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 The Emperor Trajan

  Trajan was born of a prominent family of Italian origin that lived in Spain. His father had been a prominent consular under the Flavians, and Trajan himself was devoted to a military career. For instance he served for ten years as a military tribune (junior officer in a legion, six serving in each legion), though one year's service would have sufficed. Not too much is known of his earlier service, though in 89 he dutifully brought a legion from Spain to put down Saturninus' revolt.

Trajan was a forthright, seemingly good-natured individual, who was well suited to the role of emperor. He won the respect of the senators without demanding it, and having a soldierly disposition, he refused the kind of sycophantic adulation that had been so pleasing to Domitian. Though the senators granted as much praise to Trajan as they had to Domitian and addressed him in the same terms, they did so through natural affection rather than fear. Pliny the Younger was given a suffect consulship in 100, and his speech of thanks is preserved in a more elaborated form as a pamphlet. In it he uses the same sort of adulatory language as was found in the case of Domitian, yet at the same time Trajan is constantly praised for acting as if he were no different from an ordinary senator. Clearly, it is not the Imperial powers as such that were the souce of discontent under Domitian as the demeanor employed in exercising them, and the gratitude felt by the likes of Tacitus and Pliny was just as authentic as that felt in 27 B.C. for Augustus.

Nerva's position resembled that of Galba. A man raised suddenly to the throne, Nerva had no one in particular to rely on, and many whose loyalties still lay with the old dynasty were hostile. Once his helplessness before the rancor of the praetorians became known it would only be a short time before the events of 69 repeated themselves, and a provincial governor rose up against him.

Nerva himself had no heir and clearly needed one. He considered abdication, but wiser counsel prevailed. Although he had cousins of his own in whose veins the blood of the Julio-Claudians flowed (albeit rather tenuously), Nerva had apparently grasped the lesson of 69 and chose to adopt a provincial governor who commanded a large army. The choice fell on M. Ulpius Traianus (Trajan), the governor of Upper Germany. We do not know why Nerva made the decision that he did, but the legions of Upper Germany were those that could seize Roman most readily, as Vitellius had shown in 69.

Trajan was adopted in absentia with full ceremony in Oct 97, and invested with all the imperial powers. In January of 98 Trajan and Nerva held the ordinary consulship together, and Nerva obligingly died on the 25th. Trajan became emperor with no difficulty. He was sufficiently confident of his position that he remained on the Rhine until 99, restoring Roman defences in the area. Trajan simply wrote to the senate accepting the titles voted to him (apart from that of pater patriae, which took after a suitable interval) and swore an oath to abstain from tyranny.

As emperor , Trajan took personal command of a number of wars on the frontiers(Dacian Campaign, Parthian Campaign), and until the end he was crowned with the kind of success that had not been seen since the days of Augustus. He was the first emperor to disregard Augustus' advice not to expand the empire, and the glory he thereby gained greatly enhanced his prestige and popularity.. What exactly Trajan was planning in 117 is not clear. . In the spring or early summer he is found besieging the city of Hatra in Assyria. This failed, as, it seems, did the emperor's health. He withdrew to Antioch, where he had a stroke. Though he had wished to return to campaigning in Mesopotamia, he now reluctantly decided to return to Italy. On the journey, he got markedly worse, and on August 9 died in the Cilician town of Selinus.

The Forum

In commemoration of his conquest of Dacia , Trajan used part of his booty to build the fanciest of the Imperial forum. His was five times the size of Augustus', and construction involved the removal a vast amounts of dirt from the Quirinal hill. A huge column was built to record the height of the removed earth (with the pedestal the column stands 128 feet tall), and in a spiral around the column are engraved scenes of the conquest of Dacia, which visitors would have been able to view from the surrounding portico. The complex included a basilica (courthouse), two libraries and a temple . The column was crowned by a statue of the emperor (since replaced with St. Peter) and his ashes were placed in its pedestal (he was the first emperor not placed in the Mausoleum of Augsutus). The scenes on the column are one of the major sources for the course of Trajan's operations in Dacia.

From the lectures of Christopher S. Mackay, Associate Professor in the Department of History and Classics of the University of Alberta.






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