The Celts and the Dacians
By Ion Grumeza
At the time of the Roman Empire, a large population of Celts from central Europe migrated to Dacia in Eastern Europe. They brought with them skills and traditions that continue to be evident in today’s Romania, which roughly encompasses the former lands of ancient Dacia. What follows is the history about these unlikely partners: their shared culture, the major battles they fought against Rome, the construction of Hadrian’s Wall in Britannia and Dacia, and finally, an intriguing postulation about the legend of King Arthur.
Two ancient people, separated by water and land, have much in common, including their enemies.
In the year 200 BC, Britannia was at one edge of the Roman Empire, while Dacia, more than 2,000 kilometers away, marked the eastern European fringe of the empire. Both lands had boundaries of water that presented natural obstacles for invaders: the insular Britannia was surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean while Dacia‘s borders were marked by the waters of Pontus Euxinus (the Black Sea) and the River Danube. Their land surfaces were similar in area; their settled populations were some one million people each. Regarding the continental Celts, they followed the Danube River and found the Dacians who lived on both sides of the last leg of this river, controlling its commercial traffic leading to the Black Sea. When Alexander the Great invaded the Danubian lands in 335 BC, he found Celtic tribes that lived in Dacia. Other migrating Celts settled west of the Dacian borders in what is today Austria, Czech Republic, France, Slovakia and nearby territories. Herodotus in The Histories and Caesar in The Gallic Wars described the Dacian and continental Celtic societies as being formed by a tribal federation of many diverse clans held together by shared basic beliefs and habitual rules. In both cultures women were free and played a powerful role. The two worshipped different gods, but both performed human sacrifices as religious rituals.
Their common enemies were the Germanic tribes from the north of the Rhine and Romans from the Italic Peninsula, and for many centuries succeeded to keep them at a respectful distance. Often they challenged Roman expansion by conducting sweeping military strikes and sacking imperial outposts. While both Britannia and Dacia eventually were partially conquered by Roman might, they each rebelled and repelled the invaders, forcing the legions to leave their lands. Yet, no defenses could spare Britannia from relentless barbarian attacks from the northern island and across the Oceanus Britannicuse (British Channel), nor Dacia from invasions by the Goths and Huns, all taking place after the Roman occupation.
Celts and Dacians shared their heritages through language.
Britannia was populated largely by Celtic invaders from Gallic Belgae in the early years of the first century BC. Their name derived from the Greek Keltoi, meaning “the hidden people” or barbarians. The name was used for approximately 200 tribes “hiding” on their islands and in the vast forests of Europe. The continental Celts found themselves pushed out of their lands by both Germanic tribes and Romans in their battle for supremacy of central Europe. Forced to wander through Europe, the Celts found a haven in Dacia where the population, living in the Carpathian Mountains, were also “hidden people.” Both found safe shelter in the dense forests that provided food for the natives and deadly ambushes for enemies. Naturally, as the Celts and the Dacians intermingled, they began to share their heritage. The migratory Celts and their Dacian hosts communicated by using a coarse Latin composed of old Italic, Greek, and Celtic dialects that originated with the Roman slaves. It was an oral language, and neither Celts or Dacians left any written documents.
The people who made up the various tribes of Celts were called Galli by the Romans and Galatai by the Greeks. The name Britannia may come from the Pretaic Isles, later pronounced “Prydain” and eventually “Britain.” Interestingly, the Gallic word pretaic means falcon. Indeed, the Celts worshiped the falcon, and numerous Celtic graves discovered recently in Romania illustrate this. One is in the town of Ciumesti that shows a fighting helmet with a winged falcon. According to Strabo (64 BC-CE 21), the Dacians were named after Daoi, meaning “wolf,” and were nicknamed “wolf-people” because they worshipped that animal. Their battle flag showed a wolf-headed serpent with a long hollow body that collected the wind and made a howling noise. The Romanian language has kept the word lupta, meaning “fight,” from the Dacic lup, meaning “wolf.” Similarly, Celtic art crafts use wolf-serpent” motifs sculpted, painted or woven, as the seal of wisdom, an attribute of the animal that the Dacians admired. It is likely that the Celtic and Dacian tribes bonded under the principle of the “wolves’ brotherhood” and conducted their fights using “gang of wolves” tactics. Many Celtic tribes were named after “wolf,” and most likely the Welsh of Britannia was one of them.
Celtic influence on the Dacian way of life
The Dacians, a branch of the Indo-European family, were primarily shepherds in the mountains and herders or wine growers in the plains. Much of their prosperity came from salt, a rare commodity that was known as “white gold.” The numerous salt, gold and silver mines gave Dacia commercial bargaining power with the rest of the world. Yet, even as it made them prosperous, salt attracted the envious eyes of the Roman emperors, who perpetually sought to refill treasuries that were continually drained by monumental constructions and distant wars. The Dacians were feared fighters in their own right; the Celts were welcome to join them in battle, but the technically advanced Celts were much more than war allies. While encumbered by certain economic and political rules and restrictions, such as living in designated areas and serving in the Dacian army, the newcomers would have an impact on all aspects of life in Dacia.
Since 200 BC, the Celtic presence in Dacia had been mainly concentrated in today’s Transylvania, a region immensely rich in gold, silver, copper and iron, natural resources that were highly prized by the Celts who were the most advanced metallurgists in Europe. So great were their industrial achievements, that La Tene culture was produced by Celtic craftsmanship. Beautiful and intricate Celtic-designed and created jewels, including fine clasps, buttons, bracelets, brooches, pins and necklaces, were renowned and found a solid market in Dacia.
The Celts had brought with them to Dacia the metal plough for seeding, the scythe for harvesting, and the rotary flour mill, revolutionizing primitive agriculture. They also introduced the concept of planned farming, the use of horses in farming and mining, and wagon wheels with iron rims. Their unmatched skill at melting and forging metals, creating colorful glass and enamel, and most of all, their craft as weapon makers, made them welcome neighbors. The Dacians allowed the Celts to mine the metals on their land – providing they paid tribute in fine swords, curved daggers, oval shields and other military equipment. Indeed, the Dacian warriors adopted most of the Celtic arsenal, with the exception of their battle chariots which did not fit in with the Dacian belief in man-to-man and sacrificial fighting.
The Celts also introduced the turning pottery table, making utilitarian and decorative objects that enhanced the household and provided practical advancement. They minted the first Dacian coins made of copper and plated with silver. They also introduced the bagpipe and other wind instruments, a lasting legacy as the influence of Celtic music is still clearly heard in the music of today’s Romania. The Celtic “knot work” with its intricate interlacing of lines was adopted as a design for the Dacian embroideries and their woodwork ornaments. Later on, it was used for decorating their crosses. Dacian women were more than happy to wear the colorful Celtic woven textiles with bright embroidery, while Dacian men found the tight trousers, or bracae, convenient attire; these would be renamed by the Dacians, bracinari or cioareci. All these items would become the Romanian national costumes that are still worn today. Dacian men took to combing back their long hair, like the Celts, but they did not shave their beards, or adopt the famous Celtic moustache.
All of Dacia benefited from Celtic architecture and the oppida-style of fortified dwellings spread quickly throughout the land. Houses built of brick, mortar, and timber, with straight lines and well-connected at the corners, meant a better chance of survival. Their fortified settlements had names that usually ended with the dava/deva suffix, marking them as divine/sacred places.
Religious traditions were similar and influenced each other.
The Dacians were monotheistic, worshipping Zalmoxes, who was perceived as a former student of Pythagoras and as a divine messenger to the Sun god. It is believed that the Dacians, probably the tribe of Appuli, built Apullum/Alba Iulia, the first city dedicated to the sun god. In each dava their sacrifices took place on a round stone altar, with the sun’s rays chiseled as indentations in the stone, directing the sacrificial blood away from the centre. Such an altar called “sun of andesite” of seven meters in diameter can still be seen today among the ruins of the former capital of Dacia, Sarmisegetusa.
The Celts worshipped a family of gods but also shared with the Dacians a belief in the power of the sun and fire. Celtic Druism rituals included barefoot walking over hot charcoals—reminiscent of a quick dance to lively music. Dacian dances, the “Brau” and “Sarba,” still danced in today’s Romania, have strikingly similar moves to the fast music and rhythmic line Irish dances with rapid taps. It is likely that both types of dancing originated from their common manner of worshipping god of fire as they stepped across a patch of ambers.
Co-existence and assimilation help Dacia extend its boundaries and increase its power.
The first major Dacian king, Burebista (60-44 BC), had a Celtic name meaning “Braveheart.” He was advised by Deceneus, the high priest of Dacia whose name in Celtic meant “wise and righteous.” Burebista united many tribes through both negotiations and force of arms and extended the boundaries of Dacia from Vindobona (Vienna) to the River Hypanis (the River Bug). By the middle of the first century CE, Dacia, with its assimilated Celts, was the third military power of Europe, after the Romans and the Germans. In Dacia, the Greater Dacian tribes coexisted peacefully with at least ten major Celtic tribes being the strongest and most numerous: Ardeni, Costoboci (branch of the Boii), Dani, Luncani, Taurinii, and the Tribalii. Most Celts in Dacia became Dacianized by CE 1.
Numerous locations in Dacia bear Celtic names, from the Godeanu and Pelaga mountains to Bega, Borcea, Danube rivers, as well as Luncani, Moinesti, Medias, and Vulcan settlements, all of which are found on the map of modern Romania.
The Roman Empire wars with Celts and Dacians.
Between CE 58 and 51, the ambitious Roman politician and general, Julius Caesar, carried a merciless war against approximately 40 Celtic tribes that populated Gallia (Gaul). Ten elite legions fought one bitter battle after another, killing some one million Celts and enslaving countless others before subduing them. The war ended after Vercingetorix (rix/rex means king), the fearless leader of Avereni and a coalition of Celtic tribes, surrendered in 52 BC, and was forced to march as a slave in Caesar’s triumphant parade through Rome. Legio III (tertia) Gallica, with its symbol “the bull,” was recruited from the Gallic warriors, who played important roles in the military and political life of the Roman Empire.
This crushing defeat motivated the free Celts from Gallia/Gaul to hurriedly migrate to Britannia and Dacia, where their distant cousins would welcome them and provide a safe haven from Roman revenge. Caesar was not pleased with this migration, knowing it would breed more enemies against Rome. Adding to his troubles, Burebista decided to endorse Pompey who wanted to replace Caesar as Emperor.
In 55 BC, in the middle of the Gallic Wars, Caesar suddenly crossed the Oceanus Britannicus (the English Channel) and invaded Britannia with two legions, advancing to Kent. Even though his campaign was succeeding, he had to leave the Celtic island and rush back to the unfinished war in Gallia. He continued his campaign the following year with five legions (15,000 men), but once again he was forced back to tumultuous Gallia. His assassination in 44 BC ended further Roman invasions into Britannia. Had Caesar lived, he would have pursued his next planned massive campaign against the defiant Dacians who consistently destroyed Roman outposts south of the Danube River. King Burebista, who survived Caesar, was also assassinated a short time later. But Rome’s interest in subjugating Dacia continued.
The Romans were very aware of the threat posed by free countries such as Britannia and Dacia, which could send huge numbers of fighters against their legions. The Emperor Augustus (27 BC-CE 14) was so taken up with amalgamating his reign and with worrying about the moral and political health of the Empire that he kept postponing military campaigns against Britannia and Dacia, especially after he lost three legions in Germania. But Caligula (CE 37-41) and his imperial successors continually tried to subdue the Britons by playing rival Celtic tribes against each other to weaken their armed resistance.
A six-year campaign ended in CE 84 when General Julius Gneus Agricola conquered most of the southern Celtic tribes and established Britannia Romana. This feeble Roman conquest was opposed by the tribes of Britannia Barbara, today’s Scotland in the area north of Roman Britannia. The relative peace in Britannia and Gaul gave Domitian (CE 81-96) enough time and supplies to plan an attack of Dacia. Such a victory would bring into line the feared and rich neighbor; it would generate immense wealth for the empire’s depleted treasury; and provide a much-needed military victory for the frustrated emperor. The overconfident Domitian ignored the competence of General Agricola and named Cornelius Fucus the Pretorian Guard commander to lead the Dacian campaign, an obvious political decision.
At that time, the undisputed Dacian leader was Decebalus/Decebal (r. 87-106) who had consolidated a mini-empire of his own. Dacia had reached its economic and military zenith, and the tribal armies led by Decebalus scored one victory after another. Many Celtic tribes, among them the Dardanii (in central Serbia) and Scordiscii (north of Bosnia), were included in the Dacian Federation. Dacian expansionism was noted with anger in Rome, which did not want any competition in this highly flammable region of Eastern Europe. Rome was determined to teach the Dacians to respect the Empire and fly the Roman flag north of the Danube lands.
Once again defying Rome’s plans, the Dacians annihilated two Roman legions as they crossed the Danube, one being the glorious legion, V Alude. They succeeded in taking the arrogant Fucus as prisoner and executing him. The entire imperial invasion ended in defeat, and Domitian agreed to pay a substantial tribute of denari (the chief Roman silver coin under the Republic) to the Dacians. There is no doubt that Celtic warriors were among the victorious ranks of the Decebalus army. After all, Decebalus was a Celtic name meaning the “right ruler. He likely belonged to the Celtic tribe of Decies/Daesi, which sounds very close to the name of “Dacia.
But the possibility of war was only temporarily removed. In CE 98, Marcus Ulpius Trajanus, or Trajan (CE 98-117), who had previously fought against the Dacians, became the first emperor born outside Italy. In the first year of his reign, he founded Colonia Nervia Glevensis (Gloucester) in order to consolidate Roman power in Britannia where he stationed two legions. Then he focused his military attention on the other end of empire—Dacia.
Trajan’s solid military background and his knowledge of Dacian fighting tactics gave him confidence, and he was further spurred on by his desire to be the one to refill the imperial coffers. First, Trajanus tried to intimidate Decebalus by using diplomacy, but the king was firm in his demand for the return of all former Dacian territories, now occupied by Romans. These included Dobrudja, most of Moesia and Pannonia (approximately the Bulgaria, Hungary and Austria of today), all inhabited by numerous Celtic tribes.
With the Dacians becoming more aggressive and defiant against the Roman military presence along the Danube, this war was a “do or die” situation for Trajanus. He decided to invade Dacia and settle the entire territorial matter through force of arms and on Roman terms. The war’s brutal military events led to the death of Decebalus who, like Boudicca, the rebellious queen of Icenii, committed suicide in Britannia fifty years before. The partial occupation of Dacia by the Romans divided the country into western Romanized Dacia Felix and eastern Free Dacia
The entire five-year campaign was immortalized in the marble of Trajan’s Column, which to this day dominates the Forum area of Rome. The 120-foot tall column shows 2,500 human figures in 155 scenes—660 feet of spectacular detail sculpted to commemorate the partial defeat of the defiant Dacians. The column shows the clear presence of Celtic warriors in war scenes framed with mistletoe motifs. The mistletoe, called miscelto in Britannia, was a berry plant considered sacred by the Druids and was used as festive decoration. It was believed to have healing powers and still has much romantic appeal. Certainly, the Dacians could be connected to this magical plant only through the Celtic warriors fighting side by side with them. Half-naked and mustachioed soldiers depicted on the column are undoubtedly Celts, some of them holding cut off heads of enemies, an unmistakable Celtic war habit. The column also shows Dacians with Celtic shields. They are being helped by the Roxalani, their Sarmatian cousins who lived in southern Russia. These horsemen are depicted wearing their fish-scale armor and bearing long swords.
The plunder of Dacia was considerable: 100 tons of gold and 500 tons of silver along with 700 million denari enriched the treasury of the Roman Empire. This fortune initiated the most prosperous 100 years of the entire Roman world, the victory in Transylvania serving as lesson in respect for the rebellious Celts from Britannia.
Hadrian’s Wall is built first in Dacia, then in Britannia.
After the death of Trajanus the Conqueror, the throne of the Roman Empire passed to Hadrian the Consolidator. Well educated and well travelled, the new emperor considered the Roman Empire large enough and wars too expensive to pursue indiscriminately. He firmly decided to focus on maintaining its existing boundaries. Because the plunder of Dacia was in full exploitation, Hadrian exempted his citizens from many taxes and from paying debts, founded numerous charitable institutions to help the poor, and engaged in ample construction works. Yet, in Roman-occupied Dacia and Britannia, his Pax Romana continued to be challenged by invaders from the north.
As a veteran of all the Dacian wars, Hadrian knew Dacia Felix (Happy/Abundant Dacia) and its potential liberators, the free Daco-Sarmatians in Free Dacia, against whom he continued to fight. At one time, he considered abandoning Dacia Romana, but the country was too rich and his ego too great. Because of his training as an architect and his firm belief that walls stop enemies, he ordered a fortified border wall to be built in Romanized Dacia Felix along the border of Free Dacia. Large walls of stone, brick, dirt and wood were constructed by skilled legionnaires helped by native laborers. Hadrian’s main project was the Limes Alutanus, a basic type of Roman border wall with palisades and towers. Constructed of stone and turf, the wall was approximately 15 feet high and 10 feet thick, with ditches of water on both sides that were 30 feet wide and 15 feet deep. Stretching 150 miles (200 kilometres) along the Olt River, it was designed to discourage raids of the perpetual unhappy Iazyges (a Sarmatian people) who kept claiming land inside Roman Dacia, Hadrian ordered a similar wall to be built in Transylvania. It was a winding structure that covered 70 miles (115 kilometres) with 128 watchtowers and numerous fortified castris (military camp structures) that permitted the foot patrols to find reliable shelter.
During Hadrian’s reign, Roman might was represented in Britannia and Dacia by the same number of troops: 30,000-40,000 in each country, which was roughly 20 percent of the entire armed forces of the Empire. These military statistics show how important these outpost territories were for Rome, which ambitiously tried to convert them into obedient colonies. The stationed troops also rebuilt Londinium/London and Sarmisegetuza (the Dacian capital), using similar blueprints and similar construction skills, as shown on the Trajan Column. At the same time the Roman commanders were busy recruiting auxiliary soldiers from the occupied territories and Dacian cohorts were sent as far as possible from their native land. Cohort Dacorum Equitata (Dacian cavalrymen) was sent to fight in Mesopotamia, while Cohort Dacorum Parthica was patrolling along the banks of the Euphrates.
The peaceful lull provided by the Golden Age of the Empire was welcomed by the Romans, but it made Hadrian nervous about legions that were stationed where there was no action. He knew too well that legionnaires at leisure are likely to engage in mutiny, and only a soldier with a mission was reliable. To keep his troops busy in Britannia, Hadrian decided to duplicate his Dacian fortification projects and ordered them to build a defensive wall that crossed the island at its narrowest point, between Tyne and Solway. It would clearly mark the Roman border and prevent tribes from Scotland from invading Roman Britannia.
The Hadrian’s Wall was begun in 122 and took four years and millions of stone blocks to complete. It was 74 miles/120 kilometers long, 9 feet/3 meters thick, and an average of 6 feet/1.8 meters high, lined on the south side with a 30-foot wide, 15-foot deep ditches. Like Hadrian’s Wall in Dacia, the wall in Britannia was dotted with watch towers, “mile stations,” and with large forts that garrisoned up to 1,000 troops each. Hadrian died in 138, but his Pax Romana continued for another 23 years under the leadership of his adopted son, Antonius Pius (CE 138-161). He extended the Roman border in Britannia by building his own wall further north into Scotland, known as the Antonine Wall.
Meanwhile, taking advantage of the relaxed Roman military presence in Dacia Felix, the free Dacians, helped by the Sarmatians, raided the Danubian outposts and plundered the rich settlements of colonists. The Celtic tribe, Costobocii, joined the invasion and it was only with great effort that Legio VII Gemina was able to push them back into Free Dacia. Similar raids continued in CE 143, 157 and 158, until finally the Romans restored imperial order in Dacia.
Rome deploys more Dacian warriors to Britannia.
When Marcus Aurelius (CE 161-180), the philosopher emperor, took over the throne he inherited numerous military conflicts north and along the Danube. The main danger to the Empire was the invasion of Germanic tribes; Roman legions had to fight a long and exhausting war against the Marcomanni and the Quadi. As usual, the restless Sarmatian Iazyges tribe took advantage of the situation and raided Dacia Felix. The free Dacians joined the fight and their feared horsemen invaded south of the Danube. They won one small victory after another and killed General Claudius Fronto, the Roman commander of the trans-Danubian forces. Marcus Aurelius rushed with enforcements to save his remaining Roman troops and was successful in restoring order to the lower Danube and Black Sea areas. Proud of his victories, he added to his title the names of “Dacicus” and “Sarmaticus.”
Impressed by the bravery of the Dacian and Sarmatian cavalry, Aurelius incorporated 8,000 of his former rivals into the Roman army, intending to use them against the menacing Germanic tribes. He discovered, however, that the Dacians would quickly defect to the enemy camp, since they always had strong and friendly ties with the Germanic tribes settled near their western border.
Wishing to put the powerful cavalry to better strategic use, the wise emperor quickly ordered the best 5,500 cavalrymen and their horses to be transferred to distant Britannia. This “Sarmatian” equestrian contingent named Cohort Dacorum Equitata, flying their wolf-serpent flag, crossed Europe, and, sailing from Gallia, arrived in Romanized Britannia in CE 175. These new mercenaries of Rome were equipped with heavy fish-scaled armor, as depicted on the Trajan column, then fighting on the Dacian side. Like any other non-Roman soldiers, they became “numerii,” auxiliary troops, easily attachable to any legion in need of reinforcements. Cohort Dacorum was attached to the Legio VI Victrix which secured Hadrian’s Wall.
The horsemen of Dacia are formidable warriors in Britannia.
After Marcus Aurelius died in 180, his son Commodus (CE 180-192) inherited Britannia Romana along with continuous threats from neighbors. The Roman legions stationed on the island were under continuous assault from the free Celtic tribes such as the Brigantians, Irish, Picts, and others. Positioning the Dacian/Sarmatian squadrons in the vicinity of the Hadrian’s Wall was an obvious option for the Roman Governor. In fact, their mission was to patrol the area between Hadrian’s Wall and a smaller defensive wall built by Antoninus Pius and situated farther north.
Indeed, no military unit was better equipped to carry out a death-defying mission than the horsemen of Dacia, already used to the risky encounters of lightening raiders. Born to fight, the uprooted warriors dedicated their military services to their adopted Britannia Romana. They proved again their legendary bravery by pushing back the Amoricans and Picts who dared to attack south of the Roman walls. They were led by Centurion Lucius Artorius Castus, a Roman officer who had fought in Dacia. His middle name most likely came from the Roman equestrian cast of Artorius/Artorii, the incipient knights of Europe, indicating that he had been born into an affluent Dalmatian family who could afford to belong to the elite cavalry clan. His last name of Castus was most likely a nickname, the meaning in both Latin and Greek (chaste) being “pure” with a suggestion of “sobru” or “vigorous.”
During his previous tour of duty, Lucius Castus served as a centurion of Legion III Gallicia, then in the Legion VI Ferratta, Legion II Adiutrix and Legion V Macedonica with the same rank. All these legions served around or inside Dacia. With this rather low officer rank he was transferred to the Legion Victrix stationed in Britannia. Because of his successful command of the Sarmatians, he was promoted to “primus pilus” while stationed in Brenetennacum (Ribchester). The promotion came after the tribe of Caledonii invaded south of the Antonine Wall and destroyed many Roman settlements near Hadrian’s Wall. A Roman inscription in stone reads that a cavalry unit slaughtered a “band of barbarians,” pointing to the Cohort Dacorum who had come from Dacia. Later, numerous military art crafts, such as Sarmatian gold-scale armor parts and Sarmatian lance heads were found near Hadrian’s Wall, confirming its fighting presence.
After Legion Victrix mutinied and was practically annihilated by repeated attacks of Caledonii, the Dacian cohort kept their fighting potential intact. In fact, the cavalrymen won decisive battles at Eburacum (York), where the Roman governor was murdered by attackers, Vinovium, along the river Glen (Glein) and inside the Caledonian forest, killing thousands of invaders and defeating Chester. By the beginning of 185, the Caledonian threat was eliminated, Roman order restored, and Castus was rewarded at York with the high rank of “dux” (fort commander).
Emperor Commodus, who believed he was the incarnation of Hercules, slaughtered hundreds of gladiators and lions in Roman arenas, but was afraid to confront the enemies of the Empire. The free Celts knew this and their attacks became stronger, making the task of the Dacian cohort squadrons even more dangerous, but more valuable for the Roman establishment in Britannia.
Dacian fighters in Britannia help extend the borders of the Roman Empire.
Under the reign of Septimus Severus (CE 193-211), the aging Dacian cohort supported the Governor of Britannia Claudius Albinius, who in 196 intended to dethrone Septimius Severus. Albinius took his legions from Britannia to Gaul, practically inviting the Caledonians to invade by crossing Hadrian’s Wall. Alarmed, Severus rushed with his loyal legions to defeat Albinius, while the Dacians kept fighting back the invaders from Free Britannia (north of Hadrian’s Wall). They held their ground until Severus’ troops came to rescue them and push back the invader. Because of their military achievements, the cohort’s temporary disloyalty to the emperor was erased by Severus.
When the emperor came to Britannia, he repaired and almost re-constructed the damaged Wall of Hadrian, as he built his own wall almost parallel to Hadrian’s. But Severus’ fortifications were superior in craftsmanship and size, including some 17 military camps of ample areas and large buildings intended to be supply warehouses for the troops.
In Dacia, Severus also pushed the frontiers of Dacia Felix east of the Dacian Hadrian’s Wall, and built the Limes Transalutanus to mark and defend it. This wall of earth and stones, nine feet high and more than 30 feet wide with deep moats, was an obvious highway for the legions to move quickly. Some 13 military forts, one of them at Longo-Campo (Campulung), the native hometown of the author, survive to this day in Romania.
Dacian warriors provide a twist to the Arthurian legend.
The beginning of the third century found the surviving cavalrymen, now old enough to retire
on full military pension, in their adopted country which they had defeated with such valor. Today their funeral stones, many adorned with the beloved wolf flag, can be found in forts, such as Bremetennacum Veteranorum, among others. The popular name “Deva,” found in the region of Deva Victrix/Chester is associated with the settlement of Dacian horsemen who baptized their colony using the Dacian sacred name “deva.” It is not clear why a tribe named Deceangli (a possible association of Dacian and Angli names) was specialized in mining silver and lead near Deva and the River Mersey—the latter name sounding much like the Marisius/Mures River, both located in Transylvania. These Dacian-related names indicate that the warriors and their families never returned to Dacia. Their sons would have been born Roman citizens, and they would have continued the legacy of military service while retaining Dacian-Sarmatian traditions. Substantiating this premise are the findings of archeological diggings along Hadrian’s Wall and many forts, revealing numerous art crafts, especial jewelry, featuring the Dacian flying wolf as an adornment.
It is likely that Lucius Castus did much better than his horsemen, becoming rich and powerful within the Roman administration. But there is intriguing evidence that his real achievement and impact on British history came after his death and after the Romans left Britannia. It was then that the Daco-Sarmatian horsemen, reminiscing about and heralding the heroic life of Lucius Artorius Castus, laid the foundation for what would evolve into the legend of King Arthur.
“Artorii” was the Roman word for the brave and dashing soldiers who would be called knights in the Middle Ages; it could easily be the root for the similar-sounding “Arthur.” Some speculate that one of Lucius Castus’s male descendents displayed the same bravado and sense of justice as his ancestor and therefore was given the noble title of “Artorii.” He is reputed to have become an epic leader who fought the barbarian invaders who sailed to Britannia a few centuries after Castus. It is said that he had built a Round Table to duplicate the Celtic ritual of sitting in a large circle after each victory to review their performance on the battlefield. Speculation continues that this table was inside a “milecastle” or a fort named Camalat, which in time was known as the castle of Camelot.
Certainly it is possible that the heroic deeds of a Dacian cohort, which once fought the barbarians who wanted to destroy the Roman civilization in Britannia, generated stories of Artorii/Arthurian heroes and of a brave leader named Artorius/Arture/Arthur, who fought the Saxons and other pillagers in order to protect his people.
© 2005 Ion Grumeza