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Bill Thayer

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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.

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Stations from which the troops were collected

The forces which the Emperor Trajan collected for his first Dacian war, had been stationed, as I have said, partly amongst the legions and auxiliaries of his German army, partly on the Dacian frontier, and at the various fortified stations forming the military posts on the great roads from Germany through Pannonia, and along the Save, the southernmost tributary of the Danube, after the change in its direction from south to eastwards. Other forces came from Rome, such as the Praetorians. Most of the troops came from the north and north-west, and marched by the roads leading to and along the bank of the Save. That river is navigable as far as the confluence of the river Kulpa (the ancient Colapis), a distance of about 250 miles above its junction with the Danube. In the angle formed by the Kulpa and the Save was the fortress of Sistia, Segesta or Segestica (the modern Sisek), the great military arsenal of Pannonia Superior. The place was protected by the two rivers, and further by a canal dug along the ground intervening between the two rivers. It is possibly represented more than once in the sculpture, particularly in the compositions in which Trajan is shown collecting troops and stores for the war from various riverside dockyards and arsenals. Apollodorus had seen this fortress often in his journeys between Rome and the borders of the Danube, over which he was employed to construct one, if not two, noble bridges.

Communication was easy between Segestica and the Adriatic shores. Good roads ran round the head of the gulf and between Ariminum (Rimini),a Aquileia, and other military stations. Communication, too, was obtained still more easily for troops and material from Rome and the cities of Italy by Ancona, which Trajan formed into a military port, and where he subsequently built a triumphal arch. From Segestica the emperor was able to float down his various stores, arms and munitions of war, and horses and men were taken down to the Danube by the same route without doubt, during the first as well as during the second war (see the horse transports in No. XXIV). Segestica was also the station of the river squadron of light armed Liburnian galleys and biremes, vessels with two banks of oars, which were kept in permanent commission by the emperor, in order to keep the river clear of hostile boats, and available at all times as a highway along the northern frontier. To this  p66 day Sisek, the modern town, contains ruins of much interest, and is still the port at which cargoes of cornº grown in southern Hungary are discharged from the barges which bring them up the Save, vessels of from 100 to 250 tons burden. These cargoes are conveyed up the Kulpa in boats, some of them of three tons burden as far as Karlstadt,º and the same trade was probably active under the Roman rule.

It will be seen on reference to the lowest sculpture of the spiral, that the banks of the Save or Danube were carefully guarded and watched night and day, and that the stores accumulated on the shore banks were brought entirely by the river. These stores are being discharged from boats. The banks of the river Save are still covered with forest. In the modern navigation one of the chief difficulties lies in the number of fallen trees or snags which pierce or beat in the bottoms of ill-built vessels descending the stream. It is now navigated by steamers.

On account of these risks Trajan probably brought but few of his troops down this river, with the exception of detachments sent to protect the artillery and stores on their passage down the stream. The Save is nearly two miles wide at the point of junction with the Danube, and there all these stores and troops awaited the arrival of the emperor. He seems to have followed the roads leading from Germany, which take a course to some degree parallel to that of the Save, and touch on the stream of the Drave (Dravus) some distance above its junction with the Danube. It was along this route that his German legionaries, socii, and auxiliaries, drawn from the large force permanently established in Germany, would march: troops with which he was personally acquainted, both officers and men — men who were thoroughly attached to his person.

It is doubtful what numbers were collected for the invading army. Seven legions, comprising about six thousand men each, ten thousand Praetorians, a body of Batavian cavalry, and a mixed force of auxiliaries, some of whom were Germans, and are seen leading the attack in many battles as light troops and skirmishers, made up from sixty to perhaps eighty thousand men.75 It is probable that all these troops marched from the north, and had crossed the Save in small detachments by means of the large flotilla of vessels of transport, as well as of Liburnian galleys, which guarded the mouth of the river.

The Author's Note:

75 Merivale, LXIII.

Thayer's Note:

a Ariminum was an important transportation hub because, in turn, it was the southern end of the Via Aemilia up the Po valley, but also the northern end of the Via Flaminia, the fast road to Rome.

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Page updated: 31 Aug 20