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Kingdom of Dacia

Last modified: 2020-05-03 by rob raeside
Keywords: dacia | romania |
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About Dacia

Dacia was a country located in Europe, to the north of Danube, over the territories occupied today by Romania, Moldova, eastern Ukraine, western Hungary and northen Serbia. In 82 B.C. king Burebista succeded in uniting many small states and cities populated mostly by Dacians (but also by Greeks, Celts etc.) into one great kingdom whose borders were: the Ukrainian Carpathians in north, the Balkan mountains in south, middle Danube and Morava river in west and the mouth of Bug river in est. Fearing the power of Caesar, Burebista made an alliance with Pompei. But Caesar defated the latter and then planned the conquest of Dacia; however, in 44 B.C. both him and Burebista were assasinated. Dacia splited itself into four, then five smaller kingdoms. In 85-87 A.D. king Decebal managed to unite again most of the Dacian kingdom and pose a threat again for the Romans by the Dacian invasions in Moesia. Emperor Trajan decided to put an end to this situation and take hold of the rich Dacian gold mines which would help improving the empire's exhausted finances. After two fierce wars (101-102 A.D. and 105-106 A.D.) Trajan defeated the Dacians, and approximately half of Dacia was organised into a Roman province.

The Romanians are the descendants of the Dacian and Roman people settled in Dacia. In the medieval times, Dacia was known as the country divided between the principalities of Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania.
Alex Danes, 22 September 2008

The Dacian flags

Trajan's Column in Rome keeps a faithful record of the Dacian military symbols. The Dacians had both flags (vexillum) and standards (signum).
Alex Danes, 22 September 2008

The Dacian vexillum

The Dacians had their vexillum very similar to the Roman ones: a square cloth with fringes hanged at the end of a spear. The emblem on the cloth was a snake.
Alex Danes, 22 September 2008

The Dacian signum

[The Dacian Draco] by Alex Danes, 22 September 2008

The standards of Dacia are usually known under the name of "Dacian Draco", because they combine a dragon's tail with a wolf's head. The head was made either of silver or bronze, and had its mouth opened, showing the teeth and tongue. The particular shape of the mouth generated a powerful whistle when the wind passed through it. The tail was made of several cloth tubes, sewn one to another, and streamers. Because this standard was supposed to scare the enemy when rapidly floating in the air, I believe the tail was dyed in vibrating nuances, like red or orange. The standard was carried on top of a wooden rod, usually thrust around the neck. The only Dacian Draco head that survives today was discovered in Germany.

On Trajan's Column there are 20 standards of this kind, many of them different. One of them shows a dog head rather than a wolf; other has a serpentine/pike head instead and scalloped rings attached to the tail. A detailed article about the Draco standard can be found here.

After the Romans conquered Dacia, the military units composed by inhabitants of Dacia kept their standard as personal signum. Lucius Flavius Arrianus, commander of the Roman legions on the frontier with Armenia, described the Dacian Dracos used by Ala I Ulpia Dacorum in his work Tactica (136 A.D.), where he calls the Dacians "Scythians":

"The Roman riders are advancing with different insignia, not only Roman but also Scythian, so that their incursions look more varied and more scary. The Scythian insignia represent some dragons, proportional in size with the rod they are attached to. They are made of pieces of cloth of various colors, sewn together. These dragons have their head and entire body resembling the snakes. This strategy was invented so that the dragons would appear as terrifying as possible. When the horses stand in place, one can't see anything more than pieces of cloth of various colors that lies down. But when the horses run, these dragons inflate themselves with air, bearing a great resemblance with the beasts and whistling strongly, because the air runs powerfully trough them. These insignia aren't just pleasant to the eyes, but are useful in distinguishing the attackers during the battle and helping the riders not to get into a tangle."
A historical theory says that the dragon on the flag of Wales is a heritage of the Dacian Draco, brought in Britannia by Cohors I Aelia Dacorum during the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian (117-138 A.D.).
Alex Danes, 22 September 2008

Coat of arms of Dacia (medieval)

[Coat of arms of Dacia (1600)] by Alex Danes, 22 September 2008

Assigning two rampant lions Or, affronts, as coat of arms of Dacia was a medieval tradition widespread all across Europe. The earliest use that survives today was in the coat of arms of prince Michael the Brave who, in 1600, managed to unite all the principalities that were on the ancient territory of the Dacian kingdom: Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania. His new seal from 1600 depicted the coat of arms of all these provinces: the black eagle, the aurochs head and seven hills respectively. Over the hills there were two rampant lions affrontee, supporting the trunk of a tree, as a symbol of the reunited Dacian kingdom.
Alex Danes, 22 September 2008

[Coat of arms of Dacia (1685)] by Alex Danes, 22 September 2008

In his Book of the founding of the country of the Moldavian people (1685), the Moldavian chronicler Nicolae Costin wrote about the coat of arms of Dacia:

"The sign or seal of Dacia were two lions [raised] one against each other, with mouths opened, and above the lions a crown, as, for clearing up, it was drawn here."
The manuscript contains the coat of arms depicted above: two rampant lions affronts, crowned, inside an octagonal decorated frame.
Alex Danes, 22 September 2008

[Coat of arms of Dacia (1701)]image by Alex Danes, 22 September 2008

The Croatian herald Paul Ritter Vitezović included in his Stemmatographia (1701) the coat of arms of Dacia: a shield Gules, with a pyramid Argent, peak towards chef, supported by two rampant lions Or, affronts. Explaining the charges of this coat of arms, Vitezović stated that "in the old days, when Dacia was rich and had its own heroes, lions were climbing up the mountains". The pyramid symbolise "a distinct perfection and the acme of glory" and, on the whole, this coat of arms shows "the virtues that ruled Dacia until Decebal's reign". The same coat of arms occurred in Hristofor Žefarović translation of Stemmatographia in Serb language (1741). At the beginning of the XIXth century, Pavel Josef Šafařik mentioned again the Dacian blazon: "Dacia is the country divided today between Wallachia, Transylvania and Moldavia; its old blazon showed two lions affronts on a Gules field, between them there is a triangle with its vertex towards the chef, half Argent, half Gules".

The two rampant lions Or, as symbols of Dacia, were used as supporters in the coats of arms of Romania from 1872 and 1921.

  • Enciclopedia României, vol. I, Imprimeriile Statului, Bucharest, 1938.
  • M. Dogaru, 'Din heraldica României', JIF Publishing House, Braşov, 1994.
Alex Danes, 22 September 2008

[Coat of arms of Dacia (1701)] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 17 April 2020

In the original printed version of Stemmatographia by Vitezović [1], as well as the translation by Žefarović [2], heraldic tinctures were denoted by hatching. In case of the arms of Dacia, this was not applied completely correctly: the pyramid Argent, instead of being left all blank, has had the sinister half hatched with the lines being slanted less than those used for the tincture Vert, still visibly not vertical, which would stand for Gules. In both versions of the book, the descriptions of the arms [2, 3] state that the pyramid is Argent, so this incorrect hatching was meant only to represent the shadow which a lighting source might cast upon the pyramid if it appeared on a real shield; such illusions of third dimension are sometimes created by heraldic artists by using different shades of paint representing a tincture, in a way not unlike the diapering [4].

Copies of Stemmatographia exist where the pictures of arms were subsequently painted over the hatching. In some of them, the pyramid was left all white, regardless of the "hatching" [5]. However, it is possible that there were also the copies in which the painters mistook the "shadow" for a real hatching and painted sinister half of the pyramid into red, not bothering to check the description in latter part of the book. The blazon mentioned by Šafařik must have been based on such a copy or another derived source.

My image of the coat of arms with the "shadow" presented as a very light gray was derived from the image above by Alex Danes where the "shadow" was painted in color used to represent the tincture Argent according to recommendations by the International Association of Amateur Heralds while the part "under the light" was left white. Note that this is not a replacement for Alex' image, which relates to the blazon by Šafarik, but a separate contribution - an illustration of the correct blazon.

[1] /Stemmatographia/ by Vitezović at Wikipedia - Picture of the arms of Dacia:
[2] PLEMENITO - Digital Archive: /Stemmatographia/ by Žefarović (p.45/111 - Picture of the arms of Dacia; p. 94/111 - Description of the arms of Dacia):
[3] /Stemmatographia/ by Vitezović at Wikipedia - Description of the arms of Dacia:
[4] Oliver, Stefan: An Introduction to Heraldry, p. 54 Edison, NJ 08837, USA: Chartwell Books, Inc., 2000 (c) 1997 Quantum Books Ltd ISBN 0-7858-1248-2
[5] PLEMENITO - Digital Archive: /Stemmatographia/ by Vitezović, with subsequently painted pictures (p. 22/80 - Picture of the arms of Dacia, p. 70/80 - Description of the arms of Dacia):

Tomislav Todorovic, 17 April 2020