UD: August 2016
Decebalus (originally Diurpaneus), is rightly remembered as the greatest of Dacian leaders, who led his peoples’ prolonged resistance to Rome, which would eventually lead to him making the ultimate sacrifice. The tragic death of this exceptional ruler in 106, after almost 20 years of struggle, marked the end of Dacian statehood.
Decebalus’ suicide, from Trajan’s Column (Scene CXLV)
However, who was Decebalus, and where did he come from? An analysis of this leader’s name and ancestry reveals evidence which casts new light on Decebalus himself, and once again poses the question – who were the “Dacians”?
The first fact to consider is that the name Decebalus, besides sources referring to the Dacian leader, is recorded in a large number of inscriptions from the Roman period – from Italy (CIL 6, 25572 (Roma): Decibalus; AE 1954,83 (Roma): Decibal(us); AE 1989,299 (Asisium=Assisi, Umbria): Decibalo; AE 1945,35 (Ostia): Decibali; CIL 15,2797 (Roma): Deceb[alus]), Thrace (CIL 3,7477 (Durostorum=Silistria, Moesia Inf.): Decibalm; AE 1998, 01141: (Sacidava, Moes.Inf.): Decibali; CIL 3,7437 (from Lăžen near Nicopol): Decebali; IGLNovae nr.82 (Novae, Moesia Inf.): Decebalo), Macedonia (AE 1985, nr.721 (Philippi): Decebalu(m), Pannonia (CIL 3,4150 (Savaria=Szombathely, Pannonia Sup.): Decibalus), Gaul (1964, 144f (Blain, Lugdunensis): Decibal(us) 1964, 144f (Blain, Lugdunensis, Franţa): Decibal(us), and Britain (CIL 13,10013: Decibal(us), i.e. with the exception of the famous Dacian leader, all recorded examples of the name Decebalus come from outside Dacia.
Another fact to consider is that names ending in the element –balus occur only twice in the Balkans in the pre-Roman period. The first example is encountered in Cambaules, a Celtic chieftain who led a raid in Thrace at the beginning of the 3rd c. BC (Paus. X 19:5), and the second – Kersebaules, a king of the Celtic Tyle state in eastern Thrace in the first half of the 3rd c. BC. (cf. also Celtic : Άνδοβάλης, Άνδοννόβαλλος, etc. – Evans 1967: 147-148, and Balanus, Balarus, Balio etc. Holder AC 1 334-336; the first element in the name of Decebalus has long been attributed to the PIE *dekm- (‘ten’) (cf. Sanskrit daśabala); Cf. PC *dekam ‘ten’, Olr. deieh, MW deg, MBret. dek, MoBret. Deg; Matasovic 94). Thus, this ‘Dacian’ element occurs in the pre-Roman period in the region exclusively in the names of Celtic leaders.
Kersebaules Tetradrachma. Inscription: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΚΕΡΣΙΒΑΥΛΟΥ
(ca. 270 BC)
In The Name Of The Father…
The key to the ethnic origin of Decebalus is to be found on the famous inscription on a large ceremonial vessel, discovered at Sarmizegetusa. This is the only ‘Dacian’ inscription, and reads:
“DECEBALUS PER SCORILO”
– meaning ‘Decebalus, son of Scorilo’ (Nandris 1976, Georgiev 1977, Duridanov 1985; Asenova 1999; Boïadjiev 2000).
The Decebalus per Scorilo inscription
The Decebalus inscription was stamped on a huge vase twenty-four inches (0.6 meter) high and forty-one inches (1 metre) across. It is stamped in mirror-writing, in the Latin alphabet.
In the case of the name of Decebalus’ father, Scorilo (Scorylo dux Dacorum – Front 1. 10.4, from which Iord. Get. Coryllus rex Gothorum – Detschew 1957:460; on the variant Scorus, see Mac Congail 2008), further examples of the name are found exclusively beyond Dacia. The first example comes from Kostolac in eastern Serbia, in the territory of the Celtic Scordisci (Scorilo – CIL 3, 14507), while in the second example (from Pannonia) (CIL 3, 2328) – Scorilo Ressati libertus – not only Scorilo, but also Ressatus, who was a potter of the Eravisci tribe (Maróti 1991), are both Celtic names (Holder AC 2, 1405).
Recent research by Romanian academics has found no evidence of a separate Dacian anthroponomastic system, i.e. distinct from Thracian and Celtic (Varga 2010), and the evidence outlined above indicates that the only ‘Dacian’ inscription is actually comprised of two names of Celtic origin, providing further proof that research into the ancient Thracian/Dacian language(s) since the communist period has systematically included Celtic data, logically rendering all such research invalid.
In the present context the linguistic evidence, chronological context, and spatial distribution of the names of both Decebalus, and his father Scorilo, clearly indicate that both were of Celtic (or Celto-Scythian/Bastarnae) origin, and is further proof that the concept of a separate ‘Dacian’ ethnicity and language is largely the product of 1970’s protochronism/nationalism.*
*On the political manipulation of Romanian (/Bulgarian) archaeology see:
On the use of linguistics in this process:
Asenova, P. (1999). Bulgarian in Handbuch der Südosteuropa-Linguistik. Wiesbaden
Boïadjiev D. (2000) Les Relations Ethno-Linguistiques En Thrace Et En Mesie Pendant L’Epoque Romaine. Sofia
Du Nay A. (1996): The origins of the Rumanians: the early history of the Rumanian language, Buffalo
Duridanov I. (1985) Die Sprache der Thraker, Neuried: Hieronymus
Detschew D. (1957) Die thrakischen Sprachreste. ÖAW, Phil.- hist. Kl. Schriften der Balkankomission, Linguist. Abteilung XV. Wien
Duridanov I. (1997) Keltische Sprachspuren in Thrakien und Mösien. Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie. Band 49-50
Evans D.E. (1967) Gaulish Personal Names: A Study of some Continental Celtic Formations. Oxford
Felecan O. A Diachronic Excursion into the Anthroponymy of Eastern Romania. Philologica Jassyensia, An VI, Nr. 1 (11), 2010, p. 57–80
Georgiev V. (1977) Trakite i techniat ezik. Sofia. = Георгиев, Вл. 1977. Траките и техният език. София
Georgiev V. (1983) “Thrakish und Dakisch”, in: Temporini, Hildegard (ed.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der romischen Welt. Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der neueren Forschung, 1148–1194, Berlin / New York
Holder A. (1896-1907). Alt-celtischer Sprachschatz, Bd. I-III – Nachdruck Graz 1961-1962
Mac Gonagle B. (2008) Thracian and Celtic Anthroponymy – A comparative study. In: Mac Congail B. Kingdoms of the Forgotten. Celtic expansion in south-eastern Europe and Asia-Minor – 4th – 3rd c. BC. Plovdiv. P. 131-163
Mac Gonagle B. (2012) https://www.academia.edu/3292310/The_Thracian_Myth_-_Celtic_Personal_Names_in_Thrace
Maróti É. (1991) A római kori pecsételt kerámia és a Resatus kérdés. Studia Comitatensia 21. 365-427
Nandris, J. (1976) The Dacian Iron Age A Comment in a European Context in Festschrift für Richard Pittioni zum siebzigsten Geburtstag. Wien
Varga R. (2010) The Military Peregrini of Dacia: Onomastical and Statistical Considerations. Analele Universităţii Creştine „Dimitrie Cantemir”, Bucureşti, Seria Istorie – Serie nouă, Anul 1, Nr. 4, 2010, p. 108-116