Decebalus (ruled 87-106) was the last king of Dacia. He is famous for fighting three wars, with varying success, against the Roman Empire under two emperors. After raiding across the Danube, he defeated a Roman invasion in the reign of Domitian, securing a period of independence during which Decebalus consolidated his rule.

When Trajan came to power, his armies invaded Dacia to weaken its threat to Roman border territory. Decebalus was defeated. He remained in power as a client king, but continued to assert his independence, leading to a final and overwhelming Roman invasion in 105. Trajan reduced the Dacian capital Sarmizegetusa in 106, absorbing Dacia into the Empire. Decebalus committed suicide to avoid capture.

Since the mid 19th century Decebalus has been portrayed as a national hero in Romania, the modern successor to ancient Dacia. There are several monuments depicting him.

Early Life Edit

After the death of Great King Burebista, Dacia split into four, then five, smaller states. Nothing is known about Decebalus' youth or background. Decebalus appears to have risen to prominence in the court of the Dacian king Duras, who claimed authority over all Dacian territory. An ancient Dacian pot bearing the words “Decebalus per Scorilo” led to the suggestion that this might mean "Decebalus son of Scorilo". According to Lucian Boia this suggestion was originally a "scholarly joke", but the theory has been considered plausible by several writers. It has been suggested that "Scorilo" may be identical to the "Coryllus" or "Scorillus" identified by Jordanes as a Dacian king prior to Duras. Duras may have been Decebalus' uncle, having taken over the throne by agnatic right on his brother's death.

In 85 the Dacian army began minor raids upon the heavily fortified Roman province of Moesia, located south of the Danube. In 86 King Duras ordered a more vigorous attack south into Moesia. Roman sources refer to the attack being led by "Diurpaneus" (or "Dorpaneus"). Many authors have taken this person to be Duras himself, and refer to him as "Duras-Diurpaneus". Other scholars argue that Duras and Diurpaneus are different individuals, or that Diurpaneus is identical to Decebalus. Recent sources take the view that "Diurpaneus" is most likely Decebalus.

The Dacians defeated and killed Oppius Sabinus, the governor of Moesia, forcing Domitian to deploy more troops to the area. M. Cornelius Nigrinus replaced Sabinus. Domitian took command to deal with the problem himself, arriving with his general, prefect of the Praetorian Guards, Cornelius Fuscus.

War against Emperor Domitian Edit

Domitian pushed back the Dacians from Moesia, then returned to Rome to celebrate a Triumph, leaving Fuscus in charge of the army. Fuscus advanced into Dacia, but his four or five legions suffered a major defeat when ambushed by the forces of Decebalus (the sources say "Diurpaneus" was in command, which might mean Decebalus or Duras). Two Roman legions (among which was the V Alaudae) were ambushed and defeated at a mountain pass the Romans called Tapae (widely known as the Iron Gates along what is the modern Romania-Serbia border). Fuscus was killed, and Decebalus was crowned king after the aging Duras abdicated.

Dio Cassius described Decebalus as follows:

This man was shrewd in his understanding of warfare and shrewd also in the waging of war; he judged well when to attack and chose the right moment to retreat; he was an expert in ambuscades and a master in pitched battles; and he knew not only how to follow up a victory well, but also how to manage well a defeat. Hence he showed himself a worthy antagonist of the Romans for a long time.

Fuscus was replaced by Tettius Julianus. In 88 Julianus commanded another Roman army under Domitian against the Dacians. Julianus defeated the Dacians at a battle near Tapae. However, elsewhere in Europe, Domitian was having to deal with revolts along the Rhine, and suffered heavy defeats at the hands of the Marcomanni, and Sarmatian tribes in the east, notably the Iazyges. Needing the troops in Moesia, Domitian agreed to peace terms with Decebalus. He agreed to pay large sums (8 million sesterces) in annual tribute to the Dacians for maintaining peace. Decebalus sent his brother Diegis to Rome to accept a diadem from the Emperor, officially recognising Decebalus's royal status.

Consolidation of powerEdit

Decebalus' victory greatly increased his prestige. He proceeded to centralise power and build up his fortifications and his war machines, using engineers supplied by Domitian. Decebalus's court also became a haven for malcontents and deserters from the Roman empire becoming "the nucleus for anti-Roman sentiment" in the words of historian Julian Bennett. He also sought to build alliances with independent tribes, notably the Getic Bastarnae and the Sarmatian Roxolani. He failed to secure the support of the Quadi, Marcomanni and Jazyges, but ensured that they would not interfere with his plans.

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