Valeriu Sîrbu, Cătălin Borangic
The curved weapons of the Dacians, a whole spectrum of shapes and sizes, span most of the Thracian area and proved to be very efficient and well adapted to the mentality of those warriors. Either the curved weapons modified the psychology of their users or, more likely, the warrior mentality of the Thracians found the curved weapons to be a suitable extension of their fighter inclination. In any case, it is certain that the result is a man-weapon rapport that shaped the path of the Thracians through history.
We will now analyse only the curved daggers of the sica type found in the graves in the north-Danubian area (Fig.1). However, the comments and interpretations will take into account both the figurative dagger representations, as well as the references about them in ancient texts. We will analyse the types of daggers and their decoration, the way they were used and their intentional destruction, their diffusion and chronology, as well as the probable statute demonstrated by the warrior’s wearing them.
The ancient times were sensitive to those political and, even more so, military trends that did not fit the traditions because of their exotic nature and the harshness of their frequency.
From this perspective, the Dacian warriors took full advantage of the attention paid by the Greek-Roman authors – the only ones of their neighbours who put to paper their impressions about the northern Balkans. One could say that, in a world dominated by violence, their deeds and features must have really stood out, since them and their frightful weapons find themselves in this position more than any anybody else.
As a complement to the representations of daggers on hard materials (stone or metal), the written sources contribute to the overall tableau, offering the reader a natural addition to the image and evolution of these weapons in the Thracian space, and the researcher important starting points for the scientific investigation, despite the ambiguities and the gaps.
In contrast to the large number of items found all over the Thracian space, there are few iconographic representations or written sources for these daggers.
The painted walls of a grave from Alexandrovo, near the city of Haskovo (Bulgaria), dated to mid-4th c. BC, show a figure armed with a curved dagger (Marazov 2005, p. 88), possibly used for hunting. A dagger with a scabbard appears on the weapons frieze from the temple of Athena in Pergamum (Rustoiu 2008, p. 24, note 45) and, on Trajan’s Column, king Decebal commits suicide with this specific dagger (Cichorius 1896-1900, scene CXLV ). The credibility of the scene on the Column is confirmed by the presence of the weapon on a stele found in Grammeni (near ancient Philippi), on the territory of the former Roman province of Macedonia (Speidel 1970, p. 142-143, pl. XIII).
The episode of the royal sacrifice means a fundamental shift in the chronological dispersion of these weapons, showing that they were used by the Dacian political and military elites until the end of the Dacian Kingdom, namely until the beginning of the 2nd c. AD.
Much more unclear and rare are the mentions of daggers in the ancient historiography.
Valerius Maximus could be the first and only ancient author who associated the curved dagger with the Thracian space and identify it by its Thracian name, when he describes the death of Roman consul P. Licinius Crassus Mucianus. The origin of the word is the Indo-European root *sec, *sac, meaning cutting, sectioning (Daremberg and Saglio 1926, p. 1300, s.v. sica). In terms of semantics and terminology, the word sica, meaning a curved dagger, is strongly anchored in the Latin language because of its derivatives, but it is adopted by the Romans from the Greek world, where it arrived with the Thracian mercenaries hired for the various Hellenic conflicts (Emout and Meillet 1932, p. 896, s. v. sica, sicae; apud Rustoiu 2007a, p. 67).
Titus Flavius Clemens of Alexandria, relying on the lecture of ancient sources that are lost nowadays, attributes to the Thracians the invention of a long, curved dagger, called harpe (Clemens of Alexandria, Stromateis, I, 16, p. 132), which may have been a sica dagger (mentioned in the text as mahaira)1.
This is how Cornelius Fronto (Principia Historiae, I, p. 204) begins describing the courageous acts of Varus in the war against the Parthians: […] "tried soldiers left to war, who despised the Parthians, our enemies, and did not flinch from their arrow blows after the terrible wounds inflicted by the curved sickles of the Dacians". The fragment, often quoted in the specialized literature, is very important, because it points to the fact that the curved weapons spread among the Dacians, but also to the generalization of the shape. By giving them the generic name of sickle, the writer shows that he is referring to curved weapons, and he includes in the phrase Dacorum falcibus also scythes, pruning knife, and curved swords, used by the Dacians against the Romans. We can include here, in strong connection with the suicide scene of Decebal, the curved daggers of the sica type used by the warrior aristocracy.
From an ethno-cultural standpoint, the daggers are associated with the Thracian and the Dacian peoples. The sica daggers, undoubtedly a creation of the Balkan Thracians, the bridle bits of the Thracian type and the characteristic pottery (rush-light cups, jar and pedestal bowl are the main indicators of the ethnical components of the funerary inventories that contain them. These deposits show a cosmopolitan spectrum, made up of sabres of the Celtic type, daggers of the sica type, a lance or two, umbones, bridle bits of the Thracian type, spurs and, in exceptional cases, chainmail armours and helmets. These indicators show a Celtic contribution, at least in the initial mix, as the sabres, spurs, oval shields and, probably, the chainmail armours (Borangic and Paliga 2013, p. 11)2 are usually considered to be Celtic attributes.
The sica daggers are one of the major connections between the Balkan Thracians and the north-Danubian Thracians, as they are present on both banks of the Danube.
A sica dagger is characterised by a sharp cutting edge, a blade that is curved more or less elegantly and a triangular cross-section, with one or more blood grooves along the blade and zoomorphic or anthropomorphic motifs incised on the blade, on the same side as the groove3. The size of this dagger ranges from 25 to 35 cm in length (with some exceptions). The cutting edge is always on the concave side of the blade. The daggers come mainly from the funerary inventory of some warriors, as is the case in most of the finds. The characteristic size and shape generated a weapon efficient for stabbing, eviscerating and sectioning. In battle, it played a secondary role, being used in case of force majeure, if the main weapon was not available. In other situations, the dagger represented means of identification of the wearer, but also had a religious role, while the owner was alive, but also after his death.
Although there are no strict categories of daggers, one can identify three main types.
Type A – long blade and blood groove, slight curvature, handle affixed in a short, triangular stub or in an elongation of the blade, with no blade decoration (Fig.2/1). This type contains the three daggers found in Padea (Bondoc 2008-2009, p.143, III.7/19-20)4 (Fig.3/6), plus an item from Zimnicea (Alexandrescu 1980, p.40, fig.59/17, 76/5) (Fig.5/5), one from Slatina and the one from "Silivaş" (Sîrbu and Borangic 2016) (Fig.7/2).
Type B – short, with a massive look, blade looking slightly fractured in the middle, sharp tip, handle affixed to a triangular stub, made rigid with a rivet, and endowed with one or two orifices for affixing the hilt. The blade is decorated with incised symbols and almost always has a blood groove. The daggers of this type are shorter, with an average length of about 30cm (Fig.2/2).
There are just a few daggers north of the Danube and they complicate the chronology, as they are very dispersed geographically, in contexts dating all the way from the 3rd c.BC in Bulgaria to the 1st c.BC north of the river; analogies of this type are in Ravno-Pole, Hristo Danov, Galatin, Prisovo, Komarevo, Sokolare, Altimir, Bărbačevo, Sofronievo, Vraca, Comakovtzi, Panagyurishte Kolonii, Bogomilovo, Pleven, Prisovo in Bulgaria and Ajmana and Vajuga in Serbia (Torbov 2005, p.358-367; Borangic 2009, p.30). However, the manner in which they are fabricated shows significantly less skill on the part of their makers. The handle, one of the most demanding parts in terms of manufacturing, was made almost exclusively from perishable materials and was affixed to the blade in a minimal way. Also these daggers lacks metal scabbards – which would have a difficult time accommodating the coarse blade – so, whatever scabbard there was, it was made only of wood and/or leather5. The shape and size of these daggers are not the most suitable for stabbing, but they are excellent for cutting/sectioning. North of the Danube, such daggers were found in Ogradena (Fig.4/2), Piatra Craivii, Izvoru (Fig.2/2), Radovanu (Fig.5/3) and Poiana6. There is also a dagger in the collection of the National History Museum of Romania, from a private donation, and, quite likely, two fragmentary daggers, one from Răcătău and another from Hunedoara (Sîrbu and Borangic 2016) (Fig.7/1).
Type C – long, elegant blade, decorated with a blood groove. The handle, derived from the elongation of the blade, is protected and hardened with sleeves both at the hilt and at the end. This type is the most spread north of the Danube. The handle is made by elongating the material of the blade and it is protected at both ends by hilt guards (Fig.2/3). Some of the items have an extremely elaborate handles, and the piece was manufactured with great care. Even if, at first look, the category seems to be more of a variant of the "A" type daggers, the items have sufficient distinctive features to make up a separate category. Their defining characteristics are present jointly or separately, as such items display one or more of these features. The sizes are quite standardised, around 30-40 cm in length and 3-3.5 cm in width, with only very few items exceeding these parameters.
Chronologically speaking, this type of dagger is mostly from the 2nd-1st c.BC. The finds of this type are from Bălăneşti7, Baloteşti8 Berghin, Blandiana, Bulbuc (Fig.7/4), Floreşti (Sîrbu et alii 2016)9 (Fig.4/4), Călan, Călăraşi, Cetate (Fig.2/3), Corneşti, Corcova (Sîrbu et alii 1999, p.218-220, fig.2) (Fig.9/1), Cugir (Borangic 2011, p.178, note 20; Popa 2011, p.336-337)10, Deva, Enisala (Fig.5/1), Golenţi, Histria (Fig.5/2), Hunedoara (Fig.6/6), Hoghiz11, Orodel, Piatra Craivii (Rustoiu 2007, 83-97; Plantos, Ciută 2015, p.251-263) (Fig.7/5), Pietroasa Mică - Gruiu Dării, Popeşti, Racoviţa (Sîrbu and Borangic 2015, p.369-390), Rast (Tudor 1968, p.517-526), Şiseşti, Teleac, Tilişca, Viiaşu, Viişoara (Romania), Trebujeni (Rep. of Moldova) Malaja Kopanja (Ukraine) (Fig.8/1-2), plus a dagger found at the beginning of the 20th century in the county of Mehedinţi (Sîrbu and Borangic 2016).
Without being able to pinpoint the place of origin, this category also includes some daggers found in private - Iaşi (Berzovan and Borangic 2014, p.410-411) or museum collections -Bucharest (Sîrbu 2011, p. 252, fig.2).
As mentioned earlier, the vast geographical and chronological dispersion doesn't allow to establish an evolution path or a chronological relation between these types. However, in the north-Danubian space, the type "A" daggers are from the earliest complexes.
This typology relies on the characteristics of the blade and the manner in which the handle was made, and it develops typologies first proposed by Z.Woźniak (1974, p.88-110), N.Torbov (2005, p.358-357) or A.Rustoiu (2007a, p.76, fig.1), with the mention that the current analysis refers solely to items from the north-Danubian space. Even if the morphological analysis extended to the South-Thracian area, there are no items which are fundamentally different, except for the presence in the south of items with long and fractured-looking blades, a whole handle plaque and hilt guards. The general aspect reminds of the old mahaira of which it most likely derives and, chronologically speaking, they are the first daggers. North of the Danube, this type of item is rarer, as the pieces with this morphology have a context that is often unclear and, therefore, are more likely to be from the south of the Danube.
The geographical context of the funerary deposits
Delimiting a historical area is always necessary, but also very demanding12. However, we have tried to put together an overall image, by marking on the map the main finds of sica daggers in funerary contexts (Fig.1).
The geographical distribution of the sica daggers shows an initial core, placed in north-western Bulgaria and north-eastern Serbia, followed by attestations in south-western and central Romania. Afterwards, there are sporadic isolated finds of daggers or parts associated with them in other regions of Romania (Dobroudja and Moldova). At the periphery of these regions, daggers were also found in Trans-Carpathian Ukraine or upstream Danube. In most cases, the daggers are part of funerary inventories, but there are also items in votive deposits.
The fact that they were weapons with spiritual undertones meant that some daggers or their scabbard were included in various cult deposits. This is the case with the scabbards of such daggers, found in residential centres with a religious function Augustin - Tipia Ormenişului, Moigrad - Măgura Moigradului) or even the inclusion of whole weapons (Pietroasa Mică - Gruiu Dării). Finding these weapons in spiritual centres is, probably, no accident.
It is worth pointing out the large number of curved daggers found in deposits without the presence of human bones and their scarcity in settlements and fortresses. This strengthens the sacred nature of the weapon, which had to be "deposited" in order to avoid "desecration", even if the reason escapes us (unrecovered dead? warrior rituals? religious practices?). The most likely scenario is that the owners of the weapons died far from their area of residence and that their bodies could not be recovered to be treated according to the group’s traditions, and the deposits are actually cenotaphs.
The deposits from Bulbuc (Alba County) represent just such a case. Here, on a route between the Dacian capital Sarmizegetusa Regia and the gold and silver mining area of Metalliferous Mountains, one has found five deposits that contained, besides five daggers, also lance heads, bridle bits of the Thracian type, spurs and pottery fragments. The weapons were deteriorated in a ritualistic manner, but were not burned, which supports the idea that the cremation of the dead took place separately, at another location, and that the gear was fetched and placed in the pass to abide by the requirements of the funerary traditions characteristic of the local warriors (Borangic 2014, p.259-310). On the other hand, it is unusual for a cemetery / group of cenotaphs to be made up just of cenotaphs13.
A curved dagger was found in a ritual deposit from the 1st c.AD, a period that, for this site, has yielded only votive deposits and isolated fireplaces, placed in an enclosure surrounded by a wall of limestone blocks, namely Pietroasa Mică - Gruiu Dării, Buzău County (Sîrbu and Dăvâncă 2012, p.113-123).
The finds in south-western Romania contain the oldest daggers north of theDanube (first half of the 2nd c.BC). All the cases are weapons found in funerary contexts. They are well-made weapons, most of which were preserved satisfactorily. The daggers in Wallachia (southern Romania), although much rarer, were found in residential centres (Popeşti, Albeşti, Radovanu, Zimnicea) or cult sites (Pietroasa Mică) (Sîrbu and Borangic 2016). The characters that they belonged to, originating from those residential centres, were buried with rich and diverse funerary inventories (chain mail armours, sabres, lances, helmets etc.), which shows the high social standing of the owners.
The finds in Transylvania are mostly located on the valley of the middle Mureş, where they were discovered in both rural contexts and next to fortresses (Piatra Craivii, Cugir, Costeşti, possibly Hunedoara, Deva, Ardeu) (Sîrbu and Borangic 2016) (Fig.1). It is here that we have successive graves with daggers, namely several items in the same site (Cugir, Piatra Craivii, Bulbuc), which points to the existence of several generations. The inventories are sometimes very rich - Cugir, Costeşti, Călan (Rustoiu et alii 2001-2002, p.251-263), including by the presence of funerary chariots, chain mail armours, helmets and sabres. Although strongly fortified and, therefore, dominated by powerful warrior clans, the dagger finds from south-eastern Transylvania are extremely rare. What draws one’s attention is a characteristic scabbard, most likely part of a ritual deposit (Augustin - Tipia Ormenişului) and two accidental finds in Rotbav (Sîrbu and Savu 2015, p.97-123) and Hoghiz.
Two type "B" daggers were found in the Geto-Dacian fortresses on the Siret river (Răcătău and Poiana), in central Moldova (Sîrbu and Borangic 2016). Although they are from older excavations, the weapons were recently "rediscovered" in museum deposits, partially solving the problem of the absence of these symbols of power in eastern Carpathians, even if they were part of the inventory of graves. Another two items are from Dobrogea; at least one of them, from Histria (Pippidi et alii 1959, p.309, fig.11) (Fig.5/2), could be attributed to a Dacian mercenary who died and was buried there according to the ritual from his area of origin.
Although the core of dagger density is the valley of middle Mureş, such weaponry items are also found in areas quite far away from this region. This category includes daggers from Plavenk–Slovacia (Paulik and Tomčiková 2005, p.90, fig.2,6-7, tab.IV/2) and Trebujeni - Rep. of Moldova (information courtesy of Denis Topal), because they are placed outside our area of interest, but also because of their archaeological context, they seem to have reached such far distances by trade or, more likely, because they were pillaged.
The daggers in Malaja Kopanja, on the Upper Tisa, in Trans-Carpathian Ukraine (Kotigoroško 2009, p.58-133), are a separate case, because they are largest group – seven items – of such weapons concentrated in one site, hence the funerary nature (Fig.8). The items have a blood groove, but no decoration. Malaja Kopanja is very rich in weapon deposits, including sabres, lances, knives, umbones and the remains of a chainmail armour.
Another group is made up of the items in upstream Danube, in the area of Scordiscian-Illyrian confluence, a peripheral geographical location that led to the development of characteristic, local types of curved daggers (Guštin 1984, p.344-346, Abb.29).
The large geographical dispersion and the non-concomitant existence of all of the types and subtypes in the entire Balkan space does not allow for establishing an undoubtable chronological succession of the variants. However, beyond the relatively unitary morphology of the core type, the typological variants can support the existence of specific styles, workshops and production methods, without the possibility of locating the manufacturing centre/centres. Based on these styles and the diffusion, we can assume the existence of mobile craftsmen or traders, who transported this type of weapons, but it may have been dispersed by other means as well. The proposed scenarios are just the most likely variants, since the historical reality may have been much more complex. What is certain is that, against the background of striking similarities, these daggers seem to have been produced in certain centres or by certain manufacturers, who, therefore, left their imprint either by means of the manufacturing process or by their own style.
The magic and religious meanings of the daggers
A characteristic of the sica daggers are the blade decorations, and there are many interpretations, ranging from Uranian symbols to the transposition on the blade of events in the sky, none of which is less likely than the others, but all of them are related to the personality of the owner or his cultural context. Besides customization, decorating the weapon was meant to confer upon it a strong spiritual meaning, probably amplified by its use as an instrument for sacrifices.
The ornamentations themselves show a change in the way that the warriors relate to and see themselves in respect to the fantasy plane of existence, as they are more likely magical practices, certain attempts to "constrain" the transcendental forces into acting to the benefit of the warrior or to change the unfavourable ones. The usual decorative motif is the circle, interpreted as a solar symbol, completed with a central dot, by itself or together with other similar circles or triangles that are impressed (Fig.10). Other elements consist of simplified zoomorphic motifs (mostly birds), sometimes completed with small triangles punched along the blade (Fig. 10). Deciphering these decorations is either about themes centred on the good-evil duality (birds facing each other) or about the heavenly-earthly antithesis.
Wearing and displaying the dagger meant that the owner belonged to a certain hierarchical rank; it pointed to the martial attributes of the owner and conferred upon him a certain status that, in the absence of written sources, cannot be clarified.
The graves of the elite have a dagger in various associations with other weapons or components of war gear. The most numerous associations are with lance heads, which are important weapons not just from a martial point of view, but also for hunting, an activity always seen as a test and confirmation of the individual’s exceptional qualities (Marazov 2005, p.69-103). In the case of aristocracy, the lance also had ritual connotations with identity undertones, as it was the hunting weapon par excellence – the symbolic embodiment of authority and force.
The second association, in terms of how present it is, comes between the dagger and the sabre, the latter destined for individual initiative, seen as a duty and a privilege of aristocracy and often serving as an object of prestige as well. Although these are very expensive items, because of the techniques required for forging and sharpening, the communities often sacrificed the sabre, which shows its important role in the mentality of the time.
In much lower percentages, we find in the deposits helmets and armours, almost always made of chainmail. Although they are loaded with apotropaic meanings, the preference was more often for the shield, in order to suggest the protection of the individual in the afterlife, and the shield is more frequently encountered than the helmet and armours put together. It is possible that the cost played a determining role in deciding the defensive gear, as the shield is much cheaper than any other protection equipment. This hypothesis can be extended to all the funerary inventories in order to explain the different associations of funerary martial items. Besides the substantial economic value, other criteria could have played an important role in deciding which weapons would be sacrificed, such as certain religious factors, aspects of the dead’s life or just the opinion of the warrior’s family, group or community.
The fact is that, in a mosaic of possible combinations, the dagger is the most frequent weapon in the graves (the cases of graves with a dagger, but without other types of weaponry, are extremely rare and are, most likely, a result of the way in which the inventories were recovered) clearly shows the spiritual value of this weapon. A sica dagger was customized – as proven by the blade decorations – and it had a "life of its own", intimately connected with the life of the warrior. Man and weapon travelled together through life and, when that came to an end, their path and camaraderie continued in the afterlife. However, other weapons could also be deposited, or even the favourite horse, but the man, dagger and lance were the members of the fundamental "triad".
Although rarer in deposits, the bridle bits and the spurs certify that the dead belonged to the rank of rider. In many cases, the presence of just one spur, an armour fragment or a helmet cheek-piece is seen as a symbolic sacrifice (pars pro toto14).
But was the weaponry just a pragmatic instrument, manufactured and used exclusively for its martial purpose? Such monotony is difficult to admit, given the wide range of spiritual conceptions that animated the imagination and life of the ancient communities. War and weapons were the most direct link to this type of conclusion of the conflicts between various social entities and, as such, gained a religious dimension early on. Armed conflict, by extrapolation, offered to man the moment he could look death in the eyes, a moment which laid on society an immense symbolic, mystical and spiritual load, and weaponry was intrinsically part of it.
The ritual bending and burning of the daggers at the stake, together with the warrior, followed by placing them in the graves, shows their role in the funerary rituals; perhaps they represented another form of sacrifices, which points to their importance in the collective psyche. These practices are a projection of the beliefs and mentalities upon the "after world", about the custom of purification by fire.
The social perception on the type of existence in the "afterlife" greatly influences the rites and rituals of passing, necessary to detach from the earthly affairs, and the inventory placed in graves is meant to help the dead face the unknown challenges ahead. The continuity in the other dimension of existence – namely the "afterlife" – offers a good occasion to decipher (by understanding the role of the funerary inventory, offerings and rite), the way in which the dead lived, his daily preoccupations, his livelihood and status in the community, because the belief in their extension in the "afterlife". Moreover, the ritual typology expressly codifies and conditions the accession to another dimension.
Starting from these assumptions, it is generally accepted that the graves which contain weaponry could be attributed to warriors, with an important and visible role in the community, which does not stop after death. Because of its importance, value and number of components, weaponry reflects the power and social status of the dead, and its placing in graves is meant to continue this role in the "afterlife". Same as other dead, from other social layers, are accompanied in their graves by inventories specific to their function in life, so are the warriors accompanied by weapons or, sometimes, entire sets of gear.
Cremating the warriors with their (favourite?) weapons, oftentimes with their whole gear, is a defining feature of the Padea – Panaghjurski Kolonii group. It is possible say that the custom of burying the complete gear together with the owner first appeared in north-western Thracia, at the threshold between the 4th and 3rd c.BC, and after that it spread north of the Danube (Domaradzki 1986, p.227-228). However, D. Măndescu (2012, p.343-345) brings into the discussion the Celtic tradition of this ritual15, which is explained by the substantial contribution of the Celts to the heterogeneous military union. The Dacian contribution to this condominium (mainly composed, at first, of an ethnic mixture of Scordiscian, Triballi and Dacian warriors) are characteristic weapons and gear, as well as the tradition of funerary constructions, the tumulus, whose history goes back to the Bronze Age. The recoil of these constructions in the Central and Western European Celtic world allows us to attribute to the Thracians this spiritual contribution to the cultural definition of the Padea – Panaghiurskii Kolonii group.
The Geto-Dacian warrior elites will also confirm their belonging to the warrior "caste" by the funerary rites and rituals they practice, as part of their own identity and ideology. By institutionalising them, the community settled and confirmed its internal and external hierarchies and, spiritually, it made sure that the dead would integrate correctly in the structures of the accepted collective imaginary. What is interesting is that, although the rite of passage ensured the integration of the individual in a certain level, by ensuring uniformity and by including him in an elite group, in relation to individuals outside of it, its funerary inventory could often not be representative of the community or the entire military context of origin, but it could reflect just the standing, personal attributes or the wishes of the dead (Sîrbu and Roman 2013, p.376-377, fig.6)17.
Also, the weapons, or just certain types of them, could be part of a pre-established set of elements necessary for the ritual, thus constituting an articulated set of meanings particular to that group, the identity model or the community (the three social elements could each be a part or not of the identity construct accepted by the warrior). Beyond the messages, transmitted more or less in code, and beyond the symbolistic of the weaponry items placed in the graves, they are no different from those in used daily by the Geto-Dacian warriors. From this perspective, we can be certain the weapons placed in the graves are identical to those used in battle. There is no evidence of the recourse to avatars, and the only concession was the placing of fragments or components, always of the defensive weapons and never of the offensive ones.
The solution to accessing the "afterlife" and the path to follow for transcending to this dimension contained the ritual gesture of the destruction of at least one weapon, either the spear, the lance or the dagger, by bending/breaking, or of the chainmail shirt, by cutting, which is visible in several complexes of the Padea – Panghiurski Kolonii type. The voluntary warping of weaponry items, which are expensive any way you look at them, is an obvious type of sacrifice, as the community gave up on these weapons, despite the pragmatism it was always forced to follow. This reflects the importance of the spiritual side of life, in accordance to the writings of ancient authors about the religiosity of the Geto-Dacians (Eliade 1970; Crişan 1993; Petre 2004; Sîrbu 2006).
Why did the North-Thracian warrior elites adopt and maintained in their panoply the curved daggers? Obviously, the first condition must have been these were useful, and the relatively long blade and sharp tip were perfect instruments for stabbing, while the curvature made it an eviscerating weapon. The groove along the blade not only reinforced the blade, but also favoured the blood’s gushing out, even if the weapon stayed in the victim. The short blade of the dagger meant that it was a close range weapon and made it an instrument for hand-to-hand combat. Perhaps the dagger was the weapon for the coup de grâce against a defeated foe or, if the gods of war were unfavourable, it gave the defeated warrior the possibility to leave the battlefield and his life honourably.
Prestige weapons, external identification signs and precise instruments of death, the daggers tag the path of aristocracy on its way from heterogeneous groups of warriors to the confederate of the Dacian kingdom. The large number of such weapons found in the graves of Geto-Dacian warrior’s means that this type of weapon was not handed down but, probably, was received in a ritual, when the group of warriors believed that the young man had the necessary qualities to join the case, and the dagger became an extension of the warrior.
Relying on the aforementioned facts, one could say that the sica dagger is a valuable historical artefact that, because of its importance and role played in the warriors world on the Danube, contributed to understanding the social and military mechanisms, of the social structures that used it and, due to its exceptional spiritual dimension, to the perception of a new facet of the religious mosaic of the Thracians, in general, and of the Geto-Dacians, in particular. Of all the curved weapons used in the Thracian space, the sica daggers connect the southern and the north-Danubian Thracians, as they are equally spread on both banks of the river. In order to have the full picture of the magical-religious attributes of the weapons, particularly the curved ones, we need a multi-pronged approach, oftentimes on territories that are insufficiently known or susceptible to various interpretations. The role of weapons in the Dacian spiritual life becomes obvious when we shed light on all elements, some apparently minor and disparate, which came together to create their mythical, ritual and universe.
The attempt to understand the role of the curved weapons in the religious life of the communities in question also requires an analysis, however short, of the original model for curved weapons and their psycho-social implications.
The presence in large number of curved weapons in the funerary rites and rituals shows their importance for the collective psyche, and their bending indicates a change in statute, as the dead changed not only his residence, but also his "social environment". By dying, he separates from the living and becomes a member of the community of dead ancestors, which is possible only by performing ceremonial actions, of which placing or destroying weapons is an integral part.
Cremating the body and gear completes the manner of understanding and relating to the universe for the Dacian warriors, it is a projection of their beliefs and mentalities about the "afterlife", about the bridge between worlds, but mostly about the custom of purification by fire. By burning, the warrior ascends to the gods with the smoke of the pyre, and the iron weapons, which could follow the same path, were destroyed in order to accompany their master.
The religious transformations that took place in the Geto-Dacian world beginning with the first half of 2nd c.BC are extremely complex and they centred on these military elites, one of which was aristocratic, but both used curved weapons - daggers for the former and curved sabres for the latter. The military attributes of both social structures, visible throughout the entire existence of the Dacian kingdoms and emphasized mostly by the two Dacian-Roman wars, together with the belief in immortality, had a profound impact on the history and destiny of this warrior people not only in its own area, but also in the imaginary of the contemporary peoples and of their descendants, by offering an image that results in a special spirituality, which places a not-so-small emphasis on curved weapons.
The essential features of the north-Danubian finds in the Padea – Panghiurski Kolonii group are as follows:
a. The practiced funerary rite was exclusively cremation;
b. The graves were mostly flat and very rarely tumular;
c. The rituals practiced for daggers were burning on the pyre, destroying them by bending, cutting or breaking, and burying with the cremation remains;
d. The anthropological analyses performed on some graves shows that the dead were warrior men, young or matures; the exception is C73 from Hunedoara, where there was an Infans I;
e. The presence of the dagger in the funerary context shows the special role of this weapon, namely an instrument of death, not just in battle, but also in exceptional situations, in the form of self-sacrifice (see the case of king Decebal).
f. Having and displaying the dagger meant that the owner belonged to a certain rank in the hierarchy, an elite group, it showed the warrior abilities of its owner and it conferred upon him certain rights. Perhaps the warriors carried the dagger when the other weapons were neither necessary nor available. As the third weapon, after the lance and the sabre, the dagger becomes, outside of battle, perhaps not only the first weapon, but also the only weapon. The dagger accompanied its owner both during the military expeditions in the grave, when the warrior passed on to the "afterlife". It is one of the reasons that it is the weapon present in largest numbers in the grave of the elite Dacian warriors, thus becoming a marker of the entire culture.
The Padea – Panghiurski Kolonii Warriors
The problem of the "ethnicity" of the Padea – Panghiurski Kolonii group of graves provoked many opinions, which are not just different, but even contradictory.
We would now like to emphasize just a few archaeological facts, and discus the problem as a whole to another time.
At this moment, we have so much more information on the funerary covered by the "Padea – Panghiurski Kolonii" term. We are dealing with graves in north-western Bulgaria, predominantly of the cremation type, flat, and only rarely tumular, while those north of the Danube are almost always flat (save for two cases) and all of them are the cremation type.
North of the Danube, graves of this type were found in southwestern Romania and along this great river all the way to Olteniţa, in the entire southern Transylvania and in the sub-Carpathian Ukraine (Malaja Kopanja). The inventory of these cremation graves includes pottery (almost exclusively Dacian), adornments and clothing accessories that are mostly Dacian, weapons, fighting gear and Dacian harness items (e.g. sica daggers, lance heads, shields with umbones, bridle bits and spurs) or Celtic ones (e.g. sabres, sometimes with scabbards, warrior knives, lance heads, shields and spurs). At first, one thought that all these graves were Celtic (Nicolăescu-Plopşor 1948, p. 17-33, pl. I-V), after which it was considered that they represented Celtic and Dacian warriors or just Dacian graves. In the beginning, this diversity of opinions was also the result of the fact that most of the finds were accidental, contained isolated graves or small clusters of graves, and they could not be associated with nearby Dacian settlements or fortresses.
The presence of some types of weapons or adornments characteristic of the Scordiscian world, particularly in the graves, does not necessarily imply their ethnical presence. As shown by archaeological finds, such items were found on large areas and at different peoples, which makes them "supraregional artefacts".
It is a fact that the dead of the sedentary peoples are from the nearby settlements or fortresses. Another archaeological fact is that we do not know any Scordiscian settlements, at least as of mid-2nd c. BC, so it is difficult to accept that these graves represent the Scordiscians.
In addition, one cannot support the assumption that there are groups of dead Scordiscian warriors north of the Danube – because of their battle against the Dacians (although there is no written source to attest such events) because a question might arise – after the defeat, who could have buried these Scordiscians respecting their own rituals?
On the other hand, in the entire north-Danubian area with this type of graves, one has found many fortresses, settlements, sanctuaries and treasures characteristic of the Geto-Dacians (Sîrbu and Arsenescu 2006, p.163-186). Some groups of graves or isolated graves are right next or very near such Dacian sites: Cugir (Crişan 1980, p.81-87), Hunedoara (Sîrbu et alii 2007), Spahii - Câmpul Spahiului (Gherghe 2015), Malaja Kopanja (Kotigoroško 2009, p.58-133).
If we are talking about common raids towards the south of the Balkans by groups of Dacian and Scordiscian warriors, as mentioned by some written sources, then their graves should be south of the Danube, not north of it! Although some scholars spoke at times of a massive presence of Scordiscian graves north of the Danube, there is no evidence in this respect, but we cannot rule out the presence of such isolated grave in this area.
It is undocumented and, therefore, difficult to accept the hypothesis that some groups of warriors "migrated" from north-western Bulgaria, via the Iron Gates area, to south-western Transylvania, which would have been the origin of the Dacian royalty. We will now state just two arguments that contradict such a hypothesis. Firstly, some Dacian fortified residential centres appear in southeastern Transylvania (e.g. Covasna, Racoş) at least at the same time as those in the area of the Orăştie Mountains. This means that the appearance of such residential centres all over Dacia after the middle of the 2nd c.BC is the result of the evolution of the Geto-Dacian society. Secondly, such graves appear quite quickly in a large area, from the Danubian area all the way to the sub-Carpathian Ukraine, so we are not dealing with some kind of "migration" from south of the Danube.
Even in north-western Bulgaria, where there is a strong concentration of graves of the Padea – Panghiurski Kolonii type (Wozniak 1974; Torbov 2005, p.358–367), we do not know of Scordiscian settlements after the end of the 2nd c.BC. Also, from this period, the area has finds typical of the Geto-Dacian world, such as the cult sites of the "field of pits" type - Russe (Varbanov 2013, p.78-93), Bagachina (Bonev and Alexandrov 1996), anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines, and bowls with embossed decoration or toreutics items with figurative representations characteristic of the Geto-Dacian world.
|Fig. 1 - Daggers found in graves.|
List of localities: 1. Rast, 2. Cetate, 3. Orodel, 4. Viaşu, 5. Floreşti,
6. Siseşti, 7. Corneşti, 8. Drăgoeni, 9. Urdiniţa, 10. Padea,
11. Sărata, 12. Călăraşi, 13. Viişoara Mică, 14. Slatina, 15. Teiuţu,
16. Racoviţa, 17. Zimnicea, 18. Izvoru, 19. Popeşti, 20. Radovanu,
21. Histria, 22. Enisala, 23. Hunedora, 24. Călan, 25. Costeşti,
26. Cugir, 27. Bulbuc, 28. Blandiana, 29. Tărtăria, 30. Teleac,
31. Piatra Craivii, 32. Silivaş, 33. Malaja Kopanja.
|Fig. 2 - Typology of sica daggers.|
1. Dagger type A, Padea (photo Bondoc)
2. Dagger type B, Izvoru (photo M. Amarie)
3. Dagger type C, Cetate (photo D. Bondoc).
|Fig. 3 - Sica daggers from Oltenia.|
1. Corneşti (photo A.Cotorogea),
2. unknown location in Mehedinţi County (apud Istrati 1913),
3. Orodel (photo M. Amarie), 4-5. Rast (photo M. Amarie),
6.Padea (photo D. Bondoc).
|Fig. 4 - Sica daggers from Oltenia.|
1. Golenţi (apud Nicolăescu-Plopşor 1945-1947),
2. Ogradena (apud Spânu 2001-2002),
3. Rast (apud Tudor 1968),
4. Floreşti (apud Sîrbu et alii 2016),
5. Sărata (apud Nicolăescu-Plopşor 1945-1947),
6. Siseşti (apud Nicolăescu-Plopşor 1945-1947).
|Fig. 5 - Sica daggers from Wallachia and Dobroudja.|
1. Enisala (photo S. Ailincăi), 2. Histria (photo M. Amarie),
3. Radovanu (photo R. Oltean), 4. Popeşti (photo M. Amarie),
5. Zimnicea (apud Alexandrescu1980).
|Fig. 6 - Sica daggers from Transylvania.|
1. Tilişca (photo Gh. Natea), 2. Bulbuc (apud Borangic 2014)
3. Cugir, 4. Piatra Craivii, 5. Teleac, 6. Hunedoara (photo V. Sîrbu).
|Fig. 7 - Sica daggers from Transylvania.|
1. Hunedoara (photo V. Sîrbu), 2. "Silivaş" (photo P. Pupeză),
3. Hoghiz (photo L. Savu), 4. Bulbuc (apud Borangic 2014),
5. Piatra Craivii (apud Plantos and Ciută 2015), 6. Tărtăria, fragment of scabbard.
|Fig. 8 - Sica daggers from Malaja Kopanja (photo V. Kotigorško).|
|Fig. 9 - Decorated sica daggers Corcova (apud Sîrbu et alii 1999), 2. Bulbuc (apud Borangic 2014).|
|Fig. 10 - Decorated blades and handles of sica daggers.|
1 We should mention that, both in ancient times and in contemporary historiography, particularly the Bulgarian specialized literature, the sica dagger is often called mahaira, which makes it very difficult to precisely identify the subject in the sources that mention it.
2 The ancient sources place the invention of this type of armour in the western part of Europe. The archaeological facts show a somewhat different situation, to an extent contradictory to the written sources. Although the generally accepted opinion, supported by most specialists, is that the Western Celts are the first users of this type of armour, most of the archaeological finds belong to the East-European area, dominated by the Thracian and Celtic peoples.
3 It is only in exceptional cases that we see these grooves, as well as some fine decoration, on both sides of the blade.
4 This site, which is partly responsible for the name of the cultural aspect, yielded three daggers, only two of which were recuperated.
5 The Thracian space does contain, but only rarely, scabbards associated with daggers of this type. We should note that, although they are morphologically similar, the south-Danubian daggers are much more carefully made.
6 Unpublished. Information from Paul Ciobotaru, whom we would like to thank.
7 Unpublished, three items. Information from Valentin Cârstea and Sorin Doru, whom we would like to thank
9 The perimeter of this site, most likely a necropolis, had two daggers with scabbards. The inventory found here also contains sabres, shield umbones, bridle bits of the Thracian type, lance heads and bracelets. The first items were found by amateurs with metal detectors, and then salvage excavations took place.
10 The sporadic pieces of information on this site lead to the conclusion that it is the origin of two curved daggers. Given that the finds were treated in a very discreet manner, there are many unknown facts about the archaeological research of this site, as inconsistencies also came out regarding the chain mail armours found here. Some of the hypotheses proposed earlier, based on the observed inconsistencies, were confirmed later on. Given the statement to the press by some of the discoverers, as well as some morphological features of the items in Cugir, we can conclude that two funerary tumulus existed here, which had funerary inventories that included two chain-mail armours and two sica daggers. In the Tumulus IV from Cugir was found a second sica (see Sîrbu and Borangic 2016)
11 Unpublished. Information from Lucia Olga Savu, whom we would like to thank.
12 The danger of imposing present-day geographical and political paradigms on the past is very high and almost inherent, and the situation is further worsened by the many administrative changes that took place over time and by the difficulties, on the ground, of placing the finds.
13 However, it could be that the graves per se are somewhere nearby. The absence of archaeological research, complementary to the find made by the amateur with the metal detector, means that the items cannot be placed in a definite context.
14 The expression pars pro toto seems to explain why, in many cases, the graves of the warriors contain only fragments of the "standard gear" of an elite warrior, which is in fact quite substantial.
15 However, sacrificing the weaponry is present at other peoples as well, including the northern Thracians of the 5th-4th c. BC, namely before the arrival of the Celts.
16 The funerary rite is just one of the rites of passage that mark the existence of an individual.
17 It may just as well be that only some individuals or ranks were allowed to wear weapons in the afterlife too, as a reflection of the state of affairs in their lifetime. This is one way to explain the presence of funerary inventory and gear for some very young individuals, unable to have physically performed their warrior duties, but who were members of an elite based on their descendant and social position.
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We will look, in detail, solely at the north-Danubian area and only at daggers found in graves. Of course, there will be some references to items found in settlements, fortresses or cult sites, as well as to the south-Danubian area. The comments and interpretations will take into account the figurative representations of daggers, as well as the references that ancient texts make about them. We will analyse the types of daggers and decoration, their position in the graves, the ways in which they were used and the voluntary destruction, their diffusion and chronology, the probable status resulted from the warriors’ wearing them etc.
The decoration of the blade, handle and scabbard not only personalized the weapon, but also conferred upon it a strong spiritual character, proven by also using it as a weapon for sacrifices. The sica daggers are one of the major connecting elements between the Thracians in the Balkans and the Thracians north of the Danube, as the weapons are present on both sides of the river. We also mention the fact that there are no more Celtic settlements, fortresses or cult sites north of the Danube, at least starting from the middle of 2nd c. BC, so one cannot show or argue that these graves belong to the Celts/Scordiscians.
Prestige weapons, external identity displays and precise instruments of death – the daggers mark the path of aristocracy from heterogeneous groups of warriors to the formation of the Dacian kingdom.
Dacians, curved dagger, graves, typology, interpretation.
Funerary practices during the Bronze and Iron Ages in Central and Southeast Europe, Proceedings of the 14th International Colloquium of Funerary Archaeology in Čačak, Serbia, 24th–27th September 2015, Beograd - Čačak, 2016