Trajan AD 98-117 Denarius, Rome mint: AD 103-104
Obverse: IMP TRAIANO AVG GER DAC P M TR P COS V P
P- Laureate bust right, draped
Reverse: SPQR OPTIMO PRINCIPI - Mars advancing right,
holding spear and trophy
RIC II, 157, page 255 - Gn., Riv. It. 1907 pg. 174
Trajan AE As, Rome. 27 mm
Struck AD 98-99.
Obverse: IMP CAES NERVA TRAIAN AVG GERM P M, laureate
Reverse: TR POT COS II P P, Victory walking
left, holding palm-branch and shield inscribed SPQR.
RIC 402; Cohen 617; Sear 3242 var
Trajan (Latin: Imperator Caesar Nerva Traianus Divi Nervae filius Augustus;
18 September 53 – 8 August 117 AD) was Roman emperor from 98 to 117 AD.
Officially declared by the Senate optimus princeps ("the best ruler"),
Trajan is remembered as a successful soldier-emperor who presided over
the greatest military expansion in Roman history, leading the empire to
attain its maximum territorial extent by the time of his death. He
is also known for his philanthropic rule, overseeing extensive public building
programs and implementing social welfare policies, which earned him his
enduring reputation as the second of the Five Good Emperors who presided
over an era of peace and prosperity in the Mediterranean world.
Born in the city of Italica in the province of Hispania Baetica, Trajan's
non-patrician family was of Italian and perhaps Iberian origin. Trajan
rose to prominence during the reign of emperor Domitian. Serving
as a legatus legionis in Hispania Tarraconensis, in 89 Trajan supported
Domitian against a revolt on the Rhine led by Antonius Saturninus.
In September 96, Domitian was succeeded by Marcus Cocceius Nerva, an old
and childless senator who proved to be unpopular with the army. After
a brief and tumultuous year in power, culminating in a revolt by members
of the Praetorian Guard, Nerva was compelled to adopt the more popular
Trajan as his heir and successor. He died on 27 January 98 and was
succeeded by his adopted son without incident.
As a civilian administrator, Trajan is best known for his extensive public
building program, which reshaped the city of Rome and left numerous enduring
landmarks such as Trajan's Forum, Trajan's Market and Trajan's Column.
Early in his reign, he annexed the Nabataean Kingdom, creating the province
of Arabia Petraea. His conquest of Dacia enriched the empire greatly,
as the new province possessed many valuable gold mines. However,
its exposed position north of the Danube made it susceptible to attack
on three sides, and it was later abandoned by Emperor Aurelian.
Trajan's war against the Parthian Empire ended with the sack of the capital
Ctesiphon and the annexation of Armenia and Mesopotamia. His campaigns
expanded the Roman Empire to its greatest territorial extent. In
late 117, while sailing back to Rome, Trajan fell ill and died of a stroke
in the city of Selinus. He was deified by the Senate and his ashes
were laid to rest under Trajan's Column. He was succeeded by his
adopted son Hadrian.
As an emperor, Trajan's reputation has endured – he is one of the few rulers
whose reputation has survived nineteen centuries. Every new emperor
after him was honoured by the Senate with the wish felicior Augusto, melior
Traiano (that he be "luckier than Augustus and better than Trajan").
Among medieval Christian theologians, Trajan was considered a virtuous
pagan. In the Renaissance, Machiavelli, speaking on the advantages
of adoptive succession over heredity, mentioned the five successive good
emperors "from Nerva to Marcus" – a trope out of which the 18th-century
historian Edward Gibbon popularized the notion of the Five Good Emperors,
of whom Trajan was the second.
As far as ancient literary sources are concerned, an extant continuous
account of Trajan's reign does not exist. An account of the Dacian
Wars, the Commentarii de bellis Dacicis, written by Trajan himself or a
ghostwriter and modelled after Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico, is
lost with the exception of one sentence. Only fragments remain of
the Getiká, a book by Trajan's personal physician Titos Statilios
Kriton. The Parthiká, a 17-volume account of the Parthian
Wars written by Arrian, has met a similar fate. Book 68 in Cassius
Dio's Roman History, which survives mostly as Byzantine abridgments and
epitomes, is the main source for the political history of Trajan's rule.
Besides this, Pliny the Younger's Panegyricus and Dio of Prusa's orations
are the best surviving contemporary sources. Both are adulatory perorations,
typical of the late Roman era, that describe an idealized monarch and an
equally idealized view of Trajan's rule, and concern themselves more with
ideology than with actual fact. The tenth volume of Pliny's letters
contains his correspondence with Trajan, which deals with various aspects
of imperial Roman government, but this correspondence is neither intimate
nor candid: it is an exchange of official mail, in which Pliny's stance
borders on the servile. It is certain that much of text of the letters
that appear in this collection over Trajan's signature was written and/or
edited by Trajan's Imperial secretary, his ab epistulis. Therefore,
discussion of Trajan and his rule in modern historiography cannot avoid
speculation, as well as recourse to non-literary sources such as archaeology
Early life and rise to power:
Marcus Ulpius Traianus was born on 18 September 53 AD in the Roman province
of Hispania Baetica (in what is now Andalusia in modern Spain), in the
city of Italica (now in the municipal area of Santiponce, in the outskirts
of Seville). Although frequently designated the first provincial
emperor, and dismissed by later writers such as Cassius Dio (himself of
provincial origin) as "an Iberian, and neither an Italian nor even an Italiot",
Trajan appears to have hailed on his father's side from the area of Tuder
(modern Todi) in Umbria, at the border with Etruria, and on his mother's
side from the Gens Marcia, of an Italic family of Sabine origin.
Trajan's birthplace of Italica was founded as a Roman military colony in
206 BC, though it is unknown when the Ulpii arrived there. It is
possible, but cannot be substantiated, that Trajan's ancestors married
local women and lost their citizenship at some point, but they certainly
recovered their status when the city became a municipium with Latin citizenship
in the mid-1st century BC.
Trajan was the son of Marcia, a Roman noblewoman and sister-in-law of the
second Flavian Emperor Titus, and Marcus Ulpius Traianus, a prominent senator
and general from the gens Ulpia. Marcus Ulpius Traianus the elder
served Vespasian in the First Jewish-Roman War, commanding the Legio X
Fretensis. Trajan himself was just one of many well-known Ulpii in
a line that continued long after his own death. His elder sister
was Ulpia Marciana, and his niece was Salonina Matidia. The patria
of the Ulpii was Italica, in Spanish Baetica, where their ancestors had
settled late in the 3rd century BC.
As a young man, he rose through the ranks of the Roman army, serving in
some of the most contested parts of the Empire's frontier. In 76–77,
Trajan's father was Governor of Syria (Legatus pro praetore Syriae), where
Trajan himself remained as Tribunus legionis. From there, after his
father's replacement, he seems to have been transferred to an unspecified
Rhine province, and Pliny implies that he engaged in active combat duty
during both commissions. In about 86, Trajan's cousin P. Aelius Afer
died, leaving his young children Hadrian and Paulina orphans. Trajan
and a colleague of his, Publius Acilius Attianus, became co-guardians of
the two children.
In 91, Trajan was created ordinary Consul for the year, which was a great
honour as he was in his late thirties and therefore just above the minimum
legal age (32) for holding the post. This can be explained in part
by the prominence of his father's career, as his father had been instrumental
to the ascent of the ruling Flavian dynasty, held consular rank himself
and had just been made a patrician. Around this time Trajan brought
Apollodorus of Damascus with him to Rome, and also married Pompeia Plotina,
a noble woman from the Roman settlement at Nîmes; the marriage ultimately
It has been remarked by later authors (among them Trajan's late successor
Julian) that Trajan was personally inclined towards homosexuality, far
in excess of the usual bisexual activity that was common among upper class
Roman men of the period. Although Julian's scathing comments on the
matter reflect a change of mores that began with the Severan dynasty, an
earlier author, Cassius Dio, already makes reference to Trajan's marked
personal preference for the male sex. Trajan's putative lovers included
Hadrian, pages of the imperial household, the actor Pylades, a dancer called
Apolaustus, Lucius Licinius Sura, and Nerva.
As the details of Trajan's military career are obscure, it is only sure
that in 89, as legate of Legio VII Gemina in Hispania Tarraconensis, he
supported Domitian against an attempted coup. Later, after his 91
consulate (held with Acilius Glabrio, a rare pair of consuls at the time,
in that neither consul was a member of the ruling dynasty), he held some
unspecified consular commission as governor on either Pannonia or Germania
Superior – possibly both. Pliny – who seems to deliberately avoid
offering details that would stress personal attachment between Trajan and
the "tyrant" Domitian – attributes to him, at the time, various (and unspecified)
feats of arms.
Since Domitian's successor, Nerva, was unpopular with the army and had
just been forced by his Praetorian Prefect Casperius Aelianus to execute
Domitian's killers, he felt the need to gain the support of the military
in order to avoid being ousted. He accomplished this in the summer
of 97 by naming Trajan as his adoptive son and successor, allegedly solely
on Trajan's outstanding military merits. There are hints, however,
in contemporary literary sources that Trajan's adoption was imposed on
Nerva. Pliny implied as much when he wrote that, although an emperor
could not be coerced into doing something, if this were the way in which
Trajan was raised to power, then it was worth it. If this was what
actually occurred, Trajan would be a usurper, and the notion of a natural
continuity between Nerva's and Trajan's reigns would be an ex post fiction
developed later by historians such as Tacitus.
According to the Augustan History, it was the future Emperor Hadrian who
brought word to Trajan of his adoption. Hadrian was then retained
on the Rhine frontier by Trajan as a military tribune, becoming privy to
the circle of friends and relations with which Trajan surrounded himself
– among them the then governor of Germania Inferior, the Spaniard Lucius
Licinius Sura, who would become Trajan's chief personal adviser and official
friend. As a token of his influence, Sura would later become consul
for the third time in 107. Some ancient sources also tell about his
having built a bath named after him on the Aventine Hill in Rome, or having
this bath built by Trajan and then named after him, in either case a signal
of honour as the only exception to the established rule that a public building
in the capital could be dedicated only to a member of the imperial family.
These baths were later expanded by the third century emperor Decius as
a means of stressing his link to Trajan. Sura is also described as
telling Hadrian in 108 about his selection as imperial heir. According
to a modern historian, Sura's role as kingmaker and éminence grise
was deeply resented by some senators, especially the historian Tacitus,
who acknowledged Sura's military and oratory virtues but at the same time
resented his rapacity and devious ways, similar to those of Vespasian's
éminence grise Licinius Mucianus.
When Nerva died on 27 January 98, Trajan succeeded to the role of emperor
without any outward incident. However, the fact that he chose not
to hasten towards Rome, but instead to make a lengthy tour of inspection
on the Rhine and Danube frontiers, hints to the possible fact that his
power position in Rome was unsure and that he had first to assure himself
of the loyalty of the armies at the front. It is noteworthy that
Trajan ordered Prefect Aelianus to attend him in Germany, where he was
apparently executed ("put out of the way"), with his post being taken by
Attius Suburanus. Trajan's accession, therefore, could qualify more
as a successful coup than an orderly succession.
On his entry to Rome, Trajan granted the plebs a direct gift of money.
The traditional donative to the troops, however, was reduced by half.
There remained the issue of the strained relations between the emperor
and the Senate, especially after the supposed bloodiness that had marked
Domitian's reign and his dealings with the Curia. By feigning reluctance
to hold power, Trajan was able to start building a consensus around him
in the Senate. His belated ceremonial entry into Rome in 99 was notably
low-key, something on which Pliny the Younger elaborated.
By not openly supporting Domitian's preference for equestrian officers,
Trajan appeared to conform to the idea (developed by Pliny) that an emperor
derived his legitimacy from his adherence to traditional hierarchies and
senatorial morals. Therefore, he could point to the allegedly republican
character of his rule. In a speech at the inauguration of his third
consulship, on 1 January 100, Trajan exhorted the Senate to share the care-taking
of the Empire with him – an event later celebrated on a coin. In
reality, Trajan did not share power in any meaningful way with the Senate,
something that Pliny admits candidly: "[E]verything depends on the whims
of a single man who, on behalf of the common welfare, has taken upon himself
all functions and all tasks". One of the most significant trends
of his reign was his encroachment on the Senate's sphere of authority,
such as his decision to make the senatorial provinces of Achaea and Bythinia
into imperial ones in order to deal with the inordinate spending on public
works by local magnates and the general mismanagement of provincial affairs
by various proconsuls appointed by the Senate.
In the formula developed by Pliny, however, Trajan was a "good" emperor
in that, by himself, he approved or blamed the same things that the Senate
would have approved or blamed. If in reality Trajan was an autocrat,
his deferential behavior towards his peers qualified him to be viewed as
a virtuous monarch. The whole idea was that Trajan wielded autocratic
power through moderatio instead of contumacia – moderation instead of insolence.
In short, according to the ethics for autocracy developed by most political
writers of the Imperial Roman Age, Trajan was a good ruler in that he ruled
less by fear, and more by acting as a role model, for, according to Pliny,
"men learn better from examples".
Eventually, Trajan's popularity among his peers was such that the Roman
Senate bestowed upon him the honorific of optimus, meaning "the best",
which appears on coins from 105 on. This title had mostly to do with
Trajan's role as benefactor, such as in the case of him returning confiscated
That Trajan's ideal role was a conservative one becomes evident from Pliny's
works as well as from the orations of Dio of Prusa – in particular his
four Orations on Kingship, composed early during Trajan's reign.
Dio, as a Greek notable and intellectual with friends in high places, and
possibly an official friend to the emperor (amicus caesaris), saw Trajan
as a defender of the status quo. In his third kingship oration, Dio
describes an ideal king ruling by means of "friendship" – that is, through
patronage and a network of local notables who act as mediators between
the ruled and the ruler.[
The Correctores: Greek/Roman relations:
As a senatorial Emperor, Trajan was inclined to choose his local base of
political support from among the members of the ruling urban oligarchies.
In the West, that meant local senatorial families like his own. In
the East, that meant the families of Greek notables. The Greeks,
though, had their own memories of independence – and a commonly acknowledged
sense of cultural superiority – and, instead of seeing themselves as Roman,
disdained Roman rule. What the Greek oligarchies wanted from Rome
was, above all, to be left in peace, to be allowed to exert their right
to self-government (i.e., to be excluded from the provincial government,
as was Italy) and to concentrate on their local interests. This was
something the Romans were not disposed to do as from their perspective
the Greek notables were shunning their responsibilities in regard to the
management of Imperial affairs – primarily in failing to keep the common
people under control, thus creating the need for the Roman governor to
An excellent example of this Greek alienation was the personal role played
by Dio of Prusa in his relationship with Trajan. As a Greek local
magnate with a taste for costly building projects and pretensions of being
an important political agent for Rome, Dio of Prusa was a target for one
of Trajan's authoritarian innovations: the appointing of imperial
correctores to audit the civic finances of the technically free Greek cities.
The main goal was to curb the overenthusiastic spending on public works
that served to channel ancient rivalries between neighboring cities.
As Pliny wrote Trajan, this had as its most visible consequence a trail
of unfinished and/or ill-kept public utilities.
Competition among Greek cities and their ruling oligarchies was mainly
for marks of preeminence, especially for titles bestowed by the Roman emperor.
Such titles were ordered in a ranking system that determined how the cities
were to be outwardly treated by Rome. The usual form that such rivalries
took was that of grandiose building plans, giving the cities the opportunity
to vie with each other over "extravagant, needless ... structures that
would make a show". A side effect of such extravagant spending was
that junior and thus less wealthy members of the local oligarchies felt
disinclined to present themselves to fill posts as local magistrates, positions
that involved ever-increasing personal expense.
Roman authorities liked to play the Greek cities against one another –
something of which Dio of Prusa was fully aware: "[B]y
their public acts [the Roman governors] have branded you as a pack of fools,
yes, they treat you just like children, for we often offer children the
most trivial things in place of things of greatest worth [...] In
place of justice, in place of the freedom of the cities from spoliation
or from the seizure of the private possessions of their inhabitants, in
place of their refraining from insulting you [...] your governors
hand you titles, and call you 'first' either by word of mouth or in writing;
that done, they may thenceforth with impunity treat you as being the very
These same Roman authorities had also an interest in assuring the cities'
solvency and therefore ready collection of Imperial taxes. Last but
not least, inordinate spending on civic buildings was not only a means
to achieve local superiority, but also a means for the local Greek elites
to maintain a separate cultural identity – something expressed in the contemporary
rise of the Second Sophistic; this "cultural patriotism" acted as a kind
of substitute for the loss of political independence, and as such was shunned
by Roman authorities. As Trajan himself wrote to Pliny: "These poor
Greeks all love a gymnasium ... they will have to content with one that
suits their real needs".
The first known corrector was charged with a commission "to deal with the
situation of the free cities", as it was felt that the old method of ad
hoc intervention by the Emperor and/or the proconsuls had not been enough
to curb the pretensions of the Greek notables. It is noteworthy that
an embassy from Dio's city of Prusa was not favorably received by Trajan,
and that this had to do with Dio's chief objective, which was to elevate
Prusa to the status of a free city, an "independent" city-state exempt
from paying taxes to Rome. Eventually, Dio gained for Prusa the right
to become the head of the assize-district, conventus (meaning that Prusans
did not have to travel to be judged by the Roman governor), but eleutheria
(freedom, in the sense of full political autonomy) was denied.
Eventually, it fell to Pliny, as imperial governor of Bithynia in 110 AD,
to deal with the consequences of the financial mess wrought by Dio and
his fellow civic officials. "It's well established that [the cities'
finances] are in a state of disorder", Pliny once wrote to Trajan, plans
for unnecessary works made in collusion with local contractors being identified
as one of the main problems. One of the compensatory measures proposed
by Pliny expressed a thoroughly Roman conservative position: as the cities'
financial solvency depended on the councilmen' purses, it was necessary
to have more councilmen on the local city councils. According to
Pliny, the best way to achieve this was to lower the minimum age for holding
a seat on the council, making it possible for more sons of the established
oligarchical families to join and thus contribute to civic spending; this
was seen as preferable to enrolling non-noble wealthy upstarts.
Such an increase in the number of council members was granted to Dio's
city of Prusa, to the dismay of existing councilmen who felt their status
lowered. A similar situation existed in Claudiopolis, where a public
bath was built with the proceedings from the entrance fees paid by "supernumerary"
members of the Council, enrolled with Trajan's permission. Also,
according to the Digest, it was decreed by Trajan that when a city magistrate
promised to achieve a particular public building, it was incumbent on his
heirs to complete the building.
Trajan ingratiated himself with the Greek intellectual elite by recalling
to Rome many (including Dio) who had been exiled by Domitian, and by returning
(in a process begun by Nerva) a great deal of private property that Domitian
had confiscated. He also had good dealings with Plutarch, who, as
a notable of Delphi, seems to have been favored by the decisions taken
on behalf of his home-place by one of Trajan's legates, who had arbitrated
a boundary dispute between Delphi and its neighboring cities. However,
it was clear to Trajan that Greek intellectuals and notables were to be
regarded as tools for local administration, and not be allowed to fancy
themselves in a privileged position. As Pliny said in one of his
letters at the time, it was official policy that Greek civic elites be
treated according to their status as notionally free but not put on an
equal footing with their Roman rulers. When the city of Apamea complained
of an audit of its accounts by Pliny, alleging its "free" status as a Roman
colony, Trajan replied by writing that it was by his own wish that such
inspections had been ordered. Concern about independent local political
activity is seen in Trajan's decision to forbid Nicomedia from having a
corps of firemen ("If people assemble for a common purpose ... they soon
turn it into a political society", Trajan wrote Pliny) as well as in his
and Pliny's fears about excessive civic generosities by local notables
such as distribution of money and/or gifts. For the same reason,
judging from Pliny's letters it can also be assumed that Trajan and his
aides were as much bored as they were alarmed by the claims of Dio and
other Greek notables to political influence based on what they saw as their
"special connection" to their Roman overlords.
Nevertheless, while the office of corrector was intended as a tool to curb
any hint of independent political activity among local notables in the
Greek cities, the correctores themselves were all men of the highest social
standing entrusted with an exceptional commission. The post seems
to have been conceived partly as a reward for senators who had chosen to
make a career solely on the Emperor's behalf. Therefore, in reality
the post was conceived as a means for "taming" both Greek notables and
Roman senators. It must be added that, although Trajan was wary of
the civic oligarchies in the Greek cities, he also admitted into the Senate
a number of prominent Eastern notables already slated for promotion during
Domitian's reign by reserving for them one of the twenty posts open each
year for minor magistrates (the vigintiviri). Such must be the case
of the Galatian notable and "leading member of the Greek community" (according
to one inscription) Gaius Julius Severus, who was a descendant of several
Hellenistic dynasts and client kings. Severus was the grandfather
of the prominent general Gaius Julius Quadratus Bassus, consul in 105.
Other prominent Eastern senators included Gaius Julius Alexander Berenicianus,
a descendant of Herod the Great, suffect consul in 116. Trajan created
at least 14 new senators from the Greek-speaking half of the Empire, an
unprecedented recruitment number that opens to question the issue of the
"traditionally Roman" character of his reign, as well as the "Hellenism"
of his successor Hadrian. But then Trajan's new Eastern senators
were mostly very powerful and very wealthy men with more than local influence
and much interconnected by marriage, so that many of them were not altogether
"new" to the Senate. On the local level, among the lower section
of the Eastern propertied, the alienation of most Greek notables and intellectuals
towards Roman rule, and the fact that the Romans were seen by most such
Greek notables as aliens, persisted well after Trajan's reign. It
is interesting to note that one of Trajan's senatorial creations from the
East, the Athenian Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos, a member
of the Royal House of Commagene, left behind him a funeral monument on
the Mouseion Hill that was later disparagingly described by Pausanias as
"a monument built to a Syrian man".
Trajan's Column, Rome
By Tataryn (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons
Conquest of Dacia:
It was as a military commander that Trajan is best known to history, particularly
for his conquests in the Near East, but initially for the two wars against
Dacia – the reduction to client kingdom (101–102), followed by actual incorporation
into the Empire of the trans-Danube border group of Dacia – an area that
had troubled Roman thought for over a decade with the unstable peace negotiated
by Domitian's ministers with the powerful Dacian king Decebalus.
According to the provisions of this treaty, Decebalus was acknowledged
as rex amicus, that is, client king; nevertheless, in exchange for accepting
client status, he received a generous stipend from Rome, as well as being
supplied with technical experts. The treaty seems to have allowed
Roman troops the right of passage through the Dacian kingdom in order to
attack the Marcomanni, Quadi and Sarmatians. However, senatorial
opinion never forgave Domitian for paying what was seen as "tribute" to
a Barbarian king. In addition, unlike the Germanic tribes, the Dacian
kingdom was an organized state capable of developing alliances of its own,
thus making it a strategic threat and giving Trajan a strong motive to
In May of 101, Trajan launched his first campaign into the Dacian kingdom,
crossing to the northern bank of the Danube and defeating the Dacian army
at Tapae (see Second
Battle of Tapae), near the Iron Gates of Transylvania. It was
not a decisive victory, however. Trajan's troops were mauled in the
encounter, and he put off further campaigning for the year in order to
regroup and reinforce his army.
The following winter, King Decebalus took the initiative by launching a
counter-attack across the Danube further downstream, supported by Sarmatian
cavalry, forcing Trajan to come to the aid of the troops in his rearguard.
The Dacians and their allies were repulsed after two battles in Moesia,
at Nicopolis ad Istrum and Adamclisi. Trajan's army then advanced
further into Dacian territory, and, a year later, forced Decebalus to submit.
He had to renounce claim to some regions of his kingdom, return all Roman
runaways (most of them technical experts), and surrender all his war machines.
Trajan returned to Rome in triumph and was granted the title Dacicus.
The peace of 102 had returned Decebalus to the condition of more or less
harmless client king; however, he soon began to rearm, to again harbor
Roman runaways, and to pressure his Western neighbors, the Iazyges Sarmatians,
into allying themselves with him. By trying to develop an anti-Roman
bloc, Decebalus eventually left Trajan without the alternative of treating
Dacia as a protectorate, rather than an outright conquest. In 104
Decebalus devised a failed attempt on Trajan's life by means of some Roman
deserters, and held prisoner Trajan's legate Longinus, who eventually poisoned
himself while in custody. Finally, in 105, Decebalus undertook an
invasion of Roman-occupied territory north of the Danube.
Prior to the campaign, Trajan had raised two entirely new legions:
II Traiana – which, however, may have been posted in the East, at the Syrian
port of Laodicea – and XXX Ulpia Victrix, which was posted to Brigetio,
in Pannonia. By 105, the concentration of Roman troops assembled
in the middle and lower Danube amounted to fourteen legions (up from nine
in 101) – about half of the entire Roman army. Even after the Dacian
wars, the Danube frontier would permanently replace the Rhine as the main
military axis of the Roman Empire. Including auxiliaries, the number
of Roman troops engaged on both campaigns was between 150,000 and 175,000,
while Decebalus could dispose of up to 200,000.
Following the design of Apollodorus of Damascus, Trajan ordered the building
of a massive bridge over the Danube, over which the Roman army was able
to cross the river swiftly and in numbers, as well as to send in reinforcements,
even in winter when the river was not frozen enough to bear the passage
of a party of soldiers. Trajan also reformed the infrastructure of
the Iron Gates region of the Danube. He commissioned either the creation
or enlargement of the road along the Iron Gates, carved into the side of
the gorge. Additionally, Trajan commissioned a canal to be built
around the rapids of the Iron Gates. Evidence of this comes from
a marble slab discovered near Caput Bovis, the site of a Roman fort.
The slab, dated to the year 101, commemorates the building of at least
one canal that went from the Kasajna tributary to at least Ducis Pratum,
whose embankments were still visible until recently. However, the
placement of the slab at Caput Bovis suggests that the canal extended to
this point or that there was a second canal downriver of the Kasajna-Ducis
These costly projects completed, in 105 Trajan again took to the field.
In a fierce campaign which seems to have consisted mostly of static warfare,
the Dacians, devoid of maneuvering room, kept to their network of fortresses,
which the Romans sought systematically to storm (see also Second Dacian
War). The Romans gradually tightened their grip around Decebalus'
stronghold in Sarmizegetusa Regia, which they finally took and destroyed.
Decebalus fled, but, when cornered by Roman cavalry, committed suicide.
His severed head, brought to Trajan by the cavalryman Tiberius Claudius
Maximus, was later exhibited in Rome on the steps leading up to the Capitol
and thrown on the Gemonian stairs.
Trajan built a new city, Colonia Ulpia Traiana Augusta Dacica Sarmizegetusa,
on another site (north of the hill citadel holding the previous Dacian
capital) although bearing the same full name, Sarmizegetusa. This
capital city was conceived as a purely civilian administrative center and
was provided the usual Romanized administrative apparatus (decurions, aediles,
etc.). Urban life in Roman Dacia seems to have been restricted to
Roman colonists, mostly military veterans; there is no extant evidence
for the existence in the province of peregrine cities. Native Dacians
continued to live in scattered rural settlements, according to their own
ways. The main effort of urbanization was concentrated by Trajan
at the rearguard, in Moesia, where he created the new cities of Nicopolis
ad Istrum and Marcianopolis. A vicus was also created around the
Tropaeum Traianum. The garrison city of Oescus received the status
of Roman colony after its legionary garrison was redeployed. The
fact that these former Danubian outposts had ceased to be frontier basis
and were now in the deep rear acted as an inducement to their urbanization
Not all of Dacia was permanently occupied. What was permanently included
in the province, after the post-Trajanic evacuation of some land across
the lower Danube, were the lands extending from the Danube to the inner
arch of the Carpathian Mountains, including Transylvania, the Metaliferi
Mountains and Oltenia. The Roman province eventually took the form
of an "excrescence" North of the Danube, with ill-defined limits, stretching
from the Danube northwards to the Carpathians, and was intended perhaps
as a basis for further expansion in Eastern Europe – which the Romans conceived
to be much more "flattened", and closer to the ocean, than it actually
was. Defense of the province was entrusted to a single legion, the
XIII Gemina, stationed at Apulum, which functioned as an advanced guard
that could, in case of need, strike either west or east at the Sarmatians
living at the borders. Therefore, the indefensible character of the
province did not appear to be a problem for Trajan, as the province was
conceived more as a sally-base for further attacks. Even in the absence
of further Roman expansion, the value of the province depended on Roman
overall strength: while Rome was strong, the Dacian salient was an instrument
of military and diplomatic control over the Danubian lands; when Rome was
weak, as during the Crisis of the Third Century, the province became a
liability and was eventually abandoned.
Trajan resettled Dacia with Romans and annexed it as a province of the
Roman Empire. Aside from their enormous booty (over half a million
slaves, according to John Lydus), Trajan's Dacian campaigns benefited the
Empire's finances through the acquisition of Dacia's gold mines, managed
by an imperial procurator of equestrian rank (procurator aurariarum).
On the other hand, commercial agricultural exploitation on the villa model,
based on the centralized management of a huge landed estate by a single
owner (fundus) was poorly developed. Therefore, use of slave labor
in the province itself seems to have been relatively undeveloped, and epigraphic
evidence points to work in the gold mines being conducted by means of labor
contracts (locatio conductio rei) and seasonal wage-earning.
The victory was commemorated by the construction both of the 102 cenotaph
generally known as the Tropaeum Traiani in Moesia, as well of the much
later Trajan's Column in Rome, the latter depicting in stone carved bas-reliefs
the Dacian Wars' most important moments.
Annexation of Nabataea:
In 106, Rabbel II Soter, one of Rome's client kings, died. This event
might have prompted the annexation of the Nabataean kingdom, but the manner
and the formal reasons for the annexation are unclear. Some epigraphic
evidence suggests a military operation, with forces from Syria and Egypt.
What is known is that by 107, Roman legions were stationed in the area
around Petra and Bostra, as is shown by a papyrus found in Egypt.
The furthest south the Romans occupied (or, better, garrisoned, adopting
a policy of having garrisons at key points in the desert) was Hegra, over
300 kilometres (190 mi) south-west of Petra. The empire gained what
became the province of Arabia Petraea (modern southern Jordan and north
west Saudi Arabia). As Nabataea was the last client kingdom in Asia
west of the Euphrates, the annexation meant that the entire Roman East
had been provincialized, completing a trend towards direct rule that had
begun under the Flavians.
For the next seven years, Trajan ruled as a civilian emperor, to the same
acclaim as before. It was during this time that he corresponded with
Pliny the Younger on the subject of how to deal with the Christians of
Pontus, telling Pliny to continue to persecute Christians but not to accept
anonymous denounciations in the interests of justice as well as of "the
spirit of the age". People who admitted to their being Christians
and refused to recant, however, were to be executed "for obstinacy" when
non-citizens, and sent to Rome for trial if they were Roman citizens.
Trajan built several new buildings, monuments and roads in Italia and his
native Hispania. His magnificent complex in Rome raised to commemorate
his victories in Dacia (and largely financed from that campaign's loot)
– consisting of a forum, Trajan's Column, and Trajan's Market still stands
in Rome today. He was also a prolific builder of triumphal arches,
many of which survive, and a rebuilder of roads (Via Traiana and Via Traiana
One of Trajan's notable acts during this period was the hosting of a three-month
gladiatorial festival in the great Colosseum in Rome (the precise date
is unknown). Combining chariot racing, beast fights and close-quarters
gladiatorial bloodshed, this gory spectacle reputedly left 11,000 dead
(mostly slaves and criminals, not to mention the thousands of ferocious
beasts killed alongside them) and attracted a total of five million spectators
over the course of the festival. The care bestowed by Trajan on the
managing of such public spectacles led the orator Fronto to state approvingly
that Trajan had paid equal attention to entertainments as well as to serious
issues. Fronto concluded that "neglect of serious matters can cause
greater damage, but neglect of amusements greater discontent".
Devaluation of the currency:
In 107 Trajan devalued the Roman currency. He decreased the silver
purity of the denarius from 93.5% to 89% – the actual silver weight dropping
from 3.04 grams to 2.88 grams. This devaluation, coupled with the
massive amount of gold and silver carried off after Trajan's Dacian Wars,
allowed the emperor to mint a larger quantity of denarii than his predecessors.
Also, Trajan withdrew from circulation silver denarii minted before the
previous devaluation achieved by Nero, something that allows for thinking
that Trajan's devaluation had to do with political ends, such as allowing
for increased civil and military spending.
Another important act was his formalisation of the alimenta, a welfare
program that helped orphans and poor children throughout Italy. It
provided general funds, as well as food and subsidized education.
The program was supported initially out of Dacian War booty, and then later
by a combination of estate taxes and philanthropy. In general terms,
the scheme functioned by means of mortgages on Italian farms (fundi), through
which registered landowners received a lump sum from the imperial treasure,
being in return expected to pay yearly a given proportion of the loan to
the maintenance of an alimentary fund.
Although the system is well documented in literary sources and contemporary
epigraphy, its precise aims are controversial and have generated considerable
dispute among modern scholars, especially about its actual aims and scope
as a piece of welfare policy. It is usually assumed that the program
was intended to bolster citizen numbers in Italy, following the provisions
of Augustus' moral legislation (Lex Julia) favoring procreation on moral
grounds – something openly acknowledged by Pliny. Nevertheless, this
reproductive aim was anachronistic, based as it was on a view of the Roman
Empire as centered on Rome and Italy, with a purely Italian manpower base,
both increasingly no longer the case. This outdated stance was confirmed
by Pliny when he wrote that the recipients of the alimenta were supposed
to people "the barracks and the tribes" as future soldiers and electors
– two roles ill-fitted to the contemporary reality of an empire stretching
across the entire Mediterranean and ruled by an autocrat. The fact
that the scheme was restricted to Italy suggests that it might have been
conceived as a form of political privilege accorded to the original heartland
of the empire. According to the French historian Paul Petit, the
alimenta should be seen as part of a set of measures aimed towards the
economic recovery of Italy. Finley, however, thinks otherwise: in
his view, the whole scheme had as its chief aim the artificial bolstering
of the political weight of Italy, as seen, for example, in the stricture
– heartily praised by Pliny – laid down by Trajan that ordered all senators,
even when from the provinces, to have at least a third of their landed
estates in Italian territory, as it was "unseemly [...] that [they] should
treat Rome and Italy not as their native land, but as a mere inn or lodging
"Interesting and unique" as the scheme was, it remained small. The
fact that it was subsidized by means of interest payments on loans made
by landowners – mostly large ones, assumed to be more reliable debtors
– actually benefited a very low percentage of potential welfare recipients
(Paul Veyne has assumed that, in the city of Veleia, only one child out
of ten was an actual beneficiary) – thus the idea, put forth by Moses I.
Finley, that the grandiose aims amounted to at most a form of random charity,
an additional imperial benevolence. Reliance solely on loans to great
landowners (in Veleia, only some 17 square kilometers were mortgaged) restricted
funding sources even further. It seems that the mortgage scheme was
simply a way of making local notables participate, albeit in a lesser role,
in imperial benevolence. It is possible that the scheme was, to some
extent, a forced loan, something that tied unwilling landowners to the
imperial treasure in order to make them supply some funds to civic expenses.
The same notion of exploiting private – and supposedly more efficient –
management of a landed estate as a means to obtain public revenue was also
employed by other similar and lesser schemes. The senator Pliny had
endowed his city of Comum a perpetual right to an annual charge (vectigal)
of thirty thousand sestertii on one of his estates in perpetuity even after
his death (Pliny's heirs or any subsequent purchaser of the estate being
liable), with the rent thus obtained contributing to the maintenance of
Pliny's semi-private charitable foundation. With such a scheme, Pliny
probably hoped to engender enthusiasm among fellow landowners for such
philanthropic ventures. Trajan did likewise, but since "willingness
is a slippery commodity", Finley suspects that, in order to ensure Italian
landowners' acceptance of the burden of borrowing from the alimenta fund,
some "moral" pressure was exerted.
In short, the scheme was so limited in scope that it could not have fulfilled
a coherent economic or demographic purpose – it was the usual Ancient charity,
directed, not towards the poor, but to the community (in the case, the
Italian cities) as a whole. The fact that the alimenta was begun
during and after the Dacian Wars and twice came on the heels of a distribution
of money to the population of Rome (congiaria) following Dacian triumphs,
points towards a purely charitable motive. The fact that the alimenta
was restricted to Italy highlights the ideology behind it: to reaffirm
the notion of the Roman Empire as an Italian overlordship. Given
its limited scope, the plan was, nevertheless, very successful in that
it lasted for a century and a half: the last known official in charge of
it is attested during the reign of Aurelian.
The Roman Empire (red) and its clients (pink) in
117 AD during the reign of emperor Trajan.
Courtesy of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Tataryn
War against Parthia:
In 113, Trajan embarked on his last campaign, provoked by Parthia's decision
to put an unacceptable king on the throne of Armenia, a kingdom over which
the two great empires had shared hegemony since the time of Nero some fifty
As the surviving literary accounts of Trajan's Parthian War are fragmentary
and scattered, it is difficult to assign them a proper context, something
that has led to a long-running controversy about its precise happenings
and ultimate aims. Many modern historians consider that Trajan's
decision to wage war against Parthia might have had economic motives: after
Trajan's annexation of Arabia, he built a new road, Via Traiana Nova, that
went from Bostra to Aila on the Red Sea. That meant that Charax on
the Persian Gulf was the sole remaining western terminus of the Indian
trade route outside direct Roman control, and such control was important
in order to lower import prices and to limit the supposed drain of precious
metals created by the deficit in Roman trade with the Far East.
That Charax traded with the Roman Empire, there can be no doubt, as its
actual connections with merchants from Palmyra at the period are well documented
in contemporary Palmyrene epigraph, which tells of various Palmyrene citizens
honoured for holding office in Charax. Also, Charax's rulers domains
at the time possibly included the Bahrain islands (where a Palmyrene citizen
held office, shortly after Trajan's death, as satrap – but then, the appointment
was made by a Parthian king of Charax) something which offered the possibility
of extending Roman hegemony into the Persian Gulf itself. The rationale
behind Trajan's campaign, in this case, would be one of breaking down a
system of Far Eastern trade through small Semitic ("Arab") cities under
Parthia's control and to put it under Roman control instead.
In his Dacian conquests, Trajan had already resorted to Syrian auxiliary
units, whose veterans, along with Syrian traders, had an important role
in the subsequent colonization of Dacia. He had recruited Palmyrene
units into his army, including a camel unit, therefore apparently procuring
Palmyrene support to his ultimate goal of annexing Charax. It has
even been ventured that, when earlier in his campaign Trajan annexed Armenia,
he was bound to annex the whole of Mesopotamia lest the Parthians interrupt
the flux of trade from the Persian Gulf and/or foment trouble at the Roman
frontier on the Danube.
Other historians reject these motives, as the supposed Parthian "control"
over the maritime Far Eastern trade route was, at best, conjectural and
based on a selective reading of Chinese sources – trade by land through
Parthia seems to have been unhampered by Parthian authorities and left
solely to the devices of private enterprise. Commercial activity
in second century Mesopotamia seems to have been a general phenomenon,
shared by many peoples within and without the Roman Empire, with no sign
of a concerted Imperial policy towards it. As in the case of the
alimenta, scholars like Moses Finley and Paul Veyne have considered the
whole idea of a foreign trade "policy" behind Trajan's war anachronistic:
according to them, the sole Roman concern with the Far Eastern luxuries
trade – besides collecting toll taxes and customs – was moral and involved
frowning upon the "softness" of luxuries, but no economic policy.
In the absence of conclusive evidence, trade between Rome and India might
have been far more balanced, in terms of quantities of precious metals
exchanged: one of our sources for the notion of the Roman gold drain –
Pliny's the Younger's uncle Pliny the Elder – had earlier described the
Gangetic Plains as one of the gold sources for the Roman Empire.
Therefore, the fact that, in his controversial book on the Ancient economy,
Finley considers Trajan's "badly miscalculated and expensive assault on
Parthia" to be an example of the many Roman "commercial wars" that had
in common the fact of existing only in the books of modern historians.
The alternative view is to see the campaign as triggered by the lure of
territorial annexation and prestige, the sole motive ascribed by Cassius
Dio. As far as territorial conquest involved tax-collecting, especially
of the 25% tax levied on all goods entering the Roman Empire, the tetarte,
one can say that Trajan's Parthian War had an "economic" motive.
Also, there was the propaganda value of an Eastern conquest that would
emulate, in Roman fashion, those of Alexander the Great. The fact
that emissaries from the Kushan Empire might have attended to the commemorative
ceremonies for the Dacian War may have kindled in some Greco-Roman intellectuals
like Plutarch – who wrote about only 70,000 Roman soldiers being necessary
to a conquest of India – as well as in Trajan's closer associates, speculative
dreams about the booty to be obtained by reproducing Macedonian Eastern
conquests. Also, it is possible that the attachment of Trajan to
an expansionist policy was supported by a powerful circle of conservative
senators from Hispania committed to a policy of imperial expansion, first
among them being the all-powerful Licinius Sura. One can explain
the campaign by the fact that, for the Romans, their empire was in principle
unlimited, and that Trajan only took advantage of an opportunity to make
idea and reality coincide.
Finally, there are other modern historians who think that Trajan's original
aims were purely military and quite modest: to assure a more defensible
Eastern frontier for the Roman Empire, crossing Northern Mesopotamia along
the course of the Khabur River in order to offer cover to a Roman Armenia.
This interpretation is backed by the fact that all subsequent Roman wars
against Parthia would aim at establshing a Roman presence deep into Parthia
The campaign was carefully planned in advance: ten legions were concentrated
in the Eastern theater; since 111, the correspondence of Pliny the Younger
witnesses to the fact that provincial authorities in Bithynia had to organize
supplies for passing troops, and local city councils and their individual
members had to shoulder part of the increased expenses by supplying troops
themselves. The intended campaign, therefore, was immensely costly
from its very beginning.
Trajan marched first on Armenia, deposed the Parthian-appointed king (who
was afterwards murdered while kept in the custody of Roman troops in an
unclear incident, later described by Fronto as a breach of Roman good faith)
and annexed it to the Roman Empire as a province, receiving in passing
the acknowledgement of Roman hegemony by various tribes in the Caucasus
and on the Eastern coast of the Black Sea – a process that kept him busy
until the end of 114. At the same time, a Roman column under the
legate Lusius Quietus – an outstanding cavalry general who had signaled
himself during the Dacian Wars by commanding a unit from his native Mauretania
– crossed the Araxes river from Armenia into Media Atropatene and the land
of the Mardians (present-day Ghilan). It is possible that Quietus'
campaign had as its goal the extending of the newer, more defensible Roman
border eastwards towards the Caspian Sea and northwards to the foothills
of the Caucasus.
The chronology of subsequent events is uncertain, but it is generally believed
that early in 115 Trajan launched a Mesopotamian campaign, marching down
towards the Taurus mountains in order to consolidate territory between
the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. He placed permanent garrisons along
the way to secure the territory. While Trajan moved from west to
east, Lusius Quietus moved with his army from the Caspian Sea towards the
west, both armies performing a successful pincer movement, whose apparent
result was to establish a Roman presence into the Parthian Empire proper,
with Trajan taking the northern Mesopotamian cities of Nisibis and Batnae
and organizing a province of Mesopotamia, including the Kingdom of Osrhoene
– where King Abgaros VII submitted to Trajan publicly – as a Roman protectorate.
This process seems to have been completed at the beginning of 116, when
coins were issued announcing that Armenia and Mesopotamia had been put
under the authority of the Roman people. The area between the Khabur
River and the mountains around Singara seems to have been considered as
the new frontier, and as such received a road surrounded by fortresses.
After wintering in Antioch during 115/116 – and, according to literary
sources, barely escaping from a violent earthquake that claimed the life
of one of the consuls, M. Pedo Virgilianus – Trajan again took to the field
in 116, with a view to the conquest the whole of Mesopotamia, an overambitious
goal that eventually backfired on the results of his entire campaign.
According to some modern historians, the aim of the campaign of 116 was
to achieve a "preemptive demonstration" aiming not toward the conquest
of Parthia, but for tighter Roman control over the Eastern trade route.
However, the overall scarcity of manpower for the Roman military establishment
meant that the campaign was doomed from the start. It is noteworthy
that no new legions were raised by Trajan before the Parthian campaign,
maybe because the sources of new citizen recruits were already over-exploited.
As far as the sources allow a description of this campaign, it seems that
one Roman division crossed the Tigris into Adiabene, sweeping south and
capturing Adenystrae; a second followed the river south, capturing Babylon;
Trajan himself sailed down the Euphrates from Dura-Europos – where a triumphal
arch was erected in his honour – through Ozogardana, where he erected a
"tribunal" still to be seen at the time of Julian the Apostate's campaigns
in the same area. Having come to the narrow strip of land between
the Euphrates and the Tigris, he then dragged his fleet overland into the
Tigris, capturing Seleucia and finally the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon.
He continued southward to the Persian Gulf, when, after escaping with his
fleet a tidal bore on the Tigris, he received the submission of Athambelus,
the ruler of Charax. He declared Babylon a new province of the Empire
and had his statue erected on the shore of the Persian Gulf, after which
he sent the Senate a laurelled letter declaring the war to be at a close
and bemoaning that he was too old to go on any further and repeat the conquests
of Alexander the Great. Since Charax was a de facto independent kingdom
whose connections to Palmyra were described above, Trajan's bid for the
Persian Gulf may have coincided with Palmyrene interests in the region.
Another hypothesis is that the rulers of Charax had expansionist designs
on Parthian Babylon, giving them a rationale for alliance with Trajan.
The Parthian summer capital of Susa was apparently also occupied by the
According to late literary sources (not backed by numismatic or inscriptional
evidence) a province of Assyria was also proclaimed, apparently covering
the territory of Adiabene. Some measures seem to have been considered
regarding the fiscal administration of Indian trade – or simply about the
payment of customs (portoria) on goods traded on the Euphrates and Tigris.
It is possible that it was this "streamlining" of the administration of
the newly conquered lands according to the standard pattern of Roman provincial
administration in tax collecting, requisitions and the handling of local
potentates' prerogatives, that triggered later resistance against Trajan.
According to some modern historians, Trajan might have busied himself during
his stay on the Persian Gulf with ordering raids on the Parthian coasts,
as well as probing into extending Roman suzerainty over the mountaineer
tribes holding the passes across the Zagros Mountains into the Iranian
Plateau eastward, as well as establishing some sort of direct contact between
Rome and the Kushan Empire. No attempt was made to expand into the
Iranian Plateau itself, where the Roman army, with its relative weakness
in cavalry, would have been at a disadvantage.
However, as Trajan left the Persian Gulf for Babylon – where he intended
to offer sacrifice to Alexander in the house where he had died in 323 BC
– a sudden outburst of Parthian resistance, led by a nephew of the Parthian
king, Sanatruces, who had retained a cavalry force, possibly strengthened
by the addition of Saka archers, imperilled Roman positions in Mesopotamia
and Armenia, something Trajan sought to deal with by forsaking direct Roman
rule in Parthia proper, at least partially.
Trajan sent two armies towards Northern Mesopotamia: the first, under Lusius
Quietus, recovered Nisibis and Edessa from the rebels, probably having
King Abgarus deposed and killed in the process, while a second, under Appius
Maximus Santra (probably a governor of Macedonia), was defeated, with Santra
being killed. Later in 116, Trajan, with the assistance of Quietus
and two other legates, Marcus Erucius Clarus and Tiberius Julius Alexander
Julianus, defeated a Parthian army in a battle where Sanatruces was killed.
After re-taking and burning Seleucia, Trajan then formally deposed the
Parthian king Osroes I and put his own puppet ruler Parthamaspates on the
throne. This event was commemorated in a coin so as to be presented
as the reduction of Parthia to client kingdom status: REX PARTHIS DATUS,
"a king is given to the Parthians". That done, Trajan retreated north
in order to retain what he could of the new provinces of Armenia – where
he had already accepted an armistice in exchange for surrendering part
of the territory to Sanatruces' son Vologeses and Mesopotamia.
It was at this point that Trajan's health started to fail him. The
fortress city of Hatra, on the Tigris in his rear, continued to hold out
against repeated Roman assaults. He was personally present at the
siege, and it is possible that he suffered a heat stroke while in the blazing
Shortly afterwards, the Jews inside the Eastern Roman Empire, in Egypt,
Cyprus and Cyrene – this last province being probably the original trouble
hotspot – rose up in what probably was an outburst of religious rebellion
against the local pagans, this widespread rebellion being afterwards named
the Kitos War.
Another rebellion flared up among the Jewish communities of Northern Mesopotamia,
probably part of a general reaction against Roman occupation. Trajan
was forced to withdraw his army in order to put down the revolts.
He saw this withdrawal as simply a temporary setback, but he was destined
never to command an army in the field again, turning his Eastern armies
over to Lusius Quietus, who meanwhile had been made governor of Judaea
and might have had to deal earlier with some kind of Jewish unrest in the
province. Quietus discharged his commission successfully, so much
that the war was afterward named after him – Kitus being a corruption of
Quietus was promised a consulate in the following year (118) for his victories,
but he was killed before this could occur, during the bloody purge that
opened Hadrian's reign, in which Quietus and three other former consuls
were sentenced to death after being tried on a vague charge of conspiracy
by the (secret) court of the Praetorian Prefect Attianus. It has
been theorized that Quietus and his colleagues were executed on Hadrian's
direct orders, for fear of their popular standing with the army and their
close connections to Trajan.
In contrast, the next prominent Roman figure in charge of the repression
of the Jewish revolt, the equestrian Quintus Marcius Turbo, who had dealt
with the rebel leader from Cyrene, Loukuas, retained Hadrian's trust, eventually
becoming his Praetorian Prefect. Apparently, Hadrian could not allow
the continued existence alongside him of a group of independent-minded
senatorial generals inherited from his predecessor. As all four consulars
were senators of the highest standing and as such generally regarded as
able to take imperial power (capaces imperii), Hadrian seems to have decided
on a preemptive strike against these prospective rivals.
The Alcántara Bridge, widely hailed as a masterpiece
of Roman engineering
Statue of Trajan at Tower Hill, London
By Mihai [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)
Death and succession:
Early in 117, Trajan grew ill and set out to sail back to Italy.
His health declined throughout the spring and summer of 117, something
publicly acknowledged by the fact that a bronze bust displayed at the time
in the public baths of Ancyra showed him clearly aged and emaciated. After
reaching Selinus (modern Gazipasa) in Cilicia, which was afterwards called
Trajanopolis, he suddenly died from edema on August 8. Some say that
Trajan had adopted Hadrian as his successor, but others that it was his
wife Pompeia Plotina who assured the succession to Hadrian by keeping his
death secret and afterwards hiring someone to impersonate Trajan by speaking
with a tired voice behind a curtain, well after Trajan had died.
Dio, who tells this narrative, offers his father – the then governor of
Cilicia Apronianus – as a source, and therefore his narrative is possibly
grounded on contemporary rumor. It may also originate in Roman displeasure
at an empress meddling in political affairs.
Hadrian held an ambiguous position during Trajan's reign. After commanding
Legio I Minervia during the Dacian Wars, he had been relieved from front-line
duties at the decisive stage of the Second Dacian War, being sent to govern
the newly created province of Pannonia Inferior. He had pursued a
senatorial career without particular distinction and had not been officially
adopted by Trajan (although he received from him decorations and other
marks of distinction that made him hope for the succession). He received
no post after his 108 consulate, and no further honours other than being
made Archon eponymos for Athens in 111/112. He probably did not take
part in the Parthian War. Literary sources relate that Trajan had
considered others, such as the jurist Lucius Neratius Priscus, as heir.
However, Hadrian, who was eventually entrusted with the governorship of
Syria at the time of Trajan's death, was Trajan's cousin and was married
to Trajan's grandniece, which all made him as good as heir designate.
In addition Hadrian was born in Hispania and seems to have been well connected
with the powerful group of Spanish senators influential at Trajan's court
through his ties to Plotina and the Prefect Attianus. The fact that
during Hadrian's reign he did not pursue Trajan's senatorial policy may
account for the "crass hostility" shown him by literary sources.
Aware that the Parthian campaign was an enormous setback, and that it revealed
that the Roman Empire had no means for an ambitious program of conquests,
Hadrian's first act as emperor was to abandon – outwardly out of his own
free will – the distant and indefensible Mesopotamia and to restore Armenia,
as well as Osrhoene, to the Parthian hegemony under Roman suzerainty.
However, all the other territories conquered by Trajan were retained.
Roman friendship ties with Charax (also known by the name of Mesene) were
also retained (although it is debated whether this had to do more with
trade concessions than with common Roman policy of exploiting dissensions
amid the Empire's neighbors). Trajan's ashes were laid to rest underneath
Trajan's column, the monument commemorating his success.
Trajan was a prolific builder in Rome and the provinces, and many of his
buildings were erected by the gifted architect Apollodorus of Damascus.
Notable structures include the Baths of Trajan, Trajan's Forum, Trajan's
Column, Trajan's Bridge, Alcántara Bridge, the road and canal around
the Iron Gates (see conquest of Dacia), and possibly the Alconétar
Bridge. Some historians also attribute the construction of the Babylon
fortress in Egypt to Trajan; the remains of the fort is what is now known
as the Church of Mar Girgis and its surrounding buildings. In order
to build his forum and the adjacent brick market that also held his name
Trajan had vast areas of the surrounding hillsides leveled.
Unlike many lauded rulers in history, Trajan's reputation has survived
undiminished for nearly nineteen centuries. Ancient sources on Trajan's
personality and accomplishments are unanimously positive. Pliny the
Younger, for example, celebrates Trajan in his panegyric as a wise and
just emperor and a moral man. Cassius Dio added that he always remained
dignified and fair. After the setbacks of the third century, Trajan,
together with Augustus, became in the Later Roman Empire the paragon of
the most positive traits of the Imperial order. At the inauguration
of later Roman Emperors, the Senate would say the phrase Felicior Augusto,
melior Traiano (""be more fortunate than Augustus [and] better than Trajan").
The Christianisation of Rome resulted in further embellishment of his legend:
it was commonly said in medieval times that Pope Gregory I, through divine
intercession, resurrected Trajan from the dead and baptized him into the
Christian faith. An account of this features in the Golden Legend.
Some theologians such as Thomas Aquinas discussed Trajan as an example
of a virtuous pagan. In the Divine Comedy, Dante, following this
legend, sees the spirit of Trajan in the Heaven of Jupiter with other historical
and mythological persons noted for their justice. Also, a mural of
Trajan stopping to provide justice for a poor widow is present in the first
terrace of Purgatory as a lesson to those who are purged for being proud.
He also features in Piers Plowman. An episode referred to as the
justice of Trajan was reflected in several art works.
In the 18th-century King Charles III of Spain commissioned Anton Raphael
Mengs to paint The Triumph of Trajan on the ceiling of the banquet hall
of the Royal Palace of Madrid – considered among the best works of this
It was only during the Enlightenment that this legacy began to be contested,
when Edward Gibbon expressed doubts about the militarized character of
Trajan's reign in contrast to the "moderate" practices of his immediate
successors. Mommsen adopted a divided stance towards Trajan, at some
point of his posthumously published lectures even speaking about his "vainglory"
(Scheinglorie). Mommsen also speaks of Trajan's "insatiable, unlimited
lust for conquest". Although Mommsen had no liking for Trajan's successor
Hadrian – "a repellent manner, and a venomous, envious and malicious nature"
– he admitted that Hadrian, in renouncing to Trajan's conquests, was "doing
what the situation clearly required".
It was exactly this military character of Trajan's reign that attracted
his early twentieth century biographer, the Italian Fascist historian Roberto
Paribeni, who in his 1927 two volume biography Optimus Princeps described
Trajan's reign as the acme of the Roman principate, which he saw as Italy's
patrimony. Following in Paribeni's footsteps, the German historian
Alfred Heuss saw in Trajan "the accomplished human embodiment of the imperial
title" (die ideale Verkörperung des humanen Kaiserbegriffs).
Trajan's first English-language biography by Julian Bennett is also a positive
one in that it assumes that Trajan was an active policy-maker concerned
with the management of the empire as a whole – something his reviewer Lendon
considers an anachronistic outlook that sees in the Roman emperor a kind
of modern administrator.
During the 1980s, the Romanian historian Eugen Cizek took a more nuanced
view as he described the changes in the personal ideology of Trajan's reign,
stressing the fact that it became ever more autocratic and militarized,
especially after 112 and towards the Parthian War (as "only an universal
monarch, a kosmocrator, could dictate his law to the East"). The
biography by the German historian Karl Strobel stresses the continuity
between Domitian's and Trajan's reigns, saying that Trajan's rule followed
the same autocratic and sacred character of Domitian's, culminating in
a failed Parthian adventure intended as the crown of his personal achievement.
It is in modern French historiography that Trajan's reputation becomes
most markedly deflated: Paul Petit writes about Trajan's portraits as a
"lowbrow boor with a taste for booze and boys". For Paul Veyne, what
is to be retained from Trajan's "stylish" qualities was that he was the
last Roman emperor to think of the empire as a purely Italian and Rome-centered
hegemony of conquest. In contrast, his successor Hadrian would stress
the notion of the empire as ecumenical and of the Emperor as universal
benefactor and not kosmocrator.
Information was taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
at this URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trajan