* (Under Construction)
An Unenviable Experience: An Analysis of the Roman Army’s Punitive
Expeditions into Dacia, 86-88 CE
by D.R. Blanchard
The Roman Army’s punitive campaigns into Dacia in 86 CE and 88 CE were part of a frightful and grueling tutorial which bore few victories at the expenditure of tens of thousands of casualties while bringing instability to the entire northern frontier and the near collapse of the Moesian frontier. Both campaigns were the culmination of a grim and lengthy learning process that had begun in the late winter of 67/68 CE when the Rhoxolani crossed the Danube and annihilated two cohorts of
auxilia. In 68 CE, at the height of the Civil War, Governor Saturninus Aponius marched the bulk of the Army of Moesia west in support of Vespasian. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the Dacians crossed the Danube and torched much of Moesia’s north-west frontier. The Dacians returned in 69 CE destroying a Roman Army, killing the new Roman Governor Fonteius Agrippa and pillaging Eastern Moesia as far south as Thrace.
Despite the all consuming civil war which blossomed in 69 CE after the assassination of Emperor Nero, the Roman garrison of Moesia mounted successive campaigns against both the Dacians and the Rhoxolani in the spring of 68 CE summer of 69 CE spring of 70 CE and summer of 70 CE. The arrival of the VI Ferrata from Judea and Rubrius Gallus with the VII
Claudia, I Italica and the V Alaude from the Rhine frontier in 70 stabilized the frontier. Gallus then fortified the Dobrogea region with a chain of forts in hopes of sealing off that corridor from further. The appearance of Rubrius Gallus along the Danube triggered a massive reform of the existing defenses of Moesia. Gallus posted the VII
Claudia and V Alaude to the double legionary fortress at Viminacium to guard the vulnerable Theiss and Timis river valleys against Dacian encroachments. The veteran V
Macedonia was transferred from Judaea to the fortress Oescus to defend the valley of the Olt River. The I
Italica held the westernmost fortress at Novae. The veteran VI Ferrata was transferred out of Moesia to Italy and then to the new province of Commagene. Four legions were not enough to defend Moesia against both the Rhoxolani and the increasingly powerful Dacians.
Emperor Domitian in 81 CE inherited all of the unresolved problems of the province Moesia’s defenses that had plagued the frontier policy of the principate since Augustus. The most immediate difficulty lay in the unmanageable size of the exposed perimeter. The northern boundary of Moesia that ran parallel to the Danube River was some 1100 km long. Augustus ordered three legions to defend this line, while Claudius, recognizing the great risks, increased that number to four. Still, in comparison to the roughly 600 km Rhine frontier that was guarded by eight legions the Moesian frontier was woefully undermanned. The defense of Moesia by four legions, by the reign of Nero, was no longer possible given the emergence of several new and violent factors, the chief of which were the Sarmatian Rhoxolani and the Dacians.
The Dacian chieftain Decebalus forged the Dacians into an organized and defined kingdom. Decebalus united the major clans and tribes inhabiting the Transylvanian region influencing the Costobocii and Bastarnae. Decebalus’ kingdom threatened the existence of the entire Danubian limes. The forces and resources at Decebalus’ disposal rivaled that of Vercingetorix’s Gallic confederacy that Iulius Caesar destroyed in 52 BCE. Disastrously, by 71 CE the Roman Army had neither the resources nor the ability to wage a similar war of conquest. Even by 81 CE, the first year of Domitian’s principate, the Roman Army and Empire had still not recovered from the disastrous civil war that had erupted with the rebellion of Iulius Vindex in 69 CE.
The availability of soldiers was a dilemma that had plagued the empire since Emperor Nero and the civil wars of 69 CE. The period from 69 CE to 71 CE was witness to an unprecedented level of warfare that involved nearly two-thirds of the legions of the Roman Army and upwards of 70,000 casualties. In the three year period of 69-71 CE twelve legions had participated in the Civil War and the suppression of Civilis. Seven legions had fought in Judaea in the Jewish War which was still two years away from resolution and which had become a watershed of atrocity that by 71 CE made service in the Roman Army increasingly unattractive. Disastrously, more than two-thirds of the Roman Army was engaged in violent non-concerted combat at the same time over a prolonged period of time. The army that Augustus had designed was not built for this kind of work and was nearly destroyed as a result. By the end of the reign of Vespasian, many legions were still without proper reinforcements operating well below the required numbers for maintaining a serviceable legion.
Tacitus in his description of the siege at Vetera during the revolt of Civilis stated that Rome’s circumstances had never been more wretched, that there was nothing in the winter camps but booty and old men. He concluded by saying Let them only lift their eyes and not tremble at the empty names of legions. Galba was forced to make a legion out of gladiators and sailors. Otho recruited two thousand gladiators which fought at Cremona. Vitellius levied gladiators, slaves, non-citizens, and the poor to supplement his dwindling legions after the first battle at Cremona.
Volunteer military service in the Roman Army was no longer an attractive or viable career path. There was too much to risk. The politics and motives that had divided the army during the Civil War still remained. There was fighting in Britain, North Africa, along the Rhine and the Danube, and in the east. The frontiers were violent places, isolated and undermanned and the glories and benefits that had once accompanied military service had faded. There was also little desire or incentive to fight under incompetent commands. The strong, organized and disciplined military traditions of the army were no longer present, and often unwanted and frowned upon by the soldiers. The Roman Army had disgraced itself as a result of the Civil War and the revolt of Civilis. The defection of several legions during the revolt of Civilis was a disgrace unparalleled. The soldiers of the army, regardless of their allegiance, for the most part, favored wealthy and lenient commanders and loathed those who were believed as capricious or strict disciplinarians, or those who were unable to defeat the various tribes that threatened the security of the empire. These were the very problems that would plague the army in the second and third centuries and which had existed since the army’s inception under Augustus. Vespasian needed to rebuild the élan, the morale of the soldiers and restore the reputation of the army as a stable and politically neutral tool of the empire.
Voluntary military service even before the Civil Wars had become increasingly unpopular, especially among Italian families. Nero’s
dilectus in 65 CE a year before the outbreak of Civil War excluded Italy. The
dilectus, which was held in order to bolster the dwindling number of recruits in the Illyrian legions, included the provinces of Gallia Narbonensis, North Africa, and Asia. Nero raised an entire legion comprised solely of Italians which only aggravated the existing tensions in the Roman Army between Italian soldiers and provincial soldiers, and the Italian population.
The problem was that Roman citizenship, and thus service in the Roman Army was still limited, for the west, to Italy, Gallia Narbonensis, Luisitania, Noricum and Tarraconensis. Vespasian, rather than exacerbating the regional and political animosities, shifted the focus of recruitment, away from Italy altogether, to the Spanish and Gallic provinces. Therefore, the largest population of Roman citizens which had traditionally supplied upwards of 70% of all soldiers serving in the western legions was now excluded from all recruitment efforts. Vespasian attempted to remedy the deficiency the way Augustus did, using the traditional methods of consolidation and conscription, by creating new fully complimented legions out of old depleted legions. He broke with tradition by creating, out of the fleet, the II
Adiutrix and recognizing the I Adiutrix which had also been comprised sailors and galley slaves, but given his traditional conservative values, it was doubtful that he would have continued to enroll non-Roman citizens into the army. Rather, Vespasian had Agricola march across the western provinces on an extensive recruiting campaign. Agricola was a prominent and successful general with a solid reputation untarnished by the Civil Wars. He was exactly the kind of recruiting advocate that the Roman Army needed. He was living propaganda in its finest form and a model of the new army that Vespasian sought to create and which was based upon the strict enforcement of a proper
litterae commendaticae and probatio. Even with the conscription efforts of Julius Agricola and the cashiering of four legions to create two new legions, Vespasian was forced to rely on a collection of undermanned legions to defend the frontier.
The level of carnage during the period of 69-71 CE among the legions was appalling. By 71 CE the Roman legions in garrison of the provinces along Danube were in a critical state. Pannonia was defended by the XV
Apollonaris which had seen bitter service during the Jewish War at the siege of Jotopata and Jerusalem, and the XIII
Gemina which had fought at the first battle at Cremona and in the campaigns against Civilis. The garrison of Moesia was comprised of four legions. The I
Italica had fought poorly prior to the second battle at Cremona sustaining a terrible defeat at the hands of the Moesian auxiliaries under Messalla. The legion was broken up by Vitellius and used as reinforcements for other legions during the actual battle. The V
Macedonia had served throughout the Jewish War with Sextus Cerealis Vettulinus and sustained heavy casualties during the sieges at Jotopata and Jersusalem. For a basis of casualty figures sustained by the V
Macedonia there was the example of the X Fretensis which was brought to Judaea by Vespasian when he was appointed commander in late 66 CE, and by the conclusion of the war in 73 CE mustered only 3500 men.
The VII Claudia left Moesia in 68 CE and campaigned with Aponius Saturninus fighting at the second battle of Cremona and against Civilis. While precise legionary casualty figures were not preserved, Josephus did record that the entire Army of Moesia suffered some 4500 men killed. No figures were provided for the number of wounded during their campaigns in the civil war. Stationed at Viminacium along with the VII
Claudia was the V Alaude which was in a most desperate condition. The legion had campaigned with Fabius Valens in Gaul against Vindex and supported Vitellius during the Civil War. The legion was been badly mauled at both battles at Cremona and had a large detachment massacred by Civilis at Vetera. By 71 CE the legion was a shell of its former self, mustering perhaps as few as 1000 soldiers. The remnants of the legion were a tough ill-disciplined lot that preferred to get drunk and fight amongst themselves and other soldiers. Therefore, the Army of Moesia comprised of these four legions, mustered perhaps 13,500 men, roughly half of its original mustered paper strength.
The decrepit state of the legions of the Moesian Army reflected well what had happened to the entire Roman Army. The other legions which had served in the Jewish War included the XII
Fulminata which had suffered heavy casualties at the battles at the Beth-horon pass losing its aquila during the heavy fighting for a brief period. The III
Cyrenaica, XXII Deiotariana and the III Gallica provided assistance as well in the form of their
millarian cohorts and vexillations which certainly suffered casualties during the siege of Jerusalem. By 72 CE the Rhine frontier was defended by eight legions mustering conservatively some 30-32,000 soldiers, 13,000 soldiers short of its full complement. This was not enough to hold the line and pursue the aggressive frontier policy that Domitian demanded. Of these eight legions, even by the reign of Domitian, only the VI
Victrix and the I Adiutrix were strong enough for campaigning in the Tanaus region. Therefore, the creation of the I Minerva and posting it to Lower Germany stabilized the frontier and allowed Domitian to draw on the VI Victrix and the X Gemina while simultaneously moving the XXI
Rapax to Upper Germany.
Despite the weakened state of Moesia’s garrisoning force, and the growing strength and influence of the Dacians in the region, Moesia’s frontier remained static and peaceful through the reigns of Vespasian and Titus. The resources of the empire were turned internally to deal with domestic reforms and catastrophes including the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. When Emperor Domitian decided to once more resume the offensive along the northern
limes he had seemingly forgotten the perilous state of Moesia’s frontier. His targets were not the Dacians and Rhoxolani, but the Chatti along the middle Rhine. The benefits of pushing the Rhine frontier into the Taunus region did not outweigh the depraved state of Moesia’s frontier force. Perhaps Domitian decided on the Rhine campaign because he did not want to be too distant from Rome. Perhaps Domitian and his advisors believed Decebalus to be merely a dynastic chieftain content with the limits to his power. What can be surmised from his efforts was that Domitian either ignored the existing problems along the Moesian frontier, or failed to prioritize the demands of the frontiers. Domitian could not commit more soldiers to Moesia without abandoning or weakening the existing
limes. Knowing this, the I Minerva would have certainly found better service bolstering the defense of Moesia than fighting the Chatti in an expansion project. Domitian chose to rely, as his father and brother did, on four under strength legions to hold back the Dacians and Rhoxolani. Such a policy had already been proven ineffective in 70 CE. The folly of such a decision was proven again, as though further proof was needed in 84 CE.
In 84 CE Oppius Sabinus, Governor of Moesia, moved an army into the Dobrogea region to counter a threat by the Dacians, which had once more crossed the Danube. With the I
Italica and a strong vexillation from the V Macedonia along with a collection of auxilia, he met the Dacians near Novae and was destroyed. Sabinus was ignominiously decapitated. His army was thoroughly defeated and Eastern Moesia exposed once more to destruction. Moesia was in a state of chaos. Jordanes stated in his History that Domitian, in order to stabilize the frontier in the wake of the death of Oppius Sabinus,
hastened with all his might to Illyricum, bringing with him the troops of almost the whole empire. The I
Adiutrix legion was withdrawn from Moguntiacum thus weakening the lynch pin to the Rhine frontier that guarded the newly obtained Taunus/Wetterau frontier. The II
Adiutrix legion was withdrawn from Caledonia where it was forced to abandon and destroy the fortress Inchtuthil. Tacitus rebuked the decision to remove this legion from Britain with the famous quip
perdomita Britannia et statim omissa. Tacitus also recorded that the IV Flavia the last of the Dalmatian garrison, was withdrawn from Burnum and transferred to Moesia. Domitian and his advisors were well aware that the structural integrity of the Danubian border had to be maintained. However they equally knew that they could not continue to throw legions into Moesia without jeopardizing the stability of the remaining frontiers, particularly the ever fragile Rhine and Mesopotamian
Cornelius Nigirinus assumed command of Moesia’s frontiers in 85/86 CE after the death of Sabinus. Nigirinus was ill suited to the task of command. Nigirinus had been the governor of the province of Aquitania during the reign of Vespasian and in 83 CE served as the consul
suffectus. The little that has survived suggested that Nigirinus was not a military man, but rather a well versed and successful administrator, akin in ability and deficiencies to a Publius Quintilius. Eutropius, Jordanes, Cassius Dio nor Suetonius included Nigirinus in their writings.
However, Eutropius, in his discussion of the disasters in Moesia said of Domitian that he suffered many disasters, however, in these wars, for in Sarmatia one of his legions was cut-off together with its captain. This must be the same campaign which was related by Suetonius in his biography of Domitian, but which has often been assigned to the earlier destruction of Fonteius Agrippa’s army in 70 CE Suetonius described the battle in similar terms stating that the
Sarmatians had massacred a legion and killed its commander. This campaign against the Sarmatians must be connected with Nigirinus’ tenure of command. Certainly a disaster of such magnitude would recommend to Domitian that Nigirinus was not up to the task to command and that the Dacians and Rhoxolani were still a threat to the Dobrogea region. The crisis demanded a general of strength, imperturbability and foresight. Oddly, Domitian decided to send Praetor Cornelius Fuscus to stem the slaughter and expel the Dacians.
Cornelius Fuscus was a dubious if obvious choice to command in Moesia. He was impetuous, a gambler and risk taker that desired glory and favored war and danger with little regard for the men he commanded. Fuscus had thrown everything into the Civil War in support of Vespasian and won a place in the Flavian army because of his firm loyalty, not his military competence. Moesia was divided into Superior and Inferior with Nigrinus assuming control over the more quiet and docile province of Moesia Inferior while Fuscus assumed command over the problematic Moesia Superior.
Fuscus began well in Moesia, expelling the Rhoxolani in 85 CE. Fuscus then turned his attention to the Dacians. Principate frontier policy was predicated on keeping the various northern tribes factional and isolated. The Dacian army and confederacy under the leadership of Decebalus was quickly outstripping the abilities of the Moesian garrison to hold and defend the frontier. Rome could not permit an alliance of the Dacians to such powerful Pannonian tribes as the Quadi, Marcomanni and Iazyges. Should such an alliance occur, Rome would not be able to hold either the Rhine or the Danubian frontier. The situation demanded a strong demonstration of force. However, the resources at Fuscus’ disposal were limited to four battered legions and an odd collection of auxiliary units.
Fuscus had two options for the 86 CE campaign. He could advance immediately with the VII Claudia and V Alaude or wait for the
millarian cohorts from the I Italica and the V Macedonia to reinforce his column. Stationed at Oescus, the V
Macedonia some 325 km away and the I Italica was stationed at Novae some 400 km away. It would take perhaps six to seven weeks, without any complications to mobilize the
millarian cohorts from these legions and march them to Viminacium. The effectiveness of both of these legions was doubtful given that both were responsible for the demoralizing and disgraceful defeat in 84 CE and had campaigned aggressively with Fuscus in 85 CE. Perhaps by 86 CE elements of the I
Adiutrix and the IIII Flavia were available to participate in the campaign of Fuscus. The arrival of the II
Adiutrix in Moesia did not occur until after the Fuscus’ campaign. However, the IIII
Flavia was engaged in the construction of a fortress near the Pannonian border at Singidunum and the I Adiutrix reinforced the dangerously undermanned Pannonian
limes and was stationed at Brigetio. These legions may well have provided Fuscus vexillations, but certainly neither legion participated in the upcoming campaign with its full compliment.
Perhaps flushed with his recent victory, the desire for further glory and the need to challenge Decebalus in battle pushed Fuscus to adopt the bolder course of action. To postpone battle would only delay the inevitable and permit Decebalus and his army to grow stronger. Fuscus assembled the V Alaude and the VII
Claudia with perhaps the millarian cohorts of the IIII Flavia and I
Adiutrix legions. To this force was added a small collection of auxilia. Evidence for
auxilia in Dacia prior to 93 CE was scant given that most auxiliary units were transferred to Moesia only after the destruction of the XXI Rapax in 92 CE. Most of the auxilia in Moesia during Fuscus command served in the fort system in Dobrogea. Given the scarcity of auxilia Fuscus placed the V
Alaude reinforced with the millarian cohorts of the IIII Flavia and I
Adiutrix legions at the forefront of the column. The entire expedition depended on the VII
Claudia, now mustering close to its original strength, and its commander Tettius Iulianus. Iulianus won distinction for his skillful handling of his legion during the suppression of the Rhoxolani in 68 CE. By 86 CE Iulianus was an old Moesian hand who well understood the difficulties of campaigning in Dacia. Fuscus must have felt confident. His force was roughly the same size as the armies that subdued the Isle of Wight, destroyed the Druids on the Isle of Mona and crushed the great British tribal armies of the rebels Caractus, Togodumnus and Queen Boudica. To Fuscus, he was not campaigning against an urban, organized, sophisticated and cultured people as Vespasian and Titus did in Judaea, but a tribe of recalcitrant barbaric warriors that needed to be reminded of the power of Rome.
Fuscus led his battle column north along the Timis River. From Vimincacium he marched to Archidava, Berzobis, Aizizis and Tibiscum. Fuscus’ objective was the Dacian Army for he could not hope to lay siege to the mountain fortress and Dacian capitol Sarmizegethsua. The march from Berzobis to the Dacian interior was complicated by the geography. Mountain ranges squeezed between the narrow corridor of the Mures and Timis rivers with peaks as high as 2-3000 meters slowed the column’s speed. A week into the expedition Fuscus led the column into the tight defiles of Tapae. Given the narrowness of the valley and difficult geography the column must have become strung out and disjointed. Distances between cohorts widened as the distance between the V
Alaude and the VII Claudia grew. By the time the lead elements of the V Alaude came under attack it was too late for Fuscus to redress the column or to deploy the legions properly. Dacians, filtering between the legions, surrounded and annihilated the V Alaude. Fuscus, with the V Alaude and the millarian cohorts of the IIII
Flavia and I Adiutrix legions was killed. Iulianus was able to keep his legion in order and fend off the Dacian attacks and withdrew towards Tibiscum.
Tapae, for the Romans was a disaster. It was not, despite the arguments of some classicists, another Teutoburger Wald. The aftermath of Tapae suggests that the killing had not been one sided. In destroying the V
Alaude and in the attacks against the VII Claudia perhaps as many as three or four Dacians fell for every Roman. While no exact casualty figures survive, there was ample conjectural evidence to suggest such a high killing rate. The most recent example was the Roman victory over Queen Boudica in 62 CE in which a total force of 7,000 Roman legionaries and
auxilia destroyed the British levies that numbered as many as 50,000 men. Even at the Roman disaster at Cannae when 45,000 Romans were killed, upwards of one fourth of Hannibal’s army was lost as casualties. Decebalus’ victory was therefore Pyrrhic, for it achieved nothing. In attaining this great victory, Decebalus lost perhaps as many as 10,000 men. The great prize, the VII
Claudia was able to withdraw safely to Viminacium and resume the defense of the Theiss and Timis valleys. Decebalus’ actions after the battle of Tapae suggest that the battle had been costly. Decebalus did not pursue the attack against Tettius Iulianus and march on Viminacium or cross the Danube and press the attack along the eastern frontier. In the aftermath of his victory at Tapae, Decebalus’ characteristic aggressiveness was gone. He remained content to stay within the confines and protection of the defiles and valleys around Sarmizegethsua. For more than a year, the Dacian Army remained holed up. Decebalus may well have been building another army, but a precious window of time was lost. Decebalus lost the advantage.
Tettius Iulianus, the commander of the VII Claudia who had staved off complete disaster at Tapae was appointed, as described by Cassius Dio
to command of the frontier. In 88 CE Iulianus had at his disposal the VII Claudia, the newly arrived II
Adiutrix as well as the IIII Flavia and I Adiutrix legions. With these forces at his disposal, Iulianus still could draw reinforcements from either the V Macedonia or the I
Italica. Iulianus built his army around the VII Claudia. To this legion he added the very strong II
Adiutrix and perhaps cohorts from the IIII Flavia. Given the threats to the Pannonian frontier, it is doubtful that the I
Adiutrix was called upon to furnish anymore soldiers. Iulianus may well have incorporated cohorts from the V
Macedonia. Less than two years after his great victory at Tapae, Decebalus faced a stronger, larger, more disciplined veteran army that was better commanded, supplied and informed.
Iulianus’ led his force by the exact same rout by which Fuscus’ army had marched two years before. He was able to achieve an impressive victory over Decebalus at the second battle at Tapae in 88 CE which brought a brief respite to the frontier. However, the victory was not decisive enough to resolve the threat that the Dacian Army and Decebalus posed to the frontier. The accumulation of perhaps some 12,000 casualties by the Moesian garrison since 85 CE aggravated the already dangerous predicament. The questions surrounding manpower and recruitment for the army were never adequately addressed. What Domitian and his advisors were well aware of was that the structural integrity of the Danubian border had to be maintained.
Given the state of both the Empire and the Army in 89 CE, Domitian had no choice but to offer Decebalus peace. Peace, as shameful as it was, was the only option available. Military efforts had proven disastrous and ineffectual. By 89 CE the Roman garrisons of Pannonia and Moesia were at war with the Marcomani, Quadi, Dacians, and the Sarmatian Rhoxolani. Cassius Dio reported that Domitian,
defeated by the Marcomanni and in flight, sent hastily to Decebalus the King of the Dacians, and convinced him to make a treaty, which he had not granted him before, though he had asked many times. The threats of the Marcomanni and Quadi in Upper Pannonia and the possibility of a wider theater of war in which attacks by the various tribes would be concerted had to be resolved quickly and expeditiously. This could only be achieved with the creation of a stable Moesian frontier. The peace Domitian proposed would use the great qualities of Decebalus and Dacia to Rome’s advantage and bring resolution to an increasingly volatile frontier. There was simply no other way to resolve the strategic nightmare that was plaguing the provinces of the Lower Danube. Emperor Domitian had neither the resources nor the wherewithal to adopt such bold courses of action that Emperors such as Trajan and Marcus Aurelius pursued.
The rebellion of Saturninus, which began in 89 CE at Moguntiacum, and involved the veteran legions the XIV Gemina and the XXII
Rapax cast doubt on the loyalty of the legions and their effectiveness. Domitian had to contend with an increasingly contentious army that was under-paid and without proper reinforcements and recruits which the consistent defeats in Pannonia and Moesia only exacerbated. What Domitian failed to understand was that for the Roman Army, and the Roman people, defeats were more preferable than an insufferable peace treaty.
The peace treaty was decidedly not Roman and was clearly a Pax Inhonesta that was not even remotely consistent with the traditional Roman military
ethos. To achieve peace, Domitian offered to Decebalus the use of Roman army engineers, various craftsmen and artisans, as well as eased trade permits with the empire. To these already generous terms, Domitian included a large payment of gold. It was in effect a bribe. For Domitian, it was a way to solve something which only an unmitigated war of destruction could solve. His actions however brought scorn as Pliny remarked that under Domitian
Rome’s enemies would not even enter a truce except on equal terms and would accept no laws unless they gave them…and were contending with the Romans no longer for their own liberty but for the enslavement of the Romans. He continued in his attacks with the observation that
Under Trajan, Romans now receive hostages. We do not buy them nor with great expenditures and immense gifts do we come to an agreement that we have won. What Pliny overlooked was the fact that Trajan paid subsidies to the Rhoxolani, because he found, as Domitian before, that the Roman Army was only capable of fighting in one region, against one foe in one war at one time. Trajan paid for peace with the Rhoxolani so that he could focus on killing Dacians. The problem with Domitian was that while he paid for peace, there were no other immediate and tangible benefits to his plan. Tragically, in order to achieve such a peace the few bitterly hard won successes that the expeditions of 85-88 A.D had attained were sacrificed. The result of the peace was that the expeditions of Sabinus, Fuscus and Iulianus became no more than a fantastic waste of men and material.
The garrisons of Moesia and Pannonia could not continue to campaign against the Marcomanni, Quadi, Dacians and Rhoxolani without drawing upon more of the fragile resources of the empire. Domitian used the peace and
auxilia to stabilize the weak Moesian frontier rather than attempt to resolve the dilemma facing the army. The peace that Domitian made ensured that Decebalus’ army would be better organized, commanded and comprised than before and allowed Decebalus to turn his levies into a standing army rather than an army of a season. The peace proved ineffectual for the XXI Rapax was destroyed in 92 CE never to be revived, the second legion to be wiped out by the Dacians. Trajan attempted to resolve all of the problems of the army and the Empire by immersing the entire Empire into the great plan of Dacian conquest. He raised two new legions, the II
Traiana and the XXX Ulpia finding it far more effective to raise 10,000 recruits in two legions than the same number spread out across five legions. However, this was only after his attempts to reintroduce recruiting into Italy by raising the population of free born peoples failed, and opening the provinces of Thrace, Germany and Macedonia to recruiting. For the moment however, the efforts of Trajan won praise. Domitian, however, was no Trajan, and as Domitian fell prey to his own paranoia becoming more withdrawn, vindictive and disconnected, the northern and eastern frontiers became increasingly hostile and violent.
The problems concerning recruitment were never fully redressed. Marcus Aurelius was forced to raise the II Italica and III
Italica in 165 A.D during the Marcomannic Wars and Septimius Severus, for his campaigns in the East in 195 CE, was forced to raise the I, II, and III
Parthia. The reign of Severus was the last gasp of the Augustan army. The strain of constant warfare in Britain against the Scots, in the east against the Parthians, and along the Danube and in Dacia, broke the Roman Army that was already worn down by Civil War. The period of anarchy after the death of Severus divided and destroyed what was left. By the reigns of Diocletian and Constatine the Augustan army was gone, living only as ghost in the memories of men like Vegetius.
Copyright © 2008 Dan Blanchard.
Written by D.R. Blanchard. If you have questions or comments on this article,
please contact D.R. Blanchard at:
About the author:
Dan Blanchard graduated in 2002 with an MA in European History from Providence College during
which he completed his study of Latin and Attic Greek, and wrote his thesis which is titled
"The History of the Roman Legion XIV Gemina Martia Victrix, Severiana, Antoniniana, Maximiniana, Gordiana 31 BCE-410 CE".
He has presented pieces of his research before members of the Classical Association of New England.
He currently teaches Latin and Ancient Greek and Roman History at the Fay School in Massachusetts.
Published online: 10/12/2008.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent
those of MHO.