Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Diurpaneus, Decebalus, Dacewho? Dacian Kings and Late Antique Historians

Among many other things, I'm in the process of converting my MA thesis from so many moons ago into a monograph.  In this particular instance the topic is an old school military one:  troop movements and dispositions in Roman Moesia/s.  I've actually been working away on this for some time (2009 - immediately following the submission of the PhD), but other things have cropped up at various points, as they usually do.  Well, I'm making a push to get the thing done (or close to) by the end of the summer.  Much of the work's finished, and it's just a matter of tidying and updating, though there are a host of things I'll have to add.

The main topic that I've been grappling with today is what to do with a certain Diurpaneus, the esteemed Dacian king.  Okay, maybe not terribly esteemed, but a Dacian king nonetheless!  Well, perhaps he's not even that.  Perhaps he's just a manuscript typo from long ago.  The much more famous Dacian king is Decebalus, the famed foe of Trajan, one of Rome's greatest emperors.  Trajan fought him twice in the early 100s, and by the end of the second war the Dacians had been defeated so soundly that Decebalus committed suicide.  There's even an image of him from Trajan's column, just about to kill himself as the Romans close in (image from Wikipedia):

Of course, the sculptors didn't actually show the death itself, something (the moment of death or act of killing) Roman and Greek art, in my experience, tends to shy away from.  Rather interestingly, however, we know the name of the soldier, from the 7th Claudian Legion, who brought Decebalus' head to Trajan, Tiberius Claudius Maximus, because he boasted about it in an inscription from Philippi in Greece (Speidel 1970, Campbell 1994:  32-33).

Anyway, this same Decebalus is often equated with the aforementioned Diurpaneus (Fear 2010:  341, n. 340), whom Orosius (7.10.4) and Jordanes (Get. 13.77 - Dorpaneus) said led the Dacian army into Moesia in the 80s during the reign of Domitian.  Fair enough assumption, no?  Decebalus is much more famous, and could easily have lived well into his 50s or 60s, especially since he was a powerful king.  In other words, he could easily have fought against Rome in the 80s and again in the 100s.  At the same time, Diurpaneus, or Dorpaneus, looks a lot like Decebalus.  They both start with a D, have As, Es, and a P and B respectively, which could easily get conflated.  Plus, as we all know, late Roman historians, chroniclers in particular, were quacks who were generally prone to mistakes.  These are the reasons, so far as I can tell, that this usually happens.  But, is this right?

Orosius (7.10.3) says he gets his information from Tacitus, whose Annals and Histories, as they survive, don't include material beyond about 69 - the Agricola is another story.  Although we're all well aware now of the artistry (ie. rhetoric) of Tacitus, he's still usually considered to be one of the most reliable of Roman historians.  Could he have got this wrong?  Seems unlikely to me.  Plus, I see no reason to question Orosius on this point.  He essentially does what Evagrius (4.19) later did for Procopius:  he says something like, "Tacitus said this, and much better than I ever could, so I don't need to go into detail".  Why shouldn't we take Orosius at his word when we've got what seems to be independent confirmation in the account of Jordanes, who doesn't name Tacitus but who is likely using him as well?

Then there's the name.  To my mind Decebalus bears little resemblance to Diurpaneus.  Dorpaneus and Diurpaneus?  Sure - easy enough to see how a scribe could conflate those, but the other way around?  Moreover, if an unknowing medieval scribe was working late at night, hunched over a parchment at candle light painstakingly making a copy of, say, Jordanes' Getica and came across a peculiar and unfamiliar name, like Diurpaneus, and decided to "correct" what he read wouldn't it have made more sense to replace the Diurpaneus with Decebalus, than the other way around? 

Basically, what I'm saying is that Diurpaneus deserves some credit for being a successful Dacian king in the 80s.  The Dacians caused Domitian no small amount of trouble during the decade; for they slaughtered a Roman army or two.  The name shouldn't be conflated with Decebalus, a distinct and more famous king.  Finally, late Roman historians, and chroniclers in particular (see Scott 2012 - and Croke 2002 for that matter), deserve more credit, especially in the absence of independent evidence that suggest otherwise.

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