History Of The Romanians - Before Decebalus

CHAPTER I 1. The Dacian Offensive: His Majesty, Decebalus  Long had Rome been dealing with this headstrong Dacian people; but, having had them for some time encircled closely by other barbarians and guarded by ships on the Danube, whose function was mainly political, it might have thought them rendered harmless, confined to the mountains from which, however, such fertile valleys rayed out to the East.These, the Romans had not yet come to know. The notion of a Rome avid for new lands must be firmly dismissed. Which also accounts for the indifference towards various territories beyond the borders of the Empire, as in the case that we are going to look into by a brief survey of the records. […]As for the space north of the Danube, it was not regarded either as posing any threat, or as deserving of any attention. That the relationships with the Dacians were soon to take new scope follows however from Strabo's prophecy, written under Tiberius. Pointing that their army had been reduced from 100.000 to 40.000 strong, he adds: "they came close to surrendering to the Romans, and if they are not wholly subdued, it is because of the hopes they placed in the Germans, who are the enemies of Rome." Henceforward the Dacians, neighbours of the Costoboci, begin to figure in documents.[i] By that time Dio Chrysostomus, pagan "Gold Mouth", grandiloquent stylist born in Prusa, Bithynia, dauntless moralist, befriended by Vespasian and persecuted by Domitian, fared down the Danube to the Scythians, where he met the "accursed" Getae and even tasted the delights of the Pontus. He enjoyed later the protection of Emperor Nerva, which earned him the surname Cocceianus, and also the favour of Trajan, from whom he obtained privileges for his native town. He would retire with the Emperor's leave, called back to Prusa by his family. […]For some time the Dacians and the Romans had fostered peaceful relations. It has been attempted to demonstrate a westward expansion, which clashes with the very meaning of a eastward withdrawal. A closer look soon reveals that, in reality, the great expansion of the Dacians into the West cannot be reliably grounded solely on the statements of Ptolemy, armchair geographer who works in Egypt on an account in mathematical terms (which alone is his field) for the map of the Roman Empire – as I shall explain below – and who places a Setidava and a Susudata around the Vistula; more than that is needed to defend this assumption, which I am not alone in regarding as eccentric[ii]. […]The Dacians – whence the name Daciscus, which the Romans did only borrow – as well as their entire Thracian race, had traditional sources of livelihood: not only shepherding, practised all the way to Noric and to which we can trace the origins of today's Mocani*, but also agriculture. Naturally hunting, so dear to the descendants of the old natives from these parts, was also a livelihood to a population consisting as a rule of land-tillers and shepherds. Whoever speaks of stags in Scythia and in the regions inhabited by the Getae (or even by the Mysians) obviously has the Dacians in mind.What really gave an impetus to this people was the revival of sacred royalty, which appears to have been discontinued by the division of power between the chieftains of the valleys. With the emergence of Decebalus as their leader, all initiative on their part was cut short. […]The Dacians and the Getae had been separated by a period of time characterized by a manifest search for a direction. It is for this reason that, in Nero's time, Lucan would distinguish clearly between the Dacians and the Getae as two entirely different peoples, both militarily and politically.Tiberius conquered the Salassians and other Rhetic peoples. Noric, Vindelicia, Pannonia, long exposed to the Roman ways, had adopted Roman politics. Roman roads were steadily advancing towards the region where the building of a barbarian state was being attempted. Vannius's GermanState, the SarmatianState of the Iagizians, Decebalus' DacianState, were all but expressions of an ambition to dominate a barbarian confederacy that had borrowed from Rome both its techniques and its ideas.Hence Decebalus' tragedy.All he will do is copy, ignoring Vannius, the model of Marbodus, "barbarian by birth rather than by thought" (ratione), who had a certum imperium, a dominion, a Roman-like State, and a vis regia, a "royal consciousness". Like Marbodus, Decebalus too joins forces with all his neighbours and draws all the fugitives to himself[iii]. He too puts together an army with "an almost Roman discipline". He too addresses the Romans now as a messenger of peace, now as their equal, pro pari. It is more than likely that the uprisings in Pannonia and Dalmatia, which foiled the offensive prepared by Marbodus against the Middle Danube area, were but the fruit of the plots contrived by Decebalus, the first ever to have suggested – inspired perhaps by Mithridate's attempt, on different cultural grounds – opposing the barbarian state as such to the Roman state, an idea which has never occurred to the Germans. He had also had connections with Arminius, the destroyer of the Roman army led by Varus, whose head was sent to him, and he had managed to get acknowledged and honoured by Tiberius.Just as Burebista's name has a Celtic ring to it, so Decebalus' resembles the name of the Tribals* of the same origin, who seem to have settled in Chertebalos on the Danube. He is indeed the king, but now devoid of a prophet, a lay leader to a warrior people, surrounded by a military aristocracy – those tarabostes and pileati**– and wearing a fur cap which may not have been sheepskin but rather the fox fur cap mentioned in so many of the records concerning the Scythians and the Getae, ever since Herodotus himself.In his turn Decebalus appears as the leader of a confederacy, the representative of the whole free barbarian world. Trajan must have found it highly convenient to be able to either crush it or subjugate it at one blow. Not until half a century has passed will such a coming together for a common goal be achieved: the union between the Quasians and the Marcomanni will also have absorbed, in the battle against Marcus Aurelius, so many of the descendants of the free Dacians who had fled Roman slavery[iv]. Two centuries later Attila the Hun will wield the same formidable power born out of the thirst for freedom shared by people of every breed and every language. In fact, whatever was recorded in later documents as opposition to Rome, be it the Suevians, the Alemanni, the Francs or even the Goths, were but such defensive military associations.Of course the Slavs joined Decebalus' confederacy, as well.[v] There is no other explanation for the abundance of Slavonic names around this settlement, which was off their route into the Balkans, the millenary end of this people's migrations. These names are not among those which, adopted by the Romans, have a meaning in our language.Nevertheless, everything that the Dacian king has or does has borne, ever since those days, what I have called the Seal of Rome. Dacian shingled towers, like, for instance, the one in Grădiştea Muncelului, built on top of a 1215 m high hill, […] might have had something to do with Decebalus' wars, but elements of Roman technique as well as traces of Greek masonry can also be noticed.Fifty years later, the Quasians and the Marcomanni would boast their baths and other useful inventions to Marcus Aurelius, claiming that by no means could either free men or slaves be tempted away on pretences of civilization[vi].Even prior to Caesar's conquest of Gaul, Vercingetorix was having his name written in Latin on his gold coins. Before Claudius' attack on Britannia, the Celtic leaders of the island were minting coins with Latin inscriptions, adopting the title reges, a Roman loan. The legend on Vannius' coins was also in Latin. It is safe to assume that both Decebalus and many of his people were already familiar with Latin at the time of their battle with Domitian. […]Decebalus is a barbarian king in the broadest and at the same time least exact understanding of the word, but his position is that of a conciliator between the barbarian world proper and the Greek-Roman civilization. In Augustus's time, the neighbouring Pannonians could speak Latin, "quite a few of them having benefited from a free initiation and being no strangers to spiritual exercise". The Dacians could not have remained unaffected by this trend. Besides, their contacts with the romanised world must have included manifold relations with the Illyrians, either in the form of war alliances, or of trading agreements. […]It is therefore against this background - which we had to outline for a better understanding of its historic role - that Decebalus emerges as leader of the Dacians, following the abdication of old king Duras. A number of sources, such as Jordanes, quoting Orosius, who in turn quotes a fragment from Tacitus, which has since been lost – also refer to him as Diupaneus, which by the same analogy as Dierna-Tserna-Cerna might give jupaneus, or perhaps jupan*; later, the Slavs adopted either the old Dacian name or Diupaneus.Ascension to the throne of a barbarian kingdom was synonymous with starting a war. Some time later, Apianus would depict the Dacians as a "harsh, war-loving people". Their warlike disposition is demonstrated also by their choice of the new flags in the shape of the drac­**– the word cannot possibly be of Dacian origin – carried to battle by tattooed warriors shouting battle cries. […]Records kept by Peter the Patrician, writer of the late Byzantine period, picture Decebalus as defying the threat implicit in the legions led by Cornelius Fuscus, sent in answer to his peace offer. Should every Roman make his contribution, then alone would he think better of it. Decebalus does not appear as a solitary hero and companionless leader. Dieges, a "brother" of his, is depicted coming to Rome on his behalf, but the crown that Domitian places on his head seems to be meant for the lord rather than for the ambassador. […]Decebalus' eventual defeat is self-evident. It has been acknowledged as such by modern criticism, through the ever so thorough research by von Premerstein.Martian is, of course, no reliable writer, and he is liable to accusations of flattery, but there is nothing historically false in his epigram, meant as a lament for Cornelius Fuscus, the man who, "young and of noble birth", had played a major part in the civil war. […] The epigram portrays Fuscus as once guardian of the Emperor and senator (sacri lateris custos Martisque togati). But now his resting place in Dacian ground may fear no dishonour. For, whatever his inimical fate, a heavy yoke did the Dacian's tamed neck receive, when the shadow of victory reigned over the enslaved forest: Grande iugum domita Dacus cervice recepitEt famulum victrix possidet umbra nemus.This pious fragment from Martian could well be a headstone to be laid in the very place it mentions. So that place was by now Roman ground.The passing of a man of such greatness and so important a role as Cornelius Fuscus must have resounded greatly in Rome and, since Vespasian's family was so deeply in debt with Vitelus' victor, basic moral obligations required the immediate planning of a new expedition to revenge the bloody barbarian victory won by ambush in the unexplored forests of that untamed land.The meaning of the treaty between Domitian and Decebalus has therefore been misunderstood, and wrongly interpreted as cowardice on the part of a shamefully defeated emperor who pays a tribute to his victor and assists him in his resistance to the Romans by having Roman masons build his fortifications. In reality, what these masons built were but the defences of a king who had come under Roman patronage, and whom the Emperor chose to use as an outpost against the still inimical Sarmatians and Germans. An inscription speaks of expeditions against the Marcomanni, the Quazians and the Sarmatians, "under the command of king Decebalus" (per regnum Decebalis regis)[vii]. […]Like any member of the federation, Decebalus received, both from Rome and later from Byzantium, some financial support, in fact a soldier's pay. As for the fortifications, they were meant – as I have pointed out – to prevent the overflow of any untamed barbarians down to the Danube. Decebalus himself was prohibited to build without the Emperor's leave, an interdiction which, flouted two centuries earlier by the Celto-Iberians, had thrown these into war with Rome. […] (Fragments selected by Vasile ANDRU)
* mocan, pl. mocani (Rom.) = shepherd from the mountainous regions, esp. in Transylvania (trans. note)* tribals (Roman hist.)= belonging to any of the three divisions of the people representing the Latin, Sabine and Etruscan settlements (trans. note) **tarabostes, pileati = names given by the Romans to the Dacian aristocracy (trans. note)* jupan (Rom.) = title given in the Middle Ages to the most important boyards and officials in the Romanian provinces. (** Dacian wolf-headed battle standard (from Lat. draco = serpent, dragon) (trans. note). [i] According to Dierauer, the Getae and the Dacians are not exactly the same people, and there are even conceivable linguistic differences. Pârvan, on the other hand, regards both their names as originating in the Asian steppe, where similar names can be found. [iii] Gentibus hominibusque a nobis desciscentibus erat apud eum perfugium; Velleius Paterculus, II, CIX. [iv] See, also, the excellent article by Mr James Smith Reid, in thr Encyclopaedia Britannica, XXVII, p.158. Elsewhere: "Like Marbodus he (Decebalus) was able to combine the force of tribes commonly hostile to each other, and his military ability almost went the length of genius". [v] Hunfalvy (in Die Rumänen und ihre Ansprüche, p.18) was the first to admit of Slavs as part of the population of Transylvania. [vi] Dio Cassius, LXXI, 20. His writings, as we find them abridged by the insignificant Xifilin , are the only record. Passages which have been lost also spoke about the Geto-Dacians' customs and settlements. Attributing them to Dio Crysostomus – as Iordanes does - , simple rhetor, uninterested either in history or in historiography, is fallacious. The fact that the author is Dio Cassius is supported also by the reference to Italy.; Getica, p.97. [vii] The inscription by C Velius Rufus, "salvi filius", who "donis donato ab imp. Vespasiano et imp. Tito, etc., item donis donato corona murali hastis duabus, vexillis duobus et bello Marcomannorum, Quadorum, Sarmatarum, adversus quos expeditionem fecit per regnum Decebali regis Dacorum, corona murali hastis duabus vexillis duobus'', cf. Dio Cassius, LXVII, 5, 7.

by Nicolae Iorga (1871-1940)