Dacians Defending Oppidum

Dacians (60 BC -106 AD)
(DBA II/52)

Armies > Resources > Fanaticus

Centered in what is now modern Romania (especially the region of Transylvania), Dacia was a prosperous nation tracing its roots to the 7th century BC, whose mixed tribal populace was comprised of northern Thracians (Greek "Gatae" or Roman "Das"), Germanic and Celtic tribes and settled nomadic horsemen such as the Skythians and Sarmatians. Unlike their neighbors to the north, the Dacians (Geto-Dacians) evolved a well-organized society centered around defensive strongholds (oppida), which quickly evolved into walled cities such as their capital Sarmizegethusa. A well established trade was conducted with Rome in wine, gold and silver work, pottery, and iron tools and weapons of high quality. Although known as farmers and traders, they acquired a reputation as fierce warriors under the leadership of the Dacian King Burebista and later under King Decebalus during his nearly 20 years of almost continuous conflict with Imperial Rome.

The Dacian list begins in 60 BC, when King Burebista (statute at left) began a series of expansionistic moves to relieve pressure from nomadic incursions, which eventually threatened Roman Danubian and Black Sea territories. Julius Caesar was laying plans for a campaign in Dacia and Partha, which came to naught when both Caesear and Burebista were assassinated in 44 BC. Later, during the reign of Nero (54-68 AD), Dacian raids into Roman Moesia became so serious that the Romans engaged the Roxolani to help defend their frontier, thus placing Dacia's sometime Sarmatian allies on their enemies list.

In 85 AD, King Durbaneus adopted a hostile policy toward Rome that posed a serious challenge to the Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD). A Dacian army raided across the Danube into the Roman province of Moesia, killing the Roman governor and looting the countryside. This prompted an retaliatory expedition under command of the praetorian prefect Cornelius Fuscus. The Dacian general Diurapneus (right) laid an ambush in a mountain pass at Tapae, and soundly defeated the Roman force (including the loss of Legio V Alaudae). Durbaneous voluntarily renounced his throne in favor of the popular general, who was christened Decebelus ("Heroic One" or "Braveheart"). A second Roman expedition was severely defeated in 87 AD.

Finally, a third Roman army under Tettius Julianus defeated the Dacians at Tapae in 88 or 89 A.D. King Decebalus was forced to pay tribute and allow Roman armies passage through Dacian territory. Domitian, however, was distracted by Saturninus' Revolt on the Rhine Frontier and uprisings by the Iazyges (Sarmatian), Marcomanni and Quadi tribes on Rome's Pannonian frontier. He curried the favor of Decebalus to avoid a Dacian-Sarmatian alliance, offering skilled artisans and hostages to ensure Dacian neutrality while he contended with his other headaches. Domestic unrest proved too much for Domitian, who was assassinated in 96 AD.

Following the brief rule of Nerva to 98 AD, the Emperor Trajan came to power intent on securing Rome's borders on the Rhine and pacifying Dacia and Parthia. In the winter of 100-101 A.D., he massed a large army of conquest including ten full legions plus auxiliaries at Viminacium, on the banks of the Danube. They advanced into Dacia without opposition until reaching the oppida at Tapae, where Decebalus attacked, inflicting heavy casulties in an inconclusive battle. Thereafter, the Dacians adopted a scorched earth policy, burning their crops and killing livestock as they retired into the mountains. The Romans went into winter camp, while the regrouped Dacian army mounted an attack southward along the River Alutus (Olt) into lower Moesia, until being repulsed near Nicopolis and retiring for the winter.

In the spring of 102 AD, Trajan sent part of his army into lower Moesia to advance by way of Oescus (near Nicopolis). The balance of his army moved forward through the Red Tower Pass (the "Iron Gates") toward Sarmizethusa. Several Dacian emissaries were turned away by Trajan, who finally offered terms which Decebalus refused. The Dacian king gave battle at Tibiscum, near his capital, but was defeated, thus ending Trajan's first Dacian War. The Dacians were forced to disarm and to accept a Roman garrison in their capital.

By 105 AD, the Dacians had rearmed. Decelabus seized the Roman garrison (whose commander took poison to avoid becoming a hostage), and launched a heavy raid into Moesia that was stopped by the approach of winter and the arrival of a Roman relief force. In 106 AD, Trajan crossed the Danube with a large army that marched in two divisions in a pincer movement toward Sarmizethusa. After a series of grim hit and run battles, the Dacians withdrew into their capital and allowed themselves to be beseiged. In desperate straits, the Dacian nobility lost hope, either committing suicide or attempting to break out and escape toward the mountains. King Decebalus was able to elude the Romans at first, but was hotly pursued and slashed his own throat when capture was eminent. More than 10,000 Dacians were rounded up and sent to Rome to die as gladiators in the arena as part of Trajan's triumph, which lasted 123 days.

Rome proceeded to mop up pockets of opposition throughout Dacia, incorporating it as a Roman province in 106 AD, and bringing an end to this DBA army list. Trajan's conquest was short lived, however, for Hadrian fortified the Roman frontier south of Dacia along the line of the Ister (Danube) and Aurelian abandoned Dacia entirely in 270-271 AD under pressure from the Goths. The Dacian remnants, known as the Carpi, continued to trouble the Romans until 380 AD.

Army Composition:

1x 3/4Wb or 3Cv Dacian Command-in-Chief with his retainers.
1x 2Lh Mounted Dacians armed with javelins. Trajan's Column shows a small party of Dacian horsemen that appears to have fallen into a marsh or through thin ice into a river. The Bastarne, reputed to be of germanic origin, may have also fielded some mounted troops.
6x 3Wb Dacian warriors worshipped the god Zalmoxis with human sacrifices and believed that death in battle would earn them a place in heaven with their God. This belief apparently made Dacians fanatical fighters, but also encouraged resort to suicide to avoid capture in defeat.
1x 3Bd Falxmen. The Falx (falces) was a heavy, curved blade swung with two hands. In some drawings, it appears to be a scythed blade attached to the end of a stout wooden handle. In others, it is more sword-like, taking on an "S" shape. It could easily remove a limb, causing such apprehension among the Roman soldiery that special groups of legionaries were outfitted in arm and leg armour (vambraces and greeves) as opponents for the falxmen. The Bastarnae were renowned falxmen, and referred to by Appian as "the bravest nation of all."
2x 2Ps Bow armed Dacian skirmishers.
1x 3Bd or 3Kn or 2Ps or Art More falxman, Iazyges Sarmantian allies, skirmishers or captured Roman artillery.


The Dacians are foes of the Illyrians (I/47), Gauls (II/11), Sarmatians (II/26), Marian Romans (II/49), fellow Dacians (II/52), and Early Imperial Romans (II/56) including one Marcus Ulpius Traianus (Trajan) in particular. The Carpi also fight Middle and Later Roman (East).


A low aggression, rough terrain army, the Dacian warband and psiloi will be able to use their native hilly, wooded countryside to good advantage. Blade gives some stability and Light Horse the threat of raiding the camp, while the option of a Knight or Artillery provide useful tools against foot or mounted opponents respectively.

The primary tactic for Dacians against Imperial Romans will be to get their Warband (and the optional Sarmatian Knight) into close contact with the Roman Blades, while the psiloi and Light Horse serve primarily to protect the flanks, screen the Roman cavalry, and/or provide flank overlaps.

Against the Knight-heavy Sarmatians, the best strategy is to retire within the walls of the oppidas. But lacking that option, choose the Artillery element and a mounted General and let the rest of your army use channeling terrain to nip at the flanks of the advancing horsemen.

The Illyrians auxilia army matches up reasonably well against the Dacian warband, denying the Dacians the advantage of bad terrain. A Cavalry General and Sarmatian knight option coupled with a lightly terrained board may do the trick.

Dacian warband against Gallic warband promises a back and force shoving match. Gallic chariots/cavalry pose a threat unless neutralized with a Dacian Cavalry General and Sarmatian knight option.

Marian Romans offer a feast of tempting Blade targets for Dacian warband, but you can't ignore the Roman equites.


A palisaded circular hillfort or section of stone city wall (oppida) nestled on a hill are typical fortifications. Given the Dacians' reputation as raiders, a cart stuffed with loot and/or procession of bearers seems appropriate.

Painting Tips

The typical Dacian soldier carried a large oval shield, short sword and javelins. Body armour was rare; soldiers wore a basic tunic split at the neck and sides, with baggy pants gathered and tied at the ankles. Cloaks are seasonal. Stripes and checks are appropriate, as well as natural, undyed wools and cloth. More well-to-do Dacians would have decorative patterns on the hems of their tunics and cloaks and/or fringed cloaks.

Rulers of Dacian society showed their rank by wearing caps and better quality clothing. Leaders might have Sarmatian-style armor and helmets. Osprey shows a Dacian chieftain wearing a bronze Phyrgian helmet, iron leaf-scale armor, black wood tunic and trousers embroidered in red and white at the hem and lower legs, and a "tartan" wool cloak.

Based on the Dacians depicted on the Roman memorial at Adamclisi, shields, scabbards, and quivers could be quite elaborately decorated. Veni Vidi Vici sells Dacian shield transfers (BB2) for 25mm scale.

Bastarnae (left) were reputed to fight bare-chested, with baggy pants, a skull cap, and their falx.

Miniature Sources

Dacians are available in 15mm scale from Donnington, Essex, Lancashire, and Rafm. Essex' range includes: (DC1) Light Cavalry, (DC2) Asstd. javelinmen, (DC3) Asst'd. spearmen, (DC4) Asstd. Falxmen, (DC5) Asstd. archers, (DC6) Command pack, and (DC7) Bastarnae Falxmen.

Foundry offers an extensive Dacian range in 25mm, including 5 chieftains, 2 standard bearers, and 17 warriors in assorted poses. Old Glory and Amazon also offer 25mm Dacian ranges.

Newline Design offers a range of Germans and Dacians in 20mm, including the must-have falxmen in baggy pants.

Pendraken offer Dacians in 10mm.

Later Celtic/Gallic and German figures may also work if carefully selected for dress and equipment.


Trajan's campaign against the Dacians is recorded in detail in a carved column. One of the principal resources regarding the weapons and heraldry of the Early Imperial Roman army, it also depicts Dacians in numerous scenes of battle with the Romans. Useful carvings also appear on the "Tropaeum Trajani" a victory memorial build at Adamclisi in Dobrogea.

Adrian Garbett has prepared an essay on the Dacians for Wargames Foundry, which features painted samples of Foundry's range of 25mm Dacians.

Christopher Webber has an excellent page on the Dacians, including pictures, historical notes, and links (many of which are currently broken).

One of Osprey's early offerings is Rome's Enemies: Germanics and Dacians (Men-At-Arms 129), by Peter Wilcox (Stackpole, Dec. 1984), which includes color plates of typical Dacian warriors.

Armies > Resources > Fanaticus

Last Updated: March 14, 2004

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome.
Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.

Credit: 54mm painted Dacian from the St. Petersburg Collection.