Domitian's Dacian War

Domitian's Dacian War
Battle of Tapae (87 AD)
Part of the Dacian Wars
Date 87
Location Transylvania, Romania
Result Decisive Dacian victory
Dacia Roman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Decebalus Cornelius Fuscus
19,000 35,000
Casualties and losses
2,600 9,000
Battle of Tapae (88 AD)
Part of the Dacian Wars
Date 88
Location Transylvania, Romania
Result Roman victory, peace
Dacia Roman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Decebalus Tettius Iulianus
19,000 21,000
Casualties and losses
8,000 1,100

The first battle of Tapae were fought in 87 between the Roman army and the Dacians. They were a consequence of Roman Emperor Domitian's campaign to protect the Roman province of Moesia, nearly two decades before the regional conquest during the Dacian Wars in Trajan's reign.



In 86, the Dacian king Duras ordered his troops to attack the Roman province of Moesia on the southern course of the Danube river.

After this attack, the Roman emperor Domitian personally arrived in Moesia, reorganized the province into Moesia Inferior and Moesia Superior, and planned a future attack into Dacia.

The battle of 87

Domitian, started a strong offensive against Dacia in 87, ordering General Cornelius Fuscus to attack. Therefore, in the summer of 87, Fuscus along with five or six legions crossed the Danube.

They encountered the Dacian army at Tapae, where the Romans were ambushed, suffering a great defeat. Almost all of the soldiers from Legio V Alaudae were killed, the Dacians captured their flags and war machines, and general Cornelius Fuscus himself was killed in battle.

After this victory, the Dacian king Diurpaneus received the name of Decebalus, meaning as strong (or brave) as ten men.

The battle of 88

The Roman offensive continued the following year, with general Tettius Iulianus now in command. The Roman army entered Dacia following the same route Cornelius Fuscus had in the previous year. The battle took place mainly in the same area, at Tapae, but this time the outcome was a Roman victory. Because of the difficult road to Sarmizegetusa, the capital of Dacia, and because of several defeats suffered by Domitian in Pannonia, the Roman offensive halted and Decebalus sued for peace.


Following the peace of 89, Decebalus becomes a client king of Rome, receiving money, craftsmen and war machines from the Roman Empire, to defend the empire's borders. Some historians believe this unfavorable peace for the Romans might have been the cause for Domitian's assassination in September 96.[1]

Decebalus, the king of the Dacians, instead of using the money as Rome intended, decided to build new citadels in the mountains, in important strategic points, and to reinforce the existing ones.[2]

Notes and references

  1. ^ "De Imperatoribus Romanis" (Assorted Imperial Battle Descriptions). An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors. Retrieved 2007-11-08. "In the year 88, the Romans resumed the offensive. The Roman troops were now led by the general Tettius Iulianus. The battle took place again at Tapae but this time the Romans defeated the Dacians. For fear of falling into a trap, Iulianus abandoned his plans of conquering Sarmizegetuza and, at the same time, Decebalus asked for peace. At first, Domitian refused this request, but after he was defeated in a war in Pannonia against the Marcomanni (a Germanic tribe), the emperor was obliged to accept the peace." 
  2. ^ "De Imperatoribus Romanis" (Assorted Imperial Battle Descriptions). An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors. Retrieved 2007-11-08. "Battle of Sarmizegetusa (Sarmizegetuza), A.D. 105. During Trajan's reign one of the most important Roman successes was the victory over the Dacians. The first important confrontation between the Romans and the Dacians took place in the year 87 and was initiated by Domitian. The praetorian prefect Cornelius Fuscus led five or six legions across the Danube on a bridge of ships and advanced towards Banat (in Romania). The Romans were surprised by a Dacian attack at Tapae (near the village of Bucova, in Romania). Legion V Alaude was crushed and Cornelius Fuscus was killed. The victorious general was originally known as Diurpaneus (see Manea, p.109), but after this victory he was called Decebalus (the brave one)." 

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