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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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Perhaps few matters of Roman antiquity have been gone into with such prolixity as the form of the Roman encampment. There are materials for ample discussion on the subject, and the reader will see the subject carefully explained in the admirable article on this subject in Dr. Smith's dictionary of antiquities. The usual form was rectangular and the positions of the Praetorian quarters, of the infantry, of the cavalry, pioneers, reconnoiterers, &c., were a matter of strict regulation. Indeed the regulations of Rome on the subject as contrasted with numerous antique earthworks, known in various parts of Great Britain and the continent, have perplexed antiquaries time out of mind, and persons less pedantic and better instructed than Mr. Jonathan Oldbuck.34 In the sculptures on the Column no military operation is more frequently represented than the entrenched camps made by the Roman army. They are rarely square. Though the representations are never more than conventional or show more than a small structure, sufficient to convey the artist's meaning clearly, yet pains seem to be taken to show that they are round, semi-circular, or irregular in various ways, as often if not oftener than square or rectangular. Indeed though much of the advance must have been carried along the alluvial plains on either side of the Morava, the Tisia, the Theiss, and the Maros, the 'European Pampas' on which to this day flocks of countless sheep are pastured, yet the sculptures most interesting in the history of the war are represented on its uneven theatre, that is in the passes from the bridge of Trajan up to the Iron Gate, about the slopes and forests of the Rothenthurm and other mountainous regions, to which the Dacians retired before Trajan, for they never fought him in the open. It was, therefore, a matter of necessity to encamp on the best piece of ground that could be found.

It is noticeable that the fortified camps on the Column are represented as actual fortresses built of masonry. Into the structure of these military stations we shall enter presently. It is only necessary to call attention here to the fact that clearings made for camps in the forest or among the hills had in view the foundation of permanent stations, and the masonry, &c. shown in the sculptures, refer to the future in many instances, and could only have been  p34 founded or begun during the advance into Dacia. But in any case the sites of camps were such as would be useful for forts, having streams sometimes carefully shown, precipitous rocks and other defensive features on one or more of their sides. Vegetius expressly says that camps must be of any shape that convenience may dictate. Though that author is inexact in many particulars, he is only telling us here what certainly was, and had been for many years, the custom with Roman armies.

The Author's Note:

34 Antiquary, I.50.

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Page updated: 21 Jul 20