The first archaeological discoveries attesting the presence of Jews in the geographical area of Romania

An issue of great interest to historical researchers is the origin and longevity of Jews settled in Romania. It is a truly fascinating problem, especially because it can have complex answers, but at the same time it is difficult to solve because of insufficient information, especially regarding distant historical eras. When we refer to the ancient Dacian-Roman period, we see signs of Jewish presence here, even if this presence cannot always be defined by permanence and long-term stability.

The beginnings of the Jewish presence in modern-day Romania have been placed by earlier historians before the conquest of Dacia by Trajan, but this view has been revised by current research, lacking confirmation by archaeological evidence. As mentioned in one of our previous articles, the historian Iosif Kemény of Mănăstireni received a letter written in Hungarian by Transylvanian Jews, published on 26 January 1846 in a journal from Brașov, in which it is mentioned that in Transylvania, where history does not mention the Jewish minority at all, they are seen as foreigners, even though in 90 AD they “committed epoch-making deeds, being called upon by King Decebal of the Getae for the defeat of the Romans.” The letter goes on to say that “our ancestors came to the aid, it is said, in great numbers, about 50,000 souls, crossing the Dardanelles, the Black Sea, Moldavia and Wallachia, fighting and bleeding against Trajan’s troops in Transylvania at Turda, hence the toponym Enyed (Aiud).” At the end of the letter, he is asked to remember the people discussed and their story in his historical research. Kemény intends to respond to the request of the “Israelites of the Ardeal”, as they called themselves.

Even if the “Ardealian Israelites” (“Ardelean” is a romanian word defining the Intra-Carpathic region of Transylvania) reinterpreted their presence in the events related to the Dacian-Roman battles (101-102 AD; 105-106 AD), we can observe that the “Ardealian Israelites” claimed their presence in Transylvania since the reign of Trajan (98-117 AD). However, the existence of Jews in Dacia before the Roman conquest is not accepted in contemporary historiography. Decebal’s calling of the Jews after the destruction of the Second Temple has turned out to be a legend. Also, 19th century theories about the etymology of village names such as Tălmaciu, Beclean and Aiud or Jewish contributions to the development of mining in Transylvania have been debunked.

It is most likely that the first Jews arrived in Dacia with the establishment of Roman power, and in this article we will review the evidence supporting this theory. In the early modern era, most Jews lived outside ancient Israel, including in present-day Italy, with an estimated 6 to 7 million. Anti-Roman events on the part of the Jews, beginning with the wars of the 60s BC and ending with the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 AD), had tragic consequences for the Jewish community, including the burning of Jerusalem and the Second Temple, massacres, slavery and exile to Roman-controlled territory. The extent of Jewish settlement in the territory of Dacia remains a debatable subject.

Two gold leaves discovered at Dierna (Orșova) with text containing a Jewish curse. Image source: Gudea Nicolae, Evreii în provinciile dacice, 106-274 p.Chr., în Ephemeris Napocensis 9–10, p. 197.

The Roman armed forces that came to conquer Dacia were made up of a variety of ethnicities from different provinces of the empire, including Jews. This claim is supported by the personal names on some inscriptions found at Sarmizegetusa, the funerary texts related to the Jewish faith found at Orșova and the Jewish coins from 133-134 AD mentioned by B. P. Hașdeu.

How did the first Jews arrive in today's Romania?

In the actual geographical territory of Romania, the existence of the Jewish community can be traced back to the Roman period, when the Jews arrived in Transylvania together with the Roman legions in the 2nd century AD. Archaeological excavations have uncovered finds such as altars, inscriptions and coins, providing important details about the history of the Jews in Transylvania. Jewish symbols such as the Star of David, the Shofar, the seven-armed menorah, the lulav and the etrog, which represented objects of worship in the Temple in Jerusalem, together with terms such as “Theos” (Greek for “God”) or “YHWH” (Latin for “Adonai”), are evidence of the presence and influence of Jewish culture in the region.

Map of the places where Jewish coins (1), common objects with Jewish symbols (2), inscriptions with Jewish names (3) and Jewish deities (4) have been found. Image source: Gudea Nicolae, Evreii în provinciile dacice, 106-274 p.Chr., în Ephemeris Napocensis 9–10, p. 188.

Studies on ethnic diversity in Roman Dacia confirm the modest presence of Jews in the province, in accordance with the limited number of inscriptions discovered. Among the most significant finds related to the Jews of this period are the Tetragrammaton inscriptions for Jehovah and a 14 cm stoneware slab with a ram in the centre, the Star of David on the right and an altar with a flame on the left, 7 human heads and the inscription “Judaea”. It is also mentioned that a group of explorers discovered a Hebrew inscription  ה‎ ו‎ ה‎ י‎  representing the tetragram for Yahweh in a mine in the Carpathians. These finds are not the result of systematic archaeological discoveries, they have been lost and cannot be verified today. Also, another notable find was a piece found at Porolissum, probably part of a game that had the Star of David engraved on it. During the campaign against Decebal, Emperor Trajan brought Roman legions from Palestine, including soldiers from the auxiliary troops and Jewish merchants.

The first archaeological discoveries proving the presence of Jews in our country

Bronze coin issued in the time of Bar Kokhba discovered at Pojejena, Caraș-Severin County. The obverse shows a palm tree with seven branches; three on the sides and one at the top; at the base of the branches, on each side of the stem, two bunches of fruit; on each side of the bunches and below the one on the right, the Hebrew inscription SHIM(on). On the reverse side is a vine leaf with the tip downwards; around it is the inscription in Hebrew: Year II of the liberty of Israel.

In the context of studies on the history of the Jews in the Romanian area in ancient times, archaeological findings play a crucial role in attesting the presence and influence of the Jewish community in the region. These finds provide a fascinating window into the distant past and confirm the complex interactions between the various communities of that time. Listed below are the main archaeological finds that illustrate the presence of Jews in Romania in those historical periods:

At Pojejena (Caraș-Severin), dating from 133-134 AD: a bronze Jewish coin issued by Simon Bar-Kokhba, discovered near the Roman fortress; this is an important evidence of the economic and cultural interactions of that period (IMER, II A, p. 141).

At Ilișua (Bistrița), also from the period 133-134 BC, another bronze Jewish coin issued by Simon Bar-Kokhba was discovered.

From Upper Dacia, December 13, 157 AD, comes a military diploma awarded to the veteran Barsimsus Calisthensis of Caesarea, who served in the Roman troops in Dacia, thus demonstrating Jewish involvement in the military and administrative activities of the Roman Empire (IMER, II B, p. 141).

From Sarmizegetusa, from the period 133-134 AD, comes a Jewish bronze coin issued by Simon Bar-Kokhba.

Also at Sarmizegetusa, dating from the 2nd century AD, a ring stone with a Jewish inscription was found; the letters AGLA appear on it, which could be interpreted as the initials of a famous passage from the Psalms: ‘You are mighty forever Lord’ (‘TH GYBWR LWLM ‘DWNY).

At Sarmizegetusa, dating from the 2nd century AD, an altar with a votive inscription dedicated to the god ‘Theos Hypsistor’ by Aalia Cassia has also been discovered, as evidence of religious and cultural practices specific to the Jewish community of that period (IMER II C and II D, p. 142).

From Porolissum (Zalău), dating from the 2nd century AD, comes a cognomen inscription (IMER II E, p. 143).

Also at Porolissum (Zalău), 2nd century AD, the above-mentioned slate plaque with Jewish symbols and an inscription was found, which provides important clues to the presence and daily activities of Jews in those regions (IMER II F, p. 143).

At Dierna (Orșova), dating from the second half of the 3rd century AD, a gold plate with a bilingual inscription invoking the Hebrew deity Iao-Iahve was discovered (IMER II G, p. 143).

Dating from the 3rd-4th century AD, another gold plate with incised signs and letters, on an originally rolled sheet, was discovered at Dierna (Orșova) with symbols related to the Hebrew deity (IMER II H, p. 144).

Discovered at Tomis, dating from the 5th century AD, is the fragment of a Jewish inscription in memory of a Jewish merchant from Alexandria. It highlights the commercial and cultural connections between Jews and other communities in the Eastern Roman Empire (IMER II I, p. 144).

Clay game piece discovered at Porolissum (Moigrad, Sălaj County), representing the ``Star of David``. Image source: Gudea Nicolae, Evreii în provinciile dacice, 106-274 p.Chr., în Ephemeris Napocensis 9–10, p. 194.

What are the possible causes for the presence of the Jewish minority in our region?

Referring to the ancient Dacian-Roman period, there are signs of Jewish presence in this region, even if not in a stable and permanent form. The Jews are part of a process of populating the area between the Carpathians, the Danube and the Black Sea, where the autochthonous Geto-Dacian population already had a history of several centuries. Dacia was attractive because of its natural resources and its strategic position on the Lower Danube, not forgetting its immediate proximity to the Black Sea.

Another reason for the early presence of Jews in Dacia may be related to the strong influence of the Jewish community in Rome even before 165 BC, Rome being a stronghold of the Jewish Diaspora, an influence that could put pressure on political or military decisions of Roman leaders. Also, the ethnic composition of the military troops stationed in Dacia, with a significant Jewish presence in the 13th Gemina Legion and auxiliary troops, played an important role in this issue.

At the same time, there are also mentions in works such as “The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia”, published in 1969 in New York, which emphasise the importance of the area for contact between civilizations, thus facilitating trade both on water and on land, which was crucial for Europe.


The early presence of Jews in Dacia can be explained by several reasons, including the strong diasporic influence in Rome, the commercial advantages of the region, and the demographic and cultural transformations brought about by the Roman conquest of Dacia. These aspects contribute to the complex understanding of Jewish history in this part of the ancient world. However, the most essential thing is to understand that, regardless of the above, archaeological discoveries in Roman Dacia can only provide information about the presence of individual Jews but not entire communities, as in other provinces.

After a gap of a millennium, in 1165, the Jewish traveller Benjamin of Tudela mentions the good relations between the southern Danube Vlachs and the Jewish communities of Byzantium. From trade documents from the early mediaeval period, it can be deduced that in the 13th century, Jews were among the active merchants trading between Byzantium, Russia and Poland, passing through Bulgaria and the Danube areas. Their importance in this area was also emphasised by the historian Nicolae Iorga, who mentioned in his  Istoria comerțului românesc (‘’History of Romanian Trade’’) that Jews had maintained these trade routes since before 1480, coming directly from Constantinople.


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Web sources

Evelyn Ciocan is an archaeologist and PhD student of the Doctoral School `History.Civilization. Culture` at Babes Bolyai University. She holds a degree in History from the Faculty of History and Philosophy of UBB, specializing in Ancient History-Archaeology. She also holds a Master's degree in History, specialising in Archaeology at UBB. She has participated in some of the most important archaeological sites in the country, such as Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa, Apulum, Napoca and in various restoration projects of important monuments in Transylvania. Evelyn has a particular passion for heritage, for the past, for memory and museums.

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