Monthly Archives: March 2012

Dacian Prisoners

During the reign of Trajan over the Roman Empire, the Romans experienced a great amount of resistance from the kingdom of Dacia. As a result, the Roman leader, Trajan, prepared his forces to fight against the forced of the Dacian Empire led by Decebalus. Battle began between these two nations in 101 A.D. and lasted until roughly 106 A.D. over the period of two wars (Schmitz 7-8). These wars took place on the Dacian’s land, which was in their favor, but they ultimately ended up losing although they dealt many devastating blows to the Roman forces.

As the wars waged on between these two forces, the Romans took many captives and the number of slaves only increased once they claimed victory in the war. The prisoners were treated poorly and expected to complete many tasks for the Romans. The slaves could be assigned any number of tasks including stone work, although they were given low quality tools to work with (Petrie 1917). Although the prisoners provided large amounts of labor for the Romans, they were also used to show a symbol of status and wealth among the Romans. Along with the gold and silver, the servants received from the war were considered to be a part of the goods gained for the Roman Empire. They were displayed in front of the emperor, along with other treasure, as a part of celebration for the Roman army (Cracknell 2010).

75.Subjugation of the Dacians. Used by permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell

As the picture demonstrates, the slaves were brought before the king not only to be shown off, but also to pledge their allegiance to the kingdom. It was important for the slaves to know that they were now a part of the Roman culture and under its influence for the remainder of their existence.


Works Cited

Cracknell, N. (2010, April). Trajan’s forum: A triumphal reading. Retrieved from

Petrie, W. (1917). 104. links of north and south. Man, 17(Oct), 158-162.

Piperno, R., & Moore, R. (n.d.). Two roman wars. Retrieved from

Rockwell, P. (1999). Subjugation of the Dacians.Trajan’s Column, The McMaster Trajan Project. Photograph retrieved from

Schmitz, M. (2005). The Dacian Threat. 101-106 A.D. Caeros, 7-8


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The Roman Signum

Roman Legions carried many different standards. One of the most recognizable is the signum, the decorated spear-like pole. As depicted on Trajan’s column, the standards of Legio I Minervia consisted of a wreathed open-hand symbol (manus) on top of the pole, a crossbar underneath with a strip of leather hanging from either end, and a series of discs below the crossbar. Archaeologists have found signa of other types, topped with spear heads instead of the manus, and with wreaths between the discs (Kraeling). These wreaths, as well as the one on the manus, are believed to be a symbol of an award or honor given to the standard’s unit (“Signum”).

Scene 48. Standards of Legio I Minervia. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Another set of standards on Trajan’s Column have a very different design. In between the discs are ambiguous rectangles that protrude from the column almost as if they are supposed to be representations of short cylinders. The discs themselves, instead of being plain-surfaced, have images on them. The top image is of an eagle, but the ones below almost look like a portrait. Legions in the Roman Empire would each have an image of the Emperor, but this would have been one standard only in the first cohort of the legion (“The Roman Standards”). No sources clarify whether these portraits (if that is what they are) are of the Emperor Trajan, or are other important figures or deities.

Scene 53. Roman military standards. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Roman signa were very important to the legionaries. They represented the honor of their unit and legion, and were used in religious festivals and other ceremonies. When pitching camp, the standards were staked into the ground before anything else (“The Roman Standards”). Most importantly, they were used in battle as rallying points and signals for different tactical maneuvers (Kraeling).


Works Cited

“Signum (Military Standard).” Legion XXIV Media Atlantia. Feb. 2010. n.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2012. <;

“The Roman Standards.” Illustrated History of the Roman Empire. 19 July 2008. n.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2012. <;

Kraeling, Carl H. “The Episode of the Roman Standards at Jerusalem.” The Harvard Theological Review 35.4 (1970): 263-289. Print.

Rockwell, Peter. Photo of Roman military standards on Trajan’s Column. n.d. The Stoa Consortium. Web. 8 Mar. 2012.

Rockwell, Peter. Photo of Standards of Legio I Minervia on Trajan’s Column. n.d. The Stoa Consortium. Web. 8 Mar. 2012.

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Vehicles on Trajan’s Column

Pairs of mules drag carroballistae, cart-mounted missile throwing weapons, into battle

Scene 40, Carroballistae. Used with permission. Copywrite Peter Rockwell. Via

Trajan’s column gives a glimpse of life at war and war technology during Trajan’s campaign against the Dacians.  One particular insight on the column shows the use of wagons and siege equipment specifically a carroballistae. This type of ballista was mounted to a cart with two eight spoke wheels and drawn by mules or horses. This is an assumed technological advancement allowing for mobile artillery. Richmond suggests that it is “much like a hopper-trailer of a modern field gun (13). The wagon was serviced by two soldiers. One soldier seems to be loading and the other preparing the torrsion propulsion system.

The ballista was mounted on a cart were one man took position on the back to aim and fire the bolt while another solider likely wound the winch to create the needed tension for firing. Disputes amoung scholars has suggested the carts were only used to transport the ballistaes during the campaign; however, depictions on the column show the ballistaes loaded. This would have been a very dangerous way to transport them. Also, there is evidence that ballistaes mounted on carts or charriots have been seen on other forms of archeology (Wikipedia).

Scene 40, Soldiers above ballistae. Used with permission. Copywrite Peter Rockwell. Via

The viewer must keep in mind that Trajan’s Column is monument to a victorious campaign on a monochrome stone medium. It was carved by a scuplter rather than a soldier. The portrayal of the soldiers are too simplistic to be a rendition of actual soldiers in battle. Evidence of this can be seen in the uniforms as well as in the incorrect representations of the ballista.  The depictions are meant to be decisively recognized as roman. (Richmond, 14).




Works Cited 

“Carroballista.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundations. Mar. 6 2011. Web. Mar 8 2012. 

Richmond, I. A. “Trajan’s Army on Trajan’s Column.: Papers  of the British School at Rome. Vol. 13 (1935), pp. 1-40. JSTOR Web. Feb 28 2012.

Rockwell, Peter. Soldiers above ballistae. Trajan’s Column. Photograph. The McMaster Trajan Project.  1999. 8 Mar. 2012. Web.

Rockwell, Peter. Carroballistae. Trajan’s Column. Photograph. The McMaster Trajan Project.  1999. 8 Mar. 2012. Web.

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Legate being saluted

The man in charge of the Roman Legions.

The role of Legatus was considered the highest rank that a legionary could strive to gain, while then it was still usually granted to a senator more often than a soldier who worked his way up through the ranks.

The Legatus was in charge of overall military strategy and campaigning. The Legatus would need to lean heavily on the other staff officers that would be surrounded by him, the business of day-to-day operations was run by these officers.

There were a few different “ranks” of Legatus in the Roman Army. There were Legatus in each province, in charge of their own regional legion, who would protect regional interests unless called upon by the Empire to go to battle, which was a common occurrence in the Roman times. (Milner)

One of the most important roles of the Legatus was to know when to press war upon his foes, and when it was time to hold back. In many cases the wisest Legate would listen to the senior “non-commissioned” soldiers who would almost always have the truest feel for what the soldiers were feeling and whether pushing the fight was wise. Vegetius was quoted, via translation, as saying that :

One should find out how soldiers are feeling before battle. Explore carefully how soldiers are feeling on the actual day they are going to fight. For confidence or fear may be discerned from their facial expression, language, gait and gestures. Do not be fully confident if it is the recruits who want battle, for was is sweet to the inexperienced. You will know to postpone it if the experienced warriors are afraid of fighting. An army gains courage and fighting spirits from advice and encouragement from their general, especially if they are given such an account of the coming battle as leads them to believe they will easily win a victory. (Keppie)

One of the largest dangers of the rank of Legatus is that they were subject to the displeasure of the Emperor. If a Legate has a bad campaign, they may not be long for the rank.

Works Cited

Keppie, Lawrence. The Making of the Roman Army: From republic ot empire. Lawrence: University of Oklahoma press, 1984. Print.

Milner, N.P. Vegetius: Epitome of Military Science. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1993. Print.



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The Lost Legions of Varus

“In the field, the bones of the soldiers lay scattered about, each where he had fallen either standing his ground or trying to flee. There were bits of weapons, and the bones of horses amongst them, and human heads had been nailed to the trunks of the surrounding trees. In these groves stood the barbarian altars where the tribunes and leading centurions had been sacrificed.” – Tacitus

In 9 AD, thirty thousand legionaries and their commander, Quinctilius Varus, were massacred deep within the Teutoberg forest. Led by the ex-auxiliary Arminius, the German tribesmen hunted the scattered legions as they desperately tried to extricate themselves from the forests and bogs of Northern Germany. Shrouded in mystery, even the search for this famous battleground has been going on for more than four hundred years (Damien). The discovery of Roman coins, among other things, have indicated a site near Osnabrück, Germany (Damien).

Approximate location of the Battle of Teutoberg

The Germanic tribes were polar opposites of the Roman legions. While the Romans carried pilum, sword, shield, and fought heavily armored, the Germans carried a light shield made of sticks, a short iron-headed spear, called a frameae, and usually fought naked (Tacitus 40). Unlike the organized and silent Roman charge, the German Furor Teutonicus was a wedge formation of wild, bellowing ferocity that could ‘easily keep up with a cavalry encounter’ (Tacitus). Their remarkable speed is probably what made it possible for them to attack and then vanish into the woods as suddenly as they had appeared (Matyszak 99). The Germans were also reported to be “frighteningly large”, living mostly on a diet of meat, milk, and cheese, and of having a great fondness for beer (Matyszak; Tacitus).  As time passed on, the Germans were becoming more and more Romanized as they traded with them for alcohol and fought alongside them as mercenaries and auxiliaries.

Arminius, a young nobleman of the Cherusci tribe, was one such auxiliary. Velleius describes him as “strong of hand and quick of mind and far more intelligent than your average barbarian . . . the ardour of his face and eyes showed the burning spirit within” (Matyszak 167). Arminius fought in several Roman campaigns and had not only earned Roman citizenship, but was even elevated to the rank of Equestrian. However, Arminius did not appreciate the treatment given to his fellow tribesmen and was in reality deeply disgusted by Roman civilization (Matyszak 168). His experience in the army was both a catalyst and an advantage as he plotted against the Romans.

In the autumn of AD 9 reports of disturbances set Varus and his legions in motion. Segestes, another tribal leader, warned Varus that he was walking right into an ambush. Varus ignored Segestes’ advice, firstly on the grounds that Segestes’ was biased, since Arminius and Segestes’ daughter had recently eloped, and secondly because Varus trusted Arminius.

A forest in Germany. This image is what the Forest of Teutoberg may have looked like to a Roman Legionary

The Legions were already having trouble as they entered the Teutoberg forest; the densely packed trees forced the legions to spread out and made transportation of carts and building of roads very difficult. A few days travel had the legions, plus their wives, children, and servants, spread far apart deep within the forest. Without warning, the Germans attacked. Arminius herded the confused and poorly led Romans between the forest and a nearby marsh, picking them off until the entire army was destroyed.

Arminius’ men were ordered to search for Varus’ body; when they had found him, Arminius had the commander’s head sent Maroboduus of the Marcomanni tribe. He hoped that this victory would convince the chieftain out of his stubborn neutrality (Matyszak 171). Maroboduus was not impressed and passed Varus’ head along to Rome.

A coin found near Osnabruck featuring the head of Quinctilius Varus

The news of the annihilation of Varus’ legions was panic-inducing; with the legions gone, the Alps were the only thing standing between Rome and the Germanic hordes. Emperor Augustus ordered an emergency levy and moved Legion V Alaudae north to fill the gap. The numbers of the lost legions, XVII, XVIII, and XIX, were never used again. Although Augustus acted swiftly, he was deeply affected by the loss. Even months afterward, he would bang his head against the wall shouting “Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions!”



Works Cited

Tacitus, Publius Cornelius.  Agricola and Germany. Trans. A.R. Birley. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

Damien, Gregory. “Coin clues to lost legions.” History Today. 40.8 (Aug90) 3. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.

Matyszak, Philip. Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s Unofficial Manual. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd. 2009. Print.

Matyszak, Philip. Enemies of Rome: from Hannibal to Attila the Hun. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd. 2004. Print.

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