In the ancient period the creation of military bases and roads, cities and villages (now archaeological sites which form the Roman Emperors Route) coincided with the development of Roman control and occupation of the Danube region which flourished from the second through the fourth centuries. Although there were Roman troops in the Balkans earlier, a major expansion of the Empire took place under the emperors Trajan and Hadrian in the beginning of the second century.  The last great emperor who significantly affected Danube affairs was Constantine the Great, born to a military family in the Balkan interior in the fourth century.  After this time, beginning in the fifth century, the history of Byzantium begins, with new dynasties of Byzantine emperors ruling from Constantinople (modern Istanbul in Turkey).

Beginnings

The entry of Roman emperors into the Danube region begins properly with Julius Caesar. Caesar in a technical sense was not an emperor, but his assumption of the title “Dictator for Life” made him one in all but the specific title. Among Caesar’s military accomplishments the conquest of the two Gauls (one on either side of the Alps) stands out in history. However this causes one to lose sight of the third province in his mandate, Illyricum. Illyricum for the Romans of Caesar and Augustus’ time stretched from the Adriatic to the Danube and eastward towards western Bulgaria.

Historical Growth

The initial diffusion of Roman culture, along with the military advance to the Danube and the consolidation of Roman territorial gains, continued under successive emperors in the first century A.D. The second emperor Tiberius, drawing on his military experience along the Sava and Danube rivers under Augustus directed his legions to major road building projects in the region, including the Trans Balkan Highway and the Danube via militaris through the Iron Gate gorge. The Danube fleet was probably established in his reign also. The emperor Claudius, almost the last of Augustus’ line, moved the legionary garrison up to bases on the Danube from the Adriatic region and repaired the via militaris on the river itself. Domitian, the last of the Flavian dynasty of emperors, also repaired the Danube road and himself led the Roman armies against Decebalus and the Dacians north of the Danube. For various reasons, Domitian did not annex territory from the Dacians but at least he put a temporary stop to their destructive raids on Roman territory.

The culmination of the first and defining phase of Roman occupation of the Danube corridor was directed by the first non-Italian emperor Trajan in the early second century. Trajan himself was on the Danube on several occasions, including directing the campaigns in two successful Dacian wars against Decebalus. He certainly was involved with road construction and repair in the Iron Gate gorge and the construction of the great bridge across the Danube in 105 between the two Dacian wars. The final result of Trajan’s aggressive military policy was the annexation of Decebalus’ kingdom as the new Dacian provinces north of the Danube.