Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dacian Ferocity and the Transmigration of the soul

A scene from the Dacian Wars on Trajan's Column.  Photographed by
Mary Harrsch in Rome, Italy.
"To the strength and fierceness of barbarians they [The Dacians] added a contempt for life, which was derived from a warm persuasion of the immortality and transmigration of the soul." - Edward, Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

When I got my five minutes worth of Gibbon today, I noticed his description of the Dacians in Trajan's time.  Although it's true that the Dacians of the early 2nd century believed in an immortal soul, they were one of the last Roman provinces to accept Christianity, not doing so until the 5th century CE.  Instead, the Dacians believed in a complex religious hierarchy with its priests divided into orders of  “god-worshipers”, “smoke-walkers” and “founders”.  Their supreme deity was known at different times as  Zalmoxis,Gebele├»zis and Darzalas.  

A Dacian draco standard 
According to the historian Mircea Eliade, wolves played an important role in Dacian mythology and secret societies of young warriors were said to engage in activities in which they imitated a wolf's behavior while wearing wolf skins.  It may be from these rituals that legends of lycanthropy have been derived in the Balkans-Carpathian region.  Their use of wolf symbolism is beautifully rendered in this relief depicting a Dacian draco standard capped with a ferocious-looking canine.

The relief also depicts the long-sleeved scale armor worn by wealthier Dacian warriors and their mounts as we see in the image from Trajan's column above left.  

I noticed when I researched their religion that the Dacians were sometimes considered interchangeable with the Getae, although Strabo seemed to distinguish between the two.  Whenever I think of the Getae, I envision the savage, almost inhuman warriors depicted in the pilot episode of "Spartacus: Blood and Sand".  If the Getae (Dacians) were that wild in the 70s BCE, they obviously underwent a considerable social transformation before opposing Trajan in 101 CE.  

Dacia: Land of Transylvania, Cornerstone of Ancient Eastern Europe   Trajan: Optimus Princeps (Roman Imperial Biographies)   106: 106 Deaths, Decebalus, Battle of Sarmisegetusa, Liu Qing, Emperor Shang of Han, List of State Leaders in 106, Pope Kedron of Alexandria

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