Forum of Trajan

Forum of Trajan

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The Forum of Trajan or “Foro di Traiano” in Rome was built by the Emperor Trajan from 107 AD and it was inaugurated in 112 AD. Trajan, who reigned from 98 to 117 AD, built his magnificent Forum of Trajan after emerging victorious from several military campaigns, particularly the conquest of Dacia.

The crowning element of the Forum of Trajan is colonna Traiana or “Trajan’s column”. Dedicated in 113 AD yet still incredibly well preserved, this impressive structure comprises a 98 foot column adorned with elaborate friezes chronicling the Dacian Wars down to the very last detail, including the final expulsion of the Dacians from their native soil.

It is worth noting that the statue at the peak of Trajan’s Column is not of the emperor, but of Saint Peter, an addition of Pope Sixtus V in 1587.

Originally, the Forum of Trajan would have contained several buildings, including the two libraries which would have flanked Trajan’s Column. The remains of one of these can still be discerned today near the Foro Imperiale as can some other buildings.

One of the more visible sets of remains belongs to the Basilica Ulpia, an administrative centre, the foundations and some granite columns of which are visible next to Trajan’s Column.

However, it is Trajan’s Markets, the Ancient Roman centre built in the Forum of Trajan, which forms the star attraction. The brick walls of the semi-circular structure of Trajan’s Markets stand in the centre of Rome and, whilst historians once thought that this was the Roman equivalent of a shopping centre, recent evidence suggests it may have played more of a financial or administrative role.

At the moment, only the lower section of the Trajan’s Markets is open to the public, but the whole site can always be viewed from the streets above.

Trajan's Column

Trajan's column, erected in 113 CE, stands in Trajan's Forum in Rome and is a commemorative monument decorated with reliefs illustrating Roman emperor Trajan's two military campaigns in Dacia (modern Romania). The column was the first of many such monuments and it is also an invaluable source of information on the Roman Army and a lasting testimony to the Roman love of monumental architecture constructed to celebrate military victories and Roman leaders.

The column stands 38 m tall (125 ft) and consists of 19 drums of Italian white marble. It stands on an 8-block base and is topped by a two-block pedestal. Originally, a 4.8 m (16 ft) bronze statue of Trajan stood on the top pedestal but this was replaced by a statue of St. Peter in 1588 CE. The column was in all likelihood conceived by Trajan's architect Apollodoros of Damascus as a commemoration of the emperor's victorious Dacian campaigns of c. 101-2 and 105-6 CE. On the Emperor's death in 117 CE his ashes were buried within the foundations of the column.


The irregular perspective and presence of over 2,600 figures carved in low relief spiralling around the column create a lively 200 m long narrative of 155 key scenes from the campaigns in Dacia with Trajan himself present in many diverse situations such as leading the army, judging prisoners, and holding councils of war. The two campaigns, starting from the base, are presented in an approximate chronology of major events and each campaign is separated by a scene with a shield and victory trophies.

Most individual scenes on the column run into each other but sometimes scenes are separated by a feature of landscape such as rocks, trees and even buildings which indicate a change of narrative scene. Figures are generally two-thirds life-size and perspective is achieved by representing scenes as though they have been tilted towards the viewer resulting in the background figures being shown above the figures in the foreground. The reliefs were originally painted in colour and traces of this survived up to the 18th century CE. Erected in the Forum of Trajan, the column's sculpture would have been much more visible from the two libraries - one Greek and the other Latin - which originally stood either side of the column.


The column stands on a pedestal which also carries relief sculpture, this time showing captured Dacian weapons and armour and four Imperial eagles carrying victory garlands. The base also has a lengthy inscription on the southeast side which uses 10cm high capital letters to indicate that the monument is dedicated in honour of Trajan by the Senate and People of Rome (SPQR) in 113 CE. The inscription also indicates that the monument was designed to show how the surrounding site had been cleared for such great works as the column itself and Trajan's Forum in general. This was achieved through the column actually serving as a viewing platform. A door in the pedestal gives access to an interior spiral staircase which climbs within the column to allow access to the top platform pedestal. The staircase is entirely carved out of the solid stone and is lit by 40 small windows set within the column at regular intervals. The viewing platform originally had a metal rail and could accommodate up to 15 people who would have admired the magnificent buildings of Rome spread out below in all directions.

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The column and its spiral narrative sculpture is an invaluable source of information concerning the Roman army and reveals unique details of weapons, armour, ships, equipment, troop formations, medical treatment and logistics. The column is a tour de force of propaganda art and the artists were not necessarily concerned with accurately portraying details, nevertheless, many scenes are corroborated by other sources and much basic information must surely have conformed to the viewers' knowledge and expectations of the contemporary Roman military. In addition, the column, famous even in Roman times and also appearing on Trajan's coins, inspired similar commemorative monuments in later Roman times, the Middle Ages and even as recently as Napoleon's Vendôme column in Paris, erected in 1806 CE, which also commemorates the Emperor's military campaigns.


Design Edit

The continuous helical frieze winds 25 times from base to capital, and was in its time an architectural innovation. [7] The design was adopted by later emperors such as Marcus Aurelius. The narrative band expands from about 1 metre (3.3 feet) at the base of the column to 1.2 metres (3.9 feet) at the top. [8] The scenes unfold continuously. Often a variety of different perspectives are used in the same scene, so that more can be revealed (e.g., a different angle is used to show men working behind a wall).

Historical content portrayed Edit

Narrative Edit

The relief portrays Trajan's two victorious military campaigns against the Dacians the lower half illustrating the first (101–102), and the top half illustrating the second (105–106). These campaigns were contemporary to the time of the Column's building. Throughout, the frieze repeats standardized scenes of imperial address (adlocutio), sacrifice (lustratio), and the army setting out on campaign (profectio). [9] Scenes of battle are very much a minority on the column instead it emphasizes images of orderly soldiers carrying out ceremony and construction.

The war against Dacia was one of conquest and expansion. Therefore, with the aim of the Dacian Campaigns being the incorporation and integration of Dacia into the Roman Empire as a Roman province, depictions of violent action towards foreign women and children are nonexistent. [7] Wartime violence in general seems to have been downplayed. [7]

Some scholars suggest the lack of battle scenes and large number of building scenes is a propaganda constructed specifically for the urban population of Rome (the primary audience), addressing their fear and distrust of the army by depicting its warfare as one with little collateral damage. [7]

Key specific events portrayed are the first crossing of the Danube by the Roman legion, Trajan's voyage up the Danube, the surrender of the Dacians at the close of the first war, the great sacrifice by the Danube bridge during the second war, the assault on the Dacian capital, and the death of the Dacian king Decebalus. [10]

The two sections are separated by a personification of Victory writing on a shield flanked on either side by Trophies.

Figures and sets Edit

Great care is taken to distinguish the men and women from both sides of the campaign as well as the ranks within these distinct groups. The scenes are crowded with sailors, soldiers, statesmen and priests, showing about 2,500 figures in all. It also exists as a valuable source of information on Roman and barbarian arms and methods of warfare (such as forts, ships, weapons, etc.) and costume. The relief shows details such as a ballista or catapult. The precise details create a strong effect of verisimilitude the designer presents the images as objective historical truth. [7]

The emperor Trajan is depicted realistically in the Veristic style, making 59 appearances as the central hero among his troops. [11] The portrayal of the Roman army as relatively gentle may have been designed to support Trajan's image as a man of "justice, clemency, moderation, and restraint". [11]

Women Edit

Women for the most part occupy and define the margins of the scenes. However, mortal females in Roman state art are so rare, it is remarkable that they are included at all in a war monument. In the male discourse of warfare, women are a visual trope that develops further the idea of subjugation by feminizing the foreign conquered. [7]

However, on the Column is "one of the most unusual, disturbing, and violent depictions of women in Roman art, the torture scene." [7] In this unusual scene, four Dacian women are depicted torturing two naked men.

Today, the Column of Trajan is the most prominent architectural feature of Trajan's Forum, left nearly intact but now isolated from its original setting. The Column was placed toward the northernmost point of the forum, acting as the focal point of the entire forum complex. It was surrounded on three sides by two flanking libraries and the Basilica Ulpia. The two libraries to the northeast and southwest of the Column were for the study of scrolls written in both Latin and Greek. [12] These libraries were built in tandem with the Column. [13] They apparently included upper level viewing platforms for two sides of the column. By having an elevated vantage point, the figures of the scenes, carved in shallow relief and detailed with paint and metal fittings, could be seen more closely (nevertheless it remained impossible for the ancient viewer to follow sequentially the continuous spiral of the reliefs). The problem with visibility of the upper areas is further apparent when we compare Trajan's Column to the Column of Marcus Aurelius. The figures in the later Column of Marcus Aurelius are more deeply cut and even simplified over the height of the shaft because there were no surrounding buildings to serve as viewing platforms. The different carving style seems to have been adopted to enhance visibility.

The two libraries flanking the Column helped to further the emperor's program of propaganda. In addition to serving as viewing platforms for the Column, they housed valuable works of literature for the people of Rome. Surely one important text kept here was Trajan's own account of the Dacian Wars, now lost. The reliefs on the Column documenting the Dacian campaigns would have provided a vivid complement to Trajan's account of the wars. The people of Rome were reminded of his victories every time they enjoyed the open space and amenities of the forum. [14] The combination of the Column and the magnificent buildings that surrounded it created an awe-inspiring spectacle.

It is unclear whether the Column was meant to serve a commemorative function or as a propaganda piece. Traditional scholarship held that the Column was a glorifying monument, upholding Trajan as Rome's great emperor. However, recent reconstructions of Trajan's Forum have determined that any wide view of the Column would have been mostly obstructed by two libraries in the Forum which tightly bookended it. Also, because it would have been difficult to follow the spiral frieze from end to end (walking in circles with head inclined), the Column's narrative power would have been fairly limited.

On the other hand, as French archaeologist Paul Veyne notes, the relief could be read "vertically" from below, with the figure of the emperor recognizable across the bands of images—just as, on the Colonne Vendôme, Napoleon's figure can be picked up, scene after scene. Additionally, the two libraries surrounding it provided platforms from which to observe the Column if the viewer stood on the top floors, making the complete view of frieze much more visible.

While there is certainly evidence that the Column was not put in an ideal spot for visibility, it is impossible to reject the Column as some form of a glorification structure. There is the significant point that the Column was extremely challenging to construct, and so it is unlikely that it would have been placed in the Forum with the intentions of being hidden or out of plain sight. [14]

There is also the important idea of the Column as a symbol for Trajan. Trajan's ashes were buried in a chamber at the base of the Column. At the top of the Column was a statue of Trajan. The ground level of the Forum, which is a center of life for Romans, is where the earthly remains of Trajan are buried. The Column from the base goes up, taking a viewer through Trajan's triumph in the Dacian wars, and (as originally constructed) finishes with a statue of Trajan above the forum. Considering the practice of deification of emperors which was expected during this time period, especially of glorious Trajan, the symbolism may be interpreted as Trajan's earthly remains staying in the Forum with the Roman people while his conquests ascend him up into the heavens. [14]

The Column acting as a funerary monument has also been considered. After Trajan's death in 117, the Roman Senate voted to have Trajan's ashes buried in the Column's square base, which is decorated with captured Dacian arms and armor. His ashes and those of his wife, Plotina, were set inside the base in golden urns (which later disappeared from the monument). One reading of this is that Trajan may have intended the Column to be his final resting place from the project's inception, and that the similarities in design to other funerary structures made it a natural choice for the Roman Senate. [15] In particular, the circumambulation demanded of onlookers of the Column's frieze is evocative of Roman funerary practice, drawing attention toward the center – and consequently, the finial of Trajan.

Perhaps the simplest interpretation is provided by the inscription written above the entrance (translated below): that the mere existence of Column was an engineering marvel due to the immense excavation efforts necessary for its construction. [16]

Cite This Work

APA Style

Academy, S. A. H. a. K. (2014, December 03). Trajan's Forum. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

Academy, Smarthistory, Art History at Khan. "Trajan's Forum." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified December 03, 2014.

MLA Style

Academy, Smarthistory, Art History at Khan. "Trajan's Forum." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 03 Dec 2014. Web. 16 Jun 2021.

Forum of Trajan - History

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Reconstruction drawing of the Forum of Trajan (Kevin Lee Sarring/James E. Packer) [LARGER IMAGE]

To the tourist, the ruins of Trajan's Forum, 16 feet below modern street level in the heart of Rome, resemble pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. These are the ruins of an exceptional monument, begun during Trajan's principate (A.D. 98-117) and finished by his successor, Hadrian, in A.D. 128. Though the forum was described by the historian Ammianus Marcellinus (A.D. 330-395) as "a gigantic complex. beggaring description and never again to be imitated by mortal men," today's battered remains convey little of its past glory.

Over the past two and one-half decades, I have studied excavation records and depictions of the forum on Roman coins and the Forma Urbis, an ancient plan of the city. Between 1985 and 1987, architect Kevin Lee Sarring and I documented the surviving stone fragments and produced a new map of the forum. East and west of the forum's central plaza stood Corinthian colonnades, behind each of which was a hemicycle (semicircular hall). At the north end of the plaza was the Basilica Ulpia, a law court. Beyond that were two identical libraries flanking the Column of Trajan, decorated with a continuous spiral relief that chronicles the emperor's conquest of Dacia (modern Romania) between A.D. 101 and 106.

The forum's remains in modern Rome, with Trajan's Column to the right and those of the basilica in the center. (Andrew L. Slayman) [LARGER IMAGE]

Trajan's Forum was intended as a visual realization of its builder's political propaganda. The extensive use of expensive, imported colored marble emphasized imperial power and wealth. The forum's ornamentation combined symbols of Trajan's Dacian victories with those of deification and worship of the emperors. The simplicity of its forms constituted a powerful visual link with the Forum of Augustus, the empire's founder. And the entire forum was a biography in stone, revealing one after another the stages in the life of the heroic Trajan as he progressed from mortality to divinity.

Over the past two years, a UCLA group has cooperated with me and Sarring in the construction of a virtual-reality model of the forum. At the same time, the Roman computer firm Infobyte is producing a second three-dimensional model of the Basilica Ulpia, part of a larger undertaking called the Imperial Forums in Virtual Reality. New excavations are under way, directed by the Italian archaeologist Roberto Meneghini, at several key points in the forum to be finished by 2000, they will form part of a new Museum of the Imperial Forums.

James E. Packer is a professor of classics at Northwestern University and author of The Forum of Trajan in Rome (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997). His work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Getty Research Institute, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and Northwestern University.

Trajan vs Aurelian

I'd say the stronger match-up for Roman warrior emperors is Aurelian vs Constantine, but I do have a bias for the later emperors. But my answer is Aurelian (those who know me on here can skip this post, as it's my stock standard spiel haha):

Aurelian was a career soldier-turned-emperor who reigned for a mere five years (270-275), and he appears to have been quite extraordinary. He played a decisive role as chief general of the cavalry during Claudius II's war against the Goths (269-270), and he appears to have also served as a cavalry general in Claudius' Alemannic campaign, Gallienus' campaign against Aureolus, and Gallienus' Gothic war (267-268). Upon becoming emperor, he then proceeded to lead an incredible number of successful campaigns during a very short reign, defending and reuniting a fractured empire. Note the following achievements:

1. Defeated Quintillus (270).
2. Defeated a Vandal incursion into Pannonia (270/1).
3. Defeated a major Iuthungian invasion of Italy with two major victories (271) - this followed two earlier Alemannic/Iuthungian invasions of Italy (during the 260s) - Aurelian's defeat over this third invasion ended Germanic aggression against Italy until Alaric and Radagaisus in the 400s.
4. Put down a rebellion in Rome (271).
5(?). Defeated the usurpers Domitianus in Narbonese Gaul and Septimius in Dalmatia (271) - there is a question mark here, since these two may have been defeated by loyal subordinates.
6. In a major victory, he expelled Goths from the Balkans and launched a punitive expedition across the Danube against their homeland, killing the Gothic leader Cannabas (272) - Ammianus (31.5.17) considers this the most decisive victory over the Goths of the third century.
7. Defeated the Palmyrene Empire of Zenobia, with major victories won at Tyana, Immae, Daphne, Emesa and Palmyra (272)
8. Possibly defeated a Persian mercenary force during the risky desert approach to Palmyra (so the sources suggest), and certainly fought off Palmyra's Arabic allies.
9. Defeated the Carpi (273)
10. Defeated a second Palmyrene rebellion, with a subordinate putting down a related rebellion in Egypt (273)
11. Defeated the Gallic Empire of Tetricus (274) - supposedly Tetricus betrayed his own army to Aurelian, recognizing that he had little chance against Aurelian and not trusting in the loyalty of his own soldiers. His army regardless fought and lost against that of Aurelian in a huge battle at the Catalaunian Fields. With this, the reunification of the empire was completed.
12. Dealt with unrest in Gaul (275)
13. Defeated a Germanic incursion into Raetia (275)
14. Campaigned against the Goths raiding Thrace and Asia Minor (275)

Against Zenobia, Aurelian toppled Zenobia's regime within the space of a few months in 272, during the height of the Third-Century Crisis. Despite potential criticism, he first withdrew Rome's military and administrative presence from trans-Danubian Dacia, thereby rationalizing the long and undermanned Danubian frontier from which he collected troops, His campaign against Zenobia then involved a large-scale pincer movement. Aurelian marched through Asia Minor and invaded northern Syria, while the future-emperor Probus landed by sea in Egypt, retook the province and marched through Palestine and Phoenicia to southern Syria. Nathanael Andrade plausibly conjectures that the legion in Arabia was persuaded to establish a third front.

He was also a keen tactician. As mentioned before, he served as a cavalry commander under Gallienus and then Claudius Gothicus, and played a decisive role in Claudius' war against the Goths. He won the first victory over the Goths with his cavalry alone, rushing to the scene of conflict before the arrival of Claudius. Claudius then defeated the Goths in the Battle of Naissus, but Zosimus says that the Romans won by drawing the Goths into an ambush through a pretended flight (1.43.2), which suggests a prominent role for Aurelian's cavalry and appears similar to Aurelian's tactics against Palmyra (see below). Claudius then trapped the Goths in the Haemus Mountains, and the Goths made an attempt at breaking free. Claudius sent in the infantry to stop the breakout without providing cavalry support. The Goths butchered much of the infantry, and were only saved when Aurelian and his cavalry rushed in to help. For the rest of the campaign Aurelian's cavalry harassed the Goths incessantly, diminishing their numbers, slaughtering stragglers and breaking up the Gothic army into smaller, manageable groups.

Against Zenobia, at the Battle of Immae he wore down her cataphracts with false retreats using the Moorish and Dalmatian cavalry, before slaughtering them when they were sufficiently exhausted. He attempted the same tactic on one of the flanks at the Battle of Emesa, but it started to go awry since Zenobia's heavy cavalry pressed down particularly hard on Aurelian's light cavalry. Nevertheless, the cataphracts lost order in their charge, and Aurelian's legionaries wheeled about to the flank and turned the tides, massacring the cataphracts. Against the cataphracts in this battle, Aurelian also made strong use of Palestinians wielding clubs and staves, who had defected to Aurelian after the Battle of Immae. Constantine and Constantius II would repeat this use of bludgeoning weapons against cataphracts at Turin (312) and Singara (343) respectively, although the technique may have a precursor in Caracalla's supposed training of club-wielding Spartans.

Aurelian did perhaps suffer a defeat to the Iuthungi near Placentia in 271, when the Iuthungi made a surprise attack. The Historia Augusta claims that Aurelian suffered this defeat during the Iuthungian invasion of Italy, before going on to defeat them once at the Metaurus and again (and most decisively) at the Altar of Fortuna. On the other hand, the Epitome de Caesaribus claims that he won all three battles. The Historia Augusta is notoriously unreliable and laden with blatant fiction, and Udo Hartmann, for instance, has argued that we should therefore accept the Epitome de Caesaribus, in which case Aurelian may have defeated two or three different barbarian bands at three different locations. Then again, the Historia Augusta has no clear reason to invent such a narrative, and the Epitome's account is only a brief notice, which may therefore be careless or mistaken in its content. If Aurelian did suffer a defeat, he would of course not be the only great commander to suffer a defeat, and he in any case managed to recover quickly enough to convincingly defeat the invasion soon afterwards.

Interestingly, despite a reputation for cruelty (largely on account of his having executed senators accused of involvement in the rebellion of 271, and interwoven with his very punitive approach to corruption), Aurelian made repeated use of clemency to achieve security and reunification for the empire. He gave both the Vandal (270) and Iuthungi (271) invaders the possibility to hand over their loot and prisoners and depart imperial territory before he fought them in battle. His quashing of the rebellion in 271 was followed by the institution of improved food rations in Rome, including a pork dole, and the building of the Aurelian Wall. During his 272 campaign against the Palmyrene regime he made a sustained show of clemency in relation to civilians, military units and high-ranking supporters, a practice that assisted Zenobia to hemorrhage support. Indeed, he took the time between the victories at Immae and Emesa to receive the defections of units from Mesopotamia, Syria, Phoenicia and Palestine. After Emesa, Aurelian marched against Palmyra itself, assisted by the Tanukh Confederation, and his units captured Zenobia as she attempted to cross the Euphrates in her flight to Persia. He spared the life of Zenobia, marrying her to a senator and resettling her in Italy. His reputation for clemency thus appears to have preceded him when in 274 he marched against the Romano-Gallic regime, accepting the defection of their emperor Tetricus (!), who in turn became the Regulator of Lucania.

He strengthened the military system with numerous new roads, fortifications, and a multitude of provincial mints to fund the army. He combated corruption in the army and provinces to the point that he became an anti-corruption meme. Unfortunately, his harsh approach to corruption led to fears among some of the bureaucrats and officers, and eventually resulted in the following.

In 275 he was assassinated in a conspiracy involving some of his secretaries and officers. Nevertheless, it is telling that the assassins fled to Asia Minor, and that the army did not organize a replacement, but deferred to the senate to appoint their next emperor. This was completely at odds with practice at the time. It shows that the army was blindsided by Aurelian's death and had not been anticipating his replacement in any meaningful way. This seems telling, considering that between 235 and 285 numerous emperors were appointed and replaced by the army. The imperial field army was loyal to Aurelian despite the third-century zeitgeist, and his successors Tacitus and then Probus made sure to hunt down Aurelian's assassins.

Address, opening hours and admission

Address: Via dei Fori Imperiali – Rome. Opening Hours and Admission: The Trajan Forum can be visited free of charge from Via dei Fori Imperiali.

History and description

Trajan’s Forum has its entrance on Via Quattro Novembre close to the steps of Via Magnanapoli. You first have to go through a tunnel to reach the most beautiful and most recent of the Fori Imperiali.

Before descending you can also climb the Torre delle Milizie. This is a 12th century structure that belonged to the medieval headquarters of the Knights of Rhodes. You will be rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view.

The Forum of Trajan was built between 107 and 113. Like the Markets of Trajan it was designed by the Greek architect Apollodorus of Damascus.

The reason for the construction of this Forum was the emperor’s conquest conquest of Dacia (nowadays Romania). Trajan was successfully invaded here in 101 and in 105.

It was a very large project. An enormous equestrian statue of the emperor himself stood in the middle of an open space surrounded by a colonnade. A large basilica and two libraries also belonged to the complex.

There are still fragments of statues everywhere and pedestals with leggible inscriptions. Most impressive, however, are the gigantic grey marble columns of the Basilica Ulpia.

Behind the Basilica Ulpia stands Trajan’s Column, with intricate bas-reliefs depicting Trajan‘s victory. The monument originally stood between the two libraries. These were equipped with vantage points from which one could study the reliefs.

Romanian History and Culture

Rome Trajan's Forum and Column built with Dacian Gold,  Tropheum Trajani- Adamclisi, Romania

"And he set up in the Forum an enormous column, to serve at once as a monument to himself and as a memorial of his work in the Forum. For that entire section had been hilly and he had cut it down for a distance equal to the height of the column, thus making the Forum level."

Cassius Dio, Roman History (LXVIII.16.3)

"But when he came to the Forum of Trajan, a creation which in my view has no like under the cope of heaven and which even the gods themselves must agree to admire, he stood transfixed with astonishment, surveying the giant fabric around him its grandeur defies description and can never again be approached by mortal men."

The wonderment of the emperor Constantius II when he first visited Rome in AD 357 is understandable. The last and most magnificent of the imperial fora, the Forum of Trajan (or, later, Forum Ulpium, from Ulpius, Trajan's family name) was constructed under the direction of the architect Apollodorus, who sought to surpass all that had gone before, the plan and scale (and lines of trees) from the Temple of Peace, its colonnades and hemicycles improving upon the Forum of Augustus, the curved ends taken from the Forum Transitorium, and the Basilica Ulpia larger and more fine than those of Aemilia and Julia. So was the past, both architecturally and politically, continued and commemorated. By the time Constantius visited, the Forum Trajani had existed for almost two-and-a-half centuries and the capitol of the empire had shifted to Constantinople. And yet, however faded, its visual effect still was a profound expression of Rome's former grandeur.

Initiated by Domitian (Aurelius Victor, XIII.5), who began to clear the area as part of a larger plan to integrate the forum with its predecessors (which included the Forum Transitorium that subsequently was dedicated by Nerva), work halted with the emperor's assassination and damnatio in AD 96. Construction was renewed after Trajan's victorious return from Dacia (Romania) in AD 106-107, funded by the spoils of that war (and perhaps to coincide with his decennalia). Too, Domitian's own building projects may have depleted the treasury. Indeed, says Suetonius (Life, XIII.2), "He erected so many and such huge vaulted passage-ways and arches in the various regions of the city, adorned with chariots and triumphal emblems, that on one of them someone wrote in Greek: 'It is enough.'"

The forum comprises two parts: a large public square or piazza (Area Fori), flanked by colonnades and closed at one end by a perimeter wall and at the other by the Basilica Ulpia, which effectively divided this part of the forum (which was dedicated on January 1, AD 112), from the Column of Trajan and libraries that were hidden behind it and from the Temple of Divine Trajan, all of which may have been a later creation of Hadrian, himself.

The forum constantly revealed itself to the visitor, the colonnades hiding the hemicycles behind them, as well as the apses of the basilica, which, in turn, hid the libraries and most of the column. The temple, itself, could only be seen only after one had come to the peristyle around the column. There is, then, a sense of unfolding surprises, with each perspective revealing something new.

Curved around the eastern hemicycle (exedra) of the forum was Trajan's Markets, a complex of offices or possibly shops displaced by construction of the forum.

References: Trajan Optimus Princeps: A Life and Times (1997) by Julian Bennett The Architecture of Roman Temples: The Republic to the Middle Empire (2005) by John W. Stamper Ammianus Marcellinus: The Later Roman Empire (1986) translated by Walter Hamilton (Penguin Classics) Pausanius: Description of Greece (1926) translated by W. H. S. Jones (Loeb Classical Library).

The Forum of Trajan in Rome: A Study of the Monuments in Brief (2001) by James E. Packer is an abridgement of the author's original three-volume study, which was published in 1997 and costs $675. The paperback edition has allowed for some revisions of the original restorations, including three-dimensional models, and surely must be one of the great bargains in book publishing.

   There are three quick sources to study Trajan's Column as well as the Two Dacian Wars illustrated by it, two at the magnificent website of Bill Thayer: LacusCurtius

  1. Trajan's Column: A Record of the Dacian Campaign and a Monument to Logistics by Bill Thayer

Trajan’s Dacian Wars

From their powerful realm north of the Danube River, the Dacians regularly raided the Roman Empire. In A.D. 101 Trajan fortified the border and invaded with tens of thousands of troops. Two years of war led to a negotiated peace, which the Dacians promptly broke. Trajan returned in 105 and crushed them.

Present-day city names are in parentheses. Map: Jerome N. Cookson, Alexander Stegmaier, and Matthew Twombly, NGM Staff. Sources: Ioana A. Oltean, University of Exeter Jon Coulston, University of St. Andrews, Scotland

Map: Jerome N. Cookson, Alexander Stegmaier, and Matthew Twombly, NGM Staff. Sources: Ioana A. Oltean, University of Exeter Jon Coulston, University of St. Andrews, Scotland

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. (Trajan was born to Roman parents in what is now Spain.)

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.

Among Roman politicians, �ian” was synonymous with double-dealing. The historian Tacitus called them 𠇊 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 101 Trajan moved to punish the troublesome Dacians. After nearly two years of battle Decebalus, the Dacian king, negotiated a treaty with Trajan, then promptly broke it.

Rome had been betrayed one time too many. During the second invasion Trajan didn’t mess around. 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.”

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.

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 a visual narrative that winds from the column’s base to its top, Trajan and his soldiers triumph over the Dacians. In this scene from a plaster and marble-dust cast made between 1939 and 1943, Trajan (at far left) watches a battle, while two Roman auxiliaries present him with severed enemy heads.

National History Museum of Romania

Trajan’s Column may be propaganda, but archaeologists say there’s an element of truth to it. Excavations at Dacian sites, including Sarmizegetusa, continue to reveal traces of a civilization far more sophisticated than implied by �rbarian,” the dismissive term the Romans used.

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.

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.

The towering beech trees that have grown thick over Sarmizegetusa blot out the sun, casting a chill shade even on a warm day. A broad flagstone road leads from the thick, half-buried walls of a fortress down to a wide, flat meadow.

This green expanse𠅊 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.

This scene shows Roman soldiers loading plunder onto pack animals after defeating Decebalus, the Dacian king. Casts such as this one preserve details on Trajan’s Column that pollution has eroded.

Trajan’s Market: Possibly the world’s oldest known public shopping center

While the very term of Trajan’s Market was probably coined in the 20th century, the complex in itself stands as a testament to the infrastructural legacy of ancient Rome, constructed sometime between 107-110 AD. In essence, the structure epitomized the thriving urban culture of Rome, thus in many ways mirroring the burgeoning Roman Empire of the period that reached its greatest extent during Trajan’s rule. As for the architectural side of affairs, the complex was possibly built under the supervision of Apollodorus of Damascus, Trajan’s close aide and the architect also responsible for building the emperor’s forum and famed column.

Inside the Trajan’s Market. Source: Rome Tourism and Travel Guide.

In terms of spatial scope, Trajan’s Market was a massive commercial area comprising over 150 shops and offices. In that regard, the entire structure is actually multi-storied, with its different levels being built into the terraced hillside behind, and connected by accessible staircases. Among these the ground level alcoves directly faced the street, thus pertaining to the various small shops – with their sizes being so tiny that the customers were expected to make their purchase at the door without entering the space. These were accompanied by arcades of shops on the higher level, while the upper-most level housed a central building that was (probably) used as an apartment block. The commercial building, which additionally served as the main office for Cura Annonae (food ration supply), was also extended along its left wing that functioned as a fully covered shopping arcade.

Now from the structural perspective, Trajan’s Market is often viewed as one of the brilliant examples of Imperial Roman architecture, with its core being constructed from concrete, while the facades were draped in arrangement of bricks. Interestingly enough, the very slope of the rear hill was terraced as a solution to prevent landslide in the proximate area, which would have acted as a protective measure for the nearby Forum (a triumphal project that represented Trajan’s hard won victory in the Second Dacian War). To that end, the lower levels were intentionally designed in a roundish manner so as to withstand the pressure from the hill – thus resulting in a Great Hemicycle that has served its structural purpose for over 1,900 years.

Artist’s reconstruction of the Trajan’s Market. Source: StudyDroid.

The structural ambit was also complemented by a range of visual and architectural elements. As Mark Cartwright writes in Ancient History –

The decorative semi-circular façade includes brick pilasters with travertine bases and capitals framing each archway on the second level. Decorative brick-work gives an added elegance, including entablatures of carved brick and alternate triangular and semi-circular pediments. White stucco would have once covered much of this brickwork and the pilasters, entablature, and pediments display evidence of having once been painted red.

And finally, much like its modern-day counterparts, the Trajan’s Market possibly even had refreshment areas that served drinks to the shoppers. And as for the commercial aspect of (possibly) the world’s oldest known public shopping center, the multifarious products sold at the market came from the various corners of the Roman Empire, thus ranging from fruits, vegetables, fish to oil, wine and even spices.

Watch the video: A Tour and History of Trajans Forum u0026 Markets


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