Alexandru Flutur


Jan. 1, 2022

rute comerciale
limes Sarmatiae
valuri de pamânt



The Roman earth embankments in Banat are part of the border system called limes Sarmatiae by the Hungarian archaeologists. This paper brings into question their defensive military role and presents also the hypothesis of using this artificial barrier primarily for controlling sheep herds in the context of transhumance, a theory I took over from the late professor Alexandru Diaconescu. There are two major analogies in the space dominated by the Roman Empire: fossatum Africae and the “linear fortification” in Syria. Although the latter is poorly studied and, compared to the African ditch, there are some differences in the Danube area, I believe that the three border systems provided with fossatum (North Africa, Syria and the Carpathian Mts. – Danube River) were conceived by the Romans as a measure of controlling seasonal movement of sheep and represented an important source of tax revenue. Shepherds were taxed according to the number of sheep along their way with their flocks to wintering places. The administrative and legal issues involved in this supposed system of economic control can be discussed, in their complexity, when the functioning of the Sarmatian „limes” will be clarified. For this, archaeological excavations are required in the most delicate areas of the Roman vallum: the crossing points through this border. On the sheep roads, there were probably some gates arranged that were used in our case (Carpathian – Danube area) only for a short time, during the fall, when the flocks were herded on wintering in the plain. On the other hand, even if the relationship of this so-called limes with transhumance will not be confirmed, the areas of intersection of ancient roads with the earthen embankments must be archaeologically investigated, because this border could not be hermetically closed. New cartographic observations, benefiting from access to digitized historical maps and satellite maps, sometimes lead to correction of the routes of some sections of earthen embankments. We proposed a map of the Sarmatian limes (using Google Earth), which is still perfectible. Recent archaeological excavations in Banat have also provided new data about these artificial barriers. Of the three Banat valla, the most investigated remains the main one (median); the eastern one was investigated by archaeological excavations only on one point while the western one was not archaeologically excavated. The importance of the median embankment is given both by the number of ditches it has (three or four) and by the fact that it continues more widely north of Mureş River, where five or six ditches have been documented. One can talk about different phases of digging / functioning of these ditches, as well as about the complementary role of the eastern and western Banat alignments. In fact, these two should be interpreted as phases of the development of this border system. Comparisons can be made of the fossatum Sarmatiae with other linear earthworks, such as the Roman ditches in Bačka or Brazda lui Novac (Novac’s Furrow) in the Romanian Plain. It seems that the same concept was used in the latter as in the “Sarmatian” case. I assume that the two plains located between the Danube and outer embankment lines constituted important agricultural and zootechnical hinterlands of the late Roman empire. The inhabitants of the plains, in addition to agriculture, were mainly engaged in breeding cattle and horses. On the other hand, from the huge potential for sheltering and raising animals during winter, offered by the Danube and Tisza marshes, the shepherds who practiced the great transhumance of sheep also benefited. Although the political and economic context in the Middle and Lower Danube area during the functioning of the Sarmatian fossatum and Brazda lui Novac (most likely in the 4th century AD) seems difficult to reconstruct, it was natural to continue supplying the Roman Empire with rock salt from the former province of Dacia. As in prehistory or the Middle Ages, salt transportation was mainly done along the great rivers of Dacia (Mureş and Olt rivers), which communicated with the Danube. It is imaginable that the military and political-economic supremacy of the Late empire goes far beyond the space bordered by the Sarmatian limes or Novac’s Furrow. Supplying the empire with Dacian salt was reason enough for assiduously pursuing the political-military control over the area of ancient Dacia. From my point of view, also based on technical characteristics of the embankments, assigning a defensive military role to these linear earthworks was a historiographical error. Most probably they were dug and functioned as obstacles in control of the movement of sheep herds within the framework of long-distance transhumance. Finally, developing this paper, we identified on the satellite map the trace of a small fortification (Chesinţ, Arad County, RO), whose operating concept seems to be similar to that of the Hatvan-Gombospuszta camp in northern Hungary. The fortifications were located outside the defensive lines and controlled the access routes (small river valleys) towards the Pannonian Plain. Certainly, the identification of castra and crossing points of the embankments is only the beginning of clarifying this system of economic and fiscal control called limes Sarmatiae, built and used with the help of the Roman army.