Roman Empire Trajan (AD 98 – 117) AR Denarius, Rome mint, struck ca. AD 107 – 108 Dia.: 19.1 mm Wt.: 2.94 g Obv.: IMP TRAIANO AVG GER DAC PM TR P; Trajan laureate bust right, left shoulder draped. Rev.: COS V PP SPQR OPTIMO PRINC; Danube, velificatio, reclining on rocks, right hand holding the prow of a ship. Left arm resting on overflowing container of water. DANVVIVS in exergue. Ref.: RIC II 100 The Best! When I refer to Trajan as “the best” my intention is not to clickbait everyone into an argument about who should be considered the best Roman emperor (even though that kinda sounds like fun…). OPTIMVS PRINCEPS (the best first citizen, I.E. the best emperor) was an actual title given to Trajan by the senate due to his ability to hold power while keeping the people appeased and the senate feeling important. While modern observers can rightly debate the merits of this emperor or that and what it means to be the best, for the majority of ancient Romans in the 2nd or 3rd century who had an opinion on the subject the choice was clear: Trajan was the man. So much so that at the inauguration of many subsequent emperors by the senate the Latin phrase Felicior Augusto, melior Traiano (Trans.: “be more fortunate that Augustus [and] better than Trajan”) was wished upon the new emperor . Even more fascinating is that Trajan’s reputation as the greatest and most just of emperors echoed deep into the middle ages where stories of his justice were commonplace. In one such story the emperor decreed that all murderers should be subject to the same fate as their victims. When Trajan’s young (non-existent) son accidently drowned his playmate in a river the heartbroken emperor had him thrown into the Tiber. God was so approving of this dedication to the law that he sent an angel to deliver both children back to the emperor unharmed (see Figure 1). Figure 1 – The Just Verdict of Trajan (ca. AD 1500). Photo courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts Boston (https://www.mfa.org/collections/object/the-just-verdict-of-trajan-66708) These types of legends were so pervasive that the poet Dante felt compelled to place Trajan in Heaven when he wrote his Divine Comedy in the early 14th century . That’s right, it was okay for the likes of Aristotle, Homer, Virgil, Julius Caesar and Saladin to be in Limbo but it was unbearable to the medieval sense of justice that Trajan be anywhere other than paradise. A legend claimed that pope Gregory the Great (AD 540 – 604) was so moved by stories of Trajan’s virtue that he prayed for him to be resurrected so he could accept Christ. Perhaps it was his lasting reputation with early and medieval Christians that allowed Trajan’s column to stand relatively undamaged and in its original position for over 1,900 years. As you can see I am quite excited about the reverse inscription on my newest example: SPQR OPTIMO PRINC (The senate and the people of Rome to the best first citizen) even though I recognize that it is used rather often on Trajan’s coins after AD 105. However, the fascinating story of the inscription is actually just a bonus to the real reason I purchased this example. In case you haven’t figured it out yet… LONG POST AHEAD! RIC II 100 – The Meaning of the Type RIC II mentions this type, inscribed DANVVIVS, as a reference to the crossing of the Danube and seems to insinuate that it refers specifically to the famous bridge built by Trajan in AD 105. However, the author of RIC II later reconsidered his opinion and consented that the bridge shown on RIC II 569 is actually meant to show Trajan’s Danube Bridge . This begs the question of why Trajan’s mint officials would reference the same subject with two vastly different iconographies. This is just one of the reasons that I believe the reverse on RIC II 100 is actually referencing one of Trajan’s other achievements during the Dacian Wars and I have a few theories I think present plausible explanations for what the reverse is referencing. In order to explain my theories, and allow you to formulate your own, it will help to cover the events and logistics of the Dacian Wars in detail. The First Dacian War On hearing news of the death of Nerva in AD 98 Trajan did not immediately proceed to Rome to secure his political position. Instead, he chose to travel from the Rhine frontier where he was stationed at the time to the area of the Danube frontier where he spent the winter of AD 98-99 overseeing military construction projects and organizing the legions . It seems clear from this fact that one of Trajan’s first priorities was to deal with the Dacian threat. When Trajan did travel to Rome he stayed only long enough to set his affairs in order with the senate and prepare for his coming invasion of Dacia. By the summer of AD 101 Trajan was prepared to move into Dacian territory. Dacia was a particularly difficult place to invade for a number of reasons. First, it was protected by an imposing chain of mountains known as the “Carpathian Ring” that channeled any invasion from the south through a handful of narrow mountain passes (see Figure 2). Second, supply lines along the Danube were made difficult by the terrain and the fact that the Danube was not navigable in several key places. Next, Dacia’s neighbors, the Sarmatian Roxolani and Iazyges tribes were often enemies of Rome and in the case of the Roxolani were actively allied with Dacia by AD 101. Finally, Dacia was at the height of its wealth and power under their charismatic leader, Decebalus, and brimming with confidence after their victories over the Romans in the last decades of the first century. Figure 2 – Map of the First Dacian War. Author’s Map (Sources ) Trajan first sought to meet the challenge of logistics along the Danube by engaging in some truly remarkable construction projects prior to the invasion (more on that below). He based the greater part of his army in Viminacium in the lead up to the invasion and it was from here that he made his first move. Just northeast of Viminacium Trajan crossed the Danube into a part of Dacian territory known as the Banat. At around the same time he sent a second column of Roman troops under Lucius Quietus to cross the river 15 miles northwest of Dobreta and advance on the Teregova Keys Pass and then to the Dacian city of Tibiscum . There is also some evidence that the two legions (Legio I and V) under the governor of Lower Moesia, Laberius Maximus, crossed the Danube and laid siege to the Dacian stronghold of Buridava in AD 101 . However, it seems clear that the primary thrust of the advance was under Trajan through the Banat. It is in this theatre that the scenes that dominate the lower part of Trajan’s Column refer to. Figure 3 – Trajan’s Column (Author’s photo) Once Trajan had crossed the river he began construction of an impressive fort at Apus Fluvius about a day’s march north of the Danube (Scene XI and XII on Trajan’s column). He then marched northeast with the intent to lay siege to the Dacian hill fort of Arcidava but seems to have found it completely abandoned (Scene XIV)(see Figure 4). He then had the legions cut a road through the dense forest and established another fort at Centum Putea (Scenes XVI and XVII). Trajan’s next steps are the only segment of his campaign that we get to hear about directly from him. In the only surviving sentence of his commentaries on the war Trajan writes “inde Berzobim, deinde Aizi processimus” (Eng: We then advanced to Berzobim, next to Aizis) . Roman forts were built at these locations (Scenes XVIII through XXI) and another at Caput Bubali (Scene XXII?) with the army then pushing forward to meet up with the second Roman column at the town of Tibiscum. Figure 4 – Right: Abandoned Dacian fort at Arcidava with Romans building a bridge over the river in the foreground. Left: Hilltop location as it appears today with river in foreground . Through this point in the war the Dacians seem to have been content to fall back from their towns and forts and regroup behind the Iron Gate Pass to challenge Trajan’s approach to the capital. Trajan, however, moved cautiously and slowly and sought to consolidate his positions by constructing defensive fortifications along his supply route, usually to guard river crossings. This system of forts also helped to discourage the Iazyges from reconsidering their neutrality and seeking to join the other Sarmatian tribes in resisting the Roman invasion. With the western approach secured Trajan was now free to march into the Iron Gates Pass and confront the Dacian forces encamped near Tapae. The battle was apparently a hard fought engagement with many casualties on both sides. A storm broke out during the battle which struck the Dacians as a bad omen but gave heart to the Romans who were convinced that Jupiter had come to their aid. Figure 5 – Scene XXIV Battle of Tapae (AD 101). Jupiter looks over the battlefield as the Romans turn the tide . With his army bruised from the hard won battle and the winter approaching Trajan decided to winter his army at Drobeta on the Danube . Decebalus took advantage of this and gathered his eastern allies (including the Roxolani), swam the Danube, and invaded Moesia, burning many Roman towns. Trajan was forced to move his men and supplies along the Danube by boat from Dobreta (Scenes XXXIII through XXXVI) to engage the enemy at the Battle of Nicopolis and the Battle of Adamclisi, where he completely defeated them. Perhaps it was this counterattack and the logistics involved with reacting to it that convinced Trajan of the need for a permanent bridge crossing of the Danube that would be usable year round. At the start of the campaign season of AD 102 Trajan was once again forced to cross the Danube. This time he proceeded north along the Olt River to the Red Tower Pass. The Dacians chose to change their strategy after Tapae and it appears that they allowed Trajan to cross the pass relatively uncontested . Perhaps their strategy was to allow Trajan to press ahead too quickly into the valley where they could use their hill fort locations to flank his army, cut off his supply routes and surround him. If that was the case it didn’t work. Once Trajan cleared the pass he split his forces into three . The main portion of the army proceeded along the foothills to the west of the pass in an effort to capture each of the Dacian hill forts that stood between them and Sarmezigetusa. The second proceeded along the valley capturing Dacian settlements and the third moved along the northern foothills to neutralize any threat from that direction (see Figure 2). Figure 6 – Ruins of the Dacian Fortress of Capalna. A typical Dacian hill fort and one of Trajan’s first objectives in the advance of AD 102. Photos by Saturnian The Second Dacian War I will not go into as many details of this campaign as the first but it will be instructive to highlight a few of the major developments. During the years after the first war Decebalus hastily rebuilt his hill forts and retook all of the Roman forts and towns that Trajan had constructed or conquered in the Banat at the beginning of the first war. In response to this, Trajan seems to have decided that Dacia would have to be totally subdued if he was to secure the Danube frontier and so as early as AD 103 he ordered the construction of a permanent bridge over the river in accordance with the design of Apollodorus of Damascus. The Dacians no doubt recognized the danger in allowing a permanent bridge crossing into their territory and at some point before the second war began made a desperate attack on the Roman fort guarding the bridge. Nevertheless, the Romans repelled their offensive and completed work on the bridge by the start of the campaign in AD 105. The completed bridge was a marvel of Roman engineering and stood as the longest bridge in the world both by total length and span length for over 1,000 years. Figure 7 – Reconstructed View of the Roman Bridge and fort at Dobreta. Animation shown in the museum at Trajan’s Market Figure 8 – Model of Trajan’s Bridge (Author’s photo) During the campaign Decebalus is said to have made a failed attempt to have Trajan assassinated and to have captured and tried to ransom a high ranking Roman official (Pompeius Longinus) who committed suicide in order to prevent this . Undeterred, the Roman army moved in for a siege of the Dacian Capital, Sarmizegetusa, and cut all the pipes providing water to the city. Decebalus escaped into the mountains but was run down by the Roman cavalry under the leadership of Tiberius Claudius Maximus. Decebalus, not wanting to be humiliated in a Roman triumph, committed suicide as Tiberius’s moved in to capture him. Tiberius’s involvement in this is known to us because he left us an account on his tombstone that was rediscovered in the 1960s. In the aftermath of his victory Trajan went to great lengths to highlight the Roman achievements during the war and we can see evidence of that in the types he chose for his coinage. Figure 9 – Select Scenes from the Dacian War on Trajan’s Coins  Coin photos courtesy of CNG Now that we have surveyed the general sequence of events that made up the Dacian Wars we can turn our attention to interpreting the meaning behind the DANVVIVS type. In the next post I will lay out two theories that I believe provide a possible explanation... stay tuned!