Archaeological findings revealed the presence of clay-coated wooden pillars supporting a wall with four symmetrically arranged entrances. A solstitial apsidal chamber with limestone-block entrances occupied the center, and the temple had a conical roof.

Spanning a diameter of 29.40 meters, the circular temple encompassed a significant portion of Terrace XI’s northern sector. Its design comprised three concentric elements: a double perimeter circle, a median circle, and a central ellipse. The double circle contained andesite pieces, with 104 stone blocks in the outer circle and 30 groups of 6 + 1 elements in the inner circle, totaling 210 elements.

The decayed wooden pillars of the median circle were detected by archaeologists, with estimates ranging from 68 to 84. Four stone thresholds intersected the circle, and the pillars were buried at irregular depths of 1.30-1.45 meters, each with a limestone base.

The central ellipse consisted of 34 wooden pillars buried at a depth of 0.90-1 meter, separated by two stone thresholds. While the pillar heights remain unknown, their depth suggests they were at least double the buried portion, preventing sinking and relying on stone blocks for support.

Nearby, another smaller circular temple existed but could not be fully reconstructed. The great circular temple held a prominent position within the sacred area of Sarmizegetusa Regia and was likely dedicated to the most significant deity of the Dacian pantheon. Sadly, the Romans systematically destroyed the structure, symbolizing the end of the Dacian religion.

 The Large Andesite Temple

Terrace X in Sarmizegetusa Regia is known for its temple with andesite columns. The bases (pedestals) with a diameter of two meters and some remnants of the columns have been preserved. The temple consists of six rows of columns with ten elements each and is believed to have remained unfinished due to the Dacian-Roman wars.

Before the confrontation with the Romans, the Dacians started constructing a rectangular temple with 60 columns (arranged in 6 rows of 10 columns each). Only a portion of the original structure remains due to damages over time. Three architectural elements are known: the pedestals, column bases, and actual columns, all made of andesite.

In a previous phase, another temple operated there, with preserved corner blocks and limestone pilasters on large rectangular slabs. These may have belonged to the structure that included blocks with Greek letters and decorative limestone pieces depicting aquatic birds.

These ruins bear witness to a religious architecture emphasizing the royal role of Sarmizegetusa, although the gods to whom the ruins were dedicated are now forgotten.

The large andesite temple on Terrace X underwent two construction phases. The first phase preserved 34 limestone pillars, around 83 centimeters tall, supported by limestone vases.

The old temple was active from the second half of the 1st century BCE until the end of the 1st century CE, when it was replaced by the andesite temple. Like other buildings in Sarmizegetusa Regia, the temple on Terrace X was constructed using andesite sourced from quarries over 50 kilometers away, near Deva in the Mureș Valley.

The Andesite Sun

The Andesite Sun is a monument that intrigues tourists visiting the Dacian fortress of Sarmizegetusa Regia. The altar, was a unique structure used for sacrificial rituals in ancient religious practices. It featured a central andesite disc as its visible upper part, surrounded by 10 massive andesite plates arranged as “rays.” Along the outer edge, small rectangular indentations held several small marble pieces.

The lower part of the altar consisted of limestone blocks placed in the middle, with clay compacted between them. Sacrificial liquids flowed through a hole in one of the andesite “rays” and a carved channel in a limestone block into the drainage system. A row of 16 blocks complemented the altar’s plan, with their orientation suggesting potential astronomical significance.

Significant degradation has been observed since the monument’s discovery in 1959, with nearly half of the andesite disc destroyed. Restoration work in 1979-1981 using cement mortar exacerbated the degradation, resulting in numerous visible cracks and fractures in the stone. The drainage basin, originally positioned within the altar, now resides nearby. Lichens, grass, and even fragments of broken stone housing vipers can be found among the altar’s cracks.

In the 1980s, there was a proposal to remove the andesite disc from Sarmizegetusa Regia and replace it with a replica in order to exhibit the original disc at the museum in Deva. However, archaeologists opposed this plan due to limited resources. Another suggestion by the scientific team at that time was to cover the monument for protection against weathering, but this initiative was ultimately abandoned.

Sarmizegetusa name origin

What is the origin of the name Sarmizegetusa? The pronunciation and meaning of the word in the Dacian language are uncertain. According to scholars such as Constantin Daicoviciu and Liviu Mărghitan, it is believed to be composed of two basic elements: zermi (rock, height) and zeget (palisade, citadel), derived from the Indo-European *gegh- meaning “branch, stake (for palisade).” It is theorized to signify “The Citadel on the Rock,” “The High Citadel,” or “Palisade Citadel (built) on the Height (or Rock).”

However, since Sarmizegetusa was originally a religious and civil settlement rather than a military fortification, the etymology should be approached with caution. It is possible that the name indicated the sacredness of the location or its origin as a royal citadel.

Another theory suggests that the name means “the settlement of the Sarmatians and the Getae” based on the Latin terms sarmis et getusa. However, historian Vasile Pârvan rejected this hypothesis, stating that the Sarmatians entered the Getae territory only after the time of Trajan, and the name of the capital was much older.

Pârvan proposed reading Sarmiz-egetusa as “Egetusa of Sarmos” or “Zarmos,” citing the known Thracian name Zarmos/Zermos mentioned by the Austrian researcher Wilhelm Tomaschek. Dimităr Decev, a Bulgarian Thracologist, supported Pârvan’s opinion, comparing it with various names from Lycia (Licia) such as Zermounsis, Ro-zarmas, Ia-zarmas, Troko-zarmas, and the Thracian variant based on Zermos, Xermo-sígestos, or Zermo-sígestos.

In the 19th-century work by Tomaschek, he proposed the reading Zermi-zegétousa, comparing the first part to the Sanskrit term harmyá meaning “hearth; home; family” and the Armenian word zarm(i) meaning “suboles family,” with the presumed final meaning of “the house of the (Getae) nation.”

These attempts and others to uncover the meaning of the toponym Sarmizegetusa have generated theories that remain hypotheses.

A brief history of Dacia

The Dacian Kingdom, located in the region of present-day Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Ukraine, was a significant ancient civilization that existed between 82 BC and AD 106.

The Dacians first appear in the writings of ancient Greek historians, such as Herodotus and Thucydides, who described them as „the noblest as well as the most just of all the Thracian tribes”, armed with mounted archers. Some historians speculate that the Dacians were descendants of Indo-Iranian nomads who later formed the Geto-Dacian people. Throughout history, the Dacians interacted with various neighboring tribes and cultures, such as the Thracians, Scythians, and Sarmatians.

The Dacian language and culture left their mark on the region. Ptolemy’s Geographia provides a list of Dacian toponyms, with many town names containing the suffix “dava,” meaning settlement or village. However, some Dacian names lack this suffix, suggesting Latin influence or assimilation. The Dacian state likely emerged as a tribal confederacy, united under charismatic leadership in both military and ideological domains.

The Dacian Kingdom’s history is intertwined with the broader narrative of the ancient world, marked by interactions with neighboring civilizations and ultimately succumbing to Roman conquest. Today, the legacy of the Dacians can still be seen in the archaeological remains and cultural heritage of the region, reminding us of this fascinating and significant ancient kingdom.

The Dacian Kingdom, located in the region corresponding to present-day Romania and parts of neighboring countries, had a rich and complex history. The kingdom existed as early as the first half of the 2nd century BC under King Oroles. However, conflicts with the Bastarnae and the Romans (112–109 BC, 74 BC) weakened the Dacians’ resources.

It was under the rule of King Burebista (82 – 44 BC), a contemporary of Julius Caesar, that the Dacian Kingdom reached its height. Burebista reorganized the army, improved moral standards, and extended the kingdom’s boundaries. He conquered the Bastarnae, the Boii, and even Greek towns on the Black Sea, asserting his authority. Burebista’s reign was marked by the adoption of Roman denarii as a monetary standard and the transfer of the capital to Sarmizegetusa Regia.

Under the rule of King Burebista, the Dacian Kingdom reached its zenith. It extended from the Black Sea to the source of the Tisza River and from the Balkan Mountains to Bohemia. Dacia encompassed the area between the Middle Danube and the Black Sea littoral, from Apollonia to Pontic Olbia, and from the Northern Carpathians to the Balkan Mountains. However, after Burebista was assasinated in 44 BC, the kingdom fragmented.

After Burebista’s death, the kingdom was divided into 4 separate parts under different rulers. The most powerful of them had its center in the Orastiei Mountains, under the former high priest of Burebista, Deceneus (44 – c.27 BC). Another one of these entities was Cotiso’s state, in Banat and Oltenia, to whom Augustus betrothed his own daughter Julia.

The Dacians, though compelled to recognize Roman supremacy, maintained their independence and occasionally raided Roman cities in Moesia during winter when the Danube froze.

Decebalus, who ruled the Dacians from AD 87 to 106, united the Dacians that remained unconquered by Rome, and fought two wars against the Romans in 87 – 89 AD. In the first war, the Dacians pillaged Moesia, and in the second, they initially defeated Roman troops sent by Emperor Domitian. However, the Romans eventually gained the upper hand and a truce was established. Decebalus was granted the status of a “king client to Rome,” but tensions continued to simmer.

Emperor Trajan, aiming to restore Rome’s finances, enhance his reign’s glory, and control the Dacian gold mines, launched a conquest of Dacia in 101 AD. In his first campaign, he besieged the Dacian capital Sarmizegethusa and occupied part of the country. Trajan later recommenced hostilities and, after a series of battles, forced Decebalus to seek terms. However, Decebalus rebuilt his power and attacked Roman garrisons once more. Trajan responded by marching into Dacia, capturing Sarmizegethusa, and destroying it in 106 AD. Decebalus chose suicide over capture.

The conquest of Dacia led to the establishment of the Roman province Dacia Traiana. Trajan’s campaigns brought the Roman Empire to its greatest extent, and he commemorated his victory with the erection of the Column of Trajan in Rome.

The Dacian population was dispersed after the capital, Sarmizegetusa Regia, was destroyed. However, the Romans rebuilt another Sarmizegetusa city, to serve as the capital of the Roman province of Dacia. Some “Free Dacians” possibly remained outside the Roman Empire in northern Romania until the Migration Period began.

Dacia Traiana, established as a Roman province, initially comprised regions such as Banat, Oltenia, Transylvania, and gradually expanded to southern Moldavia, while Dobruja and Budjak were part of the Roman province of Moesia. Later, Dacia Aureliana was organized within former Moesia Superior after the Roman army withdrew from Dacia.

The history of the Dacian Kingdom is a tale of conflicts, conquests, and shifting alliances. The Dacians, though formidable, ultimately succumbed to Roman domination, leaving a lasting impact on the region’s history and culture. The remnants of the Dacian civilization continue to intrigue and fascinate historians and archaeologists to this day.

History of Sarmizegetusa Regia and discoveries

Towards the end of Burebista’s reign, around mid-1st century BC, the Geto-Dacian capital was moved from Argedava to Sarmizegetusa, where it thrived under King Decebal. Sarmizegetusa was part of the Dacian defensive system including other five Dacian fortresses: Costești-Blidaru, Piatra Roșie, Costești-Cetățuie, Căpâlna and Bănița. All six have been named UNESCO World heritage sites.

Archaeological discoveries have revealed the significant role of the Dacian god Zalmoxis and his chief priest in Dacian society, shedding light on the political, economic, and scientific advancements of the Dacians. The Dacians successfully assimilated technical and scientific knowledge from the Greeks and Romans.

Notable findings from the site include a medical kit with surgical instruments and pharmaceutical containers, as well as a large vase inscribed with “Decebalus, son of Scorilus” in the Roman alphabet.

The skill of the Dacians in metalworking is evidenced by the smithies found north of the sanctuary. Tools and weapons, including agricultural implements and carpenters’ tools, as well as daggers, scimitars, spearpoints, and shields, were discovered.

The flourishing Dacian civilization met a sudden end when Trajan’s legions destroyed the city and displaced its population. Sarmizegetusa’s walls were partially dismantled after the First Dacian War in AD 102, rebuilt as Roman fortifications, possibly destroyed again by the Dacians, and reconstructed after a successful siege in AD 105–6.

The Roman conquerors established a military garrison at Sarmizegetusa Regia. The capital of Roman Dacia, Colonia Ulpia Traiana Augusta Dacica Sarmizegetusa, was later established 40 km away from the ruined Dacian capital, named after it.

Legends about Sarmizegetusa Regia

Although only the ruins of the ancient citadel remain, Sarmizegetusa Regia is believed to be a sacred place with energetic portals that have remained alive and active throughout the millennia. This is the main reason why Sarmizegetusa Regia attracts thousands of curious visitors each year who seek to experience the vibration of the place, especially around the days of the equinoxes and solstices.

Other theories suggest that Sarmizegetusa was a place discovered during the time of the Agathyrsi, the Dacians’ ancestors, erudite people initiated in various sciences, from astrology to medicine. It is believed that they were a spiritual people who harnessed the energies of the place, a custom preserved by the Dacians.

Certain specialists argue that Sarmizegetusa is located at the intersection of such energy meridians. Our ancestors sought out places like these that amplified the power of prayers and healings.

Legend has it that the sacred area of Sarmizegetusa represents an important energy point. The disc or sun of andesite is a place of astral or divine energies. In fact, the former Dacian capital was often visited by practitioners of meditation and esotericism.

Some historians claim that the initiation rituals of the Dacian warriors took place here. But it was also a site of sacrifices. The layout of the settlements led others to believe that these places served as astronomical observation points.

Historians have determined that the temples and sanctuaries here, arranged on two terraces, were built in two distinct periods, some during the reign of King Burebista, others during the time of Decebal.

The constructions were made with materials brought from many kilometers away. The exact role of the sanctuaries is not known, hence many legends and myths have emerged surrounding the citadel of Sarmizegetusa Regia.

The strangest myths circulating about the Dacian settlement of Sarmizegetusa Regia claim that the place overlaps with an underground city stretching over dozens of hectares. It is also said that there might be an energetic portal within the sacred enclosure of the Dacian capital, connecting to parallel universes, and that the Dacians built tunnels between their citadels. Such hypotheses, emerging after 1990, are vehemently contested by historians.

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2 thoughts on “Sarmizegetusa Regia, the capital of the Dacian Kingdom”

  1. Great post – Ivsited Bucharest for a few days last sp.ring but didnt travel much beyond the city – but I’ll be back and use your posts for my itinerary as ancient ruins & forts are one of my main interests. I visited several fortresses along the Danube during a river cruise which I blogged


    • Thanks, Steve. Sarmizegetusa is worth visiting because it have many in common with Machu Picchu as being situated at a high altitude in the Carpathians, and Stonehenge because the shape of the Great Circular Temple.


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