Why the Ancient Romans Wanted Dacia, aka Modern-Day Romania

Even today, some would argue that the motivation behind the Roman conquest of Dacia (present-day Romania) was Dacian gold. In reality, the economic goal was salt, Dacia having one of the most bountiful salt resources in the known world. Dacian gold was just a bonus.

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Salt Mine of Turda in Romania, ancient Dacia
Ancient Romans took full advantage of Dacia's mineral resources, especially salt, capitalizing on them in Rome. Photo: Prisma Bildagentur / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

In 106 AD, after a two-phase war, the Romans finally managed to conquer Dacia – a region they had long desired. Once on the territory of present-day Romania, the Romans began to build roads, baths, and… salt mines. The conquest of Dacia by the Romans was probably the most critical turning point in history for the inhabitants. After several attempts by other Roman emperors, Trajan started a campaign to conquer Dacia, which lay just north of the Danube river, in 101 AD. Within five years, he proved successful in his quest, and the Romans occupied the lands until the year 271.

During this time, the Romans took full advantage of Dacia’s mineral resources, capitalizing on them in Rome. Archaeological excavations have found traces of Roman salt pans in Sibiu, Cojocna, and Turda, where, even today, there is a notable salt mine open to visitors. The Romans also dug for salt in the Someș River area, where the ore could be found at shallower depths.

Salt, a crucial resource of Dacia

Though omnipresent in kitchens around the world today, salt was a crucial element in Antiquity and the Middle Ages as it was essential for food preservation. With no consistent means for refrigeration, fish, beef, and pork were preserved in brine or well-salted and dried. The salted meat trade at the time was highly lucrative, and thus, salt made Dacia a highly desirable addition to the Roman Empire.

In contrast, Dacian gold, commonly mistaken as the impetus for the Roman invasion, was discovered by accident. When the Romans decisively attacked Dacia, the locals hid this lucrative treasure in a riverbed by diverting the river from its course. The Romans only happened upon this fortune years later.

In addition to its usefulness for food, there are several applications for salt nowadays, including in the chemical sector. Moreover, sodium, a natural component of salt, could replace lithium for the construction of electric cars, with Natrium-Ion Battery (NIB) being explored as an alternative to lithium-ion batteries. Romania still has one of the world’s most important salt resources, amounting to about 12 bln tons, enough for the next 1,000 years. Romania also exports about 550 million tons of salt annually. Of this amount, about 72% goes to Hungary and 20-25% to Slovakia.

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