Dacians and Sarmatians: Reliefs on “Trajan’s Trophy” at Adamclisi, Romania (early second century CE)

Photo by Cristian Chirita

Information and descriptions: These are from a larger series of fifty-two surviving metopes set up in Dacia (modern Adamclisi in Romania) as part of the so-called “Tropaeum Traiani” or “Trajanic Trophy” in connection with the subjugation of the Dacian kingdom (whose capital was Sarmizegetusa Regia, now in modern Transylvania, Romania). The dedicatory inscription to Mars Ultor identifies Trajan as the focus and the fragmentary closing may or may not refer to victory over Dacians and Sarmatians ([victo exerc]itu D[acorum] | [? – – – – et Sarmata]rum). The metopes provided here depict: a Sarmatian or Dacian family riding in a wagon (metope 9); a Roman soldier fighting a kneeling Dacian with another fallen Dacian behind (metope 20); a Roman soldier pursuing a Dacian archer in a forest with a dead Dacian below (metope 31); and, a Sarmatian or Dacian prisoner of war. The final photo is of the 1978 archeological reconstruction of the entire monument.

The Roman province of Dacia was formed, following the wars, in 106 CE.

Comments: Like the so-called “Column of Trajan” in Rome, this monument was set up to advertise the emperor’s subjugation of the Dacian kingdom (which would have involved a variety of peoples), but in the conquered territory. Northern peoples are prominent in many of the pieces. Various scenes depict clashes between Roman legionaries and fighters among northern peoples, particularly Dacians but perhaps also Sarmatians or other peoples. The depiction of the defeated peoples in the metopes follows a similar pattern to the depiction of northern peoples elsewhere, who are often pictured with thick hair and significant beards. Also somewhat common options for depicting clothing of northerners are the baggy trousers (of the kneeling combatant) and cloak (of the prisoner). The main thing is they need to look different from Romans.

Particularly noteworthy is the everyday depiction of a northern family in a wagon, which signals the nomadic lifestyle of some northerners, including the Sarmatians (sometimes enveloped within the etic category of “Scythians”) who may be in mind in this case.

Source: Photos by Cristian Chirita, except the final photo of the reconstruction by Bogdan Croitoru (all licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0).

Leave a comment or correction

Your email address will not be published.