Porolissum Forum Project


The Porolissum Forum Project (www.porolissum.org) is a joint American-Romanian research endeavor whose mission it is to understand: 1) Roman building activity and usage within the area of the city's forum; 2) lifeways of the inhabitants of the Roman city, including socio-economic relationships with native European groups; 3) the nature of the site in the immediate post-Roman periods (after AD 271).

Porolissum is one of the largest and best-preserved archaeological sites in all of Romania. Located in modern-day Salăj County, this military center was established in AD 106 by the Roman emperor Trajan to defend the main passageway through the Meses (Carpathian) Mountains into the province of Dacia Porolissensis. After just a few decades, Porolissum evolved into an important commercial center that facilitated trade between the Romans and native European peoples. When the Romans withdrew from Dacia in AD 271, the site appears to have been sporadically populated over the course of the next few centuries.

Indigenous Dacian settlements existed in the area, most notably on the nearby Magura and Citera Hills (Pop 2006). There is no evidence for a native Dacian settlement on Pomet Hill where Porolissum is set. Pop recounts that the Dacians constructed a fortification on Citera Hill which can be dated to the 2nd or 1st centuries BC. This appears to have been abandoned when a fortified center was developed on Magura Hill in the 1st century. Occupation of Magura Hill extends much farther back in time to the early Iron and Bronze Ages; excavations have revealed a wealth of features, including ritual deposits, from these earlier phases.

When Porolissum was founded by the Romans, the original Roman military center consisted of several thousand legionary and auxiliary soldiers based on Pomet Hill and the adjacent Citera Hill. By the middle of the 2nd century auxiliary troops predominated. Soldiers were a multi-ethnic group, having been enlisted from the Roman provinces – Britain, Gaul, Germany, Spain, Thrace and Syria. During the earliest phase of occupation, the administrative headquarters, military barracks and storage facilities on were constructed in timber. The massive defensive system surrounding the city in a series of concentric rings consisted of earthen mounds, ditches and wooden palisades (Matei and Bajusz 1997). Within half a century the military center on Pomet Hill increased in size and was reconstructed in stone architecture – probably during the reign of Antoninus Pius. Around the same time a sizable civilian district developed to the east and south of the military center. Roman soldiers clearly relied upon the local population for their dietary and material supplies since Porolissum was so far removed from the Mediterranean supply system centered at Rome. Dacians and Romans established a close rapport judging from the homogeneity of the architecture within the military camp and in the civilian district as well as from inscriptions that mention government officials with Romano-Dacian names. At the time of the Emperor Septimius Severus or his son Caracalla, the city was renamed Municipium Septimium Porolissensis and it is presumed that a large rebuilding campaign ensued. Caracalla may have visited Porolissum around AD 214, based upon the remains of a bronze equestrian statue attributed to this emperor and references in Cassius Dio which mention that after crossing into Moesia in AD 214 the emperor would never re-visit Dacia.

Demographically, scholars have suggested that Porolissum was inhabited by about 20-25,000 people at its height. This number is based upon the notion that there were 5000 soldiers and there was often 1 soldier posted for every 4 inhabitants. In reality, we do not have accurate information. The fortress could easily have held several thousand soldiers and indeed there was a need for thousands of soldiers along the limes. The secondary fortresses in the region (Tihau, Romita, Romanasi and Buciumi) all had fortresses that could house 500-1000 soldiers. Settlement patterns in the countryside are not well known, although archaeologists working at the Salaj County Museum of History and Art have identified numerous native settlements in Barbaricum located within 10-15 km of the limes. These are questions scholars must address, but we might assume that Porolissum and its hinterland (both the Roman and Barbarian areas) hosted a population of in the tens of thousands.

The late Roman (ca. AD 235-271) and immediate post-Roman (ca. AD 271-500) periods of Porolissum are not fully understood. While there is a gap in the sequence of coins between ca. AD 262 and 325 (Gǎzdac 2006), there are no signs of destruction or rapid abandonment of the site (cf. Inomata and Webb 2003). When Aurelian officially withdrew Roman administration from Dacia, it is presumed that soldiers left the province in a systematic manner, taking all necessary equipment, but leaving the fortresses and cities essentially intact. Many scholars assume that the transition from Roman Dacia to an independent territory occurred with little turbulence; however, there is still considerable debate about which culture(s) may have occupied the site in the immediate post-Roman period and to what extent the site was occupied. A small number of Roman coins dated between AD 325 and 375 indicate a human presence, but nothing about the ethnicity or number of people who may have frequented or settled the site.

The archaeological site was discovered in the 19th century and there were important discoveries made through the 1950’s, but there was also significant spoliation of the site by local farmers. Since the 1970’s, Romanian archaeologists have systematically assembled a large body of knowledge about Porolissum. The perimeter of the military camp and its centrally-located command building (principia) have been explored. The main access road from the west, leading up the Pomet Hill, was lined with a customs house (the only known example in the Roman Empire) and two temples – one dedicated to Liber Pater and Bel and another dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus (Gudea and Tamba 2001). To the south of the military complex, a 5000-seat amphitheater has been largely excavated. Civilian houses and sections of the urban road network have been excavated to the east of the military complex. In addition, many segments of the fortification system have been documented – the most extensive of which has a perimeter of about 12 km (Matei 1997). Finally, the foundations of an aqueduct are visible 2 km to the southwest, along the slope of a hill where a natural spring still exists.

In 1996, Dr. A.V. Matei and Prof. J.K. Haalebos identified the location of Porolissum’s forum (Roman civic center) through a program of magnetometry. According to the results of the geophysical survey, the forum extends over an area of about 2.5 hectares. There is a large rectangular open space consistent with a courtyard that is surrounded on four sides by architectural features. Because the Romans predominantly used volcanic stone in their constructions and because these structures ultimately collapsed, scattering the stones on boths sides of walls, the magnetometry results are not as clear as one would hope. Nevertheless, the magnetometry results have served as the basis of numerous trenches excavated by the PFP.

It is likely that the forum was developed in an unplanned manner at first, with a campaign to regularize it at a later moment. This is a common trend in many Roman cities, including Ostia (Pavolini 1983: 99-105), Pompeii (Dobbins et al. 1998) and Cosa (Brown 1980 and Brown et al. 1993). In the case of Porolissum, we suspect the forum may have been formalized during the reign of Septimius Severus when the city was granted municipium. Excavation of trenches in key areas, based upon the magnetometry results, are helping us to clarify the plan of the Forum, its development over time and the specific functions of the structures.

Following a pilot season in 2004, the Porolissum Forum Project was planned as a long-term project with a first phase aimed at excavation and assessment (2006-2010) and a second phase (2011-2015) aimed at publication, conservation and limited excavation work.

Cite this Record

Porolissum Forum Project. ( tDAR id: 370098) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8M61MN4

Temporal Coverage

Calendar Date: 106 to 271 (Roman occupation)

Calendar Date: 271 to 500 (immediate post-Roman phase)

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contributor(s): Michael MacKinnon

Field Director(s): Robert Wanner

Project Director(s): Eric De Sena; Alexandru Matei


General Note: Work in progress.....

Source Collections

Salaj County Musuem of History and Art, Zalau, Romania

Resources Inside this Project (Viewing 1-4 of 4)


  1. PFP 2004-2010 overview (2010)
  2. PFP 2011 end-of-season report (2011)


  1. Map of northern Dacia (2011)
  2. Map of Roman Empire with location of Porolissum (2011)