The Dacian Wars Beyond Trajan's Column

Jinyu Liu (DePauw University)

This paper investigates the regional versions of Trajan’s Dacian wars to the extent that documentary sources allow. Although these campaigns were undoubtedly among the greatest political and military endeavors in the first three centuries C.E., our knowledge about them is rather limited. Deprived of relevant literary works (Trajan’s Commentarii, Criton’s Getica, Appian’s Dakike, Dio Chrysostom’s Getika, Arrian’s Parthika), we rely heavily on Dio Cassius’ Roman History Book 68. Due to this general lack of literary sources, the scholarly discussion of these wars has been largely shaped by the imperial ideology expressed mainly through coins and monuments, especially the visual narrative on Trajan’s Column. But how was this imperial propaganda received in the provinces? How did the veterans and the immigrants to Dacia tell the stories of the Dacian Wars? These difficult questions are important for our understanding of various subjects ranging from the impact of the Roman empire on the provinces to our present conceptualization of the Roman achievement. Provincial materials, especially inscriptions, reveal views of the Dacian campaigns that diverge from the ‘official’ interpretation emanating from Rome. This paper examines such inscriptional and other documentary evidence from the provinces. Following Christer Bruun’s discussion of the ‘legend’ of Decebalus as an example of the provincial/peripheral visions of Roman conquest [in L. de Ligt (ed.) 2004], I demonstrate that, in the provinces, the Dacian wars were not perceived as an easy and comfortable victory as Trajan’s Column would have us believe.

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