Studia III


The available information concerning Burebista, king of the Geto-Dacians, although not abundant, is rich in significant implications for one who studies Balkan policy in the first century before our era. These implications derive from accurate, reliable sources. Chronologically, the first of these sources is a document dating from the reign of the Geto-Dacian king: the decree specially issued for Acornion, son of Dionysios, a citizen of the city of Dionysopolis (Balcic) by which the Council and the inhabitants of this city, as a token of high esteem, granted him a golden crown and a bronze statue to reward his good deeds in the service of communal welfare. The inscription, carved in marble, was discovered at the end of the last century at Balcic and is on display at the National Museum in Sofia. Acornion's worthy deeds are listed in chronological order, the second half of the decree dealing with the relations between the former and Burebista and with Burebista's actions in the Balkans. What are we told about Burebista in this document? That not long before (the decree dated from the year 48 before our era, on the eve of the battle of Pharsalia, on August 9), he had become the greatest of the Thracian kings, ruling over territories north and south of the Danube. That Acornion, too, succeeded in becoming his close friend (after having been on good terms with the father of a prince of Dobrudja - whose capital was located at one of the Argedavas in Dobrudja, where his presence is attested by an inscription of the imperial epoch, R.R.H. XIV, 1975).info That he counselled Burebista with regard to several important issues. That on account of this friendship and of his counsels, he gained the goodwill of the Dacian king regarding the needs of the town. That, eventually, Burebista chose him as a messenger to Pompey whom he met near Heraclea Lyncestis, in Macedonia. Carrying out successfully his mission, he gained Pompey's goodwill for the Thracian king, at the same time conducting negotiations on behalf of his own city.

The second source is a text in Strabo's Geography (VII.3.11). Strabo (64 before our era - 21 our era, at the latest) was born in the town of Amasia in Pontus, a region located on the southern shore of the Black Sea; he was, consequently, 16 years old in 48 before our era (the year Burebista sent his envoy to Pompey and of the latter's defeat at Pharsalia) and 20 years old when he came to Rome, in 44, the year of Caesar's and Burebista's death. In other words, he was a witness fully aware of the political events of his time, the better conversant with the events that interest us as he himself belonged to the same geo-political area. The drafting for his still extant work (The Geography), for which he sought information in the libraries of Alexandria and in the archives of Rome, was achieved, apparently, in his native Amasia, after the year 7 before our era. It follows that Strabo's information regarding Burebista, whose contemporary he was, were set down at a distance of almost four decades after the climactic moment of the latter's policy in the Balkans.
What does Strabo state about Burebista? That the Getae were exhausted with so many wars when he became their king. That he restored them to vigour and activity through physical exercises, temperance and observance of his regulations. That in a short time he became the ruler of an extensive territory (building up a state), bringing most of the neighbouring peoples under the dominion of the Getae. That he crossed the Danube cutting across Thrace up to Macedonia and Illyria. That he worked havoc among the Celts who had mingled themselves with the Thracians and the Illyrians and that he annihilated the Bóis, ruled over by Cristarios and the Tauriscians as well. The latter information can be assigned, chronologically speaking, to the beginning of Burebista's reign, while the last but one (the inroads into Thrace, Macedonia and Illyria), most likely after 48 before our era (the year of Pompey's defeat). To outline the major orientations of Burebista's policy, one has to clarify in the first place what were the relations of the Geto-Dacian king with the Greek cities situated along the northern and western shores of the Black Sea, in general, and with those in Dobrudja in particular. moneda-pag-44This is prerequisite since, by corroborating literary sources and inscriptions which do not mention the name of the Geto-Dacian king for half a century of historical exegesis, credit has been granted to the erroneous idea that Burebista was a destructive barbarian, a warrior waging war for the sake of waging war, and implicitly, destitute of any political vision and strategy.

Yet, the Pontic cities, without encroaching upon any of the interests of the Geto-Dacians, were indeed substantially contributing to their trading exchanges, the archaeological evidence concerning the massive penetration of all kinds of Greek goods from the Danube area up to the north of Transylvania, extending over a period beginning with the 5th century up to the 1st century before our era.

To this erroneous image regarding Burebista has certainly contributed the simple-minded outlook of those archaeologists who, since they failed to discover on Romania's territory a Parthenon like the one in Athens, a mausoleum like the one in Halicarnassus or an altar like the one in Pergamum, have posited a direct relationship between the intellective capability of the Geto-Dacians and the absence of monuments of the kind mentioned above.

These historians have probably forgotten what they mugged up, when at high school, in De bello gallico, namely Caesar's admiration for the political resourcefulness of the Gallic chieftains. They have not perused, perhaps Demosthenes' vehement invective in the First Philippic in which the Macedonian king was labelled „barbarian” with envious admiration by the Athenians whom, in fact, he was manipulating at will.

Burebista's military actions were strongly motivated politically. These actions were chiefly directed against the Celtic expansion towards the territories on which the Geto-Dacians had settled centuries before. If in the 3rd century before our era such a Celtic expansion was neither massive nor militarily organized, the outcome being the quick ethnic assimilation of the Celtic groups by the Geto-Dacians, in Burebista's time the Celtic military threat endangered, in the tense political circumstances of the moment, the very security of the western part of the country. Strabo's statement that by defeating the Boi Celts (see above) he had worked havoc also among the Celts that had mingled with the Thracians and the Illyrians was not just an idle remark. It was a matter of annihilating an hostile factor which had penetrated in an ethnical environment where the Geto-Daco-Thraco-Illyrian element was firmly rooted. This reason as well as the ones we shall presently expound will show, after an objective scrutiny of relevant documents, Burebista's great political personality against the historical background of the century in which he lived.

An information supplied by Dion Chrysostomus (40 to about 120 of our era) concerning the conquest of the city of Olbia (near Odessa) and of the whole Pontic shore down to Apollonia (Burgas), 150 years before Dion's own arrival (about 95 of our era) in the city at the mouth of the river Bug (an information included in the Borystenitikos speech) was related to Burebista's warlike activity. The first to establish this connection were G. Dittenberger and V. Latyshev on commenting some inscriptions of which mention will be made further down. The supposition that Burebista had destroyed the Pontic cities was turned into an historical thesis when archaeological diggings carried out in several of these cities brought to light successive layers of burnt-out stuff, dateable beginning with the end of the 2nd century before our era to the end of the following one and, perhaps, even later. This being the case, it has been considered that the warlike actions directed against the city of Olbia were attested by a decree issued for a certain Nikeratos (I.O.S.P.E., I, 17); that the destruction of Histria was attested by the decree for Aristagoras, son of Apaturios (Syll.3,731) and a honorific catalogue (St. Clas. IX, 1967, pp.153-166) where reference was made to a second foundation of the city (a catalogue we have demonstrated earlier to date from the imperial epoch - St. Clas. X., 1968, p. 375 - when cities in Thracia and Asia Minor used to flatter the emperor ruling in Rome with the title of „second founder”); that the precarious situation at Tomi is revealed by an inscription which Diggenberger (Syll.3, 731) related to Burebista's warlike activity: that the destruction of Callatis could be deduced from an epigraph mentioning some rebuilding activities in the city (A.E.M., VI, 55); that the ordeal undergone by Odessos (Varna) was attested by an inscription giving an account of the ordaining of some of Apollo's priests after their roaming from place to place, which according to Latyshev (Syll.3, 730 = I.G.B.1, I, 46) was also the outcome of Burebista's onslaught; that the hard times endured by Mesembria derive from the decree (I.G.B.1, I 323) which lists the names of three strategists who distinguished themselves in the war against Burebista, without mentioning any other damage incurred by the city at the hands of the king.

One should stress the fact that in none of the above-referred inscriptions, and in no other epigraphic document, nor in any of the historical sources, any assertion was made that Burebista had ever destroyed the Greek cities situated north and west of the Pontus Euxinus.

How should one read, in terms of the above given account, the information supplied by Dion? The impoverishment of the Greek cities was a chronic phenomenon which rendered sporadic and, quite frequently, impossible the payment of subsidies to the autochthonous population of the hinterland area, reason for which the latter often resorted to acts of violence against the respective city-harbours. On the other hand, Mithridates VI Eupator had barred the way of the Sarmatians toward Iran, over the Caucasus, so that they were compelled, in the following decades, to head westward, taking a route north of the Carpathian range, finally settling between the Danube and the Theiss rivers; in its turn, this movement has indeed caused conflicts and side-effects affecting the ethnography of the area under discussion. The facts we have expounded, as well as others still unknown, led to sharp conflicts between the Greek cities and the populations inhabiting the surrounding territories, among which the Getae were the most numerous. Soviet research (Drevnîie frakiiţî.....) has attested their presence in southern Russia as far back as the 5th century before our era. It is likely that, prior and after the Burebista epoch, these Getae, others than the Dacian ones inhabiting Burebista's kingdom, should have numbered themselves among those that repeatedly ransacked the Greek cities, as attested by epigraphic and archaeological evidence and to which Dion (actually he had in view just one such city) made his allusion.

Had an action of such a scope against the Greek element in the Euxine area really taken place, it would certainly have aroused Strabo's interest, who would not have hesitated to lay the blame on Burebista, had he been the perpetrator. The decree of Dionysopolis, which clearly states that Acornion had gained the king's goodwill for the needs of the city would certainly have mentioned as noteworthy the fact that, owing to Burebista's friendship, this city was „spared” whereas the neighbouring ones had been razed to the ground. Significant is also the fact that the three strategists of Mesembria were sent to fight Burebista somewhere far away from the city. Moreover, a text by Appian (2nd century of our era, The civil Wars, II, 51) presents Pompey giving assurance to his adherents and associates that all the peoples of the East and of the Pontus Euxine area, whether Greeks or barbarians, were on his side, and that the kings of the latter friends of the Romans as well as his, were providing him with soldiers, weapons, food and other supplies he needed. It would have been impossible that, once in Macedonia, Pompey should have accepted Burebista's alliance, had the latter destroyed the Greek cities which, in fact (in spite of their supposed destruction), had the means to support the Roman general and his armies efficiently in their fight against Caesar.

The facts stated above entitle us to believe that Dion's assertions were a mere rhetorical tópos, a hyperbole, the more so as this rhetorician, after his banishment from Rome by Domitianus, because of his involvement in an antidynastic plot, had become a friend of Trajan, whose projected campaign for the conquest of Dacia he canvassed in his speeches. As it follows from our factual exposition, Dion's text can no longer be used as unquestionable evidence since it is clear that no destruction of Greek cities occurred at the hands of Burebista, but on the contrary, as we shall see, there followed a brief spell of calm enjoyed, in that troubled century, by a lot of the cities which were under his authority.

In order to better grasp the underlying reasons of Burebista's Balkan policy, his rapprochement to Pompey should not be regarded as a personal adventure, as a hazardous choice between the two contenders for the helm of the Roman Republic; neither should we resort to that backward glance at the events which we can afford, and read it as an apprehension of the possible conquest of Dacia by the conqueror of Gaul: Caesar harboured resentments against the Geto-Dacians and devised plans for their „punishment” on grounds of personal prestige and domestic policy rather than compelled by the objective requirement of ensuring the security of the Republic's boundaries.

To gain an insight into the reasons actuating Burebista's policy, one should call back to mind the centuries old ties of Dacia with the Balkan Thracians and the Greeks along the Aegean and the Pontus Euxine shoresinfo info as well as Pompey's attitude towards the Roman East, towards the Hellenistic world, then in a state of decline.

The Roman presence not only in the Balkans, but also in Asia Minor and Syria by undermining Hellenism politically and economically led to the disruption of an economic unity based on unhindered interests and mutual advantage, an economy wherein were involved the Greek cities, the Hellenic kingdoms and the non-Hellenic populations in Asia, north of the Black Sea and the Balkans, and, in addition, the Geto-Dacian world. On the latter's commercial routes a flourishing trade was going on in Greek and Thracian merchandise, and only later on, at the beginning of our era there started the inflow of commodities coming from the Roman West (I. Glodariu, Relaţii comerciale ale Daciei cu lumea elenistică şi romană - [ The Commercial Relations of Dacia with the Hellenistic and Roman World ], Cluj-Napoca, 1974). The conquest of Macedonia by the Romans, the proclamation of Delos as a duty-free harbour for goods in transit and subsequently the rebuilding of Corinth by Caesar as well as its turning into a port of call for eastern products (which after putting in at Corinth, were proceeding further towards Italy forsaking the routes and commercial ties with the Aegean countries and Asia Minor) meant as many blows to the Greek trade and to its centuries old partners north of the Balkans and in the Euxine basin. It was the Roman publicans who utterly plundered the Hellenistic East reducing Greece to poverty and by so doing succeeded in getting themselves exceedingly rich. That is why Mithridates the VIth Eupator (a contemporary with the first part of Burebista's reign) pooled all the grievances accumulated down the decades against the economic and fiscal policy of Rome in the East. The Mithridatic phenomenon had a special significance for Hellenes and non-Greeks in the Balkans and Asia Minor. The defeat of Mithridates rendered imperative the uprooting of the causes which had led to the spreading of the revolt headed by the Pontic monarch; a revolt that even Athens had joined, minting coins stamped with the king's effigy, for which rashness Sulla severely punished the Greek city.

After having cleared the seas of the pirates in the year 67 before our era, Pompey was invested with the supreme command in the East (66-62 before our era). He annihilated the last Mithridatic resistance, reorganized the provinces, wrote off debts, exempted the impoverished cities from the payment of taxes for several years running, founded new cities and earned the goodwill of the local kings and of the masses of the autochthonous population.

The same wise policy led - following the unfortunate events of 62-61 before our era, caused by the corrupt practices of the proconsul of Macedonia, Caius Antonius Hybrida, at the expense of the cities on the western shores of the Black Sea, practices that determined the latter's revolt against the Roman magistrate - to the alliance or the consolidation of the alliances between the cities on the shores of the Pontus Euxine and Rome (cf. the treaty between Rome and Callatis, Dacia 3-4, 1927-1932, could not be an out-of-the-way occurrence, neither could Burebista's good relations with Dionysopolis be unusual).

Pompey was planning the economic recovery of the Hellenistic East. In his view this geographical area was no more to be used for plunder by the officials sent from Italy, but to become again a productive force, a component part of the Roman power. „From Thrace to the Caucasus”, writes Ronald Syme (The Roman Revolution, Oxford, 1956, p. 30) „and up to Egypt, the lands in the East acknowledged his authority.” This is the reason why Burebista saw in Pompey's policy, whom he lent his support, a chance to revive the traditional exchange relations in a world entirely devoid at antagonism, in which peaceful, natural relations among partners were to be restored.

Burebista's Balkan policy, a policy of understanding and neighbourly feelings with all the factors within the area (Greek cities, Thracian tribes, Roman citizens well disposed towards Pompey's realistic views) met with the resistance of those Thracians in the west of the peninsula, who, for reasons, very often known only to their chiefs, were trailing behind Caesar's dictatorial policy.

As we have pointed out, this policy of Burebista's was not an irresponsible act on the part of the Geto-Dacian king, but the upshot of the economic and diplomatic interests of the Geto-Dacian tribes, interests that could be traced as far back as the first half of the 4th century before our era. That this was the case results from the fact that the political orientation followed by the Geto-Dacians remained unchanged even after Burebista's death. In the conflict, this time between Octavianus and Mark Anthony (the latter supported in his turn by the Oriental part of the Roman world), the Geto-Dacians sided with the one that was to be defeated at Actium . Faced with the aggressive military power of a Rome led by Caesar and pacified by Octavianus, Burebista, and the Geto-Dacians after him, could adopt but an attitude of staunch resistance as being the most appropriate one to preserve their freedom, fighting against the conqueror of Gaul in the camp of his adversary - who symbolized by all his achievements a modus vivendi that suited the economic and political interests of the Geto-Dacian tribes.
What could Pompey have demanded of Burebista? First and foremost, those things he required most urgently (listed by Appian: all kind of support and chiefly military assistance, the valour and military capability of the Geto-Dacians being in high esteem. Had the battle of Pharsalia had a different outcome, perhaps Pompey would have entrusted his ally with the abolishment of the state of permanent belligerency among the tribes of warlike Thracians in the Balkans, harmful to an equal extent to the Greek cities, to the peaceful Thracians settled in the plains north and south of these mountains as well as to Pompey himself in view of his overall long-term policy in the Balkans and Asia Minor. The sudden turn of the events probably prevented the materialization of such a programme.
The alliance between Burebista and Pompey on the one hand, the agreements between the Geto-Dacian king and the Pontic cities as well as the protection he had probably extended to them, on the other hand, are beyond question, direct evidence of an insightful and consistent diplomacy. In keeping with these ascertainments, we can assume that we are in a position to explain much more than we suspected at the beginning about Burebista and the period of his political supremacy; the actions of the Geto-Dacian king acquire in this context a more realistic and logical significance. We find, at the same time, that the chief and the most interesting aspect of his personality is not that of a warrior, but pre-eminently that of a wise policy-maker.
The rationale of Burebista's Balkan policy was complex, in keeping with the traditional course of historical events and not with short-lived, random, circumstances. We therefore think that Burebista was the first symbolic figure in this part of the world of a lasting, staunch political mentality which was at the same time well-balanced, flexible, open-minded and constructive.

A.E.M. = Archäologisch-epigraphische Mitteilungen, Wien.
Dacia = Dacia. Recherches et découvertes archéolgiques en Roumanie, Bucarest.
Drevnie frakiiţî = Drevnie frakiiţî v severnom Pricernomorie, Moskva, 1969.
I.G.B.1= G. Mihailov, Inscriptiones graecae in Bulgaria repertae, vol. I-IV, Sofia, 1956.
I.O.S.P.E.‚= V.V. Latîşev, Inscriptiones antiquae orae septentrionalis Ponti Euxini, vol. I-IV, Petersburg, 1885-1901.
R.R.H.= Revue roumaine d'histoire, Bucarest.
St. Clas = Studii Clasice, Bucureşti.
Syll.3 = G. Dittenberger, Sylloge inscriptionum graecarum, 3rd edition, 1917.
I.I.A.= Institutul de Istoria Artei „George Oprescu”.