Andrei Pogacias is a historian and a member of the reenactment group Terra Dacica Aeterna, focused on Romania’s ancient history, when the Dacians were fighting the Romans.
I’ve had the pleasure of attending some of their events, and they were both entertaining, and informative, giving me the impression of traveling 2000 years back in time. Andrei gave us some insights about what it means to be part of a historical reenactment group and what Terra Dacica Aeterna is all about.
All photos by Alina Bondrea
How did Terra Dacica start and what does it mean? What is the story behind this reenactment group, which seems to grow bigger by the day?
Terra Dacica Aeterna was founded in 2007 by a few people who were passionate about ancient history. The name itself wanted to capture the ancient period that the initiators wanted to reenact. At the beginning, they wanted to reenact only Romans. But somebody immediately came with the idea “Let’s also reenact Dacians, so the Romans have something to do/fight with, not only parade. And so, the Dacian group appeared. Luckily for us, there were a few archaeologists in the group, so they knew how the Dacians should look like, how their clothes should be, what weapons they had etc. So the group began to grow, and the Sarmatians were later added.
The civilian camp began to grow, expand and diversify as well, from the ancient kitchen to various workshops, some of them interactive. From Cluj, the group expanded to Deva and the county of Hunedoara, then Brașov, Sibiu, Bucharest, Constanța and many other counties, all over Romania. Some wanted to be soldiers, others wanted to be gladiators, others just civilians and craftsmen. Now, the association has almost 200 members from all over the country. What is really nice and useful is that you can experience the various “camps” in the group – you can be a Roman legionnaire or auxiliary, soldier or officer (not for everybody, though), gladiator, Dacian warrior or priest, Sarmatian warrior or shaman, or a simple civilian. Some actually try a few of these roles before settling to the one they like most.
How difficult is it to be part of such group? Can everyone join or are there special admission requirements?
Anybody (preferably over 18) is welcome to join us. The members just need to love ancient history and follow the rules of the Association. There is a trial period of one year, and then the central board decides whether the person is apt to remain in the group. Some leave after a while, for personal reasons or because they don’t find here what they had expected or what they were looking for. We also have entire families as members, some of them divided between the two main sides – Dacian and Roman. The main idea is to learn what we do, also study a bit of history, ask when you don’t know, follow the orders and be a part of this big happy ancient family.
As for your costumes, weapons and accessories, are you making them yourselves within the group? How hard is it to make a historically accurate costume and what is the process of creating such costume or weapon?
We make almost everything we need within our group: clothes, weapons, armor, civilian attire for our activities.
It is not that difficult to make the costumes – we have the patterns, we buy suitable fabric – wool, hemp, linen etc. (not cotton though) – and sew them by hand (usually). The armor is made in our workshops, following the requirements we know from ancient sources and/or archaeological pieces. For the Roman camp, it is the easiest – we have ancient descriptions, statues, many pieces found by archaeologists, books. For the Dacian and Sarmatian camps, we also use archaeological pieces and the few existing ancient descriptions, but here our main reference are the metal objects found by archaeologists.
We have our blacksmith colleagues who make the weapons according to the original specifications – size, weight etc. Our craftsmen make a lot of jewels, fibulae and other necessary objects. We also have a ceramics workshop, where our skilled colleagues make the earthenware we need in our activities – also copies of originals.
In order to get the job well done, a lot of attention and skill are needed. All these objects require time and dedication, and the more experienced you are, the less time it takes. Quality is also observed.
There are also objects/pieces of equipment that we buy, as individual gear or for the use of the whole Association.
I saw a few of your “battles” at various reenactment events and everyone seemed to take them very seriously. Were there times when the members got hurt for real? How dangerous is it to play as a historical character to the point of actually acting like one on the battlefield?
We take our activities very seriously, whether military or civilian. We have our scenarios and we usually follow them. The fights are rehearsed, and we train for them as much as we can, because they can get dangerous. In the heat of the battle, you might get carried away, hit a bit harder – the main rule is don’t hurt your colleagues, don’t damage the equipment – somebody might trip or slip and fall, weapons might get diverted and hit somebody where they don’t have protection etc. Yes, unfortunately, there were cases – luckily, not many – when there were accidents, but none irreversible.
We try to do as many drills as possible, in pairs, and in groups. After a few years, a lot of our fighting guys know each other well, so we just need to integrate the newcomers and teach them the rules and procedures.
It is not very dangerous to reenact the battles, because we don’t hit our opponents like in a real war, but unfortunate events can happen. We are all over 18 and we do this as volunteers, so we know what we are doing. Reenacting ancient battles is no place for sissies, though.
How do you prepare your events and battles? Is there a clearly established choreography set beforehand? Are you rehearsing before the events or just have it in one take?
Preparing for the events takes a lot of time. It actually started years back, when we were studying history and/or archaeology. The background must be solid, otherwise it’s useless. Preparation for events also starts with the workshop, where we check the equipment, weapons, gear, tents, ceramics etc. to make sure they are in order and ready to use. Or perhaps they need to be repaired or mended in some way. Also, we might need some extra gear for a special script for the next event, so new objects must be created.
The script is usually presented to everybody before the actual event, that is the best approach. It is also fair that the organizers of an event send us the script beforehand, so we know what to expect and how to prepare. The scripts are rehearsed in advance, as many times as we can, so everybody knows what they have to do. We also decide who will play the “dead”, who will perform a certain task, who will go for negotiations etc. A very important person in the battles is the one who presents the facts and who must be listened to by the field commanders and everybody involved, because he has the script in hand, just to make sure. The one who has the microphone must take an interactive approach, and also somehow involve the audience in the event.
How much of historical reenactment is entertainment and how much a living history book for the audience? When you joined Terra Dacica which one of these aspects did you have in mind?
What we do in order to prepare the events is not very entertaining, it is mainly just work. For the audience, you must do entertaining stuff, so they don´t get bored, as long as you still stick to history and present it in a funny and appealing way, without exaggerating. What we do is mostly living history and, starting with the clothes and up to the battles and the civilian workshops, everything is or should be a live history lesson. The people who come and see us should go home with accurate historical information, and not just the idea that they saw some funnily dressed people running around and kicking each other. There are also people who have questions, and a lot of them, especially children, are very curious. It is also very rewarding to see that people understand the explanations and return for other events to see us and find out more.
When I joined TDA in 2009, I wanted to be a Dacian warrior. Then, I also switched to the Roman side for a while, to see what it was like. I am not a very handy person, so my part in the civilian workshops was limited. I actually took part mostly in kitchen activities – being around the food that´s being cooked has really good perks. I also helped with the explanations for the audience, mostly about weapons and tactics, because this is what I like most.
You have also attended international reenactment events. Which one would you recommend to someone who would like to travel to such events?
I have attended many festivals abroad, some of them really good, in Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Italy and France. For the Romanians, the closest is the historical festival in Szombathely, Hungary, the ancient Roman town of Savaria. It is a great festival where only the most professional groups are invited.
Also, TDA is a permanent guest at the festival in Saint-Romain-en-Gal, 20 km south from Lyon, France. This is the best and most professional ancient reenactment festival in France, and we are very proud to be invited there every year. Very good organizing, very good groups, a lot of interactive and demonstrative workshops, a great location and a very good audience, really interested in history.
If you were to choose another historical period, what would that be and why?
I am also involved in medieval reenactment. I take part in various festivals in Romania and abroad, along with groups that reenact this period. Recently, I have also joined a group from Bucharest involved in reenacting the Romanian armies of the 19th and 20th centuries and it is awesome. I have been a Romanian infantryman from WWI, and also a French infantryman of the same era. As a historian, it is great to experience as a reenactor as many historical periods as possible, in order to better understand the realities of those times. This is the beauty of reenactment: you can travel through time and see history with different eyes.