Domitian's Dacian War

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Domitian's Dacian War
Part of the Dacian Wars
Location43°57′36″N 21°7′48″E / 43.96000°N 21.13000°E / 43.96000; 21.13000Coordinates: 43°57′36″N 21°7′48″E / 43.96000°N 21.13000°E / 43.96000; 21.13000
Result Mixed result, the Romans repulsed the Dacians from Moesia and the Dacians defeated the Roman subsequent invasion.[1]
Dacia Roman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Decebalus Oppius Sabinus 
Cornelius Fuscus 
Tettius Julianus
Casualties and losses
unknown 2 legions
Domitian's Dacian War is located in Serbia
Domitian's Dacian War
Location within Serbia
Domitian's Dacian War is located in Romania
Domitian's Dacian War
Domitian's Dacian War (Romania)
Domitian's Dacian War is located in Europe without the extreme north
Domitian's Dacian War
Domitian's Dacian War (Europe without the extreme north)

Domitian's Dacian War was a conflict between the Roman Empire and the Dacian Kingdom, which had invaded the province of Moesia. The war occurred during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian, in the years 86–88 AD.

Dacian attack and defeat of Oppius Sabinus[edit]

At the end of 85 or the beginning of 86 AD,[2] the Dacian king Duras ordered his troops to attack the Roman province of Moesia on the southern course of the Danube river. The Dacian army was led by Diurpaneus, often cited as one and the same with the later king named Decebalus, although these assumptions remain obscurely founded and problematic.[3] It seems that the Romans were caught by surprise since the governor, Oppius Sabinus, and his forces, possibly including the Legio V Alaudae, were annihilated.[2]

Following this attack, Domitian, accompanied by Cornelius Fuscus, Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, personally arrived in Moesia, reorganized the province into Moesia Inferior and Moesia Superior, and planned a future attack into Dacia. To replenish their forces and greatly strengthen the Roman army in this territory, the Legio IV Flavia Felix from Dalmatia and two more legions, the I and II Adiutrix, were moved to Moesia from the western provinces. The region of Sirmium was attached to Moesia Superior, in order to have a single command over the endangered Dacian frontier.[2]

Historians are divided as to what happened next. A. Mócsy suggests that after handing over the command to Fuscus, Domitian returned to Rome in the same year, while Fuscus cleared the Dacian invaders from the province.[4] According to E. T. Salmon and M. Bunson, however, Domitian personally led the successful operations, then returned to Rome to celebrate a double triumph.[5][6]

Defeat of Cornelius Fuscus[edit]

In the same year (86), after the initial success against the Dacians, Cornelius Fuscus crossed the Danube. However, his army was ambushed and destroyed while Fuscus himself died in the battle.[4]

Grumeaza has speculated that, after this victory, Diurpaneus received the name of Decebalus, a term he translated as meaning "as strong as ten wild men".[7]


After the battle, the course of events is unclear and a satisfactory chronological reconstruction is not possible. Suetonius mentions that there were "several battles of varying success" (against the Dacians).[8] Lucius Antonius Saturninus, commander of the Roman army in Germania Superior, revolted.[6] In addition, the Iazyges, Marcomanni, and Quadi refused to provide troops to Domitian for his Dacian war. Domitian killed their peace emissaries and attacked them, then he left for the Rhine frontier. He was forced to return to Pannonia after the Romans had suffered a defeat there. All these problems halted the Roman offensive and Decebalus, now the Dacian king, sued for peace, sending his brother, Diegis, as his plenary representative.[9] Under the terms of the treaty, Decebalus returned the Roman prisoners of war but he was also lent a number of Roman engineers who helped him in building defensive fortifications. The Romans would pay an annual subsidy of 8 million sesterces[10] and Decebalus was recognized as a client king of Rome.[11]


For the remainder of Domitian's reign Dacia remained a relatively peaceful client kingdom, but Decebalus used the Roman money to fortify his defences.[12] Domitian probably wanted a new war against the Dacians, and reinforced Upper Moesia with two more cavalry units brought from Syria and with at least five cohorts brought from Pannonia. Trajan continued Domitian's policy and added two more units to the auxiliary forces of Upper Moesia, and then he used the buildup of troops for his Dacian wars.[13][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mócsy (1974), pp. 82–83.
  2. ^ a b c Mócsy (1974), p82.
  3. ^ Bury (1893), p407.
  4. ^ a b Mócsy (1974), p83.
  5. ^ Salmon (1944), p248.
  6. ^ a b Bunson (1994), p181.
  7. ^ Grumeza (2009), pp 163-164
  8. ^ Suetonius. "The Twelve Caesars". Retrieved 19 March 2012.
  9. ^ Mócsy (1994), p84.
  10. ^ Jones (1992), p150.
  11. ^ Salmon (1944), p249.
  12. ^ Salmon, Edward Togo (1936). "Trajan's Conquest of Dacia". Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association. Johns Hopkins University Press. 67: 83–105. doi:10.2307/283229. JSTOR 283229.
  13. ^ Knight, D. J. (1991). "The Movements of the Auxilia from Augustus to Hadrian". Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik. 85: 189–208.
  14. ^ Matei-Popescu, Florian (2006–2007). "The Auxiliary Units from Moesia Superior in Domitian's Time and the Problem of CIL XVI 41". Ephemeris Napocensis. 16–17: 31–48.



  • Griffin, Miriam (2000). "The Flavians". The Cambridge Ancient History. Vol. XI (2 ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–83.
  • Jones, Brian W. (1992). The Emperor Domitian. Routledge.
  • MacKendrick, Paul Lachlan (1975). The Dacian Stones Speak. The University of North Carolina Press.
  • Mattern, Susan P. (1999). Rome and the Enemy: Imperial Strategy in the Principate. University of California Press.