Man first appeared in the lands that now constitute Romania during the Pleistocene Epoch, a period of advancing and receding glacial ice that began about 600,000 years ago. Once the glaciers had withdrawn completely, a humid climate prevailed in the area and thick forests covered the terrain. During the Neolithic Age, beginning about 5500 B.C., Indo-European people lived in the region. The Indo-Europeans gave way to Thracian tribes, who in later centuries inhabited the lands extending from the Carpathian Mountains southward to the Adriatic and Aegean Seas. Today's Romanians are in part descended from the Getae, a Thracian tribe that lived north of the Danube River.
During the Bronze Age (roughly 2200 to 1200 B.C.), ThracoGetian tribesmen engaged in agriculture and stock raising and traded with peoples who lived along the Aegean Seacoast. Early in the Iron Age, about 1200 B.C., pastoral activities began to dominate their economic life. Thraco-Getian villages, which consisted of up to 100 small, rectangular dwellings constructed from wood or reeds and earthen mortar with straw roofs, multiplied and became more crowded. Before the seventh century B.C., Greeks founded trading colonies on the coast of the Black Sea at Istria, near the mouth of the Danube at Callatis (present-day Mangalia), and at Tomi (present-day Constanta). Greek culture also made a deep impression on the seacoast and riverbank Thraco-Getian villages, where the way of life developed more rapidly than in less accessible areas. Toward the end of the seventh century B.C., wheel-formed pottery began replacing crude hand-modeled ware in the coastal region. The use of Greek and Macedonian coins spread through the area, and the Thraco-Getae exchanged grain, cattle, fish, honey, and slaves with the Greeks for oils, wines, precious materials, jewelry, and high-quality pottery. By the sixth century B.C., this trade was affording the Thraco-Getian ruling class many luxuries.
Originally polytheistic nature-worshippers, the Thraco-Getae developed a sun cult and decorated their artwork with sun symbols. Herodotus, a Greek historian, reports that the Getae worshipped a god named Zalmoxis, a healing thunder god who was master of the cloudy sky; however they did not depict Zalmoxis in any plastic form. The people offered agricultural products and animals as sacrifices and also cremated their dead, sealed the ashes in urns, and buried them.
The Getae had commercial contact as well as military conflicts with many peoples besides the Greeks. The Roman poet, Ovid, who was exiled to Tomi, writes that for many years Getian tribesmen would steer their plows with one hand and hold a sword in the other to protect themselves against attacks by Scythian horsemen from the broad steppe lands east of the Dniester River. In 513 B.C. Darius the Great marched his Persian army through Getian territory before invading Scythia. Legend holds that when Philip of Macedonia attacked the Getae in the fourth century B.C., they sent out against him priests robed in white and playing lyres. Philip's son, Alexander the Great, led an expedition northward across the Danube in 335 B.C., and from about 300 B.C. Hellenic culture heavily influenced the Getae, especially the ruling class. Bands of Celtic warriors penetrated Transylvania after 300 B.C., and a cultural symbiosis arose where the Celts and Getae lived in close proximity.
By about 300 B.C., the Lower Danube Getae had forged a state under the leadership of Basileus Dromichaites, who repulsed an attack by Lysimachus, one of Alexander the Great's successors. Thereafter, native Getian leaders protected the coastal urban centers, which had developed from Greek colonies. From 112 to 109 B.C. the Getae joined the Celts to invade Roman possessions in the western Balkans. Then in 72 B.C., the Romans launched a retaliatory strike across the Danube but withdrew because, one account reports, the soldiers were "frightened by the darkness of the forests." During the third and second centuries B.C., the Getae began mining local iron-ore deposits and iron metallurgy spread throughout the region. The ensuing development of iron plowshares and other implements led to expanded crop cultivation.
As decades passed, Rome exercised stronger influence on the Getae. Roman merchants arrived to exchange goods, and the Getae began counterfeiting Roman coins. In the middle of the first century B.C., the Romans allied with the Getae to defend Moesia, an imperial province roughly corresponding to present-day northern Bulgaria, against the Sarmatians, a group of nomadic Central Asian tribes. Roman engineers and architects helped the Getae construct fortresses until the Romans discovered that the Getae were preparing to turn against them. Burebista, a Getian king who amassed formidable military power, routed the Celts, forced them westward into Pannonia, and led large armies to raid Roman lands south of the Danube, including Thrace, Macedonia, and Illyria. Burebista offered the Roman general, Pompey, support in his struggle against Julius Caesar. Caesar apparently planned to invade Getian territory before his assassination in 44 B.C.; in the same year Getian conspirators murdered Burebista and divided up his kingdom. For a time Getian power waned, and Emperor Octavius expelled the Getae from the lands south of the Danube. The Getae continued, however, to interfere in Roman affairs, and the Romans in turn periodically launched punitive campaigns against them.
By 87 A.D. Decebalus had established a new Getian state, constructed a system of fortresses, and outfitted an army. When Trajan became Roman emperor in 98 A.D., he was determined to stamp out the Getian menace and take over the Getae's gold and silver mines. The Romans laid down a road along the Danube and bridged the river near today's Drobeta-Turnu Severin. In 101 A.D. Trajan launched his first campaign and forced Decebalus to sue for peace. Within a few years, however, Decebalus broke the treaty, and in 105 A.D. Trajan began a second campaign. This time, the Roman legions penetrated to the heart of Transylvania and stormed the Getian capital, Sarmizegetusa (present-day Gradistea Muncelului); Decebalus and his officers committed suicide by drinking hemlock before the Romans could capture them. Rome memorialized the victory by raising Trajan's Column, whose bas-reliefs show scenes of the triumph.
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