The conquest of Dacia and its transformation in a Roman province in 106 AD coincided with the period of maximum expansion of the Roman Empire. Two of the eleven cities of Dacia, namely Colonia Aurelia Apulensis and Colonia Nova Apulensis, were located in Apulum (the ancient name of Alba Iulia), making it the most populous urban settlement of the province. Central to achieving this privileged status was Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.), who granted Apulum the rank of municipium and the position of de facto political and military capital, to the disadvantage of the capital in Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa.
One Roman building whose construction benefitted from these favourable circumstances, and which illustrates the elevated status of Apulum, was the Palace of Governor (praetorium consularis), whose magnificence and beauty must have been outstanding. The construction was emplaced below the terrace of the fortress of the Thirteenth Gemina Legion, in an area with beautiful views, on the bank of some large ponds. The location is in today’s Munteniei Street, close to the administrative centre of the city. Archaeological excavations—which were started in 1888 by Adalbert Cserni, continued until around the mid-1950s and resumed during the last two decades—have revealed the size of the palace buildings as well as their good state of conservation.
The Palace of the Governor of Daciarum Trium was the official seat of the provincial administration. It was the residence of the governor, the highest dignitary and representative of the emperor in the province. The chancellery of the governor was located here as well. The members of the chancellery included military men, jurists, engineers and physicians. The chancellery was organized into several specialized services, the most important activities being administration, justice, intelligence and the issuing official documents. The size of the staff is estimated to have been around 200 to 300 officials. Within its walls also resided the so-called singulars, the guards of the governor. In Apulum, this military unit had 500 well-trained and paid soldiers. There were several buildings and rooms with specialized purposes in the palace, such as reception rooms, administrative offices, an archive, a basilica, various religious edifices, scholae, bathrooms, granaries, stables, etc. One section of the palace formed the private residence of the governor and his family. The architecture of the complex was highly refined, including inner courtyards and access porticos.
Adalbert Cserni’s archaeological excavations uncovered a considerable area of the former palace in 1888-1908. The plans of the buildings, which he thought were the “great thermae” of Apulum, were reproduced in a beautiful scale model which can be seen today in the National Museum of Unification in Alba Iulia. Unfortunately, the ruins discovered by Cserni, which spanned 13 hectares, were not conserved. Nowadays only a small section, which was discovered recently and is currently under archaeological investigation, is visible and can be visited.
The Palace of Governor in Apulum represents a unique monument within Dacia, but joins a rarefied league of similar palaces which have been discovered across the Roman Empire, including Aquincum (Budapest, Hungary), Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensis (Köln, Germany) and Carnuntum (Petronell, Austria). Of these palaces, only the ruins in Köln were conserved, having been turned into a museum by the local community. The museum is located in the basement of Köln town hall. An initiative in Alba Iulia as successful as the German local authority’s would enhance the chances of rediscovering the undeservedly forgotten patrimony and would make one of the most important buildings of Roman Dacia accessible to the public as well as to specialists.
In 1891, Adalbert Cserni, after rediscovering this place, wrote: “This is the third winter since I became busy almost every day with the archaeological excavation. I spend a lot of time there, among mute witnesses of the long ago silenced Roman life, among the ruins of Roman baths, on mosaic floors. I already know and love every inch of that surface … I dream and imagine a more beautiful past, and in my imagination I see the grave, joyous face of the Romans … deep in my thoughts, I see the past joining the present.” (C.I.P.)