RITUAL TRANSFORMATION INTO A PREDATORY ANIMAL
The studies made by Lily Weiser, Otto Höfler, Stig Wikander, C. Widengren, H. Jeanmaire, and Georges Dumézil have markedly advanced our knowledge of the Indo-European military brotherhoods, and especially of their religious ideology and initiatory rituals. In the Germanic world these brotherhoods still existed at the end of the Volkerwandernng. Among the Iranians they are documented in the period of Zarathustra, but since a tart of the vocabulary typical of the Männerbflnde is also found in Vedic texts, there is no doubt that associations of young warriors already existed in the Indo-Iranian period. G. Dumnézil has demonstrated the survival of certain military initiations among the Celts and the Romans, and H. Jeanmaire has discovered vestiges of initiatory rituals among the Lacedaemonians. So it appears that the Indo-Europeans shared a common system of beliefs and rituals pertaining to young warriors.
Now the essential part of the military initiation consisted in ritually transforming the young warrior into some species of predatory wild animal. It was not solely a matter of courage, physical strength, or endurance, but "of a magico-religious experience that radically changed the young warriors mode of being. He had to transmute his humanity by an access of aggressive and terrifying fury that made him like a raging carnivore.'' Among the ancient Germans the predator-warriors were called berserkir, literally "warriors in the body-covering [serkrj] of a bear." They were also known as itqkedhnar, "wolf-skin men." The bronze plaque from Torslunda shows a warrior disguised as a wolf. From all this, two facts emerge:
1. A young man became
a redoubtable warrior by magically assimilating the behavior of a carnivore,
especially a wolf;
2. He ritually donned the wolf-skin, either to share in the mode of being of a carnivore or to indicate that he had become a "wolf."
What is important
for our investigation is the fact that the young warrior accomplished his
transformation into a wolf by the ritual donning of a wolf-skin, an operation
preceded or followed by a radical change in behavior. As long as he was
wrapped in the animal's skin, he ceased to be a man, he was the carnivore
itself: not only was he a ferocious and invincible warrior, possessed by
the furor heroicus, he had cast off all humanity; in short, he no longer
felt bound by the laws and customs of men. And in fact young warriors,
not satisfied with claiming the right to commit rapine and terrorize the
community during their ritual meetings, were able to behave like carnivores
in eating, for example, human flesh. Beliefs in ritual or ecstatic lycanthropy
are documented both among the members of North American and African secret
societies and among the Germans, the Greeks, the Iranians, and the Indians.
That there were actual instances of anthropophagic lycanthropy there is
no reason whatever to doubt. The so-called leopard societies of Africa
furnish the best example. But such sporadic cases of "lycanthropy"
cannot account for the dissemination and persistence of beliefs in "wolf-men."
On the contrary, it is the existence of brotherhoods of young warriors,
or of magicians, who, whether or not they wear wolf-skins, behave like
carnivores, that explains the dissemination of beliefs in lycanthropy.
The Iranian texts several times mention "two-pawed wolves," that is, members of the Mönnerbünde. The Dënkart even states that "two-pawed wolves" are "more deadly than wolves with fbur paws." Other texts term them keresa, "brigands, prowlers," who move about at night. The texts dwell on the fact that these "wolves live on corpses; however, without excluding the possibility of actual cannibalism, this would seem to be more in the nature of a stereotype used by Zarathustran polemicists against the members of the Männerbünde, who, in practicing their ceremonies, terrorized the villages and whose way of life was so different from that of the Iranian peasants and herders. In any case, mention is also made of their ecstatic orgies, that is, of the intoxicating drink that helped them to change into wild beasts. Among the ancestors of the Achaemenides there was also a family named saka haumavarka. Bartholomae and Wikander interpret the name: "those who change themselves into wolves (varka) in the ecstasy brought on by soma (hauma)." Now we know that down to the nineteenth century assemblies of young men included a banquet of food and drink stolen or obtained by force, especially alcoholic beverages.
(this is the place where rituals took place) (the same butt in other fortres)
This is more easily identified in the tunic and cloak outfits seen worn on the column and depicted among the trophies on the pedestal. Dacians are not seen on the column wearing body armour or helmets. Lack of any defence other than the shield must have been characteristic of most of the Geto-Dacians but not of the whole nation, although all are shown unarmoured in a conventional style. Swords are well represented on the reliefs. One weapon, of late Celtic La Tène type, hangs from a belt on a coat of leaf armour. Other long swords with plainer, spatha-type guards and hilts have plated belts attached to the scabbard.
The draco, a metallic standard in the form of a dragon head with its mouth open, attached to a tubular, fabric body of brilliant hue, was used by many ancient peoples including Dacians, Iranians and Germans. Those shown on the pedestal could belong to any of these groups. Vexilla, ancient banners, shown on the column friezes and pedestal, may be examples of recaptured Roman signa, or may belong to any of the participating barbarians. One example, attached to a spear,
Spears and javelins are of standard types and give no hint as to their provenance. Battleaxes of a distinct type are present, as are the terrible falxes. It is postulated that these scythe-like weapons were so effective in early actions between Roman and Dacian infantry that special Roman armour, based on antique patterns, was devised, and shields were reinforced. Both composite and self bows are present on the reliefs, the self bow being more numerous on the carvings but littleshown on the column, where Dacians and Sarmatians are both shown using reflex bows. Quivers are of a lidded, tubular shape, highly decorated. Trumpets, after the fashion of the Celtic carnyx, in the shape of monster serpents, are shown in groups. Some examples, however, seem to be designed as standards for carrying, having a large finial at the butt end.
If this analysis
is generally correct, then it would seem that the base of Trajan's Column
carries bas-reliefs of armour, arms and other equipment wholly or overwhelmingly
belonging to the Dacian people, the target of Trajan's campaigns. Some
authorities may see in the presence of various pieces associated with cultures
further to the cast, especially the coat of banded armour, trophies of
erstwhile ownership by Iranian Roxolani. I would agree that this is a reasonable
theory; but would it not be possible for leading warriors among the Geto-Dacians
to own pieces of armour not made in Europe?