National Geographic : 2015 Apr
Trajan’s Column 125 Tacitus called them “a people which never can be trusted.” They were known for squeezing the equivalent of protection money out of the Ro- man Empire while sending warriors to raid its frontier towns. In 101 Trajan moved to punish the troublesome Dacians. After nearly two years of battle Decebalus, the Dacian king, negotiated a treaty with Trajan, then promptly broke it. Rome had been betrayed one time too many. During the second invasion Trajan didn’t mess around. Just look at the scenes that show the looting of Sarmizegetusa or villages in flames. “The campaigns were dreadful and violent,” says Roberto Meneghini, the Italian archae- ologist in charge of excavating Trajan’s Forum. “Look at the Romans fighting with cutoff heads in their mouths. War is war. The Roman legions were known to be quite violent and fierce.” Yet once the Dacians were vanquished, they became a favorite theme for Roman sculptors. Trajan’s Forum had dozens of statues of hand- some, bearded Dacian warriors, a proud marble army in the very heart of Rome. The message seems intended for Romans, not the surviving Dacians, most of whom had been sold as slaves. “No Dacians were able to come and see the column,” Meneghini says. “It was for Roman citizens, to show the power of the imperial machinery, capable of conquering such a noble and fierce people.” Trajan’s Column may be propaganda, but ar- chaeologists say there’s an element of truth to it. Excavations at Dacian sites, including Sarmi- zegetusa, continue to reveal traces of a civilization far more sophisticated than implied by “barbar- ian,” the dismissive term the Romans used. The Dacians had no written language, so what we know about their culture is filtered through Roman sources. Ample evidence suggests that 3.9 -4 .7 IN (DIAMETER), SECOND CENTURY B.C.– FIRST CENTURY A.D .