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Bill Thayer

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Scene 15
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.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Scene 17

Scenes of the spiral band running up the shaft

 p121  XVI. First battle

In the first encounter with the enemy the attack appears to be made by the Dacians. It is sustained with great  p122 vigour. They employ infantry only. Two men lie dead in advance, and a third is fighting hand to hand with a Roman horseman. There are other Dacians behind engaged with the light-armed Roman infantry. The Dacians are seen, cutting caesim,a with their swords, which are straight and short, though longer than those of the Romans. Their shields are oval, flat, ornamented with two stars or flowers and a central boss. They are draped in linen drawers and tunics, wear shoes, and fringed cloaks, saga, which are pinned with brooches over each shoulder, the cloak passing under one arm and leaving both arms free. They have no covering of any kind for the head, which is well clothed with thick curling hair. A wounded Dacian, half lying, is about to be despatched by a man nude, all but a cincture round the loins. He belongs to a body of German auxiliaries, who, according to Tacitus, fought so attired.

A Roman soldier beyond these combatants is fighting with a human head held by the hair between his teeth. The head is to be shown as a trophy, and to entitle the bearer to special allowances of corn.º The Roman soldiers gain ground in the back of the composition. The Dacians have a number of archers in that part of the battle. Their bows are short, but of great thickness, curved like the classic bow. They carry their arrows in a round case or quiver that hangs over the left shoulder. The distinct character of the heads on the two sides is well preserved. In the rear of the Dacian army are seen wounded and dead men. A young man, badly hurt, is carried tenderly by two older men; another lies in the foreground, his left hand still supported on his shield, which he tries to retain to the last; a third is in the act of falling to the ground.

They have two standards, one a labarum or draco, such as was used by the Roman cohorts, perhaps a trophy taken by the Dacians, and the other a Dacian dragon. The head is towards the Romans, indicating that it is still in the possession of the enemy.

A body of Dacians is still in reserve or not yet engaged. In the rear of the Romans, Trajan and his lieutenants are watching and directing the battle. The Romans, besides the infantry described, employ cavalry. Three horsemen are shown by the artist charging sword in hand. Two infantry soldiers hold up heads in their hands to attract the notice of the emperor.

 p123  There is another round fortified camp to which Trajan has his back, and from the eminence on which it is constructed he is able to command the field of battle.

On the Roman side Jupiter is represented looking on and taking part in the battle. A venerable bearded figure is seen to the waist encompassed by clouds above, and by a stream of water, represented by wavy lines below. He looks indignantly to the Dacians, and the right arm is stretched in the act of hurling his thunderbolts at the enemy. In the Antonine column a similar composition represents Jupiter Pluvius overwhelming the enemies of the empire with rain and snow. In the present instance, the deity may be supposed to commemorate a thunderstorm occurring during the action. The Dacians wear shoes. Their swords are sometimes straight, a little longer than those of the Roman legionaries, and look as though many had been spoils of the wars under Domitian, and were of Roman make. Their shields are oval, and differ from the oval shields of the Romans in having other ornaments upon them. One Dacian leader wears what looks like a woollen cap fitting the head, but high and loose enough to ruck up into creases when drawn on to the head; another, a handkerchief bound round his head; otherwise their heads are unprotected. They have close and thick hair. The battle is fought on forest ground, and a log or portion of tree trunk is left on the ground in front of the Roman cavalry apparently as an impediment to their movements.

Thayer's Note:

a With the blade, as opposed to punctim, stabbing with the point.

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Page updated: 4 Aug 20