The Dacian Wars: :

Information Adapted From the (Assorted Imperial Battle Descriptions). An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors and The Stoa Consortium (linked above) Other sources are cited in-text.    


Causes: The fall of the Roman Empire is very well publicized in our educational system--I can speak as an original source there, having experienced it. This is likely because it holds many lessons for we Americans, who have historically followed a similar track: for more information on the fall of the Roman Empire, click here. Still, it did not happen overnight. The Dacian Wars--more specifically, Trajan's Dacian Wars--could be read as a sign of Rome's internal systemic economic failure. To meet the demands of an enormously large, intricate, and frankly ill-oiled economic machine drove Roman Emperors to "pick on" nations which were most certainly not "their own size." Granted, Dacia (modern Romania) did pose a serious threat to the Danubian border--for the story of architect Apollodorus' temporary, yet impressive, mechanical conquest of the Danube, visit my page on Apollodorus via the link on my homepage.  

In Summary: The initial Roman foray into Dacian territory ended in failure, and the over-extended Roman forces could not keep the Dacians from swarming over the Danube into Roman territory. The Dacians pillaged the Roman province Moesia, but were halted at the Battle of Tapae and a truce was drawn up. This politically unfavorable outcome may have led to the assassination of one of Trajan's predecessors, Domitian.  It also led to the ascent of Dacian general Decebalus to the throne. Decebalus is depicted below in his kingly glory in up-close photograph of Trajan's Column . 


Decebalus' continued resistance to Rome, coupled with financial incentives, led Trajan to rekindle the open conflict with Dacia. This marks the "First" Dacian War, and it is during this episode that Trajan's infamous bridge was constructed--see the 'Apollodorus" section of the site for more information. In essence, two large legions of Roman soldiers forayed into the heart of Dacia--Decebalus, unable to stop the assault and fearing for the pressing winter, reopened negotiations with the Empire; resulting in a treaty with harsh terms for the King. Very like the treaty which closed World War I, these terms would prove so unsatisfactory they caused another conflict. (Scarre, Chris, The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome) Shown below are the Dacians in retreat, displaced from some of their territory by the terms and conditions of this initial treaty. Source:

                                                                                                              Displaced Dacians

The Empire was not so lenient the second time. The war was closer, yes; but ultimately the Empire cut the water pipes to the Dacian capital of  Sarmizegetuga Regia, and later sacked and burned the city to the ground. Decebalus fled, then, instead of facing capture; elected to commit suicide. (Scarre, Chris, The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome)  Below is an image of what is suspected to be Dacian nobles taking poison in a mass suicide. Source: (   The Roman sculptors evidently believe Decebalus cut his throat, as you will see further down this page. 

The End Result:  Could be most succinctly described as lots of slavery and death, plus new possibilities for Rome as far as future conquests are concerned. Tellingly, this depiction of children being sold into slavery appears just after Decebalus' death on the frieze. Both images are shown below. 


                                                                                                            Suicide of Decebalus

and Source: 

                                                                                                            Dacian child slaves

Naturally, Trajan features rather prominently on this column. He is shown here, functioning in his capacity as General, addressing his troops after their last major victory of the war. It is a triumphant occasion but Decebalus, at this point, still lives--he is likely spurring his troops toward the final, painfully one-sided assault. Trajan's role in this story--and indeed, his role with regards to this column--are explored in more depth on my page "Trajan on the Column."