The most famous Roman freestanding column was supposed to tower above any other being. It was meant to reach the sky in order to honour the optimus princeps and his virtue, the virtues of the Roman soldiers at war with the equally valiant Dacians.
Located between the library, a basilica and the monumental entrance to the section of the Roman Forum built by Trajan, the column was composed of 19 blocks of Italian white marble each weighing around 40 tons.
40 meters featuring the best bas reliefs of ancient Roman art: 23 spirals that, like a movie, visually tell the story of the Roman troops in Dacia (a region of Romania), a land rich of valuable metals. A very detailed narration of places, fights and military inventions. 2500 figures, with the emperor appearing 59 times, among his men, as tall as them, like any other warrior.
The Trajan landmark was widely admired throughout the centuries and was a source of inspiration for modern and ancient victory columns. French monarchs in particular were attracted by it: the Emperors Louis XIV and Napoleon III, for instance, commissioned molds of the column.
Through February 14 you can enjoy the rolled up paper installations and the abstract works of the Romanian artist Luminita Taranu. Inspired by the figures of the column, she focuses her attention on details of men, animals, weapons, clothes, war machines, cities, musical instruments, Dacian women. The other part of the exhibition is a multimedia device that will help you visualize the content of the 200 meter-long frieze and also hyperlink to interesting texts about this long conflict (in Italian only).
The Roman Civilization Museum in EUR, instead, features all the casts of the Column in its permanent collection. 4 long lines of Roman history and art with two lanes in the middle so that you can observe all the 23 coils at close range following the same plot of the original column.
Another interesting multimedia instrument is this video of the column with a Romanian song as a sound track that also shows how important was that war for Romanians, the start of their inclusion in the Latin world and Roman sphere of influence, which distinguishes them from the rest of the Balkan peoples.
But who was Trajan? And why is he so important in ancient Roman history? Born in Spain from a family of Italian origins (Todi, Umbria), Trajan also lived in Syria and guarded the German frontier, the most delicate of the empire, before being chosen as Emperor.
His election marked the start of a new deal for Rome and the suspension of dynasties as he was not the son of another emperor but was picked for his skills.
Trajan was different from many of his predecessors as he was wise and self-controlled. He was a great military leader and with him the Empire reached the peak of its extension with the conquest of the northern part of the Arabic peninsula, Armenia and Mesopotamia. Trajan was on the verge of becoming a new Alexander the Great when he considered venturing into India, but he then preferred to focus on the economic viability of the Empire, taking possession of Dacia’s gold and boosting sea and land trade with Southern and Eastern Asia.
Not only he built many facilities such as ports, roads and bridges but he also had a forward-looking welfare policy for the poor and the young.
He didn’t build them himself of course. He was assisted by an archistar, Apollodorus of Damascus. A very innovative Syrian architect who introduced new techniques in Rome and served well the propaganda campaign of his emperor. One of the very few Roman architects whose name is well known.
Out of Rome, this would be an interesting Trajan itinerary in Italy: the hexagonal port of Fiumicino, near Rome’s main airport, the Archs of Ancona (in the Marche region) and Benevento (not far from Naples).