Alexandru and I shook hands and agreed that we would make plans for the following summer. And we did…

By 2003 I had more than 10 years of experience in the field and had managed teams of specialists, trained students and had thought a lot about aspects of archaeological interpretation, economy and interaction within the Roman Empire. I had worked in the center of the Empire and had also examined rural sites in Italy in order to ponder the “primitivist”/”modernist” debate. I was ready to begin a project of my own and was considering sites in Italy when I received an email from Alexandru Matei who suggested that we collaborate on an excavation at a frontier city, Porolissum, in northwestern Romania. He had identified an area of the Roman city where he believed was the location of a forum. The prospect intrigued me and after a few months of background research, I paid a visit in September 2003.

Not knowing Romania and thinking about a future project with a field school, I decided to begin my visit in Timisoara where a friend, Calin Timoc, lives and which has a good airport. I rented a car and spent two nights and a day in Timisoara before driving via Arad and Oradea to Zalau. Such a different reality than the USA or western Europe – Romania was in its 13th year of freedom but seemed like Italy or France must have been between the two world wars. My map indicated a shortcut over the Apuseni Mountains to Zalau – it turned out to be the longest and most desolate 30 km I ever drove – a mostly dirt road with rocks scattered in a way that scraping the bottom of the car was inevitable and, of course, not another soul along the way.

I finally arrived to Zalau and met Alexandru at the Museum, where I was greeted by Dan and Sanda Bacuet, Corina and Giani Bejinariu, and Horea Pop. Over the next few days, I spoke and made plans with Alexandru and his staff, visited and spent 2 nights at Porolissum and drank more palinca than I should have. I have driven up to Porolissum a couple of hundred times and the sensation is the same as the first visit – breathtaking. As soon as you arrive to the top of the Moigrad road, the view of the Meses Mountains and the valley toward the Agrij river are full of beauty and promise. The archaeological features of Porolissum are well maintained – a 1 km long stretch of Roman road with the foundations of temples, houses and shops on the north side, the large fortress with the reconstructed Porta Praetoria, the amphitheater, and other buildings nearby. We drove down to the area of the presumed forum and he showed me the magnetometry graphics of the area – in his sure and determined manner, he presented a picture of the forum – must be a basilica to the north, a temple to the south, porticoes around the courtyard, and a perimeter wall.

In my opinion, this was an archaeological “carta bianca” – a nearly virgin Roman period site in a country which did not have the privileges of wealth and visibility enjoyed by Mediterranean nations. Nearly everything we unearthed and pondered would be fresh information and we would be able to participate in the writing of history in this region. After five days in Zalau/Porolissum, I headed back to Timisoara via Cluj and Alba Iulia, scouting sites for excursions with field school students. Alexandru and I shook hands and agreed that we would make plans for the following summer. And we did…