May 26, 2015, by Will Leveritt
On this day in AD107 Trajan celebrated his second triumph over the Dacians
Text by Mike Welbourn
Image © Mint Imperials
A tribe of Thracian origin, the Dacians had established a stable kingdom in the region of modern-day Romania in 82 BC. By the reign of the emperor Domitian, they had become something of a threat along Rome’s Danubian border, and had inflicted a number of defeats on Domitian’s armies.
Indeed, Domitian had been forced to sign a humiliating treaty with the Dacian’s king Decebalus, which stipulated an annual payment to the Dacians of 8 million sestercii. Moreover, Domitian had been forced to acknowledge Decebalus status by personally presenting him with a diadem.
The setbacks and humiliation of this situation were enough to convince Trajan that the Dacians needed to be neutralized, and in 101, three years after he ascended the imperial throne, he mounted and personally led a campaign against them.
The war was swift, ending in 102 and successful for the Romans. Decebalus himself met Trajan and agreed to all the peace terms put to him – to give up his arms, to demolish his forts, to give up the territory he had taken, and to treat Rome’s allies and enemies as his own. The king also made a public display of obedience to Trajan, falling to the ground before him and symbolically giving up his weapons.
At this point, Trajan could be forgiven for believing the Dacian problem was now resolved, and in 102 he celebrated his first Dacian triumph. However, Cassius Dio states that Decebalus agreed to a peace only in order to gain a respite before launching another assault against the Romans.
Word reached the emperor that Decebalus was reneging on the terms of the peace treaty – rebuilding his armies, forming regional alliances with other peoples, repairing his forts, and gathering arms. Thus in 105, Trajan once again took personal control of a war with Dacia.
Although the Dacians struggled to best the Romans in open combat (leading Decebalus to turn to subterfuge, such as an assassination attempt against Trajan using a group of Roman deserters), the war was not altogether easy for the Romans.
However, in 106 Trajan besieged the Dacian capital Sarmisegetusa. The water pipes into the city were cut off and the defenders surrendered. The city was then razed to the ground. Decebalus, defeated, took his own life and Dacia was turned into a province. Thus for the first time the empire acquired territory beyond the Danube.
Trajan returned to the city of Rome, and on 26 May 107 celebrated a magnificent second triumph over the Dacians. The celebrations for his victory are said to have lasted 123 days. The emperor was also awarded the honorific title Dacicus Maximus (‘greatest victor over the Dacians’).
Dacia was a wealthy province, with a number of gold and silver mines, and with the enormous sums of money now swelling the Roman coffers, Trajan built the famous Forum of Trajan in the heart of Rome.
In addition, he commemorated his military success against the troublesome Dacians by erecting a large pillar, with a frieze depicting the war spiralling up its length. This is known as Trajan’s Column and when the emperor died in 117 his ashes were placed inside it.