At the end of the Aeneolithic Age, around 3500 BC, an important ethnic and cultural synthesis took place that led to the appearance of new peoples and cultures in Central Europe and the Balkans. These peoples can be identified with the traditional ethnic groups of Old Europe: the Hellenes, the Illyrioi, and the Thraikes. The Thraikes came to inhabit the vast territory from the south of Poland, to the north of Hellas and from Slovakia to north-western Anatolia. The historian Herodotus speculated that "the population of Thraike is greater than that of any other country in the world except India. If the Thraikes could be united under a single ruler, or to a common purpose, they would be the most powerful nation on earth and no one could cope with them."
The next historical period, the Bronze Age (3500 to 1200 BC) saw the development of the Thraikes. A spectacular demographic growth occurred, as proven by archeological discoveries of many large settlements, some of them fortified. The metallurgy practiced in Bronze Age Getia, learned from their neighbors, attained high levels of craftsmanship, as evidenced by the rich deposits of bronze and gold items found in parts of Transylvania. Rich sanctuary sites belie the existence of a powerful priestly class and religious culture, while rich sanctuary deposits and a handful of noble burials offer some glimpse into the vibrant tribal aristocracy that emerged in this period. The lower classes spent most of their efforts in agriculture and pastoralism, but the latter part of this period saw the emergence of mining and metallurgy, as well as simple handicraft manufacture and trade.
Beginning in 1400 BC, important ethnic and cultural developments took place in the Carpathian-Danubian territory over a period of several hundred years. Nomadic tribes from the Sabatinovka culture moved towards the west while the creators of the mound tomb culture (hugelgraber-kultur) came from the regions of central Europe toward the east and southeast, causing the dislocation of some Thracian tribes and the massive movement of peoples toward southeastern Europe, to north-eastern Anatolia and beyond to Egypt and the coastlands of the Levant. Many of these migrant peoples interacted with the various Thraikes, which led to greater capacity for metallurgy and more skill in architecture. The northern Thraikians continued much as they had before, though the emergence of small fortifications and a switch from a mixed economy to one focused more heavily on pastoralism during the Dark Ages indicates that war had come to this region as well. The nobility remained wealthy, benefiting from the value of salt extracted from the region and sold abroad. Their wealth is evidenced by fortified villages and several significant deposits of high quality goods from the transitional period between the Bronze and Iron Ages: single-edged swords, axes, fibulae, buckles, and the like. The most significant invasion, toward the close of this period, was a devastating Skythian invasion of Inner Carpathia around 700 BC, which despite its negative effects also introduced new technologies, many of them military, to the emerging Getai. Iron smelting became much more significant from this point, and the technologies of both horsemanship and archery were either introduced or much advanced due to the contact with the Skythians.
Strabo reports that "the Getai are those who occupy the territory toward the sea and the east, while the Dakoi are those who live in the opposite part toward Germania and the source of the Donaris." Despite this they spoke the same language and belonged to the same ethnic group. The different names may reflect changing identification over time, or could signify some slight differences in ethnic identities between the regions separated by the massive Carpathians. The last phase of the first Iron Age (650 to the latter half of the fifth century BC) and the first two phases of the second Iron Age (the latter half of the fifth century BC to the beginning of the second century BC) denote a distinct historical period in the evolution of these northern Thraikes. They were still divided, passing through stages of political development that differed from region to region. They were greatly influenced by the people with whom they came in contact: most prominent among them the Hellenes, Skythai, Halstatt-era Keltoi, and even Persai.
The Hellenes founded several colonies (apoikia) and commercial settlements (emporia) such as Histria on the shore of Lake Sinoe, Tomis (today Constanta), Argamon, Kallatis (today Mangalia), and Tyras (today Cetatea Alba), on the western and northern shores of the Pontos Euxeinos in the mid-to-late seventh century BC. These settlements, referred to as the "Hellenes beyond the seas," played a vital role in the development of the Getai and Skythai due to their multiple economic contacts, political relationships, cultural developments, and economic exchanges with the local communities. Close relationships formed between the Getai and Hellenes that led to the gradual Hellenization of the native tribes. Hellenic ceramic goods, luxury items, and superior oils and wines spread throughout Dobrogea and beyond to Moldavia, Muntenia, and Oltenia. Rapid cultural progress took place. Some tribes, including the Getai, founded powerful political organizations led by dynasts during the sixth to the third centuries BC. Herodotos relates that during the expedition King Dareios I led against the Skythai north of the Black Sea in 513 BC, the Getai alone resisted the advance of the Persian Army. Though they fought valiantly enough for Herodotos to declare them “the manliest and most just of the tribes of the Thraikes,” they were eventually defeated and at least some of their number enslaved by the king of kings. Later, Thoukydides speaks of the same Getai fighting alongside the Odrysian King Sitalkes against the allies of Athenai in the Peloponesian War of 429 BC.
Philippos II of Makedonia, in order to punish the Skythian king Atias for his treachery, concluded an alliance with the Getic king Kothelas. This alliance was consecrated by the marriage of Kothelas's daughter Meda to Philippos in 339 BC. The Getai and Makedones drove the Skythai from Kallatis and Kothelas became the master of the colonies on the Pontos Euxeinos. Philippos's son, Megas Alexandros, undertook an expedition against the Triballoi in the year 335 BC in preparation for his great Persian campaign. The legendary general defeated the Triballoi and made a brief expedition north of the Istros (Danube) against the Getai, who mustered an army of 4,000 horseman and 10,000 infantry to resist the young war-king. A peace was made without bloodshed, and the Getai were spared the military governorship installed over the other Thraikes. The peace was short-lived, however, as around 325 BC the military governor of Thraike was killed together with his entire army by a Getic-Skythian combined force.
This victory, combined with the death of Megas Alexandros in 323 BC, weakened Makedonian control in the region and allowed the Getai to become the dominant political force. The tribes offered vital assistance to the Hellenic colonies on the coastline of the Pontos Euxeinos, led by Kallatis, in their struggle against the Makedonian Lysimachos, the King of Thraike. But the most important episode, related by several ancient authors (Diodoros Sikilios, Strabo, and Trogus Pompeius) was the conflict between Lysimachos and the Getian kingdom of Dromichaites. The kingdom of Dromichaites was located in Eastern Muntenia, having its capital at Helis (Sveshtari, Bulgaria). The Makedonian king tried to make the Donaris his northern frontier, while the Getian tried to maintain his control over the colonies on the Pontos Euxeinos, as Kothelas had done a generation or two earlier. Lysimachos organized two campaigns into the north, in 300 and 292 BC. The result was a military disaster as both Lysimachos and his heir Agathokles were captured. The Makedones finally recognized Getic supremacy over the lower Istros and Pontos Euxeinos. A royal marriage concluded the alliance between the two powers. Shortly thereafter the kingdom of Dromichaites, the people of the Getai in general, faced a great blow. The Galatai, who laid low the king of Makedonia in 279 BC and sacked Delphoi the following year, wrought ruin among the Getai who dwelt along and south of the Donaris. Helis was abandoned, and the southern banks of the Donaris truly became the “desert” it had seemed to those who had formerly sought to invade it.
Development for the Getai was pushed north of the Istros, or east of it into the region of Mikra Skythia. A sort of wild period followed, as tarabostes of the many regions carved out petty kingdoms of their own, and at one another's expense. Two Getic rulers (Zalmodegikos and later Rhemaxos) continued to exercise control over Histria, like the kings of the Getai before them, and may represent a continuation of the ruling traditions of Dromichaites and Kothelas, whether by birth, tribal affiliation, or propoganda. Still others ruled petty fiefdoms from fortified villages in the northeast, while unnamed rulers led their people in war and trade with the Keltoi settlers working their way into Inner Carpathia. Around the year 200 BC King Oroles from southern Moldavia opposed the advance of the Bastarnai, and while he stopped their advance the two peoples would war against--and sometimes alongside--one another many times in years to come. Another king, Rubobostes, ended the Celtic domination in Transylvania early in the second century, even as Getai in southwestern Getia developed better and better relationships with their former enemies, the Skordiskoi. Forging alliances among the tarabostes and negotiating power relationships with hostile peoples in all directions, the rulers of the Getai acquired significant political experience during this period, which presaged the expansion of Getic power in the following century.
By the middle of the second century BC the Geto-Dacians entered a new period of development, the most advanced in their entire history. The most interesting part of this period is the appearance of proto-urban settlements known as davas. They were organized areas, being political, commercial, religious and military centers of the Getic tribes. Some used an amalgamation of Roman, Greek, and Celtic fortification techniques, known as Murus Dacicus. The Dacian fortresses found north of the Danube, like the complex of fortifications in the Sebes mountaines, formed the strongest defensive systems in the "barbarian" world. The Getic craftsmen had ties with the Roman and Hellenic worlds, which brought an unprecedented level of economic development. The Dacian goldsmiths even exported to far-off Scandinavia. The society clearly stratified into two social groups: the komatai (the free people) and tarabostes (the nobility). The leaders of the state were selected from the nobility, which was distinguishable by the fur caps they wore. A powerful but smaller third social class, the priests, served as intermediaries between god and man, and oversaw the vibrant cultic centers of Getic religion, of which that at Sarmiszegethusa is most renowned. This was part of the transition to the cult of Zalmoxis, which became fully incorporated into the state structure. Like noblemen, priests wore fur caps to express their position. The high priest was an important position second only to the king. It was this cult that allowed the unification of the Getic tribes to occur.
During the first century BC they were finally united under the rule of King Burebista (70-44 BC). As his power increased, he opposed Roman supremacy north of the Balkans. He is referred to by the people of Dionysopolis as "the first and the most powerful among the kings who ever reigned in Thraike, master of the entire region this side of the great river." His kingdom, centered at Argedava, gradually expanded in all directions. Getic armies crushed the Boioi and Tauriskoi, led by Kritosiros, in the winter campaign of 60 BC. He later (in 55 BC) conquered the Hellenic colonies on the Black Sea coast, defeating the Bastarnai and securing the shoreline from Olbia in the north to Apollonia in the south. Now Getia was a force to be reckoned with. Previous military successes inspired the Getai to mount a campaign south of the Istros around 48 BC. The result of this was contact between the Roman and Getic worlds. Burebista could afford to interfere in the Roman civil war by supporting Pompey in his struggle against Julius Caesar. Thus, the Getai were now united against a common foe. When the threat of an invasion ended with the death of Caesar on the Ides of March in 44 BC, the sense of common purpose collapsed, and the tarabostes assassinated Burebista. His successor, the high priest Dekeneus, failed to keep the tarabostes from civil war. In the following decades four minor kingdoms emerged from the civil war and none of them was individually strong enough to halt the Roman advance in the Balkans.
A capable strategist, diplomat and politician, King Decebalus united the Getai, or Daci, once more under his rule (87-106 AD). He introduced a centralized administrative system, which led to the development of the most well-organized barbarian states in the first century AD. The fledgling Dacian state became a menace to Roman authority as Decebalus mobilized the tribes in a raid against the Roman garrisons of Moesia Inferior in 87 AD. Oppius Sabinus, the Roman governor, along with his entire legion, were slain. He later repelled the Roman counter-offensive led by Cornelius Fuscus, capturing the Roman eagle. The line of victories ended at Tapae, where the Roman army of Tettius Iulianus finally defeated the army of Decebalus. The Roman Emperor Domitian was forced however to conclude a peace treaty with the Dacians in 89 AD. Dacia became a “client kingdom” and received Roman war machines, engineers and even financial assistance to improve the Dacian fortresses. When Marcus Ulpius Traianus became emperor in 98 AD, he decided to eliminate the Dacian kingdom. Apart from desire for vengeance, the new ruler needed to secure his flank along the Istros and gain the rich gold mines of the Apuseni mountains.
The result was a series of Daco-Roman wars (AD 101-102, 105-106), at the end of which Dacia would become a Roman province, bringing about the end of Zalmoxianism. The emperor's 150,000 men from Illyria and Moesia crossed a bridge of boats at Berzovia. The Dacians suffered a crushing defeat at Tapae. Only the break of winter halted the Romans from reaching the Dacian capital of Sarmisegetuza. In the spring the Dacians, aided by Roxolani Sauromatai, went on the offensive to relieve their capital. They failed as the Romans defeated them at Tropaeum Traiani and Nicopolis. Decebalus sued for peace. The peace terms were so humiliating for the Dacians that a new conflict was inevitable. Three years later the conflict broke out after Decebalus refused to dismantle his fortresses. Marching his troops on the bridge across the Danube, Trajan reached the walls of Sarmisegetuza a second time, this time aided by Mauran auxiliary cavalry who were more than competent at fighting uphill battles with the Getai. The capital fell to the Romans and Decebalus was forced to retreat north. Pursued by Roman cavalry the king chose to commit suicide rather than fall prisoner. Getia was no more; Rome became the sole authority in the Carpatho-Danubian region, pressed only by the wilder Getic tribes north of the mountains. Their colonists later merged with the shattered tribes to form the Romanian people of today.