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The Battle of Tapae

Contributed by David Verne

Early this year, the Praetorian Prefect, Cornelius Fuscus, builds a pontoon bridge across the Danube and marches into Dacia with 4 legions, units of the Praetorian Guard, and numerous auxiliaries. Believing that the Dacians were scattered and feuding, Fuscus advances without proper scouting. As the Romans enter the narrow pass of Tapae, they are ambushed by several thousand Dacian warriors. Fuscus watched in horror as the 5th Alaudae was massacred and their siege artillery captured; the legion was never reformed. Even more humiliating, the standard of the Praetorian Guard was captured, and Fuscus was killed soon after.

Survivors began streaming across the Danube with horrific tales of the Dacian falx, a curved, two-handed sword with the edge on the inner side of the blade that could cut through a helmet and lop off limbs. Now the Triumph Domitian had celebrated last year seemed like a sick joke. The historian Tacitus, who had commanded a legion before becoming a Senator, was in a rage writing, "One after another, armies were lost in Moesia and Dacia, through the rash folly or cowardice of their generals." [1]

My Take by David Verne
The primary weapon of most ancient armies, with the exception of Rome, was the spear, since it was cheap to make and required little training to use. The Dacians had many rich iron mines and were able to outfit many of their warriors with a falx (see image below). The falx was extremely effective against the Romans, with modern experiments showing that it easily penetrated Roman armor. The type of armor used by the Romans was lorica segmentata, which was made up of many rigid plates. This was perfect for protecting against blunt weapons and most swords but made it vulnerable to the falx. The Dacians had also adopted Roman shields and tactics, adapting them for their own use.

Dacian Falx.jpg

See Also


  1. Dando-Collins, Stephen (2010). Legions of Rome. St. Martin's Press. 

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