Dacians: Reliefs on “Trajan’s Column” at Rome celebrating subjugation (early second century CE)

Photo by Steven ZuckerPhoto by Steven Zucker

Photo by Steven ZuckerPhoto by Steven Zucker

Photo by Harland

Information and descriptions: These are scenes from Trajan’s column in Rome (built ca. 106–113 CE) dealing with the subjugation of the Dacian kingdom (in what is now Transylvania, Romania): bearded Dacians attack a Roman fort in the first Dacian war, with an additional detail of the Dacians (scene 32); the Dacian king Decebalus kills himself with a knife to the throat at the last moment as Roman soldiers attack during the second Dacian war (scene 145); the final battle between Roman soldiers on the left and bearded Dacians on the right (scene 151); and, an overview of the column.

Emperor Trajan (reigned 98-117 CE) engaged in the first Dacian war from ca. 101-102 CE and the second from ca. 105-106 CE. Previously emperor Domitian had responded to Dacian incursions into the Roman province of Moesia (ca. 86-88 CE). The defeated Dacian kingdom was located in what is now modern Romania and was particularly centered in Transylvania. The Roman province of Dacia was formed in 106 CE.

For further information and detailed photos scene-by-scene, go to the excellent website of Professor Roger B. Ulrich at this link.

Comments: As a monument celebrating Trajan’s Roman military superiority and expansionism at the expense of the “barbarian”, the reliefs on this monument detail the various ways in which Roman triumph and Dacian (or other “barbarian”) defeat were – in imperial propoganda – considered inevitable (despite formidable, “spirited” opponents). The Dacians had been a very significant power to the north (in the area of the Istros / Danube, just west of the Black Sea) whose subjugation had been on the top of the list at least since Domitian’s reign in the 90s CE. So Trajan’s parading of supposed success is not unexpected. Dacians and other barbarians are stereotyped consistently as a contrast to the clearly recognizable Roman soldiers with their helmets and oval shields. Primarily this consists in portraying Dacians as fierce, wild-haired and bearded figures usually dressed in long tunics (and using bows and arrows) whose military disorganization contrasts to the supposedly organized imperial regime. The ethnographic assumption of northerners high “spirit” and courage (due to their cold environment) is further underlined by the portrayal of the Dacian king Decebalus (by the tree) courageously committing suicide rather than accepting Roman domination.

Source: Photos by Prof. Steven Zucker (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; cropped for closeups by Harland), except the final photo of the overall column by Harland.

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