Trajan's Column

From Academic Kids

Trajan's Column

Trajan's Column -- detail

Trajan's Column is a monument in Rome raised by order of emperor Trajan. It is located in Trajan's Forum, built near the Quirinal Hill, north of the Roman Forum. Finished in 113, the spiral bas-relief commemorates Trajan's victory in his military campaigns to conquer Dacia.

The structure is about 30 meters in height, 38 including its large pedestal. The shaft is made from a series of 18 colossal Carrara marble drums, each weighing about 40 tons, with a diameter of about 4 metres. The 200 meter frieze winds around the shaft 23 times. Inside the shaft, a spiral staircase of 185 stairs provides access to a viewing platform at the top.

Originally, a statue of Trajan would have stood atop the column. In 1588, it was replaced by a statue of St. Peter (which still remains) by Pope Sixtus V.


The relief

The relief portrays Trajan's two victorious military campaigns against the Dacians; the top half illustrating the first (101-102), and the lower half illustrating the second (105-106).

The two sections are separated by a personification of Victory writing on a shield. Otherwise, the scenes on the frieze are continuous. The imagery is not realistic as the sculptor pays little attention to perspective. 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).

The scenes depict mostly the Roman army in military activities such as setting out to battle and engaging the Dacians, as well as constructing fortifications and listening to the emperor's address. In all, 2500 figures are shown. The emperor Trajan, depicted realistically (not superhuman), makes 59 appearances among his troops.

The inscription

The inscription at the base of the column reads:


Translated, the inscription reads:

"The Roman Senate and people, [built this] for the emperor, son of the deified Nerva, Caesar Nerva Traianus Augustus Germanicus Dacicus, pontifex maximus, in his 17th year in the office of tribune, having been acclaimed 6 times as imperator (see emperor), 6 times consul, pater patriae, as an illustration of the height which this hill and place attained, now removed for such <works> as these."

This is perhaps the most famous example of Roman square capitals, a script often used for stone monuments, and less often for manuscript writing. As it was meant to be read from below, the bottom letters are slightly smaller than the top letters, to give proper perspective. Some, but not all, word divisions are marked with a dot, and many of the words, especially the titles, are abbreviated. In the inscription, numerals are marked with a titulus, a bar across the top of the letters. A small piece at the bottom of the inscription has been lost.

The modern computer typeface "Trajan," designed in 1989 by Carol Twombly (who worked for Adobe Systems and for Bigelow & Holmes), uses letterforms based on this inscription.

Sources: and

Its purpose

It was traditionally thought that the Column was a propagandistic monument, glorifying the emperor's military exploits. But because the structure would have been generally invisible, surrounded by other buildings in Trajan's Forum, and simply the difficulty involved in following the frieze from end to end, it is now considered to have had much less propagandistic value. Based on the inscription, the column may have been a measuring guide for the construction of the forum.

After Trajan's death in 117, the Roman Senate voted to have Trajan's ashes buried in the Column. (The ashes no longer exist there.)

External link


de:Trajanss酳le fr:Colonne Trajane it:Colonna di Traiano nl:Zuil van Trajanus pl:Kolumna Trajana ro:Columna lui Traian


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