TRAJAN (RULED A.D. 98-117), HIS LETTERS AND TRAJAN'S COLUMN

TRAJAN (A.D. 98-117)

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Trajan
Trajan (A.D. 20-130, ruled from A.D. 98-117) was born to Roman parents in what is now Spain.) The first Roman emperor to come from an outlying province, he extended the Roman Empire to it furthest extent by conquering Dacia (Romania) and Mesopotamia, and raised impressive monuments and buildings in Rome, largely paid for with gold and silver plundered from Dacia. He ruled until A.D. 117, when he fell ill and died.

The rule of Trajan and his successor Hadrian (A.D. 98-137) is generally regarded as the golden period of the Roman Empire. Peace and prosperity reigned as citizenship was granted to millions of people of different ethnic backgrounds from numerous provinces and gods and ideas moved across the Mediterranean and through the empire.

After Julius Caesar and Augustus, Trajan may be called, in many respects, the greatest of the Roman sovereigns. Adopted by Nerva, he was accepted by the senate. He made himself popular with the army and with the great body of the people. He was a Spaniard by birth; and the fact that he was the first emperor who was not a native of Italy, shows that the distinction between Romans and provincials was passing away. He was a brave general, a wise statesman, and a successful administrator. He continued the efforts of Nerva to remedy the evils which the early despotism had brought upon Rome. To the people he restored the elective power; to the senate, liberty of speech and of action; to the magistrates, their former authority. He abolished the law of treason (lex maiestatis), and assumed his proper place as the chief magistrate of the empire. He was a generous patron of literature and of art. He also desired to relieve the condition of the poor. It is said that five thousand children received from him their daily allowance of food. So highly was Trajan esteemed by the Romans that to his other imperial titles was added that of “Optimus” (the Best). [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\]

Rome and Italy and the provinces all received the benefit of his wise administration; and the empire reached its highest point of material grandeur. Roads were constructed for the aid of the provincials. He restored the harbors of Italy, and improved the water supply of Rome. He built two new baths, one of which was for the exclusive use of women. The greatest monument of Trajan was the new Forum, in which a splendid column was erected to commemorate his victories. \~\

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Trajan’s Conquests in Eastern Europe and the Middle East

Since the death of Augustus there had been made no important additions to the Roman territory, except Britain. But under Trajan the Romans became once more a conquering people. The new emperor carried his conquests across the Danube and acquired the province of Dacia. He then extended his arms into Asia, and brought into subjection Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Assyria, as the result of a short war with the Parthians. Under Trajan the boundaries of the empire reached their greatest extent. \~\


Roman Empire at its height, in AD 117 under Trajan

Trajan extended the Roman Empire into present-day Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria in A.D. 106 by defeating Germanic tribes in two Dacian wars (101-102 and 105-106). To achieve victory Trajan built a bridge across the Danube, a startling achievement for its time. The bridge and battles from the Dacian campaign are immortalized in 200 meters of scenes that spiral around the 100-foot-high Trajan column. The campaign ended when the Dacian king, Decebalus, was overthrown.

After the conquest of Dacia, the region north of the Danube became a Roman province. Rome shifted the majority of its defenses from the Rhine to the Danube, which became heavily fortified to protect Roman territory from hostile Gothic and Germanic tribes in the north.Trajan's bridge was torn down by Hadrian who felt that it might facilitate a Barbarian conquest of Rome. Roman monuments can be found all over Bulgaria and Romania. The Romanian language evolved from the Roman's Latin tongue.

The Roman city of Carnuntum, which spread out over an area of four square miles and had a large legionary fort and an amphitheater that could accommodate 8,000 people, was built on the Danube about 25 miles from present-day Vienna. It was occupied from A.D. 14 to 433, when it was sacked by the Huns.

Trajan's armies extended the Roman Empire to the Persian Gulf by capturing Armenia in A.D. 114 and defeating several Middle eastern kingdoms, including the arch rivals of the Romans, the Parthians. Trajan died in 117 without yet receiving the news of these conquests. Qasr Bashir was a Roman fort on the eastern fringes of Roman Empire in present-day Jordan. Covering three quarters of an acre, it embraced stone walls and three-story-high towers and was situated on a low hill surrounded by rocks and sand.

Roman Provinces


Trajan's column

Chief Roman Provinces (with dates of their acquisition or organization): Total, 32. Many of the main provinces were subdivided into smaller provinces, each under a separate governor—making the total number of provincial governors more than one hundred. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\]

EUROPEAN PROVINCES
1) Western.
Spain (205-19 B.C.).
Gaul (France, 120-17 B.C.).
Britain (A.D. 43-84).
2) Central.
Rhaetia et Vindelicia (roughly Switzerland, northern Italy15 B.C.).
Noricum (Austria, Slovenia, 15 B.C.).
Pannonia (western Hungary, eastern Austria, northern Croatia, north-western Serbia, northern Slovenia, western Slovakia and northern Bosnia and Herzegovina. A.D. 10).
3) Eastern.
Illyricum (northern Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and coastal Croatia, 167-59 B.C.).
Macedonia (northern Greece, modern Macedonia, 146 B.C.).
Achaia (western Greece, 146 B.C.).
Moesia (Central Serbia, Kosovo, northern modern Macedonia, northern Bulgaria and Romanian Dobrudja 20 B.C.).
Thrace (northeast Greece, A.D. 40).
Dacia (Romania, A.D. 107). \~\

AFRICAN PROVINCES
Africa proper (Libya, former Carthage, 146 B.C.).
Cyrenaica and Crete (74, 63 B.C.).
Numidia (Algeria, small parts of Tunisia, Libya, 46 B.C.).
Egypt (30 B.C.).
Mauretania (western Algeria, Morocco, A.D. 42). \~\

ASIATIC PROVINCES
1) In Asia Minor (Anatolia, modern Turkey)
Asia proper (western Turkey133 B.C.).
Bithynia et Pontus (northern Turkey, south of the Black Sea, 74, 65 B.C.).
Cilicia (southeast coast of Turkey, 67 B.C.).
Galatia (central Turkey, 25 B.C.).
Pamphylia et Lycia (southwest Turkey, 25, A.D. 43).
Cappadocia (eastern Turkey, A.D. 17).
2) In Southwestern Asia.
Syria (64 B.C.).
Judea (Israel, 63 - A.D. 70).
Arabia Petraea (A.D. 105).
Armenia (A.D. 114).
Mesopotamia (A.D. 115).
Assyria (A.D. 115). \~\

ISLAND PROVINCES
Sicily (241 B.C.).
Sardinia et Corsica (238 B.C.).
Cyprus (58 B.C.). \~\

Art and Architecture Under Trajan

Roman Art: During this period Roman art reached its highest development. The art of the Romans, as we have before noticed, was modeled in great part after that of the Greeks. While lacking the fine sense of beauty which the Greeks possessed, the Romans yet expressed in a remarkable degree the ideas of massive strength and of imposing dignity. In their sculpture and painting they were least original, reproducing the figures of Greek deities, like those of Venus and Apollo, and Greek mythological scenes, as shown in the wall paintings at Pompeii. Roman sculpture is seen to good advantage in the statues and busts of the emperors, and in such reliefs as those on the arch of Titus and the column of Trajan. \~\

But it was in architecture that the Romans excelled; and by their splendid works they have taken rank among the world’s greatest builders. We have already seen the progress made during the later Republic and under Augustus. With Trajan, Rome became a city of magnificent public buildings. The architectural center of the city was the Roman Forum (see frontispiece), with the additional Forums of Julius, Augustus, Vespasian, Nerva, and Trajan. Surrounding these were the temples, the basilicas or halls of justice, porticoes, and other public buildings. The most conspicuous buildings which would attract the eyes of one standing in the Forum were the splendid temples of Jupiter and Juno upon the Capitoline hill. While it is true that the Romans obtained their chief ideas of architectural beauty from the Greeks, it is a question whether Athens, even in the time of Pericles, could have presented such a scene of imposing grandeur as did Rome in the time of Trajan and Hadrian, with its forums, temples, aqueducts, basilicas, palaces, porticoes, amphitheaters, theaters, circuses, baths, columns, triumphal arches, and tombs. \~\

Trajan’s Conquest of the Dacians

Andrew Curry wrote in National Geographic: “Trajan’s war on the Dacians, a civilization in what is now Romania, was the defining event of his 19-year rule. In back-to-back wars fought between A.D. 101 and 106, the emperor Trajan mustered tens of thousands of Roman troops, crossed the Danube River on two of the longest bridges the ancient world had ever seen, defeated a mighty barbarian empire on its mountainous home turf twice, then systematically wiped it from the face of Europe. [Source: Andrew Curry, National Geographic, April 2015 |*|]

“From their powerful realm north of the Danube River, the Dacians regularly raided the Roman Empire. Among Roman politicians, “Dacian” was synonymous with double-dealing. The historian Tacitus called them “a people which never can be trusted.” They were known for squeezing the equivalent of protection money out of the Roman Empire while sending warriors to raid its frontier towns. In A.D. 101 Trajan moved to punish the troublesome Dacians.” He “fortified the border and invaded with tens of thousands of troops. After nearly two years of battle Decebalus, the Dacian king, negotiated a treaty with Trajan, then promptly broke it. Trajan returned in 105 and crushed them. |*|

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Trajan Column voyage

“Rome had been betrayed one time too many. During the second invasion Trajan didn’t mess around.” On Trajan’s Column, “Just look at the scenes that show the looting of Sarmizegetusa or villages in flames. “The campaigns were dreadful and violent,” says Roberto Meneghini, the Italian archaeologist in charge of excavating Trajan’s Forum. “Look at the Romans fighting with cutoff heads in their mouths. War is war. The Roman legions were known to be quite violent and fierce.” |*|

“In the first major battle Trajan defeated the Dacians at Tapae. A storm indicated to the Romans that the god Jupiter, with his thunderbolts, was on their side. The destruction of Dacia’s holiest temples and altars followed Sarmizegetusa’s fall. “Everything was dismantled by the Romans,” Florea says. “There wasn’t a building remaining in the entire fortress. It was a show of power—we have the means, we have the power, we are the bosses.” The rest of Dacia was devastated too. Near the top of the column is a glimpse of the denouement: a village put to the torch, Dacians fleeing, a province empty of all but cows and goats. |*|

“The two wars must have killed tens of thousands. A contemporary claimed that Trajan took 500,000 prisoners, bringing some 10,000 to Rome to fight in the gladiatorial games that were staged for 123 days in celebration. Dacia’s proud ruler Decebalus, when his capital and all his territory had been occupied and he was himself in danger of being captured, committed suicide, sparing himself the humiliation of surrender. His end is carved on his archrival’s column. Kneeling under an oak tree, he raises a long, curved knife to his own neck. Decebalus’s head was brought to Rome.” the Roman historian Cassius Dio wrote a century later. “In this way Dacia became subject to the Romans.”

Impact of Trajan’s Conquest of the Dacians

Andrew Curry wrote in National Geographic: “Trajan colonized his newest province with Roman war veterans, a legacy reflected in the country’s modern name, Romania. The loot he brought back was staggering. One contemporary chronicler boasted that the conquest yielded a half million pounds of gold and a million pounds of silver, not to mention a fertile new province. [Source: Andrew Curry, National Geographic, April 2015 |*|]

“The booty changed the landscape of Rome. To commemorate the victory, Trajan commissioned a forum that included a spacious plaza surrounded by colonnades, two libraries, a grand civic space known as the Basilica Ulpia, and possibly even a temple. The forum was “unique under the heavens,” one early historian enthused, “beggaring description and never again to be imitated by mortal men.” |*|

“Yet once the Dacians were vanquished, they became a favorite theme for Roman sculptors. Trajan’s Forum had dozens of statues of handsome, bearded Dacian warriors, a proud marble army in the very heart of Rome. |*|

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Trajan Column sacrifices

Dacians and Sarmizegetusa, Their Political and Spiritual Capital

Andrew Curry wrote in National Geographic: “The Dacians had no written language, so what we know about their culture is filtered through Roman sources. Ample evidence suggests that they were a regional power for centuries, raiding and exacting tribute from their neighbors. They were skilled metalworkers, mining and smelting iron and panning for gold to create magnificently ornamented jewelry and weaponry. Dacians fashioned precious metals into jewelry, coins, and art, such as the 17-centimeter-high gold-trimmed silver drinking vessels and 12-centimeter-in-diameter bracelets weighing up to a kilogram. [Source: Andrew Curry, National Geographic, April 2015 |*|]

“Sarmizegetusa was their political and spiritual capital. The ruined city lies high in the mountains of central Romania. In Trajan’s day the thousand-mile journey from Rome would have taken a month at least. To get to the site today, visitors have to negotiate a potholed dirt road through the same forbidding valley that Trajan faced. Back then the passes were guarded by elaborate ridgetop fortifications; now only a few peasant huts keep watch. |*|

Sarmizegetusa—a terrace carved out of the mountainside—was the religious heart of the Dacian world. Traces of buildings remain, a mix of original stones and concrete reproductions, the legacy of an aborted communist-era attempt to reconstruct the site. A triple ring of stone pillars outlines a once impressive temple that distantly echoes the round Dacian buildings on Trajan’s Column. Next to it is a low, circular stone altar carved with a sunburst pattern, the sacred center of the Dacian universe.

Gelu Florea, an archaeologist from Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, has spent summers excavating the site. The exposed ruins, along with artifacts recovered from looters, reveal a thriving hub of manufacturing and religious ritual. Florea and his team have found evidence of Roman military know-how and Greek architectural and artistic influences. Using aerial imaging, archaeologists have identified more than 260 man-made terraces, which stretch for nearly three miles along the valley. The entire settlement covered more than 700 acres. “It’s amazing to see how cosmopolitan they were up in the mountains,” says Florea. “It’s the biggest, most representative, most complex settlement in Dacia.”

“There is no sign that the Dacians grew food up here. There are no cultivated fields. Instead archaeologists have found the remains of dense clusters of workshops and houses, along with furnaces for refining iron ore, tons of iron hunks ready for working, and dozens of anvils. It seems the city was a center of metal production, supplying other Dacians with weapons and tools in exchange for gold and grain. |*|

“Not far from the altar rises a small spring that could have provided water for religious rituals. Flecks of natural mica make the dirt paths sparkle in the sun. It’s hard to imagine the ceremonies that took place here—and the terrible end. Florea conjures the smoke and screams, looting and slaughter, suicides and panic depicted on Trajan’s Column. |*|


reliefs on Trajan's Column


Trajan’s Column

Column of Trajan (at Fori Imperiali) is a 126-five-foot structure with a spiraling scene from Dacian Wars in the Balkans that if unwound would be 656 feet long. Built and inscribed between A.D. 106-113, the column was once topped by a statue of an Trajan, whose ashes and those of his wife are buried underneath its base. Originally it was supposed to be topped by an eagle. The bronze statue of Trajan was destroyed in the Middle Ages. It is now topped by a statue of St. Peter installed by a Renaissance pope. It towers over the ruins of Trajan’s Forum, which once included two libraries and a grand civic space paid for by war spoils from Dacia.

Dr Jon Coulston of the University of St. Andrews wrote for the BBC: “Two monuments bearing sculptures depicting aspects of Trajan's Dacian Wars across the Danube (101 - 102 A.D. and 105- 106 AD) survive: Trajan's Column in Rome (112 AD) and the Trophy of Trajan (Tropaeum Traiani) in south-eastern Romania (108 - 109 AD). The Column depicts a loose narrative of the wars on a 200m-long helical frieze. “The Tropaeum had a frieze of rectangular panels (metopes) each showing two or more figures of Romans and assorted barbarian enemies. Carved locally by legionary troops, these are a valuable foil for the metropolitan sculptures of the Column. [Source: Dr Jon Coulston, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Andrew Curry wrote in National Geographic: “ Spiraling around the column like a modern-day comic strip is a narrative of the Dacian campaigns: Thousands of intricately carved Romans and Dacians march, build, fight, sail, sneak, negotiate, plead, and perish in 155 scenes. Completed in 113, the column has stood for more than 1,900 years. [Source: Andrew Curry, National Geographic, April 2015 |*|]

Today,the eroded carvings are hard to make out above the first few twists of the story. All around are ruins—empty pedestals, cracked flagstones, broken pillars, and shattered sculptures hint at the magnificence of Trajan’s Forum, now fenced off and closed to the public, a testament to past imperial glory. |*|

“The column is one of the most distinctive monumental sculptures to have survived the fall of Rome. For centuries classicists have treated the carvings as a visual history of the wars, with Trajan as the hero and Decebalus, the Dacian king, as his worthy opponent. Archaeologists have scrutinized the scenes to learn about the uniforms, weapons, equipment, and tactics the Roman Army used. |And because Trajan left Dacia in ruins, the column and the remaining sculptures of defeated soldiers that once decorated the forum are treasured today by Romanians as clues to how their Dacian ancestors may have looked and dressed. |*|

“The column was deeply influential, the inspiration for later monuments in Rome and across the empire. Over the centuries, as the city’s landmarks crumbled, the column continued to fascinate and awe. A Renaissance pope replaced the statue of Trajan with one of St. Peter, to sanctify the ancient artifact. Artists lowered themselves in baskets from the top to study it in detail. Later it was a favorite attraction for tourists: Goethe, the German poet, climbed the 185 internal steps in 1787 to “enjoy that incomparable view.” Plaster casts of the column were made starting in the 1500s, and they have preserved details that acid rain and pollution have worn away.” |*|


Trajan is greeted by the barbarians


Meaning and Construction of Trajan’s Column

Andrew Curry wrote in National Geographic: “Debate still simmers over the column’s construction, meaning, and most of all, historical accuracy. It sometimes seems as if there are as many interpretations as there are carved figures, and there are 2,662 of those. Travel in time with this stop-motion animation and see how Trajan’s Column was built—according to one theory. How it was made and how accurate it is remain the subjects of spirited debate. [Source: Andrew Curry, National Geographic, April 2015 |*|]

“Filippo Coarelli, a courtly Italian archaeologist and art historian in his late 70s, literally wrote the book on the subject. In his sun-flooded living room in Rome, he pulls his illustrated history of the column off a crowded bookshelf. “The column is an amazing work,” he says, leafing through black-and-white photos of the carvings, pausing to admire dramatic scenes. “The Dacian women torturing Roman soldiers? The weeping Dacians poisoning themselves to avoid capture? It’s like a TV series.” |*|

“Or, Coarelli says, like Trajan’s memoirs. When it was built, the column stood between the two libraries, which perhaps held the soldier-emperor’s account of the wars. The way Coarelli sees it, the carving resembles a scroll, the likely form of Trajan’s war diary. “The artist—and artists at this time didn’t have the freedom to do what they wanted—must have acted according to Trajan’s will,” he says. Working under the supervision of a maestro, Coarelli says, sculptors followed a plan to create a skyscraping version of Trajan’s scroll on 17 drums of the finest Carrara marble. |*|

“The emperor is the story’s hero. He appears 58 times, depicted as a canny commander, accomplished statesman, and pious ruler. Here he is giving a speech to the troops; there he is thoughtfully conferring with his advisers; over there, presiding over a sacrifice to the gods. “It’s Trajan’s attempt to be not only a man of the army,” Coarelli says, “but also a man of culture.” Of course Coarelli’s speculating. Whatever form they took, Trajan’s memoirs are long gone. In fact clues gleaned from the column and excavations at Sarmizegetusa, the Dacian capital, suggest that the carvings say more about Roman preoccupations than about history. |*|

“Jon Coulston, an expert on Roman iconography, arms, and equipment at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, studied the column up close for months from the scaffolding that surrounded it during restoration work in the 1980s and ’90s. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the landmark and has remained obsessed—and pugnaciously contrarian—ever since. “People desperately want to compare it to news media and films,” he says. “They’re overinterpreting and always have. It’s all generic. You can’t believe a word of it.” |*|

“Coulston argues that no single mastermind was behind the carvings. Slight differences in style and obvious mistakes, such as windows that disrupt scenes and scenes of inconsistent heights, convinced him that sculptors created the column on the fly, relying on what they’d heard about the wars. “Instead of having what art historians love, which is a great master and creative mind,” he says, “the composition is being done by grunts at the stone face, not on a drawing board in the studio.” |*|

“The artwork, in his view, was more “inspired by” than “based on.” Take the column’s priorities. There’s not much fighting in its depiction of the two wars...The message seems intended for Romans, not the surviving Dacians, most of whom had been sold as slaves. “No Dacians were able to come and see the column,” Meneghini says. “It was for Roman citizens, to show the power of the imperial machinery, capable of conquering such a noble and fierce people.” In other words it can be interpreted as propaganda.


Dacian chiefs


Reading Trajan’s Column

There are 2,662 figures, plus animals, architecture and scenery, in 155 scenes. Trajan appears in 58 of them. Viewers were meant to follow the story from bottom to top standing in one place rather than circling the column 23 times, as the frieze does. Key scenes could be seen from two main vantage points. One can also follow the narrative of the epic battle by walking around and around the column like a "circus horse" as one scholar put it. Even though the sculptures made at the top are bigger than those at the bottom, it is still hard to make them out. The figures were originally painted with bright colors and had metal weapons and the horse had metal harness.

The visual narrative that winds from the column’s base to its top depicts Trajan and his soldiers triumph over the Dacians. In one scene Trajan watches a battle, while two Roman auxiliaries present him with severed enemy heads. In another scene Roman soldiers load plunder onto pack animals after defeating Decebalus, the Dacian king.

Breakdown of Activity (by length of scene): 1) Marches (29 percent); 2) Battles (21 percent); 3) Other (12 percent); 4) Construction (12 percent); 5) Negotiations (9 percent); 6) Sacrifices (7 percent); 8) Trajan speeches (6 percent); 9) Events recorded by historians (4 percent). [Source: National Geographic, April 2015]

Trajan’s army included not only professional soldiers but also auxiliaries, conscripts, and mercenaries from across the empire. To reveal more of the warriors, sculptors scaled down some of the shields and cut away Roman helmets. Most of the Dacians are dressed in trousers, tunics, and cloaks, while the Sarmatians, allies of the Dacians, are shown in armor. Dacian helmets appear on the pedestal and column, but only as spoils of war, never on warriors. |*|

Scenes from Trajan’s Column

The most interesting scene perhaps is the one that shows the Roman army crossing the Danube on a famous bridge.. Other scenes show the army marching into Dacia, the construction of military installations, fighting local barbarians, besieging enemy fortresses, the interrogation of prisoners, the removal of booty, and finally the suicide of the Dacian king, Decebalus, while being pursued by the Roman cavalry, and the capture of his treasure. Dacian prisoners are treated decently after they have been captured, according to the images, while the Roman prisoners of war are tortured by Dacian women. More attention is focused on the logistics of the battle than the actual fighting. The treasure was used to pay for the massive complex with a forum, basilica and libraries that surrounds the column.


Trajan column assault on a Roman fort

Andrew Curry wrote in National Geographic: “The column emphasizes Rome’s vast empire. Trajan’s army includes African cavalrymen with dreadlocks, Iberians slinging stones, Levantine archers wearing pointy helmets, and bare-chested Germans in pants, which would have appeared exotic to toga-clad Romans. They’re all fighting the Dacians, suggesting that anyone, no matter how wild their hair or crazy their fashion sense, could become a Roman. [Source: Andrew Curry, National Geographic, April 2015 |*|]

“Some scenes remain ambiguous and their interpretations controversial. Are the besieged Dacians reaching for a cup to commit suicide by drinking poison rather than face humiliation at the hands of the conquering Romans? Or are they just thirsty? Are the Dacian nobles gathered around Trajan in scene after scene surrendering or negotiating? |*|

“And what about the shocking depiction of women torturing shirtless, bound captives with flaming torches? Italians see them as captive Romans suffering at the hands of barbarian women. Ernest Oberländer-Târnoveanu, the head of the National History Museum of Romania, begs to differ: “They’re definitely Dacian prisoners being tortured by the angry widows of slain Roman soldiers.” Like much about the column, what you see tends to depend on what you think of the Romans and the Dacians. |*|

“Less than a quarter of the frieze shows battles or sieges, and Trajan himself is never shown in combat...Legionaries—the highly trained backbone of Rome’s war machine—occupy themselves with building forts and bridges, clearing roads, even harvesting crops. The column portrays them as a force of order and civilization, not destruction and conquest. You’d think they were invincible too, since there’s not a single dead Roman soldier on the column.”

Letters Between Trajan and Pliny the Younger

The historian William Stearns Davis wrote: “About A.D. 112 Trajan appointed Pliny the Younger, a distinguished Senator and literary man, as governor of Bithynia -- a province suffering from previous maladministration. The nature of the governor's problems and the obligation he was under of referring very petty matters to the Emperor appears clearly in the following letters. This correspondence of Trajan and Pliny (given here only in small part) is among the most valuable bits of historical data we have for the whole Imperial Age. [Source: Pliny the Younger (61/62-113 A.D.) and Trajan (r.98-117 A.D.): Letters, Book X. 25ff : “The Correspondence of a Provincial Governor and the Emperor Trajan,” c. 112 A.D.,William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, 196-210, 215-222, 250-251, 289-290, 295-296, 298-300]


Trajan coin

Pliny to Trajan: “The people of Prusa, Sire, have a public bath in a neglected and dilapidated state. They wish - with your kind permission -- to restore it; but I think a new one ought to be built, and I reckon you can safely comply with their wishes. [Then the governor names various ways to find the money, especially cutting down the free distribution of oil.]

Trajan to Pliny: “If the building of a new bath will not cripple the finances of Prusa, we can indulge their wishes; only it must be understood that no new taxes are to be raised to meet the cost, and that their contributions for necessary expenses shall not show any falling off.*

Pliny to Trajan: “A desolating fire broke out in Nicomedia, and destroyed a number of private houses, and two public buildings -- the almshouse and the temple of Isis -- although a road ran between them. The fire was allowed to spread farther than it need, first owing to the violent wind; second, to the laziness of the citizens, it being generally agreed they stood idly by without moving, and simply watched the conflagration. Besides there was not a single public fire engine or bucket in the place, and not one solitary appliance for mastering a fire. However, these will be provided upon orders I have already given. But, Sire, I would have you consider whether you think a fire company of about 150 men ought not to be formed? I will take care that no one not a genuine fireman shall be admitted, and that the guild should not misapply the charter granted it. Again there would be no trouble in keeping an eye on so small a body.

Trajan to Pliny: “You have formed the idea of a possible fire company at Nicomedia on the model of various others already existing; but remember that the province of Bithynia, and especially city-states like Nicomedia, are the prey of factions. Give them the name we may, and however good be the reasons for organization, such associations will soon degenerate into dangerous secret societies. It is better policy to provide fire apparatus, and to encourage property holders to make use of them, and if need comes, press the crowd which collects into the same service.

Pliny to Trajan: “Sire, the people of Nicomedia spent 3,229,000 sesterces [Arkenberg: about $1,857,000 in 1998 dollars] upon an aqueduct, which was left in an unfinished state, and I may say in ruin, and they also levied taxes to the extent of 2,000,000 sesterces [Arkenberg: about $1,543,000 in 1998 dollars] for a second one. This, too, has been abandoned, and to get a water supply those who have wasted these vast sums must go to a new expense. I have visited a splendid clear spring, from which it seems to me the supply ought to be brought to the town [and have formed a scheme that seems practicable].

Trajan to Pliny: “Steps must certainly be taken to provide Nicomedia with a water supply; and I have full confidence you will undertake the duty with all due care. But I profess it is also part of your diligent duty to find out who is to blame for the waste of such sums of money by the people of Nicomedia on their aqueducts, and whether or no there has been any serving of private interests in this beginning and then abandoning of [public] works. See that you bring to my knowledge whatever you find out.


Pliny the Younger on the Duomo in Milan

Pliny to Trajan: “The theater at Nicaea, Sire, the greater part of which has already been constructed -- though it is still unfinished -- has already cost over 10,000,000 sesterces [Arkenberg: about $7,500,000 in 1998 dollars] -- at least so I am told, for the accounts have not been made out; and I am fearful lest the money has been thrown away. For the building has sunk and there are great gaping crevices to be seen, either because the ground is damp, or owing to the [bad quality] of the stone. [It is doubtful if the affair is worth completing.] Just before I came the Nicaeans also began to restore the public gymnasium, which had been destroyed by fire, on a larger scale than the old building, and they have already disbursed a considerable sum thereon, and I fear to little purpose [for it is very ill constructed]. Moreover the architect -- the rival, to be sure, of the man who began the work -- asserts that the walls, although twenty-two feet thick, cannot bear the weight placed upon them, because they have not been put together with cement in the middle and have not been strengthened with brickwork.

Trajan to Pliny: “You are the best judge of what to do at Nicaea. It will be enough for me to be informed of the plan you adopt. All Greek peoples have a passion for gymnasia, so perhaps the people of Nicaea have set about building one on a rather lavish scale, but they must be content to cut their coat according to their cloth. You again must decide what advice to give the people of Claudiopolis.

Pliny to Trajan: “When I asked for a statement of the expenditures of the city of Byzantium -- which are abnormally high -- it was pointed out to me, Sire, that a delegate was sent every year with a complimentary decree to pay his respects to you, and that he received 12,000 sesterces for so doing. Remembering your instructions I ordered him to stay at home and to forward the decree by me in order to lighten the expenses. I beg you to tell whether I have done right.

Trajan to Pliny: “You have done quite right, my dear Pliny, in canceling the expenditure of the Byzantines. . . for that delegate. They will in the future do their duty well enough, even though the decree alone is sent me through you.

Pliny to Trajan: “Sire, a person named Julius Largus of Pontus, whom I have never seen or heard of before, has intrusted me with the management of his property with which he seeks to prove his loyalty to you. For he has asked me in his will to undertake as heir the division of his property, and after keeping 50,000 sesterces, hand over all the remainder to the free cities of Heraclea and Teos. He leaves it to my discretion whether I think it better to erect public works and dedicate them to your glory, or to start an athletic festival, to be held every five years, and to be called the "Trajan Games." I have decided to lay the facts before you and ask your decision.

Trajan to Pliny: “Julius Largus, in picking you out for your trustworthiness, has acted as though he knew you intimately. So do you consider the circumstances of each place, and the best means of perpetuating his memory, and follow the course you think best.

Pliny the Younger: Panegyric Addressed to Trajan


Trajan

A panegyric a public speech or published text in praise of someone or something. Pliny the Younger wrote this one for Trajan. “You have spontaneously subjected yourself to the laws, to the laws which, Caesar, no one ever drafted to be binding upon the princeps.(5) But you desire to have no more rights than we (the Senate); and the result is that we would like you to have more. What I now hear for the first time, now learn for the first time, is not, "The princeps is above the laws," but "The laws are above the princeps, and the same restrictions apply to Caesar when consul as to others." He swears fidelity to the laws in the presence of attentive gods-for to whom should they be more attentive than to Caesar? . . .

“Hardly had the first day of your consulship dawned when you entered the senate house and exhorted us, now individually, now all together, to resume our liberty, to take up the duties of imperial administration shared, so to speak, between yourself and us, to watch over the public interests, to rouse ourselves. All emperors before you said about the same, but none before you was believed. People had before their eyes the shipwrecks of many men who sailed along in a deceptive calm and foundered in an unexpected storm.... But you we follow fearlessly and happily, wherever you call us. You order us to be free: we will be. You order us to express our opinions openly: we will pronounce them. It is neither through any cowardice nor through any natural sluggishness that we have remained silent until now; terror and fear and that wretched prudence born of danger warned us to turn our eyes, our ears, our minds, away from the state-in fact, there was no state altogether. But today, relying and leaning upon your right hand and your promises, we unseal our lips closed in long servitude and we loose our tongues paralyzed by so many ills....

“Here is the picture of the father of our state as I for my part seem to have discerned it both from his speech and from the very manner of its presentation. What weight in his ideas, what unaffected genuineness in his words, what earnestness in his voice, what confirmation in his face, what sincerity in his eyes, bearing, gestures, in short in his whole body! He will always remember his advice to us, and he will know that we are obeying him whenever we make use of the liberty he has given us. And there is no fear that he will judge us reckless if we take advantage unhesitatingly of the security of the times, for he remembers that we lived otherwise under an evil princeps.'

“It is our custom to offer public prayers for the eternity of the Empire and the preservation of the emperor . . . "if [he] has ruled the state well and in the interest of all." . . . You reap, Caesar, the most glorious fruit of your preservation from the consent of the gods. For when you stipulate that the gods should preserve you only "if you have ruled the state well and in the interest of all," you are assured that you do rule the state well since they preserve you.'49 And so you pass in security and joy the day which tortured other emperors with worry and fear when in suspense, thunderstruck, uncertain how far they could rely on our patience, they awaited from here and there the messages of public servitude....

“In judicial inquiries, what soft severity [you display], what clemency without weakness! You do not sit as judge intent on enriching your private treasury, and you want no reward for your decision other than to have judged rightly. Litigants stand before you concerned not for their fortunes, but for your good opinion, and they fear not so much what you may think of their case as what you may think of their character. O care truly that of a princeps, and even of a god, to reconcile rival cities, to calm peoples in ferment, less by imperial command than by reason, to impede the injustices of magistrates, to annul everything that ought not have been done, in fine, in the manner of the swiftest star to see all, hear all, and like a divinity be present and be helpful forthwith wherever invoked! Such, I imagine, are the things that the father of the world (i.e., Jupiter) regulates with a nod when he lets his glance fall upon the earth and deigns to count human destinies among his divine occupations. Henceforth free and released in this area he can attend to the sky alone, since he has sent you to fill his role toward the human race. You fulfill that function, and you are worthy of him who entrusted it to you, since each of your days is devoted to our greatest good, to your greatest glory.”

Pliny the Younger as an Administrator for Trajan in Asia Minor


Bithynia was Roman province in the northwest of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). William Stearns Davis wrote: “About 112 CE. Trajan appointed Pliny the Younger, a distinguished Senator and literary man, as governor of Bithynia — a province suffering from previous maladministration. The nature of the governor's problems and the obligation he was under of referring very petty matters to the Emperor appears clearly in the following letters. This correspondence of Trajan and Pliny (given here only in small part) is among the most valuable bits of historical data we have for the whole Imperial Age.

Pliny the Younger: Letters, X.25 ff: The Correspondence of a Provincial Governor and the Emperor Trajan: Pliny to Trajan: “The people of Prusa, Sire, have a public bath in a neglected and dilapidated state. They wish - with your kind permission -- to restore it; but I think a new one ought to be built, and I reckon you can safely comply with their wishes. [Then the governor names various ways to find the money, especially cutting down the free distribution of oil.]” [Source: Pliny the Younger (61/62-113 A.D.) and Trajan (r.98-117 A.D.): Letters, Book X. 25ff : The Correspondence of a Provincial Governor and the Emperor Trajan, c. 112 A.D. William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, 196-210, 215-222, 250-251, 289-290, 295-296, 298-300]

Trajan to Pliny: “If the building of a new bath will not cripple the finances of Prusa, we can indulge their wishes; only it must be understood that no new taxes are to be raised to meet the cost, and that their contributions for necessary expenses shall not show any falling off.”

Pliny to Trajan: “A desolating fire broke out in Nicomedia, and destroyed a number of private houses, and two public buildings -- the almshouse and the temple of Isis -- although a road ran between them. The fire was allowed to spread farther than it need, first owing to the violent wind; second, to the laziness of the citizens, it being generally agreed they stood idly by without moving, and simply watched the conflagration. Besides there was not a single public fire engine or bucket in the place, and not one solitary appliance for mastering a fire. However, these will be provided upon orders I have already given. But, Sire, I would have you consider whether you think a fire company of about 150 men ought not to be formed? I will take care that no one not a genuine fireman shall be admitted, and that the guild should not misapply the charter granted it. Again there would be no trouble in keeping an eye on so small a body.”

Trajan to Pliny: “You have formed the idea of a possible fire company at Nicomedia on the model of various others already existing; but remember that the province of Bithynia, and especially city-states like Nicomedia, are the prey of factions. Give them the name we may, and however good be the reasons for organization, such associations will soon degenerate into dangerous secret societies. It is better policy to provide fire apparatus, and to encourage property holders to make use of them, and if need comes, press the crowd which collects into the same service.”

Pliny to Trajan: “Sire, a person named Julius Largus of Pontus, whom I have never seen or heard of before, has intrusted me with the management of his property with which he seeks to prove his loyalty to you. For he has asked me in his will to undertake as heir the division of his property, and after keeping 50,000 sesterces, hand over all the remainder to the free cities of Heraclea and Teos. He leaves it to my discretion whether I think it better to erect public works and dedicate them to your glory, or to start an athletic festival, to be held every five years, and to be called the "Trajan Games." I have decided to lay the facts before you and ask your decision.”

Trajan to Pliny: “Julius Largus, in picking you out for your trustworthiness, has acted as though he knew you intimately. So do you consider the circumstances of each place, and the best means of perpetuating his memory, and follow the course you think best.”

Pliny the Younger and Trajan Communicate About Public Works Asia Minor


Pliny the Younger: Letters, X.25 ff: The Correspondence of a Provincial Governor and the Emperor Trajan: Pliny to Trajan: “Sire, the people of Nicomedia spent 3,229,000 sesterces [Arkenberg: about $1,857,000 in 1998 dollars] upon an aqueduct, which was left in an unfinished state, and I may say in ruin, and they also levied taxes to the extent of 2,000,000 sesterces [Arkenberg: about $1,543,000 in 1998 dollars] for a second one. This, too, has been abandoned, and to get a water supply those who have wasted these vast sums must go to a new expense. I have visited a splendid clear spring, from which it seems to me the supply ought to be brought to the town [and have formed a scheme that seems practicable].” [Source: Pliny the Younger (61/62-113 A.D.) and Trajan (r.98-117 A.D.): Letters, Book X. 25ff : The Correspondence of a Provincial Governor and the Emperor Trajan, c. 112 A.D. William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, 196-210, 215-222, 250-251, 289-290, 295-296, 298-300]

Trajan to Pliny: “Steps must certainly be taken to provide Nicomedia with a water supply; and I have full confidence you will undertake the duty with all due care. But I profess it is also part of your diligent duty to find out who is to blame for the waste of such sums of money by the people of Nicomedia on their aqueducts, and whether or no there has been any serving of private interests in this beginning and then abandoning of [public] works. See that you bring to my knowledge whatever you find out.”

Pliny to Trajan: “The theater at Nicaea, Sire, the greater part of which has already been constructed -- though it is still unfinished -- has already cost over 10,000,000 sesterces [Arkenberg: about $7,500,000 in 1998 dollars] -- at least so I am told, for the accounts have not been made out; and I am fearful lest the money has been thrown away. For the building has sunk and there are great gaping crevices to be seen, either because the ground is damp, or owing to the [bad quality] of the stone. [It is doubtful if the affair is worth completing.] Just before I came the Nicaeans also began to restore the public gymnasium, which had been destroyed by fire, on a larger scale than the old building, and they have already disbursed a considerable sum thereon, and I fear to little purpose [for it is very ill constructed]. Moreover the architect -- the rival, to be sure, of the man who began the work -- asserts that the walls, although twenty-two feet thick, cannot bear the weight placed upon them, because they have not been put together with cement in the middle and have not been strengthened with brickwork.”

Trajan to Pliny: “You are the best judge of what to do at Nicaea. It will be enough for me to be informed of the plan you adopt. All Greek peoples have a passion for gymnasia, so perhaps the people of Nicaea have set about building one on a rather lavish scale, but they must be content to cut their coat according to their cloth. You again must decide what advice to give the people of Claudiopolis.”

Pliny to Trajan: “When I asked for a statement of the expenditures of the city of Byzantium -- which are abnormally high -- it was pointed out to me, Sire, that a delegate was sent every year with a complimentary decree to pay his respects to you, and that he received 12,000 sesterces for so doing. Remembering your instructions I ordered him to stay at home and to forward the decree by me in order to lighten the expenses. I beg you to tell whether I have done right.”

Trajan to Pliny: “You have done quite right, my dear Pliny, in canceling the expenditure of the Byzantines. . . for that delegate. They will in the future do their duty well enough, even though the decree alone is sent me through you.”

Letters Between Trajan and Pliny the Younger on Christians in Asia Minor

Pliny to Trajan: “It is my custom, Sire, to refer to you in all cases where I am in doubt, for who can better clear up difficulties and inform me? I have never been present at any legal examination of the Christians, and I do not know, therefore, what are the usual penalties passed upon them, or the limits of those penalties, or how searching an inquiry should be made. I have hesitated a great deal in considering whether any distinctions should be drawn according to the ages of the accused; whether the weak should be punished as severely as the more robust, or whether the man who has once been a Christian gained anything by recanting? Again, whether the name of being a Christian, even though otherwise innocent of crime, should be punished, or only the crimes that gather around it?


early Christians in the Roman Empire

“In the meantime, this is the plan which I have adopted in the case of those Christians who have been brought before me. I ask them whether they are Christians, if they say "Yes," then I repeat the question the second time, and also a third -- warning them of the penalties involved; and if they persist, I order them away to prison. For I do not doubt that -- be their admitted crime what it may -- their pertinacity and inflexible obstinacy surely ought to be punished.

“There were others who showed similar mad folly, whom I reserved to be sent to Rome, as they were Roman citizens. Later, as is commonly the case, the mere fact of my entertaining the question led to a multiplying of accusations and a variety of cases were brought before me. An anonymous pamphlet was issued, containing a number of names of alleged Christians. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians and called upon the gods with the usual formula, reciting the words after me, and those who offered incense and wine before your image -- which I had ordered to be brought forward for this purpose, along with the regular statues of the gods -- all such I considered acquitted -- especially as they cursed the name of Christ, which it is said bona fide Christians cannot be induced to do.

“Still others there were, whose names were supplied by an informer. These first said they were Christians, then denied it, insisting they had been, "but were so no longer"; some of them having "recanted many years ago," and more than one "full twenty years back." These all worshiped your image and the god's statues and cursed the name of Christ.

“But they declared their guilt or error was simply this -- on a fixed day they used to meet before dawn and recite a hymn among themselves to Christ, as though he were a god. So far from binding themselves by oath to commit any crime, they swore to keep from theft, robbery, adultery, breach of faith, and not to deny any trust money deposited with them when called upon to deliver it. This ceremony over, they used to depart and meet again to take food -- but it was of no special character, and entirely harmless. They also had ceased from this practice after the edict I issued -- by which, in accord with your orders, I forbade all secret societies.

“I then thought it the more needful to get at the facts behind their statements. Therefore I placed two women, called "deaconesses," under torture, but I found only a debased superstition carried to great lengths, so I postponed my examination, and immediately consulted you. This seems a matter worthy of your prompt consideration, especially as so many people are endangered. Many of all ages and both sexes are put in peril of their lives by their accusers; and the process will go on, for the contagion of this superstition has spread not merely through the free towns, but into the villages and farms. Still I think it can be halted and things set right. Beyond any doubt, the temples -- which were nigh deserted -- are beginning again to be thronged with worshipers; the sacred rites, which long have lapsed, are now being renewed, and the food for the sacrificial victims is again finding a sale -- though up to recently it had almost no market. So one can safely infer how vast numbers could be reclaimed, if only there were a chance given for repentance.

Trajan to Pliny: “You have adopted the right course, my dear Pliny, in examining the cases of those cited before you as Christians; for no hard and fast rule can be laid down covering such a wide question. The Christians are not to be hunted out. If brought before you, and the offense is proved, they are to be punished, but with this reservation -- if any one denies he is a Christian, and makes it clear he is not, by offering prayer to our gods, then he is to be pardoned on his recantation, no matter how suspicious his past. As for anonymous pamphlets, they are to be discarded absolutely, whatever crime they may charge, for they are not only a precedent of a very bad type, but they do not accord with the spirit of our age.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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