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Column of Trajan

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Monument of Trajan's victory over the Dacians
Monument of Trajan's victory over the Dacians

Trajan’s Column (COLVMNA · TRAIANI) was erected in 113 CE in Rome at the Trajan’s Forum to commemorate the victory over the Dacians. Financed with huge spoils of war, it was an important landmark on the map of the Roman capital.

The column is situated between the buildings of two libraries: Greek and Latin, and the passage to the temple of the divine Trajan, behind the Basilica Ulpia. The column is placed on a pedestal in which urns with the ashes of Trajan and his wife Plotina are buried. At the top of the column, Trajan ordered the eagle to be placed. After his death, at the behest of Hadrian, the eagle was replaced with the statue Trajan. Only in 1587, a statue of St. Peter. What exactly happened to the statue of Trajan is unknown.

Trajan’s Column is famous for its beautifully crafted reliefs. You can watch them in better quality here or here.

The whole structure (without the statue) is 39.83 m high, and the shaft of the column itself is 26.62 m high. The height of the building is not accidental. The ruler certainly wanted the column to be clearly visible and to stand out above the Forum from other buildings, such as the Ulpia Basilica. Together with the reliefs, this proves that the column was mainly intended to promote the power of Rome and the emperor himself.

The column is made of 17 stone drums made of Carrara marble. The heaviest block weighs 53 tons and had to be erected to a height of 34 meters. The building is hollow and inside there are spiral stairs leading to the viewing platform. The staircase is illuminated by 43 narrow windows overlooking the forum.

At the base of the column there is an inscription saying:

SENATVS POPVLVSQVE ROMANVS / IMP CAESARI DIVI NERVAE F NERVAE / TRAIANO AVG GERM DACICO PONTIF / MAXIMO TRIB POT XVII IMP VI COS VI PP / AD DECLARANDVM QVANTAE ALTITVDINIS / MONS ET LOCVS TAN[tis oper]IBVS SIT EGESTVS

Inscription on Trajan’s column.

that is:

The Senate and the People of Rome to the Emperor, Caesar Nerva, son of the deified Nerva, Traianus Augustus, Germanicus, Dacicus, Pontifex Maximus, invested with the power of the tribune seventeen times, hailed imperator six times, elected consul six times, father of the fatherland, to demonstrate how lofty a hill and (what area of) ground was carried away for these mighty works.

The greatest decoration of the column is a relief made on a ribbon that wraps around the column in 23 twists. It tells the story of the war with the Dacians (between 101-102 and 105-106 CE); from preparing for it until victory. The two campaigns are separated by the image of Victoria. The ribbon in the lowest part is only 89 cm wide and widens upwards, where it reaches 125 cm. This procedure gives the illusion of seeing the characters of the same height in all scenes.

Detail from the column. The relief shows the Roman carroballista, a ballista pulled by draft animals. It was a mobile artillery.

The relief consists of 155 scenes arranged in chronological order (according to the events of the war). The frieze is made very carefully, although by definition it was assumed that it would not be possible to see it at close range. It is believed that the creator of this new form of historical relief was Apollodorus of Damascus – a brilliant Roman architect of Syrian origin.

The relief itself has survived to our times in relatively good condition – in fact, only the paints it was originally painted are missing – and is one of the finest examples of sculpture during the Empire.

Trajan’s Column in 1896

After Trajan’s death in 117 CE, the Roman Senate decided to place his ashes in the base of the column. The emperor and his wife Plotina were buried there in golden urns. Naturally, the ruler’s remains have not survived to our times.

Sources
  • Ciechanowicz Jerzy, Rzym, ludzie i budowle, Warszawa 1987
  • Carcopino Jeorome, Życie codzienne w Rzymie w okresie rozkwitu cesarstwa, 1966
  • Dubicki Andrzej, Wojny dackie 101-106 n.e., Zabrze 2013
  • Szolginia Witold, Architektura, Warszawa 1992

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