Sarmatians, Marcomannians, Quadians, and Iazygians: Reliefs on Marcus Aurelius’ column including women and children (176-193 CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Sarmatians, Marcomannians, Quadians, and Iazygians: Reliefs on Marcus Aurelius’ column including women and children (176-193 CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 18, 2023,

Scene 16: This is the so-called “rain miracle,” on which see Xiphilinos’ summary of Dio Cassius’ narrative (Roman History 71.8-10) regarding this incident of desperately thirsty Romans and rains supposedly brought by Magian and divine intervention on behalf of the Romans, resulting in defeat of Iazagians and Marcomannians (some pictured lying dead under the rain god):

Scene 20: Roman destruction of a village with attacked, dying, or fleeing Sarmatians, Quadians, Iazygians, or Marcomannians, including a child and a woman being taken captive by a Roman soldier (violently leading a woman by the head):

Scene 21 and 25: Bound captives brought before Marcus Aurelius in two different scenes, with detail of captive with beard, belted tunic, and pants in the first of the two scenes:

Scene 61: Decapitation of bearded captives or “rebels” pictured as executed by collaborators under the eye of Romans as native women observe sadly from the left (e.g. with one woman with head in hand, as on captive coins – link):

Scenes 97-98: Roman soldiers violently attacking (with a woman in the upper part of the right photo being stabbed, also detailed in a separate image) or leading away women and children as captives after a battle (pictured in Bartoli’s etching off to the left):

Scene 108: Final battle scene towards the top of the monument depicting dead or dying Sarmatians, Quadians, and Marcomannians:

Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s (1774-1779) detailed etching of all scenes from one side (click to enlarge):

Comments: These scenes from the column of Marcus Aurelius (either an honorary monument set up after his “triumph” in 176 CE or, less likely, a funerary monument set up after his death in 180 CE) depict – from a Roman imperial perspective – Sarmatians, Marcomannians, Quadians, and Iazygians (the latter three sometimes encompassed within the Roman concept of “Germans”) in connection with campaigns just beyond or at the Danube river (see Beckmann 2011 for scholarly context). This monument was heavily influenced by the Column of Trajan (dealing with Dacians just to the east of these other peoples – link), including duplication or imitation of some scenes in the lower registers (ones not included here, on which see Beckmann 2011).

Both men and women captives and defeated subjects are pictured here in Marcus Aurelius’ column. Beckmann also notes the heightened level of violence towards conquered peoples in this column compared to that of Trajan (which is plenty violent nonetheless). I have zeroed in on depictions of women and children to some degree, in part with guidance from the interesting article by Sheila Dillon (2006) on that subject. Women among subject peoples are not as often depicted or studied. Once again, northern men are consistently depicted with (what a Roman would consider) wild hair, a beard, belted tunic, and pants.

Works consulted: M. Beckmann, The Column of Marcus Aurelius (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011); S. Dillon, “Women on the Columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius and the Visual Language of Roman Victory,” in Representations of War in Ancient Rome, ed. S. Dillon and K.E. Welch (Cambridge, UK: CUP, 2006), 244–71 (link); P. Kovács, Marcus Aurelius’ Rain Miracle and the Marcomannic Wars (Leiden: Brill, 2009).

Source of images: Image of rain miracle by Roger Ulrich via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). All other photos from Eugen Petersen et al., Die Marcus-Säule auf Piazza Colonna in Rom, 3 vols. (Munich: Bruckmann, 1896) (link), public domain. Etchings by Bartoli from Pietro Santo Bartoli and Giovanni Pietro Bellori, Columna Antoniniana Marci Aurelii Antonini Augusti (Rome: Auctor, 1672).(link). Etching of entire column from Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Trofeo o sia magnifica colonna coclide di marmo composta di grossi macigni ove si veggono scopite le due guerre daciche fatte da Traiano (Rome: Publisher not stated, 1774-79) (link).

Leave a comment or correction

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *