Decebalus (r. 87–106 AD) was the last king of Dacia. He is famous for fighting three wars, with varying success, against the Roman Empire under two emperors. After raiding south across the Danube, he defeated a Roman invasion in the reign of Domitian, securing a period of independence during which Decebalus consolidated his rule.
When Trajan came to power, his armies invaded Dacia to weaken its threat to the Roman border territories of Moesia. Decebalus was defeated in 102 AD. He remained in power as a client king, but continued to assert his independence, leading to a final and overwhelming Roman invasion North of the Danube in 105 AD. Trajan reduced the Dacian capital Sarmizegetusa in 106 AD to ruins, absorbing some of Dacia into the Empire. Decebalus committed suicide to avoid capture.
|King of Dacia|
Decebalus, as depicted in Cartea omului matur (1919)
After the death of Great King Burebista, Dacia split into four, then five smaller kingdoms. Nothing is known about Decebalus' youth or background. Decebalus appears to have risen to prominence in the court of the Dacian king Duras, who claimed authority over all Dacian territory. An ancient Dacian pot bearing the words “Decebalus per Scorilo” led to the suggestion that this might mean "Decebalus son of Scorilo".
According to Lucian Boia this suggestion was originally a "scholarly joke", but the theory has been considered plausible by several writers. It has been suggested that "Scorilo" may be identical to the "Coryllus" or "Scorillus" identified by Jordanes as a Dacian king prior to Duras. Duras may have been Decebalus' uncle, having taken over the throne by agnatic right on his brother's death.
In 85 AD the Dacian army began minor raids upon the heavily fortified Roman province of Moesia, located south of the Danube. In 86 King Duras ordered a more vigorous attack south into Moesia. Roman sources refer to the attack being led by "Diurpaneus" (or "Dorpaneus"). Many authors have taken this person to be Duras himself, and refer to him as "Duras-Diurpaneus". Other scholars argue that Duras and Diurpaneus are different individuals, or that Diurpaneus is identical to Decebalus. Recent sources take the view that "Diurpaneus" is most likely Decebalus.
The Dacians defeated and killed Oppius Sabinus, the governor of Moesia, forcing Domitian to deploy more troops to the area. Marcus Cornelius Nigrinus replaced Sabinus. Domitian took command to deal with the problem himself, arriving with his general, prefect of the Praetorian Guards, Cornelius Fuscus.
Domitian pushed back the Dacians from Moesia, then returned to Rome to celebrate a Triumph, leaving Fuscus in charge of the army. Fuscus advanced into Dacia, but his four or five legions suffered a major defeat when ambushed by the forces of Decebalus (the sources say "Diurpaneus" was in command, which might mean Decebalus or Duras). Two Roman legions (among which was the V Alaudae) were ambushed and defeated at a mountain pass the Romans called Tapae (widely known as the Iron Gates along what is the modern Romania-Serbia border). Fuscus was killed, and Decebalus was crowned king after the ageing Duras abdicated.
Dio Cassius described Decebalus as follows:
Fuscus was replaced by Tettius Julianus. In 88 Julianus commanded another Roman army under Domitian against the Dacians, defeating them in a battle near Tapae. However, elsewhere in Europe, Domitian was having to deal with revolts along the Rhine, and suffered heavy defeats at the hands of the Marcomanni, and Sarmatian tribes in the east, notably the Iazyges. Needing the troops in Moesia, Domitian agreed to peace terms with Decebalus. He agreed to pay large sums (eight million sesterces) in annual tribute to the Dacians for maintaining peace. Decebalus sent his brother Diegis to Rome to accept a diadem from the Emperor, officially recognising Decebalus's royal status.
Decebalus' victory greatly increased his prestige. He proceeded to centralize power and build up his fortifications and war machines, using engineers supplied by Domitian. Decebalus's court also became a haven for malcontents and deserters from the Roman empire becoming "the nucleus for anti-Roman sentiment" in the words of historian Julian Bennett. He also sought to build alliances with independent tribes, notably the Getic Bastarnae and the Sarmatian Roxolani. He failed to secure the support of the Quadi, Marcomanni and Jazyges, but ensured that they would not interfere with his plans.
When Trajan came to power in 98, he immediately toured the Danube area and ordered the strengthening of fortifications along the Dacian frontier. Three years later, Trajan decided to launch an offensive against Dacia. According to Cassius Dio this was because "he had taken stock of [their] previous record, resented the annual sums of money they were getting, and saw that their powers and their pride were on the increase." Trajan's force crossed the Danube in 101 and advanced into Dacia, pushing back Dacian forces. According to Dio, Decebalus sent envoys asking for negotiations, but Trajan refused a personal meeting.
At the Second Battle of Tapae, Decebalus was defeated, but he inflicted serious losses on the Romans. Trajan chose not to pursue the war until the spring. Decebalus tried to wrongfoot Trajan by launching a surprise attack on Moesia, but he suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Adamclisi. Despite stiff resistance, the Romans closed on the Dacian capital by early 102. Decebalus was forced to concede defeat and accept Trajan's terms, which included the loss of some territories in the vicinity of the Danube and the dismantling of his fortresses. However, Decebalus retained his throne.
Decebalus had no intention of remaining subject to Rome, or giving up his lost territory. As soon as he was able to, he took revenge on those who had supported Rome. He annexed territory from the Jazyges and violated the peace treaty by re-arming and receiving refugees and deserters from Roman territory. He also restored his fortifications. This time, Decebalus did not wait for Trajan to strike. In 105 he authorised a direct attack on the newly occupied Roman territory, probably the fortress at Banat. The attack seems to have taken Trajan and the Senate by surprise. Trajan immediately travelled north to review fortifications.
Meanwhile, Decebalus continued to disrupt Roman positions with guerrilla attacks. He also developed a plan to assassinate Trajan by using Roman auxiliaries who had defected to the Dacians to infiltrate the emperor's camp. The plot failed. However he succeeded in capturing one of Trajan's senior officers, Pompeius Longinus, whom he tried to use as a hostage to bargain with Trajan. Longinus took poison to avoid being used.
Trajan, meanwhile, was building a large force for a full-scale invasion. Decebalus tried to negotiate a peace settlement, but Trajan demanded that Decebalus surrender himself, which he refused to do. Decebalus' allies among the surrounding tribes seem to have deserted him at this point. Trajan launched a direct attack on the Dacian capital, Sarmizegetusa. After a long siege of Sarmizegetusa and a few skirmishes in the nearby region, the Romans conquered the Dacian capital. Decebalus managed to escape with his family. He and his remaining supporters continued a guerrilla campaign in the Carpathian mountains.
Decebalus was hunted down and finally cornered by Roman detachments seeking his head. Rather than being captured only to be exhibited and humiliated at Rome, Decebalus committed suicide by slashing his own throat, as depicted on Trajan's Column (spiral 22, panel b).
It is likely that he killed himself as a Roman cavalry scout named Tiberius Claudius Maximus from Legio VII Claudia was approaching. He was probably still alive when Maximus reached him, as is claimed on Maximus' funerary stele discovered at Gramini in Greece. Maximus is presumably the figure seen on Trajan's column reaching out to Decebalus from his horse.
Decebalus' head and right hand were then taken to Trajan in "Ranisstorum" (an unidentified Dacian village, perhaps Piatra Craivii) by Maximus, who was decorated by the emperor. The trophy was sent to Rome where it was thrown on the Gemonian stairs. Tiberius Claudius Maximus' tomb cites two occasions where the legionary was decorated for his part in the Dacian wars, one of which being the acquisition of Decebalus' head.
Decebalus began to be seen in these terms during the 19th century, when he came to be associated with Romantic ideals of national freedom and resistance to imperialism. Romanian politician Mihail Kogălniceanu gave a speech in 1843 in which he called Decebalus "the greatest barbarian king of all time, more worthy to be on the throne of Rome than the rascally descendants of Augustus!"
Alecu Russo compared him to the medieval hero Stephen the Great, saying "The one and the other both had the same aim, the same sublime idea: the independence of their country! Both are heroes, but Stephen is a more local hero, a Moldavian hero, while Decebalus is the hero of the world." Mihai Eminescu, the Romanian national poet, wrote the historical drama Decebalus. George Coșbuc's 1896 poem Decebal către popor (Decebalus to his People) lauds the Dacian leader's scorn of death.
Decebalus is often paired with his enemy Trajan, with the former representing national identity and the latter the grandeur and classical values brought by Rome. Decebalus and Trajan were depicted as a pair on many Romanian banknotes.
Decebalus and Trajan were regularly invoked at the coronation of new rulers. Both featured significantly in the imagery of Ferdinand I of Romania and his wife Marie of Romania. The Romanian poet Aron Cotruş wrote a long poem "Maria Doamna" (“Lady Marie”) after Marie's death, invoking both Decebalus and Trajan as admirers of Marie.
He remained a hero in the Communist era, especially in the Stalinist "national Communism" of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. According to Lavinia Stan and Lucian Turcescu, "In a process paralleling the way modern Serbs perceive their defeat by the Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Kosovo of 1389, Decebal's defeat at the hands of Trajan in 101–107 CE and the resulting population mix were reclaimed as the cornerstones of Romanian ethnic identity." The nationalist model progressed further under Nicolae Ceaușescu, under whom Decebalus was listed as one of the ten great leaders of Romania.
He was depicted as a great national leader in two major epic films in this period, The Dacians (1967, directed by Sergiu Nicolaescu), and The Column (1968, directed by Mircea Drăgan). In both films he was portrayed by Amza Pellea. Several public statues of Decebalus were also set up in the Ceaușescu era, including an equestrian statue in Deva created in 1978 by the sculptor Ion Jalea, and a column topped by a bust in Drobeta-Turnu Severin, created in 1972.
He was central to the nationalist protochronism movement, which identifies Romania as the cradle of east-European civilisation. During the 1990s, a team of sculptors carved a 40-metre-tall rock sculpture of Decebalus from a stone outcrop overlooking the Danube near the city of Orşova, Romania. It was devised and funded by Iosif Constantin Drăgan, a supporter of the protochronism movement. He is quoted saying, "Anyone travelling towards 'Decebal Rex Dragan Fecit' [King Decebalus made by Dragan] is also travelling towards the origins of east-European civilization and will discover that a United Europe represents the natural course of history".
The Battle of Adamclisi was a major battle in the Dacian Wars, fought in the winter of 101 to 102 between the Roman Empire and the Dacians near Adamclisi, in modern Romania.Battle of Gatae
The Battle of Gatae was an engagement fought in roughly 103 AD during the Roman Emperor Trajan's war with the kingdom of Dacia.
There is no serious historical evidence giving an exact place or time to the battle, nor any troop positions, numerical statistics, casualties, or much of anything of that nature. It is not even fully understood if the battle was in of itself a major engagement or merely a small battle or even a large skirmish. Dio Cassius gives a minor mention of the battle, but it is a mere mention.
It is understood that this battle did, however, somehow break the back of the Dacian army and allow the Roman Legions to make serious tactical headway. However, Decebalus, king of Dacia, managed to secure a peace before the capital of Sarmizegetusa was captured.Battle of Sarmisegetusa
The Battle of Sarmizegetusa (also spelled Sarmizegethuza) was a siege of Sarmizegetusa, the capital of Dacia, fought in 106 between the army of the Roman Emperor Trajan, and the Dacians led by King Decebalus.Burebista
Burebista (Ancient Greek: Βυρεβίστας, Βοιρεβίστας) was a Thracian king of the Getae and Dacian tribes from 82/61 BC to 45/44 BC. He was the first king who successfully unified the tribes of the Dacian kingdom, which comprised the area located between the Danube, Tisza, and Dniester rivers and modern day Romania. In the 7th and 6th centuries BC it became home to the Thracian peoples, including the Getae and the Dacians. From the 4th century to the middle of the 2nd century BC the Dacian peoples were influenced by La Tène Celts who brought new technologies with them into Dacia. Sometime in the 2nd century BC the Dacians expelled the Celts from their lands. Dacians often warred with neighbouring tribes, but the relative isolation of the Dacian peoples in the Carpathian Mountains allowed them to survive and even to thrive. By the 1st century BC the Dacians had become the dominant tribe.
From 61 BC onwards Burebista pursued a series of conquests that expanded the Dacian kingdom. The tribes of the Boii and Taurisci were destroyed early in his campaigns, followed by the conquest of the Bastarnae and probably the Scordisci peoples. He led raids throughout Thrace, Macedonia, and Illyria. From 55 BC the Greek cities on the west coast of the Black Sea were conquered one after another. These campaigns inevitably culminated in conflict with Rome in 48 BC, at which point Burebista gave his support to Pompey. This in turn made him an enemy to Caesar, who decided to start a campaign against Dacia. This plan fell through in 44 BC when Caesar was assassinated. Burebista himself was assassinated in a plot by the Dacian aristocracy at around the same time.
After Burebista's death, the empire he had created broke up into smaller kingdoms. From the reign of Tiberius to Domitian, Dacian activity was reduced into a defensive state. The Romans abandoned plans of mounting an invasion against Dacia. In 86 AD the Dacian king, Decebalus, successfully re-united the Dacian kingdom under his control. Domitian attempted a hasty invasion against the Dacians that ended in disaster. A second invasion brought peace between Rome and Dacia for nearly a decade, until Trajan became emperor in 98 AD. Trajan also pursued two conquests of Dacia, the first, in 101–102 AD, concluded in a Roman victory. Decebalus was forced to agree to harsh terms of peace, but did not honour them, leading to a second invasion of Dacia in 106 AD that ended the independence of the Dacian kingdom.Dacia
In ancient geography, especially in Roman sources, Dacia ([ˈdaːkja]; English ) was the land inhabited by the Dacians. The Greeks referred to them as the Getae (east of Dacia) and the Romans called them Daci.
Dacia was bounded in the south approximately by the Danubius river (Danube), in Greek sources the Istros, or at its greatest extent, by the Haemus Mons. Moesia (Dobruja), a region south-east of the Danube, was a core area where the Getae lived and interacted with the Ancient Greeks. In the east it was bounded by the Pontus Euxinus (Black Sea) and the river Danastris (Dniester), in Greek sources the Tyras. But several Dacian settlements are recorded between the rivers Dniester and Hypanis (Southern Bug), and the Tisia (Tisza) to the west.
At times Dacia included areas between the Tisa and the Middle Danube. The Carpathian Mountains are located in the middle of Dacia. It thus corresponds to the present-day countries of Romania and Moldova, as well as smaller parts of Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine.
A Dacian Kingdom of variable size existed between 82 BC until the Roman conquest in AD 106. The capital of Dacia, Sarmizegetusa, located in modern Romania, was destroyed by the Romans, but its name was added to that of the new city (Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa) built by the latter to serve as the capital of the Roman province of Dacia.Dacicus
Dacicus was a gold coin issued from the Roman emperor Domitian (50–96), in honor of his claimed victory against the Dacians in the 1st century. The terms of peace with Decebalus, the Dacian king, were severely criticised by the contemporaneous authors, who considered this treaty shameful to the Romans, because the treaty granted Decebalus an annual subsidy of 8 million sesterces. For the remainder of Domitian's reign Dacia remained a relatively peaceful client kingdom, but Decebalus used the Roman money to fortify his defences, and continued to defy Rome until the reign of Trajan.
The term "Dacicus" was also a glory title taken by a few Roman emperors, meaning 'The conqueror of Dacia'. Trajan and Constantine I were awarded with this title.Dacii (film)
Dacii (The Dacians) is a 1967 historical drama film about the run up to Domitian's Dacian War, which was fought between the Roman empire and the Dacians in AD 87-88. The film mixes historical events with a fictional story about a Roman general who is the son of a Dacian spy.
The film was directed by Romanian director Sergiu Nicolaescu. It was released on 31 May 1967 in France. It was entered into the 5th Moscow International Film Festival. In Romania the film was immensely successful, and it remains one of the most watched films of all time in the country.Decebalus Treasure
The Decebalus Treasure is a legendary story written by Cassius Dio concerning events said to have happened in the Roman world during the 2nd century AD.Domitian's Dacian War
Domitian's Dacian War was a conflict between the Roman Empire and the Dacian Kingdom, which had invaded the province of Moesia. The war occurred during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian, in the years 86–88 AD. The Roman Empire lost.Duras (Dacian king)
Duras (ruled c.69-87), also known as Duras-Diurpaneus, was king of the Dacians between the years AD 69 and 87, during the time that Domitian ruled the Roman Empire. He was one of a series of rulers following the Great King Burebista. Duras' immediate successor was Decebalus.First Dacian War
The First Roman–Dacian War took place from 101 to 102 AD. The Kingdom of Dacia, under King Decebalus, had become a threat to the Roman Empire, and defeated several of Rome's armies during Domitian's reign (81-96). The Emperor Trajan was set on ridding this threat to Rome's power and in 101 set out determined to defeat Dacia. After a year of heavy fighting, King Decebalus came to terms and accepted an unfavorable peace. When he broke these terms in 105, the Second Dacian War began.Moesia
Moesia (; Latin: Moesia; Greek: Μοισία, Moisía) was an ancient region and later Roman province situated in the Balkans south of the Danube River. It included most of the territory of modern-day Central Serbia, Kosovo and the northern parts of the modern North Macedonia (Moesia Superior), Northern Bulgaria and Romanian Dobrudja (Moesia Inferior).Rock sculpture of Decebalus
The rock sculpture of Decebalus is a 42.9 m in height and 31.6 m in width carving in rock of the face of Decebalus, the last king of Dacia, who fought against the Roman emperors Domitian and Trajan to preserve the independence of his country, which corresponded to modern Romania. The sculpture was made between 1994 and 2004, on a rocky outcrop on the river Danube, at the Iron Gates, which form the border between Romania and Serbia. It is located near the city of Orșova in Romania.
It is the tallest rock relief in Europe.Scorilo
Scorilo (died c.70) was a king of Dacia who may have been the father of Decebalus. Evidence for his life and reign is fragmentary.Second Battle of Tapae
The Second Battle of Tapae (101) was the decisive battle of the first Dacian War, in which Roman Emperor Trajan defeated the Dacian King Decebalus's army. Other setbacks in the campaign delayed its completion until 102.Second Dacian War
The Second Roman–Dacian War was fought between 105 to 106 because the Dacian King, Decebalus, had broken his peace terms with the Roman Emperor Trajan from the First Dacian War.Sica
The sica was a short sword or large dagger of ancient Thracians, Dacians and Illyrians, used in Ancient Rome too, originating in the Halstatt culture. It was originally depicted as a curved sword (see the Zliten mosaic as well as numerous oil lamps) and many examples have been found in what are today Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania. It is also depicted on Trajan's Column; notably the Dacian king Decebalus is depicted committing suicide with one.Tiberius Claudius Maximus
Tiberius Claudius Maximus (died after AD 117) was a cavalryman in the Imperial Roman army who served in the Roman legions and Auxilia under the emperors Domitian and Trajan in the period AD 85-117. He is noted for presenting Trajan with the head of Dacian king Decebalus, who had committed suicide after being surrounded by Roman cavalry at the end of Dacian Wars (AD 106).Trajan's Dacian Wars
The Dacian Wars (101–102, 105–106) were two military campaigns fought between the Roman Empire and Dacia during Emperor Trajan's rule. The conflicts were triggered by the constant Dacian threat on the Danubian province of Moesia and also by the increasing need for resources of the economy of the Empire.
Trajan turned his attention to Dacia, an area north of Macedon and Greece and east of the Danube that had been on the Roman agenda since before the days of Caesar when the Dacians defeated a Roman army at the Battle of Histria. In AD 85, the Dacians swarmed over the Danube and pillaged Moesia and initially defeated the army that Emperor Domitian sent against them. The Romans were defeated in the Battle of Tapae in 88 and a truce was established.Emperor Trajan recommenced hostilities against Dacia and, following an uncertain number of battles, defeated the Dacian king Decebalus in the Second Battle of Tapae in 101. With Trajan's troops pressing towards the Dacian capital Sarmizegetusa Regia, Decebalus once more sought terms. Decebalus rebuilt his power over the following years and attacked Roman garrisons again in 105. In response Trajan again marched into Dacia, besieging the Dacian capital in the Siege of Sarmizegetusa, and razing it. With Dacia quelled, Trajan subsequently invaded the Parthian empire to the east, his conquests expanding the Roman Empire to its greatest extent. Rome's borders in the east were indirectly governed through a system of client states for some time, leading to less direct campaigning than in the west in this period.