Trajan's Dacian Wars: Wikis


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Dacian Wars
Roman soldiers defending a fort against the attack of the Dacians.
(Detail from Trajan's Column)
Date 101- 102 and 105-106
Location Ancient Dacia
Result Decisive Roman victory
Dacia annexed by Roman Empire
Kingdom of Dacia Roman Empire
Decebalus Trajan
around 40,000 in the first war - 15,000 in the second war (based on population estimate) 150,000 in the first war - 200,000 in the second war
Casualties and losses
most of the Dacian soldiers killed;

tens of thousands of Dacian civilians sold into slavery


The Dacian Wars (101-102, 105-106) were two brief wars between the Roman Empire and Dacia during Emperor Trajan's rule. The conflict was a result of raiding across the Danube by Dacians in 86 AD into the south bank Danubian Roman Province of Moesia.

Trajan turned his attention to Dacia, an area north of Macedon and Greece and east of the Danube that had been on the Roman agenda since before the days of Caesar[1][2] when they had beaten a Roman army at the Battle of Histria.[3] In AD 85, the Dacians had swarmed over the Danube and pillaged Moesia[4][5] and initially defeated an army the Emperor Domitian sent against them,[6] but the Romans were victorious in the Battle of Tapae in AD 88 and a truce was drawn up.[6]

Emperor Trajan recommenced hostilities against Dacia and, following an uncertain number of battles,[7] defeated the Dacian general Decebalus in the Second Battle of Tapae in 101.[8] With Trajan's troops pressing towards the Dacian capital Sarmizegethusa, Decebalus once more sought terms.[9] Decebalus rebuilt his power over the following years and attacked Roman garrisons again in 105. In response Trajan again marched into Dacia,[10] besieging the Dacian capital in the Siege of Sarmisegetusa, and razing it to the ground.[11] With Dacia quelled, Trajan subsequently invaded the Parthian empire to the east, his conquests taking the Roman Empire to its greatest extent. Rome's borders in the east were indirectly governed through a system of client states for some time, leading to less direct campaigning than in the west in this period.[12]


Early clashes

Since the reign of Burebista, widely considered to be the greatest king of Dacia— He ruled between 82 BC and 44 BC —the Dacians represented a threat for the Roman Empire, Caesar himself had drawn up a plan to launch a campaign against Dacia. The threat was reduced when dynastic struggles in Dacia lead to a division into four separately governed tribal states after Burebista's death in 44 BC.

Then, after 130 years of relative peace along the Roman frontier, in the winter of 85 AD to 86 AD the army of King Duras attacked the Roman province of Moesia.

The Roman emperor Domitian himself lead legions into the ravaged province and re-organized the possession into Moesia Inferior and Moesia Superior, planning a future attack into Dacia the next campaign season. The next year, in 87 with the arrival of fresh legions, Domitian ordered a campaign against Dacia, the First Dacian War. The Roman general Cornelius Fuscus crossed the Danube into Dacia with 5 or 6 legions on a bridge across boats. The Roman army was ambushed and defeated at the First Battle of Tapae, by the Dacians led by Diurpaneus or Decebal (renamed Decebalus as a consequence; Dacian for "the Brave", which catapulted him to becoming the new king[13]). In 88, the Roman offensive continued, and the Roman army, this time under the command of Tettius Iulianus defeated the Dacians also at Tapae, which was a Dacian outlying fortress of Sarmizegetusa (Sarmizegetuza) near the current village of Bucova. After this battle, Decebalus now the king of the four reunited arms of the Dacians and the Emperor Domitian reached peace, mainly because the legions were needed along the Rhine.[14] Following the peace of 89 AD, Decebalus became a client of Rome, receiving money, craftsmen, and war machines from the Roman Empire, to defend the empire's borders. Some historians believe this to have been an unfavourable peace for Rome.

Causes of the first war

Throughout the 1st century, Roman policy largely dictated that threats from neighbouring nations and provinces were to be contained promptly, thus the peace treaty following the First Battles of Tapae an initial heavy defeat at the hands of the Dacian King Decebalus's skirmishing forces, followed by a costly victory on the same ground but a year later. Despite some co-operation on the diplomatic front with Domitian after an abortive invasion, Decebalus continued to oppose Rome. Thus, Dacia was considered one such threat. At the time, Rome was suffering from economic difficulties largely brought on by extensive military campaigns throughout Europe, in part due to a low gold content in Roman currency brought on by Emperor Nero. Confirmed rumors of Dacian gold and other valuable trade resources in part incited the conflict, as did the generally uncooperative behavior of the Dacian "Clients", as well, who for their part were defiantly "bowed and unbroken", and mostly complying with the absurd requests by the Roman Empire and its diplomatic and military factotums. As such, the new Emperor Trajan, himself an experienced soldier and tactician, began preparing for a war against Dacia.

The first war

After gaining support in the Roman Senate and its blessing for war, by 101 Trajan was ready to advance on Dacia. This was a war in which the Roman military's ingenuity and engineering were well demonstrated: a stone bridge later known as Trajan's bridge was constructed across the Danube to assist with the legionaries' advance. The Roman offensive was spearheaded by two legionary columns, marching straight to the heart of Dacia, burning towns and villages in the process. Trajan defeated a Dacian army at the Battle of Tapae, and in 102 Decebalus chose to surrender after some additional minor conflicts. The war, spanning only months, had concluded with a heroic Roman victory.The famous bridge at Drobeta was constructed in preparation for the second war. This bridge, probably the biggest at that time and centuries to come was designed by Apollodorus of Damascus and it was needed in order to reconquer Dacia since the "peace" was actually lost by the Roman Empire. Decebalus got technical and military reinforcement from Trajan in order to create a powerful allied zone against the dangerous possible expeditions from the northern and eastern territories by hostile migrating peoples. The resources were, however, used to make Dacian Kingdom a great independent power.

The second war

Following his subjugation, Decebalus complied with Rome for a time, but was soon inciting revolt among tribes against them and pillaging Roman colonies across the Danube. True to the intrepid and optimistic nature he had become renowned for, Trajan rallied his forces once more in AD 106 for a second war against the Kingdom of Dacia.

Dacian Water Pipe

Like the first conflict, the second war involved several skirmishes that proved costly to the Roman military, who, facing large numbers of allied tribes, struggled to attain a decisive victory, resulting in a second temporary peace. Eventually, goaded repeatedly by the behavior of Decebalus and his repeated violations of the treaty, Rome again brought in legions, took the offensive and prevailed resuming the conflict in 105. The next year they took all of Dacia beginning with an assault against the capital and fortress Sarmisegetusa from the beginning of the summer of 106 with the participation of the legions II ADIUTRIX and FLAVIA FELIX and a detachment (vexillatio) from Legio VI Ferrata.

The Dacians repelled the first attack, but the Romans destroyed the water pipes to the Dacian capital. The city was burned to the ground. Decebalus fled, but later committed suicide rather than face capture. Nevertheless, the war went on. Thanks to the treason of a confidant of the Dacian king, Bicilis, the Romans found Decebalus's treasure in the river of Sargesia/Sargetia - a fortune estimated by Jerome Carcopino at 165,500 kg of gold and 331,000 kg of silver. The last battle with the army of the Dacian king took place at Porolissum (Moigrad).

Conclusion and aftermath

Denarius issued by Trajan to celebrate the winning of the Dacian Wars.

Front. Text: IMP TRAIANO AVG GER DAC PM TR P COS V PP. Image: Laureate head right; the legend abbreviates as Imperator. Trajan. Augustus. Germanicus. Dacicus. Pontifex Maximus. Tribuniciae Potestate. Consul V. Pater Patriae.

Reverse. Text: SPQR OPTIMO PRINCIPI. Image: Dacian soldier wearing the Dacian peaked cap, seated on shield in mourning, with the curbed Dacian Falx (sabre) below. The reverse abbreviates Senatus Populus Que Romanus. Optimo Principi.

Trajan was notorious for the length of his inscriptions, which are the longest of the imperial series. Here, the titles actually form a continuum on both sides of the coin. It all translates as "Imperator, Trajan the Augustus, victor over the Germans and Dacians, chief priest, with the power of a tribune, consul for the fifth time, father of his country, the Senate and People of Rome: best of emperors.". - Reference: RIC II 219, BMC 175, RSC 529.

The Dacian Wars were a huge triumph for Rome and its armies. Trajan announced a total of 123 days of glorious celebrations throughout the Empire. Dacia's rich gold mines were secured, which provided a helpful source of finance for Rome's future campaigns and assisted the rapid expansion of Roman towns throughout Europe. The remains of the mining activities are still visible, especially at Roşia Montană. One hundred thousand male slaves were sent back to Rome; and in order to discourage future revolts Legio XIII Gemina and Legio V Macedonica were permanently posted in Dacia, the veterans of these legions were given land in Dacia and married Dacian women. This would lead to the birth of the Romanians. The conquered half (southern) of Dacia was annexed, becoming a province while the northern part remained free but never formed a state. The two wars were notable victories in Rome's extensive expansionist campaigns, gaining the people's admiration and support for Trajan. The conclusion of the Dacian Wars marked a period of sustained growth and relative peace in Rome. An extensive building project was begun, which in turn improved Rome's civic infrastructure as a whole. Trajan became a true and honorable civil Emperor, thereby paving the way for further internal expansion and reinforcement within the Roman Empire as a whole.

See also



Notes and citations

  1. ^ Goldsworthy, In the Name of Rome, p. 322
  2. ^ Matyszak, The Enemies of Rome, p. 213
  3. ^ Matyszak, The Enemies of Rome, p. 215
  4. ^ Matyszak, The Enemies of Rome, p. 216
  5. ^ Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, p. 53
  6. ^ a b Matyszak, The Enemies of Rome, p. 217
  7. ^ Matyszak, The Enemies of Rome, p. 219
  8. ^ Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, p. 54
  9. ^ Goldsworthy, In the Name of Rome, p. 329
  10. ^ Matyszak, The Enemies of Rome, p. 222
  11. ^ Matyszak, The Enemies of Rome, p. 223
  12. ^ Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, p. 39
  13. ^ "De Imperatoribus Romanis". "Battle of Sarmizegetusa (Sarmizegetuza), A.D. 105. During Trajan's reign one of the most important Roman successes was the victory over the Dacians. The first important confrontation between the Romans and the Dacians took place in the year 87 and was initiated by Domitian. The praetorian prefect Cornelius Fuscus led five or six legions across the Danube on a bridge of ships and advanced towards Banat (in Romania). The Romans were surprised by a Dacian attack at Tapae (near the village of Bucova, in Romania). Legion V Alaude was crushed and Cornelius Fuscus was killed. The victorious general was originally known as Diurpaneus (see Manea, p.109), but after this victory he was called Decebalus ("the brave one")."  
  14. ^ "De Imperatoribus Romanis". "In the year 88, the Romans resumed the offensive. The Roman troops were now led by the general Tettius Iulianus. The battle took place again at Tapae but this time the Romans defeated the Dacians. For fear of falling into a trap, Iulianus abandoned his plans of conquering Sarmizegetuza and, at the same time, Decebalus asked for peace. At first, Domitian refused this request , but after he was defeated in a war in Pannonia against the Marcomanni (a Germanic tribe), the emperor was obliged to accept the peace."  


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