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FALX - THE CURVED SWORD OF THE DACIANS

Catalin aka Burebista


"Trajan engaged the war with hardened soldiers, who despised the Parthians, our enemy, and who didn't care of their arrow blows, after the terrible wounds inflicted by the curved swords of the Dacians."
Fronto, Principia Historiae, II (translation in “Sources about the history of Romania”, I, 1964, page 533)
The considerable research made until now has contributed greatly to define the Getae-Dacian culture and civilization and to settle the place of the Dacians in the wider picture of ancient Europe and their contribution to universal knowledge.
The archaeological excavations made in the last 30 years across the whole Dacian territory have brought forth new and important data regarding Dacian metallurgy. Among the most important are the ones from the complex situated in the Sebes mountain, the excavations from Piatra Craivii, Tilisca, Bãnita, Capîlna, Cugir, Pecica, Racos and many others in the intra-Charpatian space to which, can be added the excavations from Poiana, Racatau, Brad, Piatra Neam, Barbosi, Cîrlomanesti, etc, from Moldova or the ones from Crãsani, Bucuresti, Popesti, Cotofenesti, Bîzdîna, Sprîncenata, etc, from the extra-Carpathian space. Beyond excavations, numerous studies regarding iron manufacturing have been performed. This research allows us to define both the iron civilization of the Dacians and the role of metallurgy in the evolution of Dacian civilization.



Weapons are among the items that can illustrate the degree of development in a civilization. Research has proven that the oldest iron pieces discovered in Romania date from the Hallstatt A, (sec 12 B.C.) and indications exist that the reduction and manufacturing were done in the same place, facts proven with certitude for the next phase, (Hallstatt B). Such an early example of iron manufacturing shows the level which this craft reached in the flourishing period of the Dacian state.
The skilled Getae-Dacian craftsmen manufactured for a long time and with special skills in bronze work. They also learned iron manufacturing which, involves more complicated technology. The blacksmith workshops would have had a rich inventory of anvils, sledge hammers, hammers, tongs of various forms and shapes, chisel gabs, mandrels, files. The Dacian craftsmen made a large variety of tools and weapons.
The iron pieces were created though hammering, heating, flattening and then shaping the desired shape of the object. The piece was cut with chisels and then welded through repeated hamming or drilled.
The quality of the pieces is proven by the absence of slag traces in the finished pieces or by the absence of botched pieces. The different processes of hardening assured the toughness and resilience of the iron pieces. The craftsmanship of the native smith in regards to the hardening is demonstrated by the fact that all the pieces are hardened, and even more, the hardening is not uniform, but concentrated on the active parts of the piece.
Around 200-300 BC a considerable multiplication of the iron reduction furnaces can be observed in the entire area occupied by the Getae-Dacians. The basic agricultural tools, numerous artisan tools and an impressive military arsenal were all were made of iron. The smith workshops discovered both inside and outside the Carpathian arch were capable of satisfying the iron demands of all the communities in the entire Dacian territory.
It is assumed that the scythe is a North-Thracian invention, having the center inside the Carpathian arch , and from the scythe was subsequently developed the national weapon of the Dacians, the FALX. The Falx is a kind of scythe, more or less curved at the tip, slightly smaller then the long, curved Sarmatian swords. It was the typical weapon of the Dacians, and this is why it appears on numerous imperial monuments and coins in the centuries II-III AD. It is abundantly illustrated on Trajan’s column and the Adamclisi monument. The scarcity of the number of swords found at the archaeological sites shows the importance they had as war booty, but even so, sword or sword fragment were found in nearly all the important forts where research was conducted. This shows the actual number of the artifacts that existed in the period of Dacia's greatest development.
The multitude of representations of this specific weapon indicate it popularity in the arsenal of the ancient world and the impact that this weapon had in the battles that the Dacians fought, whether in Dacia or in the raids outside of Dacia. One example is given by an inscription on a building in the fort of the 1st Cohort Aelia Dacorum. This inscription with a relief representing the Dacian sword contains the name of the tribune Claudius Menander, who emphasized its Dacian heritage by the link to the Dacian sword. Moreover, one of the legions that participated in the Dacian wars and was stationed in the Sarmizegetusa area for surveillance, sculpted the name of the unit on a marble block with letters and with the curved sword shape.
It is very probable that originally the Falx Dacica was a simple tool used at harvesting and that it evolved because of the dual role of the Dacian peasant, often forced to exchange tools for weapons. This is also the reason that the FALX is used preponderantly by the infantry. The apparition of the curved sword in its consecrated form coincides with the passage from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, a metal more suitable for such a weapon-tool.
This weapon had been found in all Getae-Dacian regions and was also exported to the Celtic, German and Sarmatian worlds. It had a long and narrow blade, sharpened on the concave side and had a wooden or bone handle, very good for cutting and slashing but not thrusting. Some samples have blood grooves and engravings. The shorter variant was called “Sica” (in the Dacian language) and the long one (with an average length between 0.60-0.70 m) was called FALX (in latin). The Falx was curved towards the front third, which made is especially effective against the enemy legs and ligaments.
The FALX was a frightful weapon: the curved blade was similar to a bill-hook and in the hands of a skilled warrior it was deadly and all the populations around Dacian territory learned to fear it. The cutting action was accomplished by a movement of hitting and pulling. The cutting was amplified by using both hands. When it was used correctly it could easily cut through a limb or behead an enemy. Because of the beak that resulted from the curved shape, it could pierce the helmets and armors, causing serious wounds or causing cerebral commotions when the head was hit.
Dacian warriors usually used the Falx to break into compact enemy units, but it was equally useful against light cavalry due to its length. Warriors wielding the Falx, (similar to the Thracian romphaia) fought in small units, using the Scythians tactic of attacking in a wedge pointed towards the enemy. Because the weapon was double handed Dacian warriors rarely used shields, as they would have hampered them in combat. Usually they fought bare-bosomed wearing a cap for protection.
The Falx was a heavy weapon and it was handled with both hands. In some pictures it seems to have been a blade similar to a scythe attached to a strong hilt made of wood or other material; in other pictures it looks rather like a curved sword. The fact that it could cause grave wounds and even surgical sacrifice, created great fear amongst Roman soldiers. During Trajans second campaign against the Dacians some Roman legionaries wore extra amour covering their legs and arms to protect themselves against the Falx.. The Roman armourers added two transversal metallic straps onto the legionaries helmets to make them more resistant to downward strokes.
Among the first carvings that portray the Falx is one from a chalk block discovered at Gradistea Muncelului and kept in the Museum of Deva. This was found outside the perimeter of the fortress and it is not large (height-0.83m width-0.57m; thick-0.33m),it is roughly done, poorly maintained and illustrates two characters: one of them standing and holding a lance and the other one sitting down, having his head covered by a cap. Near this character-without any doubt a Dacian tarabostes-there lies a curved sword, actually straight, only with its head curved. This man's nationality is given by the curved sword near him. It is a sword that often appears on Roman Imperial coins especially on those that appeared after the wars with Dacia and on Roman monuments from Britain.
Other representations of the Falx can be found on the marble plaque discovered at Gradistea Muncelului amongst the ruins of a building and also kept in the Museum of Deva. This plaque is a bit larger than the chalk block (1,115 m X 0,57m) and on its superior side, bordered by a tabula ansata, there are various signs carved and artistically representing the name of the Legion IV Flavia Felix. The researchers established that this legion camped at Sarmizegetusa -probably some watching detachments after the first Dacian war and more of them after the second war (Dio Cassius XVIII, 9, 7). It is very important the fact that a legion chose to carve its name in the shape of curved swords, because this fact shows us just how famous this Falx was. (M. Macrea, Sargetia, II 1941 p 133-36).
The fact that these swords were highly prized trophies for victorious armies means that the number of the discovered pieces is extremely low. In almost all Dacian fortresses and important cities however, curved swords-whole or fragmented, have been found. Curved daggers-sica-were found in several Dacian tombs in Transylvania like those from Blandiana (H. Ciugudean, în ActaMN, XVII, 1980, pag. 425—426, fig. 2/1—2)
The archaeological discoveries made in various areas of what was Dacia, have proved the high development of Dacian metallurgy, even before the Roman conquest (indeed two or three centuries before it). This transformed the Dacian civilization into a binary one, a civilization of wood doubled by an iron one of La Tene type perfectly comparable to the Celtic one and not below the Roman one.