Rubbing it in: Those poor Dacians

The Roman Propaganda machine was in high gear after both of the Dacian Wars conducted by Trajan. The personification of Dacia, a soldier, or just a representative Dacian appears in various poses of abject defeat or mourning on the coins of Trajan above and below. From being speared to being bound, to being stepped on (by Peace nonetheless), to kneeling before Rome, the Dacians are depicted as a thoroughly subjugated people. After all, it was almost a hundred years since the empire had ceased expansion, so maybe the Romans went a little overboard in their celebrations.
The first Roman incursion into Dacia occurred in AD 101. Trajan used Dacian raids into Roman territory as the pretext for invasion, but he had been planning the attacks since AD 99 (How many times has this tactic been repeated in history? Some things do not change.) This was a radical change from the Roman practice of appeasement which had been ongoing since the time of Augustus. Domitian actually set up payments to the Dacian ruler Decebalus to purchase his non-aggression. In spite of this agreement Decebalus sanctioned raids into Roman territory and in one raid the governor of Moesia was slain. Trajan struck hard and deep into the Dacian territory (modern day Romania and Hungary) in Blitzkreig fashion. Dacia was a mountainous region bordered by the Danube (the personification of the river is depicted on the last coin below), and Trajan needed the best engineers to navigate this topography. One of the best, Apollodorus of Damascus constructed a road through the Iron Gates which included a long bridge across the Danube (The Sestertius on the Far right may represent this as Danube evidently turns against Dacia and knees him in the groin - now that is really rubbing it in!) with 60 stone piers (traces of the bridge can still be seen). The Dacians also accomplished great feats of engineering. It is said that the great Dacian treasury was kept under a river. The water had been diverted for construction and then allowed to flow again.
The march of the Roman army would have awed an onlooker. Marching 6 abreat it would take 6 hours for the column to pass. And, while the army covered about 15 miles a day straight to its target, nothing was done impetuously or without planning. The Romans had learned from defeats at the hands of the Germans and Dacians that their foes were formidable and nothing could be left to chance.Of note in the second to last coin in the group above is the curved sword laying in the foreground. This is the infamous Dacian Falx which was respected and feared by the Roman Soldiery. In a strong hand it was quite capable of severing a limb with one blow. To counter this weapon, the Roman legionaires were issued special greaves and additional padding for their helmets.
Much can be learned about the Dacian Wars by studying the beautiful reliefs on Trajan's Column which was erected in 106 as a memorial and a history of the first Dacian war. Rome must have built a coalition prior to the invasion as Moors and even their traditional enemies, the Parthians, are depicted fighting with the Romans.
The Dacians were not the barbarians we typically think of. They had a settled and prosperous civilizations with many cities and fortresses built on a model copied from the Greeks. Their country was rich in minerals including iron, gold and silver (which might have contributed to the invasion and help explain the allies the Romans were able to recruit). Some believe the Dacians originated in north west Asia Minor and migrated north. to a broad and fertile plain with many natural defenses including the Carpathian Mts. and the Danube. Others believe they were part of the indo-european migration that occurred around 1,800 BC originating from the steppes north of the Black Sea. By the time of Herodotus around 500 BC, they were considered Thracian (Getae) and Herodotus lists them as the most populous people of the world next to the Indians.
The first invasion was a bloody affair but the Romans moved relentlessly towards the Thracian capital of Sarmizegetusa. A massive battle was fought at the close of the first year's campaign. It was a costly victory for the Romans. On the column, Trajan is depicted offering his clothes to be used as bandages. Over the winter, Trajan reinforced his legions. He also sent the future emperor, Hadrian, back to Rome carrying Trajan's chronicles of the campaign of which only one sentence remains. The second year seems to have been even bloodier than the first, but Rome's superior forces approached the capital. At this point Decebalus, the king of Dacia, accepted surrender terms offered by the Romans. The Dacians were required to disarm the Dacian fortresses along the Danube, give up certain territories, and Roman garrisons were stationed in Dacia. This was not a fortuitous assignment for a legionaire. in 105 Trajan's declared that Decebalus was iin violation of the disarmament clause of the treaty and an ultimatum was sent. In response the Roman garrisons were destroyed and thus, Trajan Began the second invasion of Dacia. In a response similar to Scipio's Invasion of Africa to take the war to Carthage during the time of Hannibal, Decebalus attemped an invasion of the Roman province of Moesia., This attack was repelled and the Dacians gradually retreated to Sarmizegetusa. Once again the capital was beseiged. This time the Romans were able to locate and destroy the ceramic pipe system that fed water to the city. Decebalus and some of his troops attempted to break out and reach the mountains, but Roman calvary caught up with them and slew most of the remaining forces with many commiting suicide. Decabalus also probably committed suicide. However, the Romans did offer a different version of the death of Decebalus which may be depicted on the first coin on this page. According to CNG catalogers, the rider on the reverse may not be Trajan. Recent discoveries may indicate that the Roman Explorator or scout Ti. Claudius Maximus actually slew Decebelus and then brought his head and right hand back to Trajan - not nearly as "romantic" as the original version. The reverse scene on this coin may represent that event.
Dacia then became a Roman province. The Romanian language of today is the closest of all languages to the original latin. Sarmizegetusa's name was changed to Ulpia Trajana and it served as the provinical capital until abandoned by the emperor Aurelian in AD 276.

Much of the information on this page was gathered from Julian Bennett's biography of Trajan: Optimus Princeps, 2001, Indiana University Press.
For a view of Decebalus and the Dacian wars from the Romanian viewpoint, click here.