Rubbing it in: Those poor Dacians
The Roman Propaganda machine was in high gear after both of the
Dacian Wars conducted by Trajan. The personification of Dacia, a soldier,
or just a representative Dacian appears in various poses of abject defeat
or mourning on the coins of Trajan above and below. From being speared to
being bound, to being stepped on (by Peace nonetheless), to kneeling
before Rome, the Dacians are depicted as a thoroughly subjugated people.
After all, it was almost a hundred years since the empire had ceased
expansion, so maybe the Romans went a little overboard in their
The first Roman incursion into Dacia occurred in AD 101. Trajan
used Dacian raids into Roman territory as the pretext for invasion, but he
had been planning the attacks since AD 99 (How many times has this tactic
been repeated in history? Some things do not change.) This was a radical
change from the Roman practice of appeasement which had been ongoing since
the time of Augustus. Domitian actually set up payments to the Dacian
ruler Decebalus to purchase his non-aggression. In spite of this agreement
Decebalus sanctioned raids into Roman territory and in one raid the
governor of Moesia was slain. Trajan struck hard and deep into the Dacian
territory (modern day Romania and Hungary) in Blitzkreig fashion. Dacia
was a mountainous region bordered by the Danube (the personification of
the river is depicted on the last coin below), and Trajan needed the best
engineers to navigate this topography. One of the best, Apollodorus of
Damascus constructed a road through the Iron
Gates which included a long bridge across the Danube (The Sestertius
on the Far right may represent this as Danube evidently turns against
Dacia and knees him in the groin - now that is really rubbing it in!) with
60 stone piers (traces of the bridge can still be seen). The Dacians also
accomplished great feats of engineering. It is said that the great Dacian
treasury was kept under a river. The water had been diverted for
construction and then allowed to flow again.
The march of the Roman army would have awed an onlooker. Marching 6 abreat
it would take 6 hours for the column to pass. And, while the army covered
about 15 miles a day straight to its target, nothing was done impetuously
or without planning. The Romans had learned from defeats at the hands of
the Germans and Dacians that their foes were formidable and nothing could
be left to chance.Of note in the second to last coin in the group above is
the curved sword laying in the foreground. This is the infamous Dacian
Falx which was respected and feared by the Roman Soldiery. In a strong
hand it was quite capable of severing a limb with one blow. To counter
this weapon, the Roman legionaires were issued special greaves and
additional padding for their helmets.
Much can be learned about the Dacian Wars by studying the
beautiful reliefs on Trajan's
Column which was erected in 106 as a memorial and a history of the
first Dacian war. Rome must have built a coalition prior to the invasion
as Moors and even their traditional enemies, the Parthians, are depicted
fighting with the Romans.
The Dacians were not the barbarians we typically think of. They had a
settled and prosperous civilizations with many cities and fortresses built
on a model copied from the Greeks. Their country was rich in minerals
including iron, gold and silver (which might have contributed to the
invasion and help explain the allies the Romans were able to recruit).
Some believe the Dacians originated in north west Asia Minor and migrated
north. to a broad and fertile plain with many natural defenses including
the Carpathian Mts. and the Danube. Others believe they were part of the
indo-european migration that occurred around 1,800 BC originating from the
steppes north of the Black Sea. By the time of Herodotus around 500 BC,
they were considered Thracian (Getae) and Herodotus lists them as the most
populous people of the world next to the Indians.
The first invasion was a bloody affair but the Romans moved
relentlessly towards the Thracian capital of Sarmizegetusa.
A massive battle was fought at the close of the first year's campaign. It
was a costly victory for the Romans. On the column, Trajan is depicted
offering his clothes to be used as bandages. Over the winter, Trajan
reinforced his legions. He also sent the future emperor, Hadrian, back to
Rome carrying Trajan's chronicles of the campaign of which only one
sentence remains. The second year seems to have been even bloodier than
the first, but Rome's superior forces approached the capital. At this
point Decebalus, the king of Dacia, accepted surrender terms offered by
the Romans. The Dacians were required to disarm the Dacian fortresses
along the Danube, give up certain territories, and Roman garrisons were
stationed in Dacia. This was not a fortuitous assignment for a legionaire.
in 105 Trajan's declared that Decebalus was iin violation of the
disarmament clause of the treaty and an ultimatum was sent. In response
the Roman garrisons were destroyed and thus, Trajan Began the second
invasion of Dacia. In a response similar to Scipio's Invasion of Africa to
take the war to Carthage during the time of Hannibal, Decebalus attemped
an invasion of the Roman province of Moesia., This attack was repelled and
the Dacians gradually retreated to Sarmizegetusa. Once again the capital
was beseiged. This time the Romans were able to locate and destroy the
ceramic pipe system that fed water to the city. Decebalus and some of his
troops attempted to break out and reach the mountains, but Roman calvary
caught up with them and slew most of the remaining forces with many
commiting suicide. Decabalus also probably committed suicide. However, the
Romans did offer a different version of the death of Decebalus which may
be depicted on the first coin on this page. According to CNG catalogers,
the rider on the reverse may not be Trajan. Recent discoveries may
indicate that the Roman Explorator or scout Ti. Claudius Maximus actually
slew Decebelus and then brought his head and right hand back to Trajan -
not nearly as "romantic" as the original version. The reverse scene on
this coin may represent that event.
Dacia then became a Roman province. The Romanian language of
today is the closest of all languages to the original latin.
Sarmizegetusa's name was changed to Ulpia Trajana and it served as the
provinical capital until abandoned by the emperor Aurelian in AD 276.
Much of the information on this page was gathered from Julian Bennett's
biography of Trajan: Optimus Princeps, 2001, Indiana University Press.
For a view of Decebalus and the Dacian wars from the Romanian viewpoint,