RESCA, Romania — The clatter of shields and the cries of war filled the misty air as the warriors raised their swords. Nearby, the gladiators fought each other for their lives.
A festival featuring historical re-enactments brought ancient Roman times to life this month near a sleepy village in southern Romania, evoking a time when the area was part of the easternmost Dacian provinces of the Roman Empire.
In an open field near the town of Resca, the residents of the town watched the costumed reenactors with amusement, fascination and pride. Many identify with the ancient tribes that raided the outer borders of the Roman Empire, sparking what became known as Emperor Trajan’s Dacian Wars.
“I come here because this is what runs through my veins, Dacian blood!” said Edi Schneider, a retired coal miner turned sculptor who describes himself as a “free Dacian.”
The area around Resca remains strategically important. These days, it hosts a US missile defense site as the war rages on in neighboring Ukraine.
For the festival organizers, the main goal of the annual gathering is to promote local cultural heritage and educate people about historical facts. Experts see an excessive glorification of the Dacians as freedom fighters and heroes, which has fueled nationalism among ordinary Romanians.
Sticking to the facts meant proving that the Romans had won both Dacian wars. This was a disappointment to many of the spectators who cheered the Dacians during the re-enacted epic clashes between the ancient enemies.
Catalin Draghici, historian and coordinator of Historia Renascita, a group that organizes reenactments of pre-Roman and Roman times in Romania, described the festival near Resca as a “hands-on history lesson.”
The festival organizers were faithful to other details, such as the color and shapes of Roman shields, weapons and helmets. Participants representing Dacian tribes covered themselves with animal skins as they gathered around bonfires.
The reenactors did not stop at fulfilling their roles. A man fell into a small river while he was fighting and seemed to enjoy it. For Schneider, a trip to the past was also a good way to de-stress from modern life.
“It’s beautiful. You disconnect from everything that’s going on in the real world, in the urban jungle,” he said.