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Dacians as Soldiers and Roman Citizens of the Empire.



Dacian cavalry holding a Draco on a Roman funeral stelae from Chester , England

 One exaction imposed by Rome on many conquered peoples was to contribute manpower to the Roman army in the form of auxiliary units. The names of units were taken from their tribes or provinces, revealing the patterns of recruitment.

After the Dacian Wars, Dacians were recruited into the Roman Army, and were employed in the construction and guarding of Hadrian's Wall in Britannia, or elsewhere in the Roman Empire.

Several Cohors Primae Dacorum ("First cohort of Dacians") and Alae Dacorum fighting in the ranks of the Legion were stationed at Deva (Chester), Vindolanda (on the Stanegate) and Camboglanna (Birdoswald Fort or Castlesteads), in Britannia.  

Dacian men were conscripted into auxiliary units and sent to Britannia or to the east.Cohorts Primae Dacorum such as II Ulpia Dacorum and Aurelia Dacorum, were stationed in Pannonia.

Others served in Britannia: Alea Dacorum could be found at Deva (Chesters, UK) and Camboglanna, while cohort I Aelia Dacorum miliaria was based at Birdoswald. The largest number of relics we have came from this cohors; one inscription portrays the sica, a unique Dacian weapon.

The cohort I Ulpia Dacorum marched to Syria, and Vexillation Dacorum Parthica took part in Septimius Severus’s Parthus campaign. Some of the soldiers serving outside Dacia indicated their nation Dacus; they could have been originally Dacians, but also completely Romanized, or simply coming from the province of Dacia. Cohors II Dacorum, attested in a diploma dated in 125/ 126, positioned separately of the tropes mentioned as stationing in Moesia Superior. 

 Tables of Contents, Cuprins:

 Roman Military Diplomas of Dacian Soldiers

 Dacians - Auxiliary Units in Britannia

 The Dacian Draco in the Roman Army

The Dacian Dragon Standard in England 

 Getian Soldiers in Capadocia

Military Settling of Dacia Felix

Roman Military Diplomas of Dacian Soldiers

 Roman Military Diploma are in some way the "greencards" of Roman times (green also being the dominating color of their bronze patina).

Only that today you win citizenship in the lottery, while back then you had to serve for minimum 25 years (army) or 26 years (fleet) or longer in the auxiliary military forces (infantry = cohors,  infantry mixed with light cavalry =cohors equitata, heavy cavalry = ala, fleet = classis, or pretorian cohors).

In contrast "legionaries" had to be Roman citizens at entry into the service. Issued on the authority of the emperor to soldiers as a reward for time in service or valour in combat, they confared the recipient certain privileges, which for an auxiliary soldier included the grant of Roman citizenship for himself and his children, and, upon discharge, the right to marry a non-Roman woman.

This distinction lost its importance when Caracalla granted Roman citizenship in the early third century to all living in the Roman empire (except to the slaves of course).

Such diploma (only some 700 are published to date) are found all over the Roman empire, but clustered in the Balkans for unkown reasons. One usually finds only small fragments, rarely both tabulae complete. Most frontier provinces are named on diploma, most common being Moesia Inferior, also Pannonia Inferior.




  MS 2052 from the Schoyen Collection


MS in Latin on bronze, Roma, 23 March 178, 2 tabellas (complete), 14,2x11,2 cm, single column, 31+7+22+9 lines in Latin capitals, 2 holes through each tablet for the original wire that still binds the two tablets together, originally secured with the seals of the 7 witnesses. Binding: Barking, Essex, 1995, blue cloth gilt folding case, by Aquarius. Context: There are 3 praetorian diplomas (MSS 1801, 1870, 2051/7) in The Schøyen Collection, further 11 auxiliary diplomas (MSS 1836, 1899, 2051/1-6, 2051/8, 2052, 2086), and 3 fleet diplomas (MSS 698, 1921, 2032). Provenance: 1. Thia Timarchus f. Daco (of Thrace) (178 until his death); 2. Found at Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria (ca. 1990)

Commentary: The present diploma gives Thia Timarchus an honourable discharge from the army of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Roman citizenship for himself and his descendants, and the right of legal marriage. The diploma is exceptional in that the 2 tabellas still are bound together with the original wire. It is also of special British interest since it records for the first time that the Cohort II Hispanorum was stationed in Britain, and of historical significance for recording Ulpius Marcellus as governor of Britain in 178. It also states that the recipient Thia Timarchus from Dacia served in Cohort II Gallorum Veterana, stationed at the Roman Fort in Old Penrith, Cumbria. The present MS contains the unusual information, of both year, place and the exemplar copied. The exemplar, the bronze tablet set in the wall on Forum Romanum, in fact, still survives in fragments. Published: M. Roxan & Paul Holder: Roman Military Diplomas, IV. Institute of Classical studies. London, 2003. no 293, pp. 547-551. Exhibited: Kistefos-museet, Jevnaker: Romerske portretter i gull og marmor, 22 mai - 25 september 2005. 



Military diploma from Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus, March 23, 178 AD, under the consulship of Sergius Scipio Orfitus and P.Velius Rufius, Britannia under the governor Ulpius Marcellus, to the cavalryman Tiophorus, a Dacian of the VII Thracian Cohort under the command of Ulpius Marcianus. From the Axel Guttman Colection). This seems to be the most expensive millitary diploma to date.  It was sold for 40,000 UK pounds to an auction in London.


Diploma from Germania Inferior under Hadrian, note the wire that holds the two tabulae together. During the consulship of Licinius Celer and Rufus, granting Roman citizenship and marriage rights, to a former cavalryman from Dacia of the IV Thracian cohort under the command of Lucius Porcius Crescens. Germania Inferior was at that time under the governor Lucius Coelius Rufus (from the Axel Guttmann collection)


But the Oldest military diploma from Dacia was granted on October 14, 109 to

coh(ortis) I Montanor(um), cuipraest Cornelius Felicior, expedite

M. Herennio M. f(i1io) Polymitae, Berens(i), et Ianuario et Marcello

f(i1iis) eius et Lucanae fil(iae) eius.

The first surprise comes from tabella I line 16 'et sunf in Dacia sub D. TerentioScauriano'. thus moving the diploma from Moesia Superior, where it was found (and to which it was presumed, by Professor MirkoviE, to belong) over to Dacia.

Scaurianus is well known. From the special grant of AD 106/110 (CIL XVI 160) he has almost unanimously been  supposed to have been commanderin-  chief since summer 105 and governor at least August 11.106 until 1 10 or even 1 12.And then there is another surprise in line 19, the final line oftabelh I: 'dimissis howta rnisswne a Iulio Sabino'. This information can be explained in several ways. Either it points to an exaaordiiary situation when a subordinate had the task of beginning the dismissals, as for example the 'missio per tribunes' recorded by Tacitus (Annals 1.37. AD 14. I owe this suggestion to Dr M. Roxan). Or the new diploma adds to the minority of (up to now) seven diplomas giving the names of two or three  guvernors. Out of these, CIL XVI 43, RMD 14 and CIL XVI 69 also cite two governors for the same province. This is explained by a change of governors between missio and the grant of citizenship. Hence arises the problem of finding time for Iulius Sabinus to fit in as military commander-inchief after Pompeius Longinus and before Terentius Scaurianus. It can be done only between the summers of AD 105 and 106 -unless in CIL XVI 160 the reference to Scaurianus is to be associated with the date of the issue, i.e. July 2.110 (?), insteadof its hitherto accepted association with the date  of the actual grant by the emperor on August 1 1,106. This would allow for thechange between Sabinus and Scaurianus to take place any time between August 106 and October 109, as defied by the new diploma.   


  8 military diplomas from Dacia have been found up to date,plus 13 from Dacia Inferior and 17 from Dacia Porolissensis


Cel mai vechi titlu de proprietate din lume a fost dat, acum 2000 de ani, unui roman stabilit in Oltenia

Sub titlul “Diploma Honestae Missionis de la Grojdibodu”, cercetătorul Nicu Vintilă a prezentat în “Anuarul Institutului de cercetări socio-umane C.S. Nicolăescu-Plopşor” nr.3/2002, apărut la Editura Universitaria sub egida Academiei Române, un subiect foarte interesant privit nu numai din punct de vedere jurnalistic, ci şi istoric. Astfel, diploma de care se aminteşte în titlu poate fi considerată, probabil, cel mai vechi titlu de proprietate existent în lume, cu o vechime de aproape … două mii de ani!
Vicusul roman de la Grojdibodu
Grojdibodu este o comună de 3650 de locuitori, situată în câmpia de sud a Olteniei, la jumătatea drumului dintre Corabia şi Bechet, pe malul fostei bălţi Potelu, desecată în 1967. Pe actualul teritoriu al localităţii, conform urmelor de ceramică şi unelte de piatră şi bronz descoperite, arheologii apreciază că a existat o aşezare din neolitic, precum şi aşezarea geto-dacică Sicibida/Sygibida, nume provenit probabil de la neamul Siguinilor sau Syginii, una dintre cele 200 de ramuri ale tracilor de care aminteşte Herodot, părintele istoriei. Mai târziu, tot aici a fiinţat un vicus roman şi ulterior o villa rustica, unde au fost încartiruite unităţi militare ale romanilor. Hrisovul dat în limba slavonă în anul 1545/7053 de către domnitorul de atunci al Ţării Româneşti, Mircea Ciobanul, prin care confirma posesia lui Badea clucerul şi Crăciun logofătul asupra satului, reprezintă prima atestare documentară a Grojdibrodului.
Descoperirea lui Popa Stan
În anul 1842, preotul Popa Stan a găsit întâmplător “într-un şanţ al grădinii sale, la marginea bălţii” sau, după alţi cercetători, într-un “mormânt vechi de la marginea satului” două tăbliţe de bronz foarte reduse ca dimensiune, prinse între ele cu belciuge, pe care se află inscripţii romane pe toate cele patru feţe, aşezate într-un săculeţ, împreună cu osemintele strămoşeşti care dă de înţeles că au mai fost exhumate şi reînhumate de mai multe ori, cu ritualul cuvenit. Tăbliţele cu pricina erau nici mai mult nici mai puţin decât o diplomă militară acordată la … 22 martie 129 de către împăratul Hadrianus unor veterani care au luptat timp de un sfert de secol în armata romană şi pe care îi declara cetăţeni liberi, împropietărindu-i cu pământuri la Grojdibodu, unde îşi vor aşeza familiile şi gospodăriile, alături de populaţia existentă în zonă la vremea aceea.
Prima concediere masivă din istoria lumii
În provincia romană formată de cele două Moesii, s-au descoperit numai trei diplome militare şi un fragment de diplomă care nu are stabilită în mod cert zona de provenienţă. Prima diplomă aparţine lui Traian şi a fost dată la 17 februarie 110, prin care se fac concedieri din trupele întregii Dacii, ceea ce mai în glumă mai în serios poate reprezenta prima concediere în masă atestată documentar din lume!… A doua diplomă este cea din 22 martie 129, dată de Hadrianus unor soldaţi din vexillaţio Illyricorum equitum, o trupă neregulată cu lagărul necunoscut, dar bănuit a fi fost la Grojdibodu. Diploma face referire numai la trupe ce staţionau în Dacia Inferioară, sub procuratorul Plautius Caesianus, care s-a stabilit tot în provincia unde făcuse serviciul militar, adică în vicusul roman de la Grojdibodu. A treia diplomă a fost descoperită în nordul Bulgariei, emisă în anul 140, pe când procurator al Daciei Inferioare era cunoscut ca fiind Aquila Fideus, şi prin care se fac concedieri de veterani din 13 corpuri auxiliare ale armatei din Dacia Inferioară. Fragmentul de diplomă datează din anul 121 şi în afara numelui celui eliberat Iunius Iunianus nu se mai observă elemente de luat în seamă.
De la Caesianus la … Cezianu

Descoperitorul tăbliţelor, Popa Stan, le-a înmânat proprietarului moşiei, nimeni altul decât culcerul Dimitrie Cezianu, zis şi Mitiţă Jianu. Evident, Plautius Caesianus nu putea fi chiar o întâmplare cu … Dimitrie Cezianu. Actul de proprietate a fost donat vornicului Mihail Ghica, fratele domnitorului Alexandru Ghica, cu rugămintea de a fi expus în cabinetul de rarităţi al Muzeului Naţiunii. Al. Odobescu află treizeci de ani mai târziu că obiectul fusese cerut de la moştenitorul lui G.M. Ghica de către Alexandru Ioan Cuza şi oferit lui Napoleon al III-lea, împăratul Franţei, ca argument pentru originea latină a poporului român şi pentru recunoaşterea Unirii principatelor. Colecţia împăratului francez a stat la baza formării Muzeului de Antichităţi Naţionale de la Saint-Germain-en-Laye, unde se află şi în prezent. În partea finală a textului diplomei “honestae missionis” emisă la 22 martie 129, s-a menţionat că un duplicat al acesteia a fost încastrat în zidul din spate al templului Minervei de la Roma.


Dacians- Roman Auxiliary Serving in Britannia  for 200 years.


After the Dacian Wars, Dacians were recruited into the Roman Army, and were employed in the construction and guarding of Hadrian's Wall in Britannia, or elsewhere in the Roman Empire. Several Cohors Primae Dacorum ("First cCohort of Dacians") and Alae Dacorum fighting in the ranks of the Legion were stationed at Deva (Chester), Vindolanda (on the Stanegate) and Camboglanna (Birdoswald Fort or Castlesteads), in Britannia. The Marcus Aurelius's Column and the Arch of Galerius depict Dacian troops with their characteristic phrygian cap and Draco. The English word dagger might come from Vulgar Latin daca, a Dacian knife, and it also may be related with the medieval Romanian word daga, a kind of knife with three blades, used only for assassination.


Archaeologists delve into Hadrian Wall’s past

September 14th, 2009

Findings revealed that the cliff on which the fort and settlement of Birdoswald stand is under constant threat of erosion, caused by a combination of the river at the base of the cliff and water and frost action on the boulder clay at the top. Excavation is therefore the only way to avoid the loss of this delicate archaeology.

The excavation began last week and will continue until 16 October 2009. It will be funded and carried out by English Heritage who will be joined by Ian Haynes, Professor of Archaeology at Newcastle University. The project will provide training opportunities in field archaeology for undergraduates from the University as part of an undergraduate training programme.

Professor Haynes, Chair of Archaeology for Newcastle University said: “We know from earlier discoveries in and around the fort site that Birdoswald had a very cosmopolitan population during the Roman period.

“A fragmentary tombstone records a soldier from Africa, while the regiment in garrison was originally raised in or around Transylvania in Romania. We hope to learn more about this exotic mix of soldiers, their families and followers through the excavations.”

A small-scale Channel 4 Time Team evaluation in small trenches at Birdoswald in 1999 discovered two complete cremation urns, evidence that although the site was partially damaged by ploughing in the medieval period, there is still important archaeology hidden beneath the soil.

The findings of this excavation will be valuable in discovering more about Roman cremation cemeteries, practices and rituals and will provide a valuable insight into the lives of the Roman soldiers who once occupied the frontier. 


 A Decebalu Born in England

 (311 AD), on a Roman funeral stele from Chester


"To the spirits of the departed Decibalus [...] who lived for [...] days, and Blaesus [...] who lived for ten years, and [...] a brother [...]"
Tombstone of Young Brothers  (RIB 1920; tombstone

The burial ground at Birdoswald vicus

   Dacian Cohorts in England

  Back in 1725, one of Roman Britain’s most remarkable finds was discovered in a well at Rudge Coppice, Froxfield, Wiltshire. It was an enamelled bronze cup, 94mm wide, and decorated with what looks like a crenellated wall. Around in rim in relief are the names of some of the western forts on Hadrian’s Wall: MAIS (Bowness), ABALLAVA (Burgh-by- Sands), VXELOD[VN]VM (Stanwix), CAMBOGLAN[NI]S (Castlesteads) and BANNA (Birdoswald).

 Replica of the Rudge Cup
Roman Britain, 2nd century AD
Rudge Coppice, Wiltshire
British Museum

A souvenir of Hadrian's Wall
This is an electrotype copy of a small bronze bowl found in 1725 in a well on the site of a Roman villa. The bowl was probably made as a souvenir. It shows a schematized drawing of Hadrian's Wall originally picked out in coloured enamels.

The Rudge Cup at: 

  A similar vessel was found in 1949 in northern France at Amiens, although this one had a handle attached to the rim in the form of a saucepan or Skillet. The Amiens vessel repeated the Hadrian’s Wall names, but added AESICA (Great Chesters), the next fort east.

 Stoke Museums

In 2003 metal-detectorist Kevin Blackburn found a small enamelled Roman bronze cup in Staffordshire. It was a very exciting find because of the inscription that had been engraved around the top.  

 The Staffordshire cup is now the third such vessel.At 90mm diameter, it is slightly smaller than the Rudge cup, and it has decoration in a more ‘Celtic’ style with inlaid roundels.



The Staffordshire Moorlands cup, an enamelled Roman bronze vessel (diameter 89.5mm) which lists the names of several Roman forts on the western sector of Hadrian's Wall and also the ancient name of the Wall in the form Val[l]i Aeli, the 'Aelian frontier', using part of Hadrian's name which in full was Publius Aelius Hadrianus. Picture: Guy de la Bédoyère.

The inscription engraved around the rim repeats some of the Rudge inscription, but adds something new. It reads:


 Here we have Bowness (MAIS) again, followed by what must be the correct name for Drumburgh-by-Sands (COGGABATA) until now known only as CONGAVATA from the late Roman document, the Notitia Dignitatum. Next comes Stanwix (VXELODVNVM) again, then Castlesteads (CAMBOGLANNA), before we get to the most tantalizing part. 

RIGORE seems to be the ablative form of the word RIGOR. This can mean several things, but one of its less well-known meanings is ‘straight line’, ‘course’ or ‘direction’. This was used by Roman surveyors and appears on a number of inscriptions to indicate a line between places. So the meaning could be ‘from the course’.  

There is no such word as VALI, but in antiquity Hadrian’s Wall was known as the Vallum, the Latin word for a frontier which is today incorrectly applied to the ditch and mounds dug by the Roman army just south of the Wall. So one of the most likely meanings is VAL[L]I, ‘of the frontier’. The missing L is a small problem, but omitting letters is common on Roman inscriptions, and transcribing an inscription from a written note is the easiest way to miss out letters. The Rudge Cup has VN missing from the name VXELODVNVM, for example, although the letters appear on the Staffordshire cup.  

Finally we have the name AELI DRACONIS, which can be translated as ‘[by the hand – or property] of Aelius Draco’. It was normal for Roman manufacturers to give their names in the genitive (‘of’), and ‘by the hand’ would be understood. The form is common, for example, on samian pottery.

 The translation, therefore, could be:

 ‘Mais, Coggabata, Uxelodunum, Camboglanna, according to the line of the frontier. [By the hand or The property] of Aelius Draco’.

 There is another way of reading this, which Roger Tomlin has suggested as a possibility. The word AELI could belong to VAL[L]I, which would produce:

 ‘Mais, Coggabata, Uxelodunum, Camboglanna, according to the line of the Aelian frontier. [By the hand or The property] of Draco’.

 This would mean then that Hadrian’s Wall in antiquity was known as the Aelian Frontier. The bridge at Newcastle was certainly known as Pons Aelius, or the Aelian Bridge. Aelius was Hadrian’s nomen – his full name was Publius Aelius Hadrianus.

 Notitia Dignitatum reflects this concept of the Wall being a line or sequence, with its phrase per lineam Valli, ‘along the line of the frontier’ when it lists the Wall forts. The Ravenna Cosmography uses the phrase recto tramite, ‘from the route straight across’.

 Further study might suggest other ways of translating the inscription, but this one fits the context well. I am very grateful to Roger Tomlin at Oxford, and Mark Hassall of the Institute of Archaeology in London who endorsed my suggestion about the meaning of the word RIGORE, finding parallels for its use elsewhere in a context that confirmed what I thought it meant here. Full publication of the text by Roger Tomlin will appear in Britannia 2004, published in December 2004. This article will contain a full discussion of every word in the text.

 Despite the various claims made in the press that Draco was a veteran, or he was designer of the Wall and several other completely speculative suggestions, it was quite amazing that little of the press coverage actually referred to the content of the inscription.

 So who was Aelius Draco, or just Draco? The latter part of his name is Greek, but in the cosmopolitan world of the Roman Empire, that need not mean much. He could, for instance, have been descended from a Greek but born in Britain. Another suggestion made by John Nandris that has been made is that he was a Dacian in origin, though perhaps only descended from a Dacian based at Birdoswald fort on the Wall, where the garrison was the First Aelian Cohort of Dacians, and who had served as a draconarius, ‘dragon-standard bearer’. Aelius, as one of Hadrian’s names, was commonplace from the 120s on. Whoever he was – the best we can say is that he was a soldier, or one of the innumerable traders, artisans and hangers-on who spent at least a part of his life on the Wall.

 The Staffordshire cup gives us a little more insight into the minds of people on the Wall, and how they must have regarded this great military installation as a wonder worth remembering with something to take home. How it came to be in Staffordshire though is another matter. 

 This article with some minor differences appeared in the October 2003 edition of Current Archaeology.

 Page revised 30 June 2004, after Roger Tomlin kindly sent me a draft of his article for the 2004 edition of Britannia.

Birdoswald likewise has the best preserved defences of any of the 16 major forts which supported Hadrian's frontier system. Known to the Romans as 'Banna', from the early 3rd century its garrison was a thousand-strong infantry unit originating in Dacia (modern Romania). Three main gates of their fortress are still traceable, along with perimeter walls, angle towers, granaries and an unusual drill hall.

CAMBOGLANNA? Hadrian's Wall Fort and Settlement

Birdoswald, Cumbria. Inscriptions

Cohors Primae Thracum - The First Cohort of Thracians


"For the emperors, Caesar Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax, and Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, and Publius Septimius Geta, noble Caesar,¹ This granary was made by the First Aelian Cohort of Dacians and the First Cohort of Thracians, Citizens of Rome,² under Alfenus Senecio,³ the consular [governor], through [the agency of] the tribune Aurelius Julianus."
(RIB 1909; dated: AD205-208)

  The emperor Septimius Severus and his sons Caracalla and Geta. The youngest son Geta was named Caesar in AD205 and became Augustus in 209.  


The title CR Civium Romanorum. Would seem to indicate that the unit had been granted Roman citizenship for some unrecorded exploit, sometime prior to the date of the Birdoswald inscription.

  1. Lucius Alfenus Senecio was consular governor of Britain between AD205/207 and c.208/209.

The first positively dateable evidence recording the name of a Birdoswald garrison unit is a building inscription recovered from the interior of the fort (RIB 1909, dated: AD205-208), which places Cohors Primae Thracum CR here at the beginning of the third century. This unit was a mixed regiment of infantry and cavalry recruited from amongst the war-like tribes of the Roman province of Thrace and Dacia (modern Bulgaria and Romania). The building inscription is shared with the third-century garrison unit Cohors I Aelia Dacorum, and perhaps indicated building repairs conducted immediately prior to the fort changing hands.

Cohors Primae Aelia Dacorum - The First Cohort of Aelian Daci

  Dedicatory Inscription of Governor Modius Julianus

LEG[atus] AVG[usti] PR[o] •
PR[aetore] COH[ors] I (primae) AEL[ia] D[a]C[orum]
CVI PRAE[fectu] EST M[arco]
"Under Modius Julius,¹
legate of the emperor with pro-praetorian power,
the First Aelian Cohort of Dacians (built this),
under the command of the tribune
Marcus Claudius Menander."

(RIB 1914; dated: c. AD  219)

  1. Modius Julianus was governor of Britain c. AD 219.

    The third and fourth century garrison of Birdoswald was undoubtedly Cohors I Aelia Dacorum Milliaria, a one-thousand strong infantry regiment from Dacia, a Roman province on the north bank of the Lower Danube. Their presence is attested in the Notitia Dignitatum and confirmed by epigraphic evidence recovered from the interior of the fort itself


    Altar to the Celtic War God Cocidius

"For the god Cocidius, the First Cohort of Aelian Daci, who are commanded by the tribune Terentius Valerianus, willingly and deservedly fulfill their vow."
(RIB 1872; altarstone)

Altar to Signis et Numini Augusti

"For the Standards and the Divine Spirit of the Emperor, the First Cohort of Aelian Daci [made this]."
(RIB 1904; statue base)

Dedications by the Tribune Ammonius Victorinus

"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Daci, commanded by the tribune Ammonius Victorinus [made this].""[...] the First Cohort of Aelian Daci, who are commanded by the tribune Ammonius Victorinus."
(RIB 1874; altarstone)(RIB 1906; base)

  The unit with the most epigraphic evidence at the Birdoswalds fort is Cohors Primae Aelia Dacorum, who are attested on thirty-one inscribed stones out of a total of sixty-two which have been recovered to date. These texts may be broken down as follows; there are twenty-four altars dedicated to Iupitter Optimus Maximus (RIB 1874-1894, 1896, 1929a/b), nine of which can be dated to the third century, two building inscriptions (RIB 1909, dated: AD205-208, shared with Cohors I Thracum; 1914, dated: c.AD219), a statue base dedicated to the 'Standards' (RIB1904), an altar to Cocidius (RIB1872), another altar to an unknown god (RIB1906), a single centurial stone (RIB1918) and the tombstone of a soldier (RIB1921). This evidence all points to extended residence of the unit at the fort over several generations, with sons following in their father's footsteps serving as soldiers in the First Cohort of Dacians.    


The occupants of the first fort at Birdoswald are unknown, and the first unit we have evidence for are the 1st Cohort of Thracians around 205 AD. This may have been when the unit left, or they may not have been the garrison, but a temporary occupant, because some time around 205 AD they had been replaced by the 1st Cohort of Aelian Dacians and the Thracians were also attested at Bowes in this period. The 1st Cohort of Aelian Dacians are attested on inscriptions from then until at least 276 AD and the notitia dignitatum states that this unit was still in residence at the end of Roman rule in Britain.

 Centurial Stone of Cohors Primae Dacorum

"The century of Decius Sax[us], of the First Cohort of Dacians [built this]."
(RIB 1918)

Tombstone of a Former Soldier

"[To the shades of the departed Hos]pes¹ Septimus, who lived for forty years and served for eighteen in the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians. He lies here."
(RIB 1921; tombstone)

  The restoration of this man's first (or middle) name is entirely conjectural.  


 The Birdoswald Notitia Dignitatum Entry


Tribunus cohortis primae Aeliae Dacorum, Amboglanna
"The tribune of the First Cohort of Aelian Daci at Amboglanna"
(Notitia Dignitatum xl.44; 4th/5th C.)

The Martial Gods of Roman Birdoswalds  


The forty-four altars and other votive stones are mainly dedicated to the martial gods: there are twenty-four dedications to Iupitter Optimus Maximus the chief deity of the Roman pantheon (I O M; RIB 1874-1896 inclusive, and 1929a/b), many of which are dateable and are discussed below, four more altars are devoted to the Roman war god Mars (altarstones RIB 1898-1900; undefined stone 1901) and another two to the Germanic war god Cocidius (RIB 1872; 1885, shared with I O M, dated: AD270-273). There is also a very interesting statue base dedicated to Signis or 'The Standards' (RIB 1904 supra), which proves that the Roman soldiers actually worshipped thier military colours.

Altarstones Dedicated to the War God Mars


"To the god Mars, the First Cohort of Aelian Daci have placed this votive offering with their tribune.""To the god Mars Augustus [...]"
(RIB 1898; altarstone)(RIB 1900; altarstone)
"To the god Mars and to Victory, Aurelius Maximus, took up this sacred undertaking himself,¹ willingly and deservedly fulfilling a vow.""To Mars the Father."
(RIB 1899; altarstone)(RIB 1901)

   Based on the expansion S[acrum] S[umpto] S[uo]. 

  Iupitter Optimus Maximus

The long-standing garrison unit of Birdoswalds, Cohors Primae Aelia Dacorum, seemingly had the regimental tradition of dedicating a new altar to the god Jupiter Best and Greatest every time a new commander was appointed. The unit also declared itself loyal to the emperor of the time by adopting the emperor's name as a regimental title. A by-product of this is that many of the Birdoswald Jupiter altarstones may be dated.

The Dateable Jupiter Altarstones

"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians commanded by the tribune Aurelius Fastus, when Perpetuus was consul.¹"
(RIB 1875; altarstone; dated: AD237)
  1. Lucius Marius Perpetuus was ordinary consul for the year AD237 (a.u.c.990), with Lucius Mummius Felix Cornelianus his junior colleague.
"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, Postumus' Own¹ commanded by the tribune Marcus Gallicus."
(RIB 1883; altarstone; dated: AD260-268)
  1. Imperator Caesar Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus, was the rebel Roman general who formed the breakaway 'Gallic Empire' in Autumn AD260, which he ruled until his murder in February 269.

"To the god Cocidius [and]

to Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, Tetricius' Own¹ commanded by the tribune Pomponius Desideratus [...]"

(RIB 1885; altarstone; dated: AD271-274)
  1. Imperator Caesar Gaius Pius Esuvius Tetricus Felix Invictus Augustus, was another ruler of the Gallic Empire who came to power in Spring AD271 and appointed his like-named son Caesar in Summer 273. They were both killed in battle against the true-emperor Aurelian in Spring 274.
"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, Postumus' Own¹ commanded by the tribune Prob[us?] Augendus."
(RIB 1886; altarstone; dated: AD260-268)
  1. The Gallic emperor Postumus. See RIB 1883 above.
"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, Antoninus' Own¹"
(RIB 1892; altarstone; dated: AD212-217 or 218-222)
  1. Antoninus is a common short version of the name of both emperor Caracalla, whose sole rule began in December AD212 and lasted until his death in April 217, also his successor Elagabalus, who ruled from May 218 until March 222.
"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, Gordian's Own¹ who are commanded by [...]"
(RIB 1893; altarstone; dated: AD238-244)
  1. The short-lived Gordian dynasty lasted from the accession of Gordian I in January AD238 until the murder of Gordian III in February 244.
"For Jupiter Best and Greatest of Doliche, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, commanded by the tribune Flavius Maximianus, upon his recall to service¹ by the request of the invincible Princeps Maximinus.²"
(RIB 1896; altarstone; dated: AD235-238)
"For Jupiter Best and Greatest of Doliche, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, commanded by the tribune Flavius Maximianus, upon his recall to service¹ by the request of the invincible Princeps Maximinus.²"
(RIB 1929a; altarstone; dated: AD235-238; JRS xlvii (1957), p.229, no.17)
  1. The evocati were former veteran soldiers who were recalled to service (from Latin evoco 'to call-out, summon'). Alternately, Maximianus may have been a former recruitment officer, an evocator. The reason for his recall was evidently his loyalty to the emperor, of whom he may have been a client or former freedman, hence the name Maximianus 'of Maximinus'.
  2. Imperator Caesar Gaius Iulius Verus Maximinus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus, nicknamed Thrax ('the Thracian'), ruled the Roman empire from February/March AD235 until his murder by his own troops at Aquileia in April 238.
"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, Probus' Own,¹ commanded by the tribune Aurelius Verinus."
(RIB 1929b; altarstone; dated: AD276-282; JRS li (1961), 194, no. 12)
  1. Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Probus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus, was emperor from July AD276 until he was murdered by his own soldiers near Sirmium in September 282.

The Vicus or Civil Settlement

A large civil settlement has long been known to exist in the area to the immediate south-west of the fort. The burial ground at Birdoswald has also been identified in the area to the south-east of the fort, close to the edge of the Irthing escarpment. The reason why the burial ground lay so far away from the vicus had been a complete mystery for quite some time, until in 1999, the site was visited by a group of archaeologists operating under the electronic eyes of Channel-4's The Time Team, a British commercial TV channel's award-winning history program.

They were able to ascertain that the civil settlement at Birdoswald had started out on the eastern side of the fort, and the burial ground was sited just to the south of this initial community. After a fairly short amount of time had passed the civilians were moved from one side of the fort to the other, possibly after a substantial land-slip had threatened the south-eastern part of the site, and probably by order of the military. Whatever the reason for the relocation, it did not seem to effect the siting of the burial grounds, which continued in use at its original position on the opposite side of the fort.  



  Birdoswald is a fort on Hadrian's Wall which lies on a spur of land overlooking the River Irthing on its south and east sides. Originally when Hadrian's Wall was built of turf in this area (the Turf Wall) there was a turret at Birdoswald which was subsequently replaced by the fort. When the Turf Wall was rebuilt in stone the Wall ran up to the north corners of the fort and the Vallum ran around the south side. Building work at Birdoswald in the early 3rd century included construction of the granaries. At this time the garrison was a unit known as the First Cohort of Dacians (from modern Romania). Recent excavations show occupation continued at Birdoswald until the end of the 4th century and into the 5th when Britain was no longer part of the empire and the fort was probably a local warlord's residence.


Built into one wall is part of an altar dedicated to the troops who manned the fort in the Third and Fourth Centuries. They represent the region's unlikely link with Romania.

In the First and early Second Centuries, the Dacians, from what is now Romania, were the tough enemies of Rome under their king Decebalus.

Eventually, the Emperor Trajan triumphed over the Dacians whose fighting qualities impressed the Romans so much that they were recruited as auxiliary soldiers.

A cohort of Dacians worked on the building of Hadrian's Wall and Birdoswald became the home of what was known as the First Cohort of Dacians, Hadrian's Own, consisting of 1,000 infantry.

Although they were at Birdoswald for 200 years, they never forgot their roots, with the Dacian curved sword being carved on building inscriptions.

A gravestone from Birdoswald is to a child called Decebalus, after the Dacian king.
The cemetery at the fort was discovered 44 years ago when ploughing turned up pots containing cremated bone.

One gravestone is that of Aurelius Concordius, the infant son of the commander of the Dacian garrison, Aurelius Julianus, whose name appears on tablets marking the building of granaries at the fort.
Inscriptions record the names of 17 top officers, including the commander from the 230s Flavius Maximianus, who was a former member of the Praetorian Guard. 
 A tombstone  commemorates a soldier called Septimus, aged 40, who served for 18 years with the Dacian cohort.
The Wall was a pretty cosmopolitan place. One gravestone is to G Cossurtius Saturninus, of the Legion VI Victrix Vic´trix  who was born in North Africa.

The soldiers at Birdoswald would have lived 10 to a room in barracks of eight rooms, which have been located under the farm buildings and adjacent courtyard.
It has been discovered that in the Third Century, one barrack , is understood an erection of upright posts supporting a sliding roof, usually of thatch.  Whart. R. 429.  was remodelled to include officers' quarters with underfloor heating.
The only drill and exercise hall to be found in any auxiliary fort in the Roman Empire has been identified at Birdoswald.
It was 48 metres long and 16 metres wide, and provided the troops with an all-weather facility.

 The Senior Consultant of ARTS UK, Steve Chettle, invited me to take part in the Writing on the Wall Project between 13th-26th April 2002. During the time spent in Northumberland and Cumbria, along the Hadrian’s Wall, I became familiar and even attached to this aria of outstanding beauty and great historical importance. Having prepared the background to the history of Hadrian’s Wall, I realized how many points have in common two such distant parts of Europe, long time ago both belonging to that first unified Europe which was the Roman Empire. I would like to give only two examples. Hadrian’s Wall is the most grandiose frontier ever built in Europe. Along its over 76 Roman miles, from South Shields to Bowness-on-Solway, the Wall was not a closed frontier, the purpose of the barrier consisting in controlling movement, not preventing it, as the liberal provision of gateways demonstrates. In the Roman Dacia (106AD-271AD), on the western limes, in front of Porolissum, a sequence of 4 km. wall – very similar to Hadrian’s Wall – was excavated.
The Vindolanda writing tablets (about 2,000) are the first written records of military and every day life in Roman Britain. Similar tablets, cut merely from oak wood, were discovered in Roman Dacia. At Vindolanda, on a tablet, the line 473, Book IX of Virgil’s Aeneid was deciphered; in Dacia, another line of Aeneid was found on a writing tablet. It demonstrates that either in Britain or in Dacia, auxiliary prefects would take good care to ensure that their children did not neglect their education, and teaching might well have been in the hands of capable household slaves.

For the first week of my staying in the North I was located in Haltwhistle (Center of Britain Hotel), and for the second week in Bush Nook, very close to the Roman fort of Birdoswald (Banna). In the 3rd century AD, the fort was manned by 1,000 Dacians, a strong infantry unit. The Dacian relics are very impressive for a Romanian poet living in the 21st century AD

During my stay in the North my attention was mainly focussed on the Dacian relics, that is why I spent more time at Birdoswald and in other places where tombstones with Dacians inscriptions could be found : Museum of Antiquities in Newcastle upon Tyne (the Director of the museum gave me details about the Dacian curved sword used at Birdoswald fort, as the preserved inscriptions show it).



England before the Norman Conquest


There are enough inscriptions belonging to the Antonine period along the line of Hadrian's Wall to enable us to say that, although the building of it was largely done by the legions, yet the garrisoning of it was handed over entirely to the auxiliary cohorts and aloe. Indeed many of these units, first placed on the wall by Hadrian, seem to have retained their position there for a century, some for two centuries and more.

The First Dacian cohort, whose name Aelia shows that it was raised, or at least honoured, by Hadrian, seems to have been at Birdoswald (Amboglanna) from its first coming to Britain down to the moment when the Notitia Dignitatum was drawn up about the year 400 A.d.

Several others of the auxiliary garrisons can be traced back from the Notitia well into the time of the Antonines, and if we find them localised by 150 or 160 in the places where they still lay in 400, we may fairly suppose that then- original placing goes back to the first builder of the wall himself. Other units which leave record of themselves on the Wall in the second century have been superseded by new-comers in the third. But on the whole, there was singularly little change in the composition of the army of Northern Britain from first to last.1

1 See Professor Haverfield's paper on the Epigraphy of Hadrian's Wall in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, for 1892.


 Haplogroup I1b

The undifferentiated subclade of Haplogroup I1b (or I1b*) is centered in the Balkans, ere its founders may have taken refuge from the Ice Age. After the Ice Age, I1b* spread into Eastern Europe. Unlike subclade I1a, it is not commonly found in Scandinavia and Western Europe. Where it is found in Britain at all, it may reflect the genetic influence of Roman troops and settlers, many of whom came from the Balkans or other parts of southeastern Europe.


Wilmott, T 2003  'Cohors I Aelia Dacorum: A Dacian Unit on Hadrian's Wall, Acta Musei Napocensis (National Museum of Transylvania), 38/1, 103-122 Pannonia and Upper Moesia By András Mócsy, Sheppard Sunderland Frere at:


Getian Soldiers in Capadocia

Arrianus(95-175) din Nicomedia, un grec instruit care a ajuns guvernatorul Capadociei în anul 134, scrie către sfîrşitul vieţii lucrarea Arta tacticii militare, unde vorbeşte de călăreţii sciţi adică veniţi din stînga Istrului, ţinut numit şi Sciţia dar care era baştina geţilor, ce luptau în armata romană însă cu steagurile şi armele lor, adică getice. Spune despre instrucţia primită de oşteni că: ,,…învaţă strigătele de luptă strămoşeşti ale fiecărui neam, strigătele celţilor pentru celţi, strigătele geţilor pentru geţi şi strigătele retice pentru reţi.”

In armata romană, soldaţii geţi foloseau propria limbă pentru a se îndemna în luptă aşa cum scrie un funcţionar roman pe la anii 160 – 170 al erei noastre .



Military Settling of Dacia Felix

The victory in Dacia expanded the empire to its largest geographical size ever and marked the zenith of its power. The world map was redefined orcompleted in accord with the Trajan’s victories. Thus Dacia Traiana appeared on the new map of Europe as Dacia Felix (Fruitful).  

The occupation army of Dacia – estimated, at its height, at over 50,000 men –[1] has been the subject of much debate.[5]

In 102 when his first war ended in Dacia, Trajan left one legion at Sarmizegetusa Regia.[5] After the wars ended there were two legions in the area, the Legio XIII Gemina based at Apulum and the Legio IV Flavia Felix at Berzobis.[5] A third possible legion involved was the Legio I Adiutrix, but so far neither its precise location nor chronology of occupation in Dacia have been confirmed, or, indeed, whether it was present in full or just through vexillationes.[5]

The Legio IV Flavia Felix was moved at a later date by Hadrian from Berzobis to Singidunum in Upper Moesia on the Danube, so the presence of only one legion seems to have looked sufficient for the rest of the first half of the 2nd century.[5] This proved to be wrong during the events of the Marcomanic Wars, when the Legio V Macedonica had to be transferred permanently from Troesmis (Igliţa, Romania)[1] in Lower Moesia to Potaissa in Dacia.[5]

The numerous auxiliary units attested in the Dacian provinces during the period of Roman occupation, mainly through epigraphic evidence, contributed to building the image of Roman Dacia as a heavily militarized province.[5] Various military diplomas mention no less than 58 units, most of them coming into Dacia from the neighboring provinces (the Moesias and the Pannonias), covering a complete range of troops: alae and cohortes militariae and quingenariae as well as numeri, along with significant variation in their ethnic origin.[5] However, this does not mean that all these troops were stationed in Dacia at the same time and throughout the entire period of Roman occupation.[5]

[edit] Settlements

The settlement pattern of Roman Dacia is traditionally interpreted as consisting of urban-satus settlements (coloniae and municipia) and of rural settlements as villas and villages (vici).[5] The two major towns of Dacia (Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa and Apulum) clearly demonstrate a level of Roman architectural and socio-economic development rivaling that seen anywhere in the western empire.[5]

Romanization is essentially a culture of cities; and Roman Dacia had 11 (or 12)[6], all developed from Trajanic camps.[1] There were two types of towns: the most important were the so-called coloniae, inhabited exclusively by Roman citizens; municipia were localities of secondary importance, enjoying, nevertheless, administrative and juridical autonomy.[4]

  • Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa, the first colonia of Dacia and the only colonia deducta, was founded by Trajan.[5] Its status at the top of the settlement pattern of the province ensured by its charter (further reinforced by the later acquisition of ius Italicum) is reinforced by its significant administrative role.[5]
  • Apulum started its existence as a legionary base under Trajan.[5] The canabae legionis emerged immediately in its vicinity; and already in the Trajanic period a civilian settlement also emerged some 2 leuga (c. 4,4 kilometers) away from the fort by the Mureş River.[5] This settlement developed rapidly from a vicus of Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa into a municipium (under Marcus Aurelius), then a colonia (under Commodus). Apulum was the capital of Upper Dacia/Dacia Apulensis, and the military headquarters of the whole tripartite province.[1] When Septimius Severus finally gave municipal status to a part of the canabae (which subsequently may have also reached colonial rank), the town was a clear competitor to Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa.[5]
  • The most important Roman town of south Dacia was Drobeta; it grew up around the site of a Trajanic stone camp, built to hold 500 men whose job was to guard the head of Apollodorus’s bridge.[1] The civilian town that grew up around the camp was made a municipium, with the rights of an Italian town, by Hadrian.[1] Between 193 and 198, Septimius Severus raised the municipium to the rank of colonia.[1]
  • Romula was the possible capital of Lower Dacia/Dacia Malvensis.[1] It became municipium perhaps under Hadrian’s reign, and a colonia under Septimius Severus.[1]
  • Napoca, which was probably the location of command of Dacia Porolissensis,[5] was made a municipium by Hadrian; and Commodus made it colonia.[1]
  • During the Marcomannic Wars, the Legio V Macedonica was brought to Potaissa[5] where a canabae had grew up at the camp gates.[1] Under Septimius Severus Potaissa became a municipium, under Caracalla a colonia.[1]
The reconstructed gateway of the castrum in Porolissum
  • Porolissum is unique in having two camps, adjacent to a regular walled frontier, the only such stretch so far discovered in Dacia.[1] Porolissum was made a municipium in the reign of Septimius Severus; it never achieved the status of colonia.[1]
  • Dierna (Orşova, Romania), Tibiscum (Jupa, Romania) and Ampelum (Zlatna, Romania) were also important Roman towns,[1] although the legal status of Ampelum (the largest settlement in the mining district) is uncertain.[8] Dierna was a customs station, and by Septimius Severus’s reign it was a municipium.[1]
  • In Sucidava (now Celei-Tismana), Trajan built an earthwork camp; and after the war, a town grew up on the site of the camp.[1] Sucidava never became a municipium or a colonia: its status was always that of a pagus or a vicus, a simple country town.[1]

It is often difficult to define the boundary between the ‘Romanised’ villages and most of the sites that fall under the category of ‘small towns’.[5] Therefore, identifying such sites has tended to focus on those which operated beyond a purely subsistence economic level and, at least in part, were involved in trade and industry.[5] The itinerary depicted by the Tabula Peutingeriana mentions the following settlements along the main route within the province: Aquae (Călan, Romania), Petris, Germisara (Cigmău, Romania), Blandiana and Brucla.[5] In cases of Aquae and Germisara their functional complexity is evident: both were based on natural springs still in use today.[5] The identifications of Petris, Blandiana and Brucla have not yet been confirmed epigraphically.[5] If Petris was, indeed, located at Uroi (Romania), it would have been primarily an industrial centre, which would have also been an important site for trade and the communication network.[5]

In Dacia, there are a lot of settlements supposedly connected with military sites (military vici).[5] Unfortunately, in many cases this is merely an assumption where a fort is known, or where a fort is assumed.[5] However, few of these sites have been examined in any detail; in the mid-Mureş valley, civilian settlements were identified outside the auxiliary forts at Micia (Veţel, Romania), Cigmău, Războieni and Orăştioara de Sus.[5] The most interesting discovery at Micia is a small amphitheatre.[1]

During the period of Roman occupation, the settlement pattern of the Mureş valley shows a significant shift towards nucleation.[5] In central Dacia, there are approximately 10 villages (aggregated settlements) of most likely agricultural function, and a further 18 sites may also fit into this category.[5] The layout of all these examples follows two main types.[5] On one hand, there are the examples built in a traditional manner (e.g., Obreja, Vinţu de Jos, Radeşti), many still with largely sunken houses and in a few examples showing evolution towards surface timber constructions; on the other hand, there are those built in the Roman fashion.[5]

The total number of villas within central Dacia is uncertain, much like elsewhere in the province.[5] Less than 30 appear on the published heritage lists throughout the province, but this is clearly an underestimate.[5]

[edit] Economy

Under the peace kept by the army of occupation, at least until the middle of the 3rd century, Dacia prospered, and enjoyed the blessings of Romanization: Rome raised this latest of her provinces, as she had the others, from an underdeveloped country to an advanced level of material civilization.[1] From the year 106 to the middle of the 3rd century, there were more coins circulating in Dacia than in the neighboring provinces.[18]

The country’s resources, skillfully exploited, brought Rome considerable wealth.[6] Dacia became one of the principal producers of grain, especially wheat, in the empire.[6] To facilitate commerce Roman bronze coins were minted in Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa[6] between 246 and 256 (previously Dacia seems to have been supplied with coins from central coin-issuing mints).[18] The extensive network of Roman roads contributed to the growth of the economy.[6]

The gold mines had been one of the major attractions of Dacia for the Romans from the beginning;[1] and the gold mines of the Bihor Mountains, operated by Illyrians brought in from Dalmatia, were an important resource for the empire's treasure chests.[6] At Alburnus Maior the gold mines flourished between 131 and 167, but the mines were still worked though with reduced production; perhaps the veins were giving out.[1] The last evidence of Roman exploitation of the gold mines dates from 215.[1]

The lead, copper, silver, iron, and salt mines, which, like the gold mines, had existed in the time of the Dacian kings, were systematically worked as well.[6] The country was also rich in building-stone: marble, limestone, andesite, sandstone, and schist.[1]

Towns represented important manufacturing centers.[18] Weapons workshops were attested in Apulum, a brooch workshop in Napoca, bronze casting workshops were found in Dierna, Romula, and Porolissum.[18] Glass manufactures were discovered in Tibiscum and Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa.[18] Dacia’s rural settlements often specialized in specific craftsmanship activities, especially pottery (e.g., at Micăsasa 26 kilns and hundreds of moulds fragments for local terra sigillata were unearthed).[18]

[edit] Religion

To illustrate religious beliefs, Dacian inscriptions and sculpture have more variety to offer than those of any other Roman province.[1] It is not only the gods of the official state religion that are represented; there is also a whole gamut of divinities from the Greek east and the “barbarian” west.[1]

Apparently no Dacian god creeps into the Roman pantheon;[5] there are no references to Dacian cults or a Dacian deity on religious memorials, nor any indication that the Dacians might have worshipped a local deity who, due to interpretatio Romana, bore a Roman name.[8] The main reason for this may be that the Dacians did not conceive their gods anthropomorphically;[1] the Thraco-Dacian religion was characterized by aniconism to such an extent as Judaism and Islam.[20] No statues were found in the columned sanctuaries of the Dacian citadels dated in the reigns of Burebista and Decebalus.[1] The main Dacian sacred site was destroyed during the wars and the place was doomed; but other places of religious significance (Germisara) where the pre-Roman use of the site is combined in the post-conquest period with particular nuances in cult and worship show that some elements of the Dacian supernatural did survive, despite the Roman names applied to local divinities.[5]

It is clear that in general the funerary practices in Roman times contrast significantly with those in the period before the Roman conquest when very few such contexts have been documented.[5] Most of the recovered funerary art comes from major towns; it demonstrates that, although stelae were the most common type of funerary monument, more elaborate monuments were also present, such as mausoleum, tumulus, aedicule, funerary enclosure and segmented pyramidal-shaped or altar-shaped monuments, most of them with architectural decoration (e.g., funerary medallions, copings, columns, funerary lions).[5] Few cemeteries have been excavated in the rural areas, where work has focused mostly on those identified as of Dacian type. Some funerary sites are, or assumed to be, related to villa settlements (certain – Cincis; assumed – Deva, Ghirbom, Sălaşu de Sus, Orăştioara de Jos, Hăpria).[5]




The Dacian Draco in the Roman Army


In the Roman Empire, where each military cohort had a particular identifying signum, (military standard), after the Parthian and Dacian Wars of Trajan in the east, the Dacian Draco military standard entered the Legion with the Cohors Sarmatarum and Cohors Dacorum (Sarmatian and Dacian cohorts) — a large dragon fixed to the end of a lance, with large gaping jaws of silver and with the rest of the body formed of colored silk. With the jaws facing into the wind, the silken body inflated and rippled, resembling a windsock.[2] This signum is described in the surviving epitome of Vegetius De Re Militari 379 CE:

The first sign of the entire legion is the eagle, which the eagle-bearer carries. In addition, dragons are carried into battle by each cohort, by the 'dragoneers'[3]

and in Ammianus Marcellinus, xvi. 10, 7[4]

The Dacian Dragon Standard in England

by Andrei Dorian Gheorghe & Alastair McBeath,
first published in The Dragon Chronicle, Number 12, April 1998

The Dacian battle standard was a dragon, made up of a metallic wolf’s head with a serpentine cloth body, a little like an aerodrome windsock, and through which
the wind would hiss and howl, making a particularly terrifying impact on any enemies.Similar standards were used by the Indians, Parthians, Persians and Scythians,but where the original idea came from is unknown, perhaps from contact with peoples of China and Mesopotamia, where flying dragons were long-established mythical creatures.

Such dragon standards appear both in archaeological evidence, including Trajan’s Column, and also in written material of Roman origin. The Romans fought major conflicts against both the Dacians and Parthians under Trajan’s rule, both of whom used this dragon as a battle-flag, but it is clear from what we have seen already that Trajan’s most major efforts were made against, and his most important victory was over, the Dacians.
However, we do not definitely know whether it was these conflicts, or the recruitment
of auxiliary troops from Dacia, Sarmatia or Parthia, or indeed a combination of all,
which finally brought about the general adoption of the draco standard of this animal-head-and-cloth-cone type as the emblem of the cohorts throughout the entire Roman army during the 2nd century CE.

There is some evidence to suggest the Germanic tribes also used dragon standards of similar types, although whether these were adopted after contact with the Roman versions is less clear.

Certainly the Continental Saxons of the post-Roman period seem to have used such battle emblems, but their origins are difficult to ascertain in the absence of written records.
They do at least appear to have been used at a later period than those of the  Dacians/Parthians/Sarmatians and their Roman masters (cf. Heath 1980; Lofmark 1995).
This is not to say that the dragon was unknown to these people, and others,both at this time and much earlier, since there is strong evidence to support dragons as symbols used on coins, armour and jewellery, amongst other things,from a far earlier time than that of the Roman cohort dragon standards (Lofmark 1995) contains a good, brief introduction to this broad subject.

The widespread use of the dragon standard in the Roman army would have brought it to Britain in a short time, and as it was only in 407 CE that the last Roman troops were withdrawn from Britain, for around 200 years,the British population would have been used to being guarded by forces led by dragon emblems.

After the Romans departed, it would probably have seemed quite natural to the Romano-British people to retain the dragon standard for their own troops,and written evidence from the late 6th century (as well as less reliable earlier sources)indicates the term “dragon” was widely used to signify a leader.

Thus although Geoffrey of Monmouth may indeed have almost single-handedly “invented” Arthur in the form so successfully taken up and perpetuated by later medieval writers (such as Thomas Malory), enough historical evidence is available to suggest that a leader of “Decebalian” stature did indeed exist in Britain, and that he would have been associated with the dragon standard,as well as very probably being called something like “pen-dragon” or chief dragon (Ashe 1990; Lofmark 1995; Nicolle 1984).

Consequently, we have the fascinating prospect that the “Romanian Arthur” King Decebal may have helped create the British Arthur,and more likely helped transfer the battle-flag dragon across Europe to Britain in the early centuries CE.

One further point is that as British auxiliary troops served with the Romans in the Dacian campaigns, and Dacian auxiliaries later served with the Roman army in Britain, such a transfer of the dragon-standard might have seemed even more natural.

Other auxiliaries came from all over the Empire, and either this,or the Dacian’s Germanic allies the Bastarnae might have helped spread the standard to the Saxons, as well as Roman influence. After the Arthurian period, the dragon remained in use as a British standard
for warriors, or at least their leaders, until 1066, with frequent battles throughout this period between the dragons of Britain and those attempting to invade from overseas - e.g. the Danes and Saxons.

The Bayeux Tapestry shows one of the last representations of the British battle dragon
in its earlier form, where two are depicted, one already fallen with its bearer beside
the famous figure with an arrow in his eye, who may or may not be meant to represent King Harold himself(e.g. Stenton 1965, especially plate 71 and pp.187-188).

The two standards certainly seem to imply the last stand of the King’s household troops, and it is even possible that the fallen dragon standard itself may be intended to show Harold’s death, rather than the figure with the arrow impaled in him.

The invading Normans, although they clearly made use of coiling serpentine dragons
as designs on their shields, do not appear to have used dragon standards at all,and it is not until Richard I used one in 1190 at Messina that we find a Norman king in association with a dragon battle standard (Lofmark 1995).

As we know, dragons refuse to go away permanently, and although various monarchs since have used or ignored the dragon standard in Britain at their whim (or as political necessity dictated), the dragon still persists as animportant symbol at many different levels in modern Britain.


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