Sept. 15?, AD 53, Italica, Baetica [now in Spain]d. Aug. 8/9, 117, Selinus,
Cilicia [now in Turkey] Latin IN FULL CAESAR DIVI NERVAE FILIUS NERVA TRAIANUS
OPTIMUS AUGUSTUS, also called ( 9798) CAESAR NERVA TRAIANUS GERMANICUS, ORIGINAL
NAME MARCUS ULPIUS TRAIANUS, Roman emperor (AD 98-117), the first to be born
outside Italy. He sought to extend the boundaries of the empire to the east
(notably in Dacia, Arabia, Armenia, and Mesopotamia), undertook a vast building
program, and enlarged social welfare.
and early career.
Ulpius Traianus was born in the Roman province of Baetica, southern Spain.
Although his ancestors, whether or not original settlers, were undoubtedly
Roman, or at least Italian, they may well have intermarried with natives. While
his family was probably well-to-do and prominent in Baetica, his father was the
first to have a career in the imperial service. He became a provincial governor
and in 67-68 commander of a legion in the war the future emperor Vespasian was
conducting against the Jews. In 70, Vespasian, by then emperor, rewarded him
with a consulship and a few years later enrolled him among the patricians,
Rome's most aristocratic group within the senatorial class. Finally, he became
governor, successively, of Syria and Asia.
there is little documentation of Trajan's early life, presumably the future
emperor grew up either in Rome or in various military headquarters with his
father. He served 10 years as a legionary staff tribune. In this capacity he was
in Syria while his father was governor, probably in 75. He then held the
traditional magistracies through the praetorship, which qualified him for
command of a legion in Spain in 89. Ordered to take his troops to the Rhine
River to aid in quelling a revolt against the emperor Domitian by the governor
of Upper Germany, Trajan probably arrived after the revolt had already been
suppressed by the governor of Lower Germany. Trajan clearly enjoyed the favour
of Domitian, who in 91 allowed him to hold one of the two consulships, which,
even under the empire, remained most prestigious offices.
Domitian had been assassinated by a palace conspiracy on Sept. 18, 96, the
conspirators had put forward as emperor, and the Senate had welcomed, the
elderly and innocuous Nerva. His selection represented a reaction against
Domitian's autocracy and a return to the cooperation between emperor and Senate
that had characterized the reign of Vespasian. Nevertheless, the imperial guard
(the praetorian cohorts) forced the new emperor to execute the assassins who had
secured the throne for him. There was also discontent among the frontier
in October 97, Nerva adopted as his successor Trajan, whom he had made governor
of Upper Germany and who seemed acceptable both to the army commanders and to
the Senate. On Jan. 1, 98, Trajan entered upon his second consulship as Nerva's
colleague. Soon thereafter, on January 27 or 28, Nerva died, and Trajan was
accepted as emperor by both the armies and the Senate. Before his accession,
Trajan had married Pompeia Plotina, to whom he remained devoted. As the marriage
was childless, he took into his household his cousin Hadrian, who became a
favorite of Plotina.
policies as emperor.
deified Nerva and included his name in his imperial title. In 114 he placed
before his title Augustus the adjective Optimus ("Best"). This was
undoubtedly intended, by recalling the epithets Optimus Maximus, applied to
Jupiter, to present Trajan as the god's representative on earth. Trajan was a
much more active ruler than Nerva had been during his short reign. Instead of
returning to Rome at once to accept from the Senate the imperial powers, he
remained for nearly a year on the Rhine and Danube rivers, either to make
preparations for a coming campaign into Dacia (modern Transylvania and Romania)
or to ensure that discipline was restored and defenses strengthened. He sent
orders to Rome for the execution of the praetorians that had forced Nerva to
execute the conspirators who had brought him to the throne. He gave the soldiers
only half the cash gifts customary on the accession of a new emperor, but in
general, he dealt fairly, if strictly, with the armies.
he returned to Rome in 99, he behaved with respect and affability toward the
Senate. He was generous to the populace of Rome, to whom he distributed
considerable cash gifts, and increased the number of poor citizens who received
free grain from the state. For Italy and the provinces, he remitted the gold
that cities had customarily sent to emperors on their accession. He also
lessened taxes and was probably responsible for an innovation for which Nerva is
given credit--the institution of public funds (alimenta) for the support of poor
children in the Italian cities. Such endowments had previously been established
in Italy by private individuals, notably by Trajan's close friend, the orator
and statesman Pliny the Younger, for his native Comum (modern Como) in northern
the administration of the provinces, Trajan tried to secure competent and honest
officials. He sent out at least two special governors to provinces whose cities
had suffered financial difficulties. One was Pliny the Younger, whom he
dispatched to Bithynia-Pontus, a province on the northern coast of Asia Minor.
The letters exchanged between Pliny and Trajan during the two years of Pliny's
governorship are preserved as the 10th book of his correspondence. They
constitute a most important source for Roman provincial administration.
one exchange, Pliny asked Trajan how he should handle the rapidly spreading sect
of Christians, who, refusing to conform to normal religious practices, suffered
from great unpopularity but were, as far as Pliny could see, harmless. In his
reply, a model of judiciousness, Trajan advised Pliny not to ferret out
Christians nor to accept unsupported charges and to punish only those whose
behavior was ostentatiously recalcitrant. Clearly in Trajan's time the Roman
government did not yet have (and, indeed, was not to have for another century)
any policy of persecution of the Christians; official action was based on the
need to maintain good order, not on religious hostility. The correspondence also
illustrates the wasteful expenditure of cities on lavish buildings and
competition for municipal honors, an indication that the finances of the empire
were already beginning to show inflationary trends.
undertook or encouraged extensive public works in the provinces, Italy, and
Rome: roads, bridges, aqueducts, the reclamation of wastelands, the construction
of harbors and buildings. Impressive examples survive in Spain, in North Africa,
in the Balkans, and in Italy. Rome, in particular, was enriched by Trajan's
projects. A new aqueduct brought water from the north. A splendid public bathing
complex was erected on the Esquiline Hill, and a magnificent new forum was
designed by the architect Apollodorus of Damascus. It comprised a porticoed
square in the centre of which stood a colossal equestrian statue of the emperor.
On either side, the Capitoline and Quirinal hills were cut back for the
construction of two hemicycles in brick, which, each rising to several stories,
provided streets of shops and warehouses.
the new forum was a public hall, or basilica, and behind this a court flanked by
libraries for Greek and Latin books and backed by a temple. In this court rose
the still-standing Trajan's Column, an innovative work of art that commemorated
his Dacian Wars. Its cubical base, decorated with reliefs of heaps of captured
arms, later received Trajan's ashes. The column itself is encircled by a
continuous spiral relief, portraying scenes from the two Dacian campaigns. These
provide a commentary on the campaigns and also a repertory of Roman and Dacian
arms, armour, military buildings, and scenes of fighting. The statue of Trajan
on top of the column was removed during the Middle Ages and replaced in 1588 by
the present one of St. Peter.
civil accomplishments were impressive but except for the alimenta, not
innovative. He is renowned chiefly for abandoning the policy, established by
Augustus and generally adhered to by his successors, of not extending the Roman
frontiers. Despite his title Germanicus, his first year on the Rhine-Danube
frontier was not marked by any major conquest. In 101, however, he resumed the
invasion of Dacia that Domitian had been forced to abandon by Decebalus, the
country's redoubtable king. In two campaigns (101-102 and 105-106), Trajan
captured the Dacian capital of Sarmizegethusa (modern Varhély), which lay to
the north of the Iron Gate in western Romania; Decebalus evaded capture by
suicide. Trajan created a new province of Dacia north of the Danube within the
curve of the Carpathian Mountains. This provided land for Roman settlers, opened
for exploitation rich mines of gold and salt, and established a defensive zone
to absorb movements of nomads from the steppes of southern Russia.
second major war was against the Parthians, Rome's traditional enemy in the
east. The chronology of his campaigns is uncertain. In preparation for them, in
105/106, one of his generals annexed the Nabataean kingdom, the part of Arabia
extending east and south of Judaea. Next, about 110, the Parthians deposed the
pro-Roman king of Armenia, whereupon, in 113/114, Trajan campaigned to reinstate
him. In the following year (115) he annexed upper Mesopotamia and, in the same
or next year, moved down the Tigris River to capture the Parthian capital of
Ctesiphon. He reached the Persian Gulf, where he is said to have wept because he
was too old to repeat Alexander the Great's achievements in India.
in 115, Trajan barely escaped death in an earthquake that devastated Antioch
(modern Antakya, Turkey). In 116 revolts broke out both in the newly conquered
territories and in Jewish communities in several of the eastern provinces.
Trajan, discouraged and in ill health, left Antioch for Rome. He died, in his
64th year, at Selinus (modern Selindi) on the southern coast of Asia Minor. His
ashes were returned to Rome for a state funeral and burial in the base of his
column. Just before his death was made public, it was announced that he had
adopted Hadrian, who in 100 had married Trajan's favorite niece.
Hadrian differed completely in temperament from Trajan and initially had not
been advanced with any unusual speed, Trajan, a few years before his death, had
made him governor of Syria, where he was responsible for the logistical support
of the Parthian campaign. But Trajan did not then adopt him or give any
indication of a choice of successor. Hence contemporary gossip stamped the
announcement of Hadrian's last-minute adoption as a fiction put out by the
empress Plotina, though it was probably a genuine deathbed decision.
historians differ in their judgments of Trajan both as a ruler and as a
conqueror. Some think that his Dacian campaigns brought the empire new revenues
and strengthened the Danubian frontier. Others regard his success as having been
prepared by Domitian and his Parthian war as having overstrained the resources
of the empire because of his megalomanic desire for military glory.