The Dacian Wars
Dacia was a region north of the Danube river in southeastern Europe. Today, the area would reside within the country of Romania. During the 1st century A.D., the Dacians had many victories over the surrounding Thracian tribes, changing the political structure of the Danube region. Thracia, however, was a Roman client state, and this Dacian incursion posed a fundamental problem for the Romans, and thereby, the Dacians themselves. Between 101 and 106 A.D., the Roman emperor Trajan staged two military campaigns into the area.
The first campaign resulted in a Dacian surrender after the Romans captured several mountain fortresses and surrounded the Dacian capital Sarmizegethusa. The Dacian king Decebalus decided a surrender outweighed the horrors of a siege. The harsh peace conditions resulted in the renunciation of at least 5 regions of his kingdom and the relinquishing of all weapons and captured Roman troops (including deserters). But perhaps the worst part of the peace conditions was the installment of Roman garrisons throughout the remainder of Decebalus’ kingdom.
After 4 years of Roman occupation, the Dacians had had enough, and under Decebalus’ command, they attacked and overtook the Roman garrisons. In retaliation, emperor Trajan launched a new military campaign; this time there would be no surrender. In 106 A.D. 4 Roman legions (about 20,000 soldiers) crossed the Danube, and in March confronted and defeated the first Dacian forces. By that summer, the Romans reached the capital Sarmizegetuza and laid siege. They bombarded Sarmizegtuza with siege weapons, built a platform for breaching the fortress and encircled the city with a circumvallation wall. After destroying the capital’s water pipes, they allowed the remaining defenders to surrender before setting fire to the city. Veni, vidi, vici indeed. King Decebalus and many of his followers escaped during the siege, and headed east. Alas, they didn’t get far before Roman cavalry overtook them. Decebalus killed himself to avoid capture and his head and right arm were later presented to Trajan. Think of the unlucky soldier who had to carry that around with him!
Back in the ruins of the capital, one of Decabalus’ confidents betrayed his king and led the Romans to the Royal treasure, hidden in a riverbank. Incidentally, this treasure helped finance Trajan’s Forum; the last Imperial fora to be constructed in ancient Rome. The surviving Dacian population was deported to Rome, and that was the end of the Dacian empire and its people. Historians consider this victory as the last great conquest of the Roman Empire.
I imagined this diorama taking place right before the siege of Sarmizegetuza during that summer of 106 A.D. History has it that the Romans’ first assault on the capital was repelled by Dacian defenders outside the walls. Here we are, outside the walls with trees and rocks and things in the way. This would be the Dacian’s last (pyrrhic) victory against Roman aggressors. None survived on the field it seems. So, I think of this warrior as courageous but having a really bad day. At the battle’s onset, the Roman’s salvo ended with an arrow in his thigh, and now he is being charged by a Centurion-emboldened Legionnaire. The Dacian no longer feels the throbbing pain and tacky blood of his leg; everything is drowned out by the Centurion’s scream, and his own.
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