Miscelanea II

DACIAN AND ROMAN ANTIQUITIES

Alexandru Vulpe

Mirroring the ever more intense concerns in the antiquities created by the Romanians' forefathers, Mihai Gramatopol's book Artă şi arheologie dacică şi romană (Dacian and Roman Art and Archeology - Sports and Tourism Publishing House, 1982)* adds to the significant writings on this priority subject for Romanian researches in the last few years. The volume is rather a collection of studies, whose main theme is given in the title. The chapters follow a chronological order, but the relationship between them is rather loose, each being a  self-contained entity. In this sense already the first chapter entitled „Visual Paradigms and the Research in Ancient Art” is not an introduction but an essay on problems of principle and method with general aesthetic validity in the author's very personal view. Although there is no obvious link between this part and the other 11 studies that follow, by going through it the reader is able to get acquainted with the author's original personality, an originality which is to be manifest in the other chapters more than once.
It is obvious from the very beginning that the author is a researcher with vast knowledge in the fields of history, archaeology and the history of arts. This fact is clearly evident from the way the problems discussed are tackled, always placed in a very broad context, involving various zones of ancient history and archaeology, and from the rich bibliography, most often quoted critically, which accompanies the book. In this context I think that the ever original expressions and the formulation of daring hypotheses on various matters, some of them fundamental, pertaining to the history and archaeology of Dacia, are justified. Such a book could not but contain many ideas running counter to these which have become „classical” in the course of time, some of them with deep roots in the tradition of research. As these, however, are hypotheses formulated in due time and with much common sense by various scientists, the author considers himself justified to take into consideration also possibilities that are opposed to those hypotheses.
In the chapter „Coordinates and Relations of Zoomorphic Motifs. A Possible Methodology of the Art of the Thraco-Dacians and of Its Context” the author insists on the non-historical character of this art, which shows analogous elements at various times and in various places. For this reason one cannot speak of workshops as „schools”. The art of the Thraco-Dacians was permanently subject to the Hellenic influence and therefore there are tendencies towards anthropomorphism to the detriment of the animal elements, which, although being present since the Bronze Age, were not able to emerge as a characteristic feature of this art. On the contrary the Thraco-Dacian art bears the mark of an utmost simplification of animal motifs.
The third chapter, „The Thraco-Dacians and the Orient”, one of the most interesting in the book, deals with the treasure found at Válci-Trán (Northern Bulgarian). M. Gramatopol endeavours to find arguments to support the Oriental origin of the pieces making up the treasure, bringing out the hypothesis that the gold objects are the spoil taken following a raid of Treres fighters in a royal town of Assyria in the 7th century B.C.  The Treres Thracians who together with the Cimmerians roamed about Anatolia in the 7th century B.C. were chased away by the Lydian king Alyates at the beginning of the following century, and some of them returned north of the Balkans. And thus the treasure came to be buried not far from the town of Pleven. Although I do not believe in this hypothesis (in my opinion the treasure of Válci-Trán dates back to the 12th-10th centuries B.C., and therefore it has nothing to do with the Treres), Gramatopol’s ideas cannot be ignored; noteworthy is his opinion that the treasure is the result of war spoils from Anatolia.
The chapter „Late Thraco-Dacian Toreutics and Its Antecedents” pleads for a continuity of tradition between the Thraco-Getan art in the 4th century B.C. up to the era of maximum flourishing of the Geto-Dacian culture. By a more careful dating of several treasures found south of the Danube (Radjuvene, Lukovit and Letnica) a gap is filled between the two phases of the Thraco-Dacian art; the 3rd century thus becomes the connecting link. The arguments presented in support of this opinion are particularly interesting also through the parallels between the Geto-Dacian toreutics and pottery.
According to the author, the close connections of the Geto-Dacians with the Greek-Thracian and Hellenistic world also explain the first coins minted north of the Danube, in the  4th century B.C. Unlike the traditional opinions on the dating and explanation of some types in the first phase of the Dacian coin minting, M. Gramatopol, for more general reasons (based on iconographic considerations with wide implications in the history of arts and religions) believes to recognize three types of coins with local representations, connected with the Geto-Dacian religious beliefs (the Bendis type, that of a male deity with two appearances and the „pan-Dacian” type of Jiblea). This opinion will undoubtedly stir discussions, but I consider that such points of view are welcome if we want to get beyond the narrow framework of the strictly numismatic conceptions.
The amplest chapter of the book is dedicated to the interpretation of some aspects from the history of kings Burebista and Decebalus. In the author's vision, king Burebista's reign was the last attempt of the king Mithridates 6th made to restore the  unity of the Hellenistic Orient in order to counterbalance the Roman expansion. In this order of ideas, the conquest of the Greek colonies on the Western shore of the Black Sea would not have had a political significance; that is why the author examines most critically the sources on which our information is based, reaching the conclusion that such a premeditated conquest action did not take place actually and that these Greek cities had been laid waste by local Getan chiefs who acted in their own interest and not in the interest of the Dacian king. In this case too, salutary is the presentation of the weak points on which the present generally accepted conception is based (which does not automatically imply, however, our accepting Gramatopol's hypothesis without any reserve). Anyway, the author provides us with a more detailed view on the relations between the Getans and the Greek cities on the Black Sea in the first century B.C., on the political structures and on the power relations within Burebista's state.
The limited space we have at our disposal does not allow for an analysis of the other chapters of the book: „Glassware shops in Dobrudja and Their Relations with the Orient”, „Sea Deities and Acquatic Demonology in Scythia Minor”, „Trajan's Last Portrait” and „The Largest Cameo of Romania”, all of them covering problems of Roman archaeology, art and antiquities in Dacia and Moesia.
In conclusion, one can say, without the fear of being wrong, that the book reviewed here will arouse much interest both in the world of specialists and in the wider circle of culture lovers.

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