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

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Dacians and Sarmatians: Reliefs on Trajan’s Trophy at Adamclisi, Romania (early second century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 29, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=7575.

Metope from Trajan’s Trophy depicting a Sarmatian or Dacian family riding in a wagon (metope 9):

Metope depicting a Roman soldier fighting a kneeling Dacian with another fallen Dacian behind (metope 20):

Photo by Cristian Chirita

Metope depicting a Roman soldier pursuing a Dacian archer in a forest with a dead Dacian below (metope 31):

Metope depicting a Sarmatian or Dacian prisoner of war:

Overview of Trajan’s Trophy as reconstructed by archaeologiests in 1978:

Comments: Like the so-called “Column of Trajan” at Rome (link), this monument known at Trajan’s Trophy or Tropaeum Traiani (at Adamclisi) was set up to advertise the emperor’s subjugation of the Dacian kingdom in what is now Romania, but in the conquered territory (the Roman province of Dacia was formed in 106 CE). Northern peoples are prominent in the series of at least fifty-two metopes. 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).

Various scenes depict clashes between Roman legionaries and fighters among these northern 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).

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