(Marcus Ulpius Trajanus)


Trajan was emperor of Rome for nearly twenty years, and by all accounts, he was considered one of the most noble and just emperors ever to have held the throne. Beginning with Trajan's predecessor Nerva, and continuing throughout the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the empire was commanded for nearly a century by competent and far-sighted rulers, who oversaw a long period of peace and prosperity within the realm, and Trajan must be credited with setting an excellent example. Both he and his wife, Plotina, served the Roman empire with humility and justice, doing much to improve the condition of the poor and helpless, and going a great way to mending relationships between the army and the senate in Rome.

Trajan was born to a noble family in Spain, and he was the first non-Italian to hold the imperial throne. His father was a high ranking officer in Syria and Asia, and Trajan started his military career serving under him. He then began his own career in public office, and established his military reputation in 89 A.D. when he helped to crush the uprising of Saturninus under Domitian. He was later awarded governorships of Moesia (in the eastern Balkans), and greater Germany. In 97 A.D. he was adopted and selected successor to Nerva, and succeeded to the imperial throne the following year. He stayed in Germany for some time in order to put defense of the German border in order, and then proceeded to Rome. When Trajan entered Rome to assume the imperial throne he did so on foot, without escort, and his display of modesty and good nature won over the senate, which had had difficult relations with several of his predecessors. Not only Trajan himself, but his wife also, were most gracious and unpretentious in their relationships with other Roman nobles, and Trajan used their good will to enact favorable policies within Italy, that addressed some pressing social problems, especially among the poor.

Trajan was involved in two major wars during his reign, one in Dacia (modern Romania), and one in Parthia (ancient Persia), but they were both border wars, and the interior of the empire was not threatened by any serious rebellions or uprisings. Trajan is best known for pacifying Dacia, a feat which expanded the boundaries of the empire to their greatest extent. The war in Dacia, fought primarily against Decebalus, a tribal king, was long, drawn out and deadly, but resulted in a fully pacified province and the death of Decebalus.

Upon returning to Rome, Trajan commenced extensive building and infrastructure projects. Some of the more famous were the market of Trajan, an expansion of the forum, improvements to the harbor at Ostia, a theatre, roads, bridges, aqueducts, and the famous Column of Trajan, which was erected to commemorate the Dacian Wars. The column and many of the other buildings were designed by Apollodorus of Damascus, a great architect who accompanied Trajan on his campaigns and served in his court for many years. After reigning for seven peaceful years in Rome, Trajan prepared for another major campaign, this time against Parthia. He commenced this war in 113 A.D. and won many victories, but was never able to permanently subdue the region. He died in 117 while still in the east, and the empire passed to his adopted son Hadrian.

Key events during the life of Trajan:

Became a guardian of the child Hadrian.
Crushed the rebellion of Saturninus under Domitian.
  Governor of Moesia (now northern. Bulgaria)
  Governor of greater Germany.
Adopted by Nerva, and co-ruled with him.
Succeeded to imperial throne on death of Nerva.
Returned to Rome after consolidating power in Germany.
Commenced first war to pacify Dacia.
Second major campaign in Dacia resulted in death of King Decebalus.
  Apollodorus built 100 ft. Column of Trajan to commemorate Dacian War.
  Embarked on massive building projects: forums, bridges, aqueducts, roads, etc.
Initiated major war against Parthia (Old Persia).
Died in province of Cilicia. Hadrian succeeded to the throne.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Last Advance  in  Helmet and Spear  by  Alfred J. Church
Just Emperor  in  Pictures from Roman Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Good Trajan  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Trajan's Column  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Trajan in  Famous Men of Rome  by  John H. Haaren & A. B. Poland
Trajan  in  Back Matter  by  books/horne/soldiers/_back.html

Image Links

Trajan besieging a Dacian fort
 in Helmet and Spear

 in Pictures from Roman Life and Story

Trajan's Column
 in The Story of the Romans

 in Famous Men of Rome

 in Back Matter

Short Biography
Pliny the Younger Roman statesman and and orator. His letters are important historical sources.
Hadrian Third of "Five Good Emperors." Talented artist and architect, good administrator.
Juvenal Satirical poet; ridiculed the vices of imperial Roman society.
Marciana Sister of Trajan. Her granddaughter was Sabina, wife of Hadrian.
Plotina Wife of Trajan.
Decebalus Chief of Dacian tribes. Conquered by Romans but rebelled. Romans reconquered Dacia an killed Decebalus.
Apollodorus of Damascus Architect; helped Trajan in Dacian War, built monuments, forums.