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Trajan

(18 September 53 - 9 August 117 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Trajan
Name

Marcus Ulpius Traianus

Ruled as

Imperator Caesar Divi Nervae Filius Nerva Traianus Germanicus Augustus

Reign

28 January 98 – 9 August 117 CE

Born

18 September 53 CE

Died

9 August 117 CE

Coin of Trajan

Trajan was born on September 18, 53 CE in Italica, Spain, in an old Roman colony, under the name of Marcus Ulpius Trajan (Marcus Ulpius Traianus).
He was the son of Marcus Ulpius Traianus, a Roman commander and a supporter of Vespasian in the civil war of 69 CE, later governor of Syria, and his wife Marcia. He had one sister – Ulpia Marciana. Trajan’s wife was Plotinus, their marriage remained childless.

Initially, like his father, he ruled over Syria, then he took command of the Rhine legions. In 97 CE he was adopted by Nerva as his successor, and after his death from 98 CE to independently rule the Roman Empire. He was the first ruler of provincial origin due to the rapidly advancing Romanization in the oldest provinces.

The family of Trajan came from Spain. It was a relatively young family. Only his father reached the consulate. The wealthy and earthly family of Trajan lived for generations in the city of Italica near today’s Seville. His father served in the army and suppressed a Jewish uprising in Palestine as a legion commander. For these services, Emperor Vespasian made him a consulate, made him a patrician and entrusted him with the governorship of the provinces – first of Syria, then of Asia.

As a young man, he grew up during the war campaigns, basing his political career on the military. When his father became governor of the province of Syria in 76-77 CE, Trajan assumed the role of a legionary tribune. In 91 CE he became consul, and around that year he brought the great architect Apollodorus of Damascus to Rome, later Trajan’s personal constructor.
Later, Trajan was involved in many battles along the Rhine during Domitian’s campaign, as well as the soldier’s disliked Nerves. The latter, realizing his weak position, decided to better appear in the eyes of the legions and to secure the throne after his death. To this end, in October 97 CE he proclaimed Trajan his son and co-regent. It is believed that Nerva’s decision was largely due to his adviser, a relative of Trajan.

The future emperor learned about his adoption, and later about the death of Nerva (he died in January 98 CE) during the strengthening of the border on the Rhine and Danube. However, instead of arriving in the capital and officially adopting the imperial insignia, he decided to continue the hostilities on the Rhine. Only in the summer of 99 CE did Trajan come to Rome.

Reign

Trajan pursued a clearly expansive policy, setting himself the goal of expanding the Roman Empire by the territories of Dacia with the capital in Sarmizegethus, rich in gold ores, and the territories of the Parthian state, which had large ore resources due to trade with the Far East. The war in Dacia (101 – 102 and 105 – 106 CE) won Trajan and the creation of a new province – Dacia, which romanized quickly and steadily. It was dictated mainly by the desire to avert the threat of the Daks invasion of Pannonia and Moesia, as well as the acquisition of the aforementioned gold deposits. As a result of mobilization, the legions’ troops then numbered about 80,000 people. After defeating the leader of the Daks – Decebal, Trajan transported a total of 50,000 prisoners to Italy, whom he had made slaves.

Alcántara Bridge, a masterpiece of Roman engineering.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

The military operations that Trajan conducted against the Parthians, where the situation was changing after the reign of Nero, was of greater importance. In 106 CE, Trajan’s troops captured Petra – the “door” to the Red Sea. At the turn of 106 and 107 CE, Cornelius Palma as the governor of Syria (in the years 104/5- 108 CE) conquered and organized the province of Arabia. After proper preparation in 114 CE, Trajan marched into Armenia in 115 CE Mesopotamia, and in 116 CE he conquered Babylon, Ctesiphon, and Seleucia – three hostile capitals, creating two new provinces – Armenia and Mesopotamia. As he approached the Persian Gulf, he planned to conquer more lands as far as India, but the Jewish uprising that broke out in Cyrenaica, Egypt, Cyprus and spread throughout the East forced him to change his plans. The lands conquered in the East (Assyria and Mesopotamia) were partially returned to the Parthians by Trajan’s successor – Hadrian (he was the chief commander of the Eastern Front). Restored Armenia, on the other hand, remained under the influence of Rome.

Trajan’s principality became for Tacitus through moderation, equanimity, prudence, energy, realism and respect for tradition, all of which were evident in the manner of governance. and Pliny is almost the embodiment of an ideal ruler. In 114 CE, Trajan was awarded the title of optimus princeps by the Senate, which included the concepts of prosperity and abundance (from ops – “wealth”) that Trajan had provided to the Roman state.

The internal policy pursued by Trajan was characterized by exceptionally good cooperation with the Senate, as evidenced by the title given to him while strengthening his own power. In later times, the following formula was addressed to the newly elected emperor: “Be happier than August, better than Trajan” (Sis felicior Augusto, melior Traiano).

Roman Empire under the rule of Trajan in 117 CE.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

The emperor also took care of the development of the province (expansion of the road network, construction of new aqueducts and water reservoirs, establishing new cities), often communicating with the governors. The letters of the governor of Bithynia, the aforementioned Pliny the Younger, have survived to our times. It is he who in his Panegyric emphasizes the virtues of the ruler, telling how people crowded the streets to see and touch Trajan, expecting benefits or miracles. This is how the myth of Trajan was born, a ruler who was modelled on by many of his successors. In fact, he was a cordial and open man, though not avoiding alcohol, with a strong head, who was able to listen, and when analyzing his correspondence, you can see “with the naked eye” the emperor’s sense and distance.

Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

Trajan won over the people by generosity (cash benefits, organization of games, development of the alimony system introduced by Nerva). Thanks to the gold and the riches obtained in Dacia, he managed to overcome the crisis of the state and make the necessary investments.

Trajan also became famous for many builders’ initiatives, which were mainly implemented by the aforementioned Apollodorus of Damascus brought from Syria. He expanded and modernized the Circus Maximus. He also built a new forum for the Romans – Trajan’s Forum and modernized the ports of Ostia, Ancona and Centumcellae. His achievements also include: Trajan’s thermal baths, Trajan’s Bridge (lower Danube in Serbia), Alcántara Bridge and Alconétar Bridge (both in Spain). During his reign, Rome became the most wonderful metropolis in the world.
One of the most famous sculptures is Trajan’s Column. It was actually a 40-meter pedestal with a statue of the emperor on top. The column presents the history of Trajan’s fight with Dacia. The column was not only a glorification of the emperor’s greatness. It was a kind of tomb because Trajan’s ashes were deposited in the niche under the column.

It must also be said that during the reign of Trajan, Christians began to be repressed again. The new religion after the reign of Nero enjoyed peace. The Romans did not have a tendency to persecute dissenters. However, Christianity was already developing on a large scale and could not go unnoticed by the emperor. The new religion was feared as a sect that was detrimental to the polytheistic faith of the Romans. Many Christians died then.

Emperor Hadrian and Apollodorus of Damascus
Apollodorus introduced many elements taken from Eastern architecture into Roman architecture (e.g. monumental assumptions, gradation of visual elements and unusual ornamentation). Apollodorus’s career ended when he criticized the dual temple of Venus and Roma designed by Trajan’s successor Hadrian. At the emperor’s order, he was exiled, and later probably executed.

Death

Trajan probably died of a stroke on August 9, 117 CE at Selinunta, Cilicia, while returning from an anti-Parthian campaign. His ashes were buried in Trajan’s Column.

Ceremony of burying Trajan’s ashes in Trajan’s column.
Author: Radu Oltean

Before his death, Trajan managed to hand over the command of the eastern army to Publius Aelius Hadrian, the son of one of his cousins. After the death of the ruler was announced, it was he who immediately received the imperial acclamation in Antioch, and the Senate ratified it. There was no official act of adoption, but Plotinus, Trajan’s wife immediately declared that on his deathbed the emperor had formally appointed Hadrian as his successor.

Sources
  • Iwaszkiewicz Piotr, Łoś Wiesław, Stępień Marek, Władcy i wodzowie starożytności. Słownik, Warszawa 1998
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Poczet cesarzowych Rzymu, Warszawa 2001
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Poczet cesarzy rzymskich, Warszawa 2004

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