Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
previous section
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!


[image ALT: link to next section]
next section

 p74  The first war

The Roman armies then united made themselves masters of the city of Zermizegethusa85 after fighting their way against frequent and occasionally desperate resistance along the roads above mentioned. Decebalus retired before them with a large army in the direction of the Mariscus. The Dacians seem to have fought in the manner of barbarous nations of all ages, mainly by ambuscades and surprises, and by defending the forests and passes through which the Roman armies had to move. They were at the same time far from ignorant of some of the principles of those arts of war, least easily mastered by half civilised tribes, namely the manufacture and use of artillery, and systems of fortifications very formidable and difficult to capture, such as are described in detail in a former section. They are represented in the bas-reliefs as showing great cruelty to their prisoners, whose heads are seen stuck on lances along their lines of fortification, and whose bodies are seen bound to posts and cartwheels, as in No. XXXIII, and tormented by the women, who apply firebrands to their bare flesh. On the other hand, the Roman soldiers cut off the heads of their opponents, bringing them in triumph to show their beloved emperor, so as to claim the reward of personal prowess; and in No. XVI, the earliest general action, a Roman legionary is seen holding a human head by the hair in his teeth while he continues fighting furiously. Generally Trajan strictly forbade plundering and insult on the part of his own soldiers, a fact known to Decebalus, who justly considered it as making the moral effect of the Roman advance only the more formidable.86

In the course of the march the Burri, a people settled on the banks of the Theiss, sent a message to Trajan, written in Latin, on a large fungus, which has been thought by some to be commemorated in the bas-relief, No. V, in which they advise the emperor to forego his design, but to which no answer was returned.

The emperor advanced, as will be seen in the bas-reliefs, making good his road, establishing entrenched camps as future fortified stations, and securing himself on one height after another. Many of these were already strong places in possession of the Dacians, and were attacked and carried  p75 sword in hand. Lucius Quietus gained great advantages on the parallel line of march.87 Meanwhile Decebalus sent messengers and envoys, first of inferior, then of superior feudal or military rank,88 to attempt some kind of delay or diversion. Sura and Claudius Livianus were sent by Trajan to confer with Decebalus, whose object was to satisfy the Roman army without being reduced to the destruction of his strongholds or the surrender of his capital. But nothing came of these negotiations. The ambassadors of the Dacian kings are known in the sculptures by their sheepskin cap, the token of their nobility.

Trajan at last brought the forces of Decebalus to bay at a place of which it is not easy to point out the site. It was beyond the Tibiscus and near Tapae, the field in which Julianus had repulsed the Dacians in the reign of Domitian.a Here Decebalus was defeated with great slaughter. Trajan suffered considerable losses, and as surgeons and bandages were wanting, he is said to have torn his paludamentum to strips, in order to supply this want to his wounded soldiers.89 This incident is commemorated on the bas-relief composition, No. XXVIII. Popular tradition still points to a place called Crossfeld, near Thorda, as the field of battle, which is called Prat Trajan (Trajan's field) to this day. Merivale considers this as too far in the interior of Dacia for the real field of battle, and warns his readers against trusting too much to the modern name.

The Dacians took refuge in various fortified ports, as will be seen in the bas-reliefs. To these they were followed by the Romans, whom Trajan pushed vigorously in advance, to make the utmost use of their advantage. All the strongholds were taken by escalade, or with use of the testudo. Most of them seem to have been built, in a great measure, of wood, protected by hides, and to have been fired by the Roman soldiers. Maximus, another of Trajan's generals, succeeded in capturing a fortified oppidum of the Dacians, and seized the sister of Decebalus. Finally Trajan became master of the last of the fortified places of Decebalus, of which the name has not been preserved. Here he found the treasure, the arms, and the engines of war made by the help, or after the teaching of Roman engineers. More valuable still was the eagle taken from the Roman  p76 general Fuscus, and of which the staff is seen carried from the beginning of the war in the bas-reliefs.90 In this stronghold were found also workmen and engineers of warlike machines (μηχανοποιοὺς), captured or seduced from the Romans; and one of the conditions imposed by the emperor was the delivery of these persons, as well as of Roman deserters, of whom there were probably many, who had been induced to come over to the Dacians as instructors in building and other mechanical arts. Decebalus was required to raze the walls of his strongholds, to retire from portions of country seized during his own reign, to hold the enemies of the empire as his own, and to agree not to allow any more desertions from the Roman frontiers. Zermizegethusa was deserted,91 and Ulpia Trajana, a colony named after the emperor, was founded on or close to the site of it. These conditions are represented in the final composition relating to the first war in the bas-reliefs. Decebalus kneels as a suppliant, and the notables of his court and country throw down their shields and weapons in token of unconditional surrender to the clemency of the emperor. Some of these personages are seen with hands bound behind them, either prisoner not yet released by the Romans, or persons reserved to grace the imperial triumph in Rome. There the Dacian deputies or prisoners appeared with clasped hands before the senate,92 Decebalus yielded formal possession to the conquerors of the places taken during the war, and peace was concluded.

Trajan entrusted the care of the conquered places and of the Roman peace to a garrison of legionaries whom he established at Ulpia Trajana, and before his departure for Rome he is seen on the column giving his final instructions to the officers, no longer in armour, but dressed in the toga of Roman citizens in time of peace.

The sculptures on the column wind up the subjects descriptive of this war with a stately composition representing Victory between two trophies of arms. It is fully described in its place, and it is worth notice that this graceful figure exactly represents the attitude and the action of the arms and hands of the statue of the Louvre in Paris, known as the Venus de Milo.

The Author's Notes:

85 "Zarmi-tzeket-kusamansion couvert de peaux." — Bergmann, Les Gètes, in Merivale.

Thayer's Note: So Pollen's note, taken from Merivale, q.v.; who, however, quotes Bergmann incorrectly (obscuring the component cognate with English house and introducing the French solecism) and with the wrong page number. Bergmann, p99, actually writes "Zarmi-tzeket-hûsa — manoir couvert de peaux." Merivale is not Gibbon.

86 Dion Cass. LXVIII.7.

87 Dion Cass. LXVII.8.

88 Πιλοφόρον, Dion Cass.

89 οὐδὲ τῆς ἑαυτοῦ ἐσθῆτος λέγεται φείσασθαι ἀλλ’ ἐς τὰ λαμπάδια αὐτην κατατεμεῖν. Dion Cass. LXVIII.8.

90 ὁπλα, μηχανήματα, αἰχμάλωτα, τό τε σημεῖον. Dion Cass. LXVIII.

91 Dion Cass. LXVIII.

92 Dion Cass. LXVIII.

Thayer's Note:

a Dio Cassius LXVII.10.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 10 Sep 20