School of History, Classics and Archaeology


The Apulum Project: Excavations at the Sanctuary of Liber Pater, Alba Iulia, Romania

This project examines a sanctuary complex in the heart of the Roman city of colonia Aurelia Apulensis, Dacia. The colonia was itself part of the largest Roman conurbation north of the Danube, Apulum.

The site was first discovered by Prof Alexandru Diaconescu in 1989. Geophysical survey and six years of excavation by the Apulum Project (from 1998-2003) have illuminated three key themes of broader interest to scholars. These are:

Post-excavation analysis, now largely complete has revealed a fascinating picture of cult practice in C2nd and C3rd AD Dacia. The Liber Pater cult shows remarkably little trace of the patterns of local syncretistic engagement with indigenous cults that characterise temple sites in most provinces.

Evidence from the site, from terracottas to larger statuary and from cult pits to altars overwhelmingly reveals clear parallels with religious sites in the Western Empire.

There is no discernable trace of pre-Roman Dacian cult practice. Nevertheless, some broader Danubian trends, such as reverence for the Danubian riders and the Thracian hero, are discernable.

Almost three quarters of a million sherds have been recovered from pottery production contexts in the immediate vicinity of the cult rooms. These reflect the site’s importance as a centre of light industry. While much of the production activity dates from before the sanctuary was built, it is clear that pottery production remained an important activity in the immediate area even after the cult site was established.

Study of the production process and products has enabled the team to develop a typology for pottery in Roman Dacia.

Extensive geophysical survey work has finally illuminated the urban topography of this major Roman town. The Colonia itself appears to have been about 1.5 km from N-S and 0.5 km from E-W. The sanctuary was a key feature of the NW quarter of the site, in an area which, according to analysis by Prof Dr Alfred Schäfer following geophysical survey by Dr Kris Lockyear (UCL) appears to have contained both a theatre and a major bath complex.

The final project report will be published as a major Journal of Roman Archaeology monograph in 2008.