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THE SLAVES, THE FREE DACIANS AND THE FATE OF THE DACIAN PRISONERS OF WAR

Translated by Kirsty Bennett, Matt Canty, Francine Gardner and haiducul


Between 101-102AD and 105-106AD there were two military campaigns in which, the Romans defeated the Dacian's and also captured a large number of prisoners. The main historical account of this campaign comes from Dio Cassius who says that Lusius Quietus, one of the Roman generals took a great number of prisoners and whose soldiers later caught Decebal’s sister and several high ranking Dacian's. The existence of the Dacian prisoners is recorded by a number of Roman statues representing the ‘Comati’ (common people) or Pileati (nobles).
The main source of information for the prisoners of war is Loannes Lydus who refers to Criton, the personal physician of Trajan, writing that the Romans had captured a huge spoil of war. This included 5 million pounds of gold, twice as much in silver, cups and vases of high value, flocks and half a million prisoners. J. Carcopino, a French historian, later corrects Lydus’ figures to 165 tons of gold (364,000 pounds), 330 tons (727,500 pounds) of silver and 50,000 prisoners. These figures are accepted especially the ones regarding the prisoners even though some historians say that those numbers are still somewhat exaggerated. It is obvious that this number doesn’t include just the Dacian's but also their allies.
What was the fate of the Dacian prisoners? To answer this question we have to examine all the ancient records that mention the Dacian slaves which, all appear upon monuments (or similar) in Italy, Pannonia, Dalmatia, Moesia, Mauritania, Gallia and the Delos Islands. The following conclusions can be drawn:
1. The arguments of M. Bang and R. M. Barrow regarding the number of Dacian slaves is wrong. They argue that the Roman Empire had just a few slaves of Dacian origin (Barrow says their were only 2) and they were in captivity before Trajan’s Dacian wars. Bang is trying to justify the hypothesis of the disappearance of the Dacian's through the scarcity of inscriptions.
2. In a similar way it is highly unlikely that the majority of Dacian slaves found in the Roman Empire were captured during Trajan’s Dacian wars. In fact there are very few inscriptions mentioning the number of captured Dacian slaves from those wars.
3. The Dacian's gradually became slaves during the 1st and the 2nd centuries AD, rather than at one time, suggesting that they were slaves before, during and after the war.
4. From the inscriptions we can say that the majority of the Dacian slaves were hired in pottery shops from Italy, Hispain, Gallia and Delos Island. Various other occupations include ‘sutor caligarius’ or military cobbler, architect, gladiator and even ‘insularius’ a janitor at rental houses. We cannot be certain however, of all of the possible ooccupations of the Dacian slaves.
We are unable to arrive at a final conclusion on the fate of the Dacian prisoners based solely on inscriptions. We believe that their fate was similar to that of other prisoners captured by the Romans from other conquered lands. Julius Caesar writes of the fate of Gallic prisoners, “the majority have been sold under the crown into slavery, some were executed and in the end a lot of them have been given to the soldiers for their heroic fighting”. The same fate befell the prisoners that were captured by general Augustus when he conquered the Salases and other tribes. W.L. Westermann, in his book about the slavery systems of the Greek and Roman world, provides some examples of the methods applied by the state in the case of prisoners of war.
In the second part of the 1st century AD the situation of the war prisoners changed substantially.(you should say how) Our best source for this transition is Flavius Josephus who participated in the Jewish wars of 66-71AD where, a total of 140,000 prisoners were captured. He writes that after the conquest of Jerusalem, the Roman generals dealt with the prisoners of war by slaughtering those guilty of fighting in the war as well as the old and the weak who were of no use. The majority of prisoners were split into three groups. Those under 17 years old were sold at the slave markets; of those over 17 some were sent to work in mines in either the provinces or Egypt; the rest being sent to fight against wild animals or each other in the circuses.
Josephus says that at one particular gladiatorial games organized at Caesarea Philippi, a large number of prisoners died fighting wild animals and each other. At the public games organized in honour of Domitian, in Antiochia, 2500 were killed.
Given the fact that there is only a short period of time between the Dacian and Jewish wars it is likely that the fate of the Dacian prisoner wasn’t too different from that of the Jewish prisoners.
The inscriptions state that Trajan, like Caesar, offered prisoners to some of their soldiers as a rewards or spoils of war. C. Patsch and D. Tudor both mention the case of L. Licinius Sura, one of Trajan’s generals, who was rewarded with many gifts and prisoners. There is also an inscription, found in Sitifis, Mauretania upon a funeral monument dedicated to a Dacian called Fortunatus, which proves this proposition(how does it prove it exactly?). The words proceeding ‘Fortunatus’ are “qui est Dacus” meaning ‘who is Dacian’ and therefore proves his origin.
It is possible that he was a prisoner who arrived in the northwest of Africa with the Moorish soldiers of Lusius Quietus known to be a general of Trajan. The large number of the inscriptions about Dacian's found in Pannonia, shows that many of the Dacian's had been taken to this province as prisoners of the Pannonian legions that participated in the conquest of Dacia. There are also some records referring to the presence of Dacian prisoners in both Hispania and Gallia. There are pottery remains from Cordoba and Gallia with inscriptions of Dacian names that seem to support this theory.
Many of the prisoners, especially the strongest and the most important, taken during the war with the Jews were sent to Rome in order to participate in victory marches.
Dio Cassius tells us that "the head of Decebal was sent to Rome". This information is confirmed by a calendar that was discovered in Ostia which says that in the summer of 106AD, “the head of Decebal was thrown upon the steps of Gemoniei”, announcing to the Roman populace, the victory of their army. The parade that marked this victory that took place in the following year (107AD) when, in accordance with tradition another leader of the Dacian army was executed. Dio Cassius tells us that the public games that followed lasted for 123 days and 10,000 gladiators participated. It is safe to assume that the majority of the fighters who participated in the games were Dacian war prisoners.
Other inscriptions describe similar games that were enacted in another province at Forum Claudii Centorum Axima. A monument was discovered there and Mommsen claims that it was built in 107AD by the citizens in order to honour Trajan and the glory of his victory over the Dacian's – devictis Daciis. In the same year, another monument was built in La Cyrene, also in memory of a Trajan victory against Decebal. Usually monuments of this type are unveiled in an official ceremony and we can assume that the fighting between the prisoners of war were the main attraction of the public games.
As mentioned above, in Judea, only prisoners under seventeen years of age were sold as slaves and therefore it is also possible that the same thing happened with Dacian prisoners.
With regards to the selling of the young prisoners, the explanation given by Aulus Gellius about the inscription “ex manicus”, written in the Trajan Forum is particularly significant. It proves that the money given for the building of the forum was paid by a certain “praefectus” from the “ex praeda vendita” or the spoils of war. Lydus, referring to Criton, believes there were four types of spoils, namely gold, silver, animals, and prisoners of war. We can presume that the spoils were sold in the markets of Aquileia and Rome. The young prisoners could be purchased by slave traders from Mangonea as well as Dacia and other countries.
The young prisoners were sold as slaves at a high price, due to a new “fashion” which arose within the Roman Empire. The rich nobility along with the Imperial Court adopted the fashion of teaching slaves practical skills in order for them to labour in workshops or be sold on for a higher price. Therefore it is unsurprising that we find evidence of Dacian slaves and their descendants having worked in pottery workshops throughout Hispania, Italy and Gallia. The inscriptions do not mention the majority of the captives who had a different fate to that of the young slaves. With regards to these prisoners we can make two assumptions; the first being that they were hired to work in agriculture, the second being that the majority contributed to the public building program started by Trajan. With regard to agriculture, there are no apparent inscriptions in evidence that could sustain this hypothesis. We believe that this lack of evidence is not damming, it merely reflects changes in agriculturalal practice. We should not forget that Columella mentions the regression of agriculture based upon the labouring efforts of slaves. Pliny the Younger, a contemporary of Trajan, expressed constant dissatisfaction about the difficulties of working with slaves and advised the owners of large farms to free them, retaining their services by paying them with food and products, rather than money. By the first century AD hiring slaves on a grand scale within agriculture became regarded as a non-profit business.
Regarding the use of Dacian slaves in construction, there is no definitive evidence that can support this theory. It is true however, that following the Dacian wars Trajan began conducting large scale civil engineering projects. In 106AD he drained the swamps of Pontini, 107AD saw him succeed in broadening the bridge in Centumcella and in 109AD the canal between the Nile and the Red Sea was made navigable. In the same year the ‘Aqua Trajana’ was built, along with the ‘Forum’, the ‘Trajan Column’, and the ‘Basilica si Arcades’.
It is well known that in general, the public constructions were not under control of the Roman State, but instead were given over to the constructors owning the most number of slaves. If the Dacian slaves ever took part in the construction works in Rome their number was probably very low. They could possibly come from the prisoners of war who were sent to Rome for the triumphant march and survived the dangerous gladiator fights. As for the canal between the Nile and the Red Sea, the presence of the Dacian's in this area is unlikely due to lack of conclusive evidence. Piliny the Younger states that the provincial constructions were almost always carried out by the local population. Through the work of Patsch and Beloch however, there are probable examples of work-force migration in areas like Dalmatia, one of Rome’s least populated provinces which, was unable to supply a sufficiently large number of workers. In the mines the slaves were worked to the point of exhaustion and usually ended their lives in the mines.
The above essay attempts a possible answer to our question of “what was the fate of the Dacian prisoners?” (does this need repeating?)