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Bill Thayer

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Scene 88
This webpage reproduces a section of
A Description of the Trajan Column
by John Hungerford Pollen

printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode,
printers to Queen Victoria
London, 1874

Text and engravings are in the public domain.
Any color photographs are © William P. Thayer 1997-


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Scene 90

Scenes of the spiral band running up the shaft

 p167  LXXXIX. Siege and storm of the Dacian fort

The emperor and his immediate personal staff are standing on the low ground under the rock on which the fort is built. He has with him the main body of his army. He holds his sword sheathed in the hollow of his left arm, and receives from an officer an account of the failure of this first assault. He appears to be considering and discussing the best means for taking the place. On the height are a number of warlike engines that have been employed or are brought up in order to be employed in the capture of the fort. They are triangular frames consisting of three beams forming a triangle, the beams meet in a point and are fitted on the axle of a large wheel of solid timber. At the other end the three beams fit into the axle of a pair of wheels. A beam continued beyond the single wheel passes through a barrel or barrel-shaped mass and is prolonged beyond.  p168 In the beam that forms the long axle are fitted handles for turning or straining ropes, and by the purchase obtained from this beam it seems the intention to raise the barrel, or cylinder in which sharpshooters can be raised above the breast of the wall, or combustibles can be thrown into the interior of the fort. The ends of the long axles that are nearest the wall are furnished with sickled-shaped iron tools, intended as boring implements to be worked by turning the axle by means of the handles described.

No covering of any kind is given to the machinery of these engines or to the workmen employed in them, as will be seen by the annexed woodcut. On the other hand it is more than probable that the sculptor shows us the skeletons and more solid parts only, the protecting work having been destroyed and the engines themselves, as indeed appears to be the case, abandoned. The height of the rock and careful construction of the works on this side make this a probable solution.

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Fig. 45

The first assault and such siege operations as have been conducted against these formidable works failed or had only a partial success. Trajan seems to have determined on a fresh attack on the furthest and weakest angle of the fortress, which is protected by the towers of squared masonry already described. The gate of this work seems to have been forced. Judging from the care displayed in protecting other gates, this may be presumed to be a postern, or the position so difficult of access that less care has been taken in defending it. The whole angle at which this tower is built is invested on both sides by the forces of Trajan. The archers in mailed frocks and long skirts already described have climbed the rocks, and are pouring heavy discharges of arrows. The Roman soldiers advance covering their bodies carefully with their large shields, from behind which the deadly thrusts of their swords are aimed. They are supported by their comrades  p169 who strike over the heads of their friends with their long spears or hurl the pilum into the faces of the enemy. The Dacians fight from the walls. Some, bold from the previous failures of the Romans, rush from their stronghold in a vigorous sally, and with weapons and huge building stones try by main force to drive the Romans down the precipice. Meanwhile these latter have either found the postern in the round tower or followed the beaten party through it and are masters of this outwork. They send pioneers and others to the front. With ligones, axes, any weapon that comes to hand, they tear down the walls, and make breaches for their men, who protect them with shields and weapons during this work of destruction.

Within the place the enemy is utterly discouraged by this successful storm. The breaches in the towers make this angle and the entire place untenable. This, if not the capital of Decebalus, is his largest and strongest fort, and from this period of the war the resistance of the Dacians becomes hopeless. A number of Dacians look on apparently in despair.

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Page updated: 27 Nov 01