National Geographic : 2015 Apr
124 national geographic • april 2015 Meanwhile legionaries—the highly trained backbone of Rome’s war machine—occupy themselves with building forts and bridges, clearing roads, even harvesting crops. The column portrays them as a force of order and civilization, not destruction and conquest. You’d think they were invincible too, since there’s not a single dead Roman soldier on the column. The column emphasizes Rome’s vast empire. Trajan’s army includes African cavalrymen with dreadlocks, Iberians slinging stones, Levantine archers wearing pointy helmets, and bare- chested Germans in pants, which would have appeared exotic to toga-clad Romans. They’re all fighting the Dacians, suggesting that anyone, no matter how wild their hair or crazy their fashion sense, could become a Roman. (Trajan was born to Roman parents in what is now Spain.) Some scenes remain ambiguous and their interpretations controversial. Are the besieged Dacians reaching for a cup to commit suicide by drinking poison rather than face humiliation at the hands of the conquering Romans? Or are they just thirsty? Are the Dacian nobles gathered around Trajan in scene after scene surrendering or negotiating? And what about the shocking depiction of women torturing shirtless, bound captives with flaming torches? Italians see them as captive Ro- mans suffering at the hands of barbarian women. Ernest Oberländer-Târnoveanu, the head of the National History Museum of Romania, begs to differ: “They’re definitely Dacian prisoners being tortured by the angry widows of slain Roman soldiers.” Like much about the column, what you see tends to depend on what you think of the Romans and the Dacians. Among Roman politicians, “Dacian” was synonymous with double-dealing. The historian Dacians fashioned precious metals into jewelry, coins, and art, such as the goldtrimmed silver drinking vessel at left. These gold coins with Roman imagery and bracelets weighing up to two pounds each were looted from the ruins of Sarmizegetusa, the Dacian capital, and recovered in recent years. A Wealth of “Barbarian” Art NATIONAL HISTORY MUSEUM OF ROMANIA 6.7 INCHES HIGH, FOURTH CENTURY B.C. 0.7-0.83 IN, FIRST CENTURY B.C .