4th Century AD
Topics covered in this section:
- Century Overview
- Romanian Archaeology
- Decade: 300-309
- Decade: 310-319
- Decade: 320-329
- Decade: 330-339
- Decade: 340-349
- Decade: 350-359
- Decade: 360-369
- Decade: 370-379
- Decade: 380-389
- Decade: 390-399
- Pronunciation Help
We begin this document with a global overview of the fourth century AD and then look at some of the few details of each decade within it.
Balkans: Economic Backwater
To the Romans of the 4th century the Balkan Peninsula primarily represented a simple transit zone for east-west Roman troop movements. Otherwise, Rome considered it to be little more than an economic backwater.
That's because all of the important economic centers of the empire (at least in the eyes of the emperors) existed outside the Balkans, including the following cities: Dyrrachion (Durrës) on the Adriatic coast; Thessaloniki on the Aegean coast; Singidunum (Belgrade) on the Danube; and Byzantium (later Constantinople) near the Bosporus Strait.
To facilitate troop movements through the Balkans, the Roman engineers established an extensive road network that spanned the region. The roads were primarily restricted to the narrow coastal lowlands and to a limited number of mountain passes.
The small number of Roman roads in the Balkans set the boundaries on the amount of military, economic, and personal travel available.
Examples of roads near Romania include the following:
- Via Ignatia. This road was the most direct route linking Rome's western and eastern borders. It ran eastward between Dyrrachion (Durrës) and Byzantium (Constantinople). In the distant future, this road will be the primary route of the Catholic Crusaders.
- Via Militaris. This road, also known as the "Diagonal Highway," ran in a southeasterly direction between Singidunum (Belgrade) and Byzantium (Constantinople).
- Morava-Vardar Highway. This road ran southward through Macedonia from Naissons, located along the Via Militaris, to Thessaloniki, located along the Via Ignatia.
- Moesian Highway. This road ran eastward from Rome to the Danube where it followed the south side of the river through the Danubian Plain and through Moesia, ending at Odessa on the Black Sea.
All of these roads were south of the Danube. Hence, none of them passed through Romania. The Roman colonists who had been left behind in Romania after the troop withdrawal at the end of the previous (3rd) century lost most of their contact with their homeland. That's one reason that the Latin-based Romanian language evolved separately from the other Latin-based languages of the West.
During the 4th century Romania was a very long way from being a unified state. But three main Romanian principalities began to emerge at this time, though there were also several other political regions. These three principalities were, of course, Transylvania (north and west), Wallachia (south), and Moldavia (east).
These principalities will be the key players throughout the long history of Romania. Sometimes they'll share a common historic context. More often, however, their individual histories will diverge into complex, distinct, and unrelated events.
For example, for many years Transylvania was ruled by the emperors of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Wallachia was subject to the sultans of the Ottoman Empire, and Moldavia had to contend with the kingdom of Poland and Tsarist Russia.
With three such diverse political backdrops, it's easy to understand how they followed different historic paths even though the majority of the inhabitants in each were always Romanians. Seldom were they the ruling elite, but they were Romanians nonetheless.
One historic event sets the Balkans apart from the rest of Europe during the 4th century and that event was the massive influx of nomadic "barbarian" invaders from the east.
Like most of Eastern Europe, Romania sits in an unenviable geographic location. Transylvania was wide open to invasion from Germany, Hungary, and other northern or western neighbors. Wallachia was wide open to invasions from the Ottoman Turks, the Near East, and other southern or eastern neighbors. And Moldavia was wide open to invasion from Russia, Ukraine, and a host of warrior tribes from the steppes to the east.
After the Romans had withdrawn from Dacia (AD 271), the Romanian territory was systematically overrun by one migratory tribe after another. Invasions by these nomadic peoples lasted nearly seven centuries. Most of the invaders didn't establish lasting settlements, though some obviously liked what they saw and decided to stay. Many times, those who stayed ended up subjugating the native Romanian population to their rule.
Most of the time the invading warriors plundered only the town networks where the amount of booty was most significant. By and large, with a few exceptions, they ignored the native peasants who lived in the rural areas where there existed little of booty value. Therefore, a significant agrarian population continued to live in scattered communities in the more inaccessible mountains and forests throughout Romania.
Due to the incessant raids against towns, the core economic activity of Romania gradually shifted from urban centers to rural villages. Thus, the villages became a haven for the "popular Romanian people," as the Romanian historian Nicolae Iorga called them.
Between 275-376 the Visigoths were one of the earliest tribes to sweep through the Balkan Peninsula. Near the end of the century, the Huns pillaged and raped their way west.
Archaeologists have provided evidence that many Dacians remained behind after the withdrawal of the Roman legions in the previous century (271 AD). And many times they welcomed the migratory tribes into their lives.
Numerous excavations at sites such as Soporu de Câmpie, Obreja, Noşlac, Albă Iulia, and many others demonstrate the persistence of the indigenous population throughout the 4th century and into the early 5th century.
In Transylvania archaeologists have uncovered Roman funerary altars that had been converted to a new use as sarcophagi. In addition, tombs made of stone slabs or Roman tiles indicate that the local population made use of the Roman structures for their own purposes during the 4th century.
A votive object dating from the 4th century was found at Biertan. It bears the traditional monogram of Christ, with the inscription "Zenovius votum posui." Two other nearby sites, Laslea and Bratei, have produced similar artifacts.
These and other excavation sites attest to the mixing of the native Dacians and the nomadic tribes who crossed Romanian territory. Contact was often simply to trade, but other times to intermarry and settle down in this rich environment.
Recent discoveries have shed light on the composition of the 4th century Sântana de Mureş-Chernyakhov culture. This culture covered a vast territory that extended from the lower Danube to Transylvania, and reached eastward beyond the Dnieper river.
The culture was first identified at a cemetery at Sântana de Mureş and more recently at Moreşti, near Târgu Mureş. Other sites containing artifacts of this culture are found at Reci, Spanţov, Băieşti-Aldeni, Olteni, Târgşor, Izvoare, and Piatra Frecăţei.
The artifacts indicate a cultural mixture of Dacian, Goth, and Sarmatian peoples. At Spanţov (in the Ilfov district), which had for years been thought of as a purely Gothic culture, provided clear evidence of the presence of Dacian-Carpian peoples as well. A characteristic "Dacian cup" found in a Gothic type tomb shows that the two cultures lived side by side.
As mentioned earlier, the Visigoths (and other related Goths) were the first tribes to venture into the recently vacated (by the Romans) Balkans.
Gothic influence in Romania is attested by settlements and cemeteries at Corlăteni, Glăvăneştii Vechi, Truşeşti, Izvoare Neamţ, Fundeni (Bucharest), Oinac, Spanţov, Triaj (Ploieşti), Aldeni, Băbeni, Olteţ, Almaju, Lazu, Lechinţa de Mureş, and elsewhere.
Isolated Gothic finds have been unearthed at Moreşti, Cipău, Sfânte Gheorghe, and elsewhere.
Constantine vs. Dacia
Roman emperor Constantine I the Great (ruled 306-337) made a feeble attempt to reconquer Dacia.
As part of his campaign he built a new (second) bridge across the Danube at Sucidava, close to the mouth of the Olt River.
Christianity: Official Religion
Constantine issued the Milan Edict (AD 313), which proclaimed that Christianity was the only officially established religion throughout the Roman Empire.
Pagan temples were expropriated and state funds were used to build churches. Secular laws were adjusted to conform to Christian ideas.
Many of the Romanian peasants, some of whom were former Roman soldiers, readily accepted Christianity.
But the newly established Christian church was rocked by doctrinal disputes. Chief among the heresies were:
- Donatism: Regarded the sacrament invalid when administered by a sinful clergy
- Monophysitism: Denied the human nature of Jesus
- Arianism: Denied the divinity of Jesus
- Pelagianism: Denied necessity of salvation by grace
The Danube Limes, which had begun construction in the 2nd century AD by Trajan, were once again reinforced. The earlier phases of the limes showed expert craftsmanship, but the current rebuilding effort was more chaotic as if done in a hurry. An inscription and a coin found at the site dates the present work at 337 AD. The fortress was occupied by Legio II Hercules.
It's difficult to establish the duration of this phase. But during the late Roman times, a small fortress covered only a quarter of its original area. The fortlet, near Capidava, was protected by a ditch on its southeast and northeast sides. Much later (11th and 12th centuries), the site will be occupied by a civilian settlement.
Although of relatively modest size, covering an area of about a hectare, a 4th century fortress built on a shelf above the Danube at Dinogetia (Garvăn) has been excavated. The fortress was protected by massive walls between 2.60 to 2.85 m thick and by 14 towers.
Between now and the 6th century it will be repaired several times. Finally, as at Capidava, the site will be occupied by a civilian settlement by the 11th century.
In AD 330 Constantine established the new Roman imperial capital at Byzantium. It represented the military and economic crossroads of Europe and Asia and was the largest and strongest fortress city in Europe, east or west.
Although there were two administrative regions (Rome and Byzantium), both were still subject to Rome's control. The emperors lived in Rome.
To show the world that Byzantium was now his city Constantine immediately changed the name of the city to Constantinople.
Although Constantinople was far removed from Romanian soil, I've included it here because it was an object of desire for many of the invading barbarians who had to pass through Romania on their way to the wealth of this city. And in the distant future, it will become Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire — an empire that had a profound and lasting effect on Romania (and the whole of the Balkans as well).
The defensive wing of the east Roman army was divided into two groups: frontier soldiers and the elite corps.
Frontier soldiers were stationed along the empire's border. Their job was to hold any and all invaders at bay as best they could until the elite troops arrived.
The elite corps, which primarily consisted of barbarian mercenaries, were located at strategic points throughout the empire. Whenever trouble flared up at any of the frontier troop locations, the more mobile elite troops quickly moved in to quell the uprising.
Emperor Constantine routinely escalated state taxes to pay for his growing army.
Surrounding Defense Zones
Constantine correctly expected that most of the invasions against Constantinople would come from the north. Therefore, his primary defensive positions were located along the major highways established by previous emperors.
He counted on the Balkan mountains and on his frontier forces to slow any attack. That, he figured, would give him enough time to dispatch his elite forces to wherever a "hot spot" appeared.
Constantinople: Last Defense
And if all else failed, Constantinople itself acted the role of "delay point of last resort."
Constantinople was virtually impregnable. It was situated on an easily defensible triangular piece of land on the European shore of the Bosporus Strait. It was surrounded by a sea wall on its northern and southern sides. And on the western side sat a fortified, triple land wall that will for a thousand years save the empire from defeat or utter destruction.
The one weakness was that an enemy with knowledge of various river routes could bypass much of the Roman defenses. This weakness will become an important factor in the future when one sultan will capture the city.
Church and State
Constantinople became the home of eastern Christianity. As such, it reconstituted the Roman Empire on a Christian moral basis. Christianity symbolized Constantine's new imperial political policy.
Divine World Order
In fact, the church and the state were united in an indissoluble partnership that was meant to reflect a divine world order. The church-state represented a spiritual and temporal community for every true believer, the borders of which were synonymous with the political borders of the eastern Roman Empire.
Orthodox Christianity's Center
It was widely believed that Constantinople guarded the very "womb" of European Orthodox Christianity.
Thirteenth Apostle of Christ
Administering the divine world order was, of course, the responsibility of the Byzantine emperor — God's viceroy on earth and the "Thirteenth Apostle of Christ" — who, having moved from Rome, ruled as a Christian autocrat from his capital at Constantinople.
Villages and towns located near the Roman road network leading to Constantinople enjoyed a period of expanded commercial prosperity and urbanization. Most of the Balkan population, however, remained rural.
Balkan peasants worked land that had been divided between smallholdings, free village holdings, and large estates owned by political magnates. Over time, most of the smallholdings disappeared as the ratio of land became more the domain of the large estates.
Catholics Arrive in Dacia
Around 350 Roman Catholicism infiltrated Dacia (primarily modern-day Transylvania). Catholic Bishop Ulfilas began preaching against the Arian heresay north of the Danube (Arianism denied the divinity of Jesus).
As a result of his sermons, many Dacians took up the faith and Ulifas began baptizing them in earnest.
Archaeologists have uncovered from this period a number of clay vases with Christian crosses etched on them. In addition to vases, they have recovered other religious ornaments and artifacts. This evidence attests to the spread of Catholic Christianity in Transylvania.
Roman emperor Valens (r.364-378) reigned in Rome.
Valens vs. Dacia
Like Constantine before him, Valens made another half-hearted attempt to reconquer Dacia. His troops forded the Danube using Constantine's bridge and then followed Emperor Hadrian's old road along the Olt River.
But Dacia was just too far away from the center of the Roman empire (Rome), so it remained a virtually forgotten frontier.
Huns Arrive in Dacia
Between 376-454 the Huns, descendants of Attila the Hun, migrated into Romania, overrunning the resident Visigoths. Their headquarters was located in central Transylvania.
Huns Raid Villages
Raids against Transylvanian villages by the mobile Huns were frequent during this decade, but they were usually brief. As a general rule, the Hun raiders swept in, collected their booty, and then moved off elsewhere.
However, some of these nomads found lush pasture lands and decided to stay along with their flocks, adding once again to the growing diversity of the Romanian gene pool.
The Roman Empire had been divided into two administrative regions back in AD 286, but until now both were still under Rome's control.
Two Roman Empires
In AD 395, however, a political rift turned them into two separate empires, a western and an eastern half. Each half had its own emperor.
West: Roman Catholic
The west, with its capital at Rome, was where Catholicism will grow into the dominant religion.
By contrast, the east, with its capital at Constantinople, was where Orthodoxy will flourish.
The eastern Roman Empire became known as the Byzantine Empire. The name comes from Byzantium, the former name of Constantinople.
Also in 395 Roman Dobrogea became part of the eastern Roman Empire. Dobrogea is, of course, the region located at the Danube Delta in Romania.
Transylvanian Huns Plunder
Using central Transylvania as their launching pad, Hun raiders attacked central and eastern European villages, plus the Mediterranean cities, where the plunder was more profitable than in the rural villages of Transylvania.
To help American readers, the following pronunciation guide to Romanian words used above is provided. The sounds shown are only approximations, however.
- Albă. (Alba) Ahl-buh.
- Aldeni. Ahl-dehn.
- Almaju. Ahl-mah-zhoo.
- Băbeni. (Babeni) Buh-behn.
- Băieşti. (Baiesti) Bigh-yehsht.
- Biertan. Byehr-tahn.
- Bratei. Brah-tigh.
- Câmpie. (Campie) Kihm-pyeh.
- Capidava. Kah-pee-dah-vah.
- Cipău. (Cipau) Chee-pohw.
- Corlăteni. (Corlateni) Kohr-luh-tehn.
- Dacia. Dah-chyah.
- Dobrogea. Doh-broh-jyah.
- Frecăţei. (Frecatei) Freh-kuht-sigh.
- Fundeni. Foon-dehn.
- Garvăn. (Garvan) Gahr-vuhn.
- Gheorghe. Gohr-geh.
- Glăvăneştii. (Glavanestii) Gluh-vuhn-ehsh-tee.
- Ilfov. Eel-fohv.
- Iulia. Yool-yah.
- Izvoare. Eez-vwahr-eh.
- Laslea. Lahs-lyah.
- Lazu. Lah-zoo.
- Lechinţa. (Lechinta) Leh-keent-sah.
- Moreşti. (Moresti) Moor-rehsht.
- Mureş. (Mures) Moor-rehsh.
- Neamţ. (Neamt) Nyahmts.
- Noşlac. (Noslac) Nohsh-lahk.
- Obreja. Oh-breh-zhah.
- Oinac. Wee-nahk.
- Olt. Ohlt.
- Olteni. Ohl-tehn.
- Olteţ. (Oltet) Ohl-tehts.
- Piatra. Pyaht-trah.
- Ploieşti. (Ploiesti) Ploh-yehsht.
- Reci. Rehch.
- Sântana. (Santana) Sihn-tah-nah.
- Sfânte. (Sfante) Sfihn-teh.
- Soporu. Soh-pohr-roo.
- Spanţov. (Spantov) Spahnt-sohv.
- Sucidava. Soo-chee-dah-vah.
- Târgşor. (Targsor) Tihrg-shohr.
- Târgu. (Targu) Tihr-goo.
- Triaj. Tree-ahzh.
- Truşeşti. (Trusesti) Troo-shehsht.
- Vechi. Vehk.
- Wallachia. Vah-lahk-yah.
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