The clatter of shields and battle cries filled the misty air as warriors lifted their swords. Nearby, gladiators fought each other for their lives.
A festival that featured historic reenactments brought the ancient Roman era back 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 a field close to the village of Resca, local residents watched the costumed reenactors with amusement, fascination and pride. Many identify with the ancient tribes that raided the outer borders of the Roman Empire, triggering what became known as Emperor Trajan's Dacian Wars.
“I come here because this is what flows through my veins, the 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 U.S. missile defense site as the war rages in neighboring Ukraine.
For the festival organizers, the main purpose of the annual gathering is to promote local cultural heritage and to educate people about historical facts. Experts see an over-glorification of the Dacians as freedom fighters and heroes, which has fueled nationalism among ordinary Romanians.
Sticking to the facts meant showing that the Romans won the two Dacian wars. This came as a disappointment to many of the onlookers who cheered for the Dacians throughout the reenacted epic clashes between the ancient enemies.
Catalin Draghici, a historian and coordinator of Historia Renascita, a group that organizes reenactments from pre-Roman and Roman times in Romania, described the festival near Resca as a "practical history lesson.”
The festival's organizers were faithful to other details, including the color and shapes of the Roman shields, weapons and helmets. The participants depicting the Dacian tribes covered themselves in animal furs as they gathered around fires.
The reenactors didn't hold back in fulfilling their roles. One man fell into a small river while fighting — and seemed to enjoy it. For Schneider, a trip to the past was a good way also to release the stress of modern living.
“It’s beautiful," he said. “You disconnect from everything that happens in the real world, in the urban jungle.”