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Emperor of the Roman Empire
Traianus Glyptothek Munich 336.jpg
Marble bust of Trajan at the Glyptothek, Munich
Reign 28 January 98—8 August 117
Full name Marcus Ulpius Traianus
(from birth to adoption);
Caesar Marcus Ulpius Nerva Traianus (from adoption to accession);
Caesar Marcus Ulpius Nerva Traianus Augustus (as emperor)
Born 18 September 53(53-09-18)
Birthplace Italica, ancient Hispania
Died 8 August 117 (aged 63)
Place of death Selinus, Cilicia
Buried Rome (ashes in foot
of Trajan's Column, now lost.)
Predecessor Nerva
Successor Hadrian
Wife Pompeia Plotina
Offspring Traja Hadrian (adoptive)
Dynasty Nervan-Antonine
Father Marcus Ulpius Traianus
Mother Marcia
Roman imperial dynasties
Nervo-Trajanic Dynasty
   Natural - (none)
   Adoptive - Trajan
   Natural - (none)
   Adoptive - Hadrian
   Natural - (none)
   Adoptive - Lucius Aelius
   Adoptive - Antoninus Pius

Marcus Ulpius Nerva Traianus, commonly known as Trajan (18 September 53 – 8 August 117), was the thirteenth Roman Emperor, who reigned from AD 98 until his death in AD 117. Born Marcus Ulpius Traianus into a non-patrician family[1] in the Hispania Baetica province (modern day Spain), Trajan rose to prominence during the reign of emperor Domitian, serving as a general in the Roman army along the German frontier, and successfully crushing the revolt of Antonius Saturninus in 89. On September 18, 96, Domitian was succeeded by Marcus Cocceius Nerva, an old and childless senator who proved to be unpopular with the army. After a brief and tumultuous year in power, a revolt by members of the Praetorian Guard compelled him to adopt the more popular Trajan as his heir and successor. Nerva died on January 27, 98, and was succeeded by his adopted son without incident.

As a civilian administrator, Trajan is best known for his extensive public building program, which reshaped the city of Rome and left multiple enduring landmarks such as Trajan's Forum, Trajan's Market and Trajan's Column. It was as a military commander however that Trajan celebrated his greatest triumphs. In 101, he launched a punitive expedition into the kingdom of Dacia against king Decebalus, defeating the Dacian army near Tapae in 102, and finally conquering Dacia completely in 106. In 107, Trajan pushed further east and annexed the Nabataean kingdom, establishing the province of Arabia Petraea. After a period of relative peace within the Empire, he launched his final campaign in 113 against Parthia, advancing as far as the city of Susa in 116, and expanding the Roman Empire to its greatest extent. During this campaign Trajan was struck by illness, and late in 117, while sailing back to Rome, he died of a stroke on August 9, in the city of Selinus. He was deified by the Senate and his ashes were laid to rest under Trajan's Column. He was succeeded by his adopted son (not having a biological heir) Publius Aelius Hadrianus—commonly known as Hadrian.

As an emperor, Trajan's reputation has endured — he is one of the few rulers whose reputation has survived the scrutiny of nineteen centuries of history. Every new emperor after him was honoured by the Senate with the prayer felicior Augusto, melior Traiano, meaning "may he be luckier than Augustus and better than Trajan". Among medieval Christian theologians, Trajan was considered a virtuous pagan, while the 18th century historian Edward Gibbon popularized the notion of the Five Good Emperors, of which Trajan was the second.[2]


Early life and rise to power

Trajan was born on September 18, 53 in the Roman province of Hispania Baetica[3] (in what is now Andalusia in modern Spain), a province that was thoroughly Romanized and called southern Hispania, in the city of Italica, where the Italian families were paramount. Of Italian stock himself, Trajan is frequently but misleadingly designated the first provincial emperor.[4]

Trajan was the son of Marcia and Marcus Ulpius Traianus, a prominent senator and general from the gens Ulpia. Trajan himself was just one of many well-known Ulpii in a line that continued long after his own death. His elder sister was Ulpia Marciana and his niece was Salonina Matidia. The patria of the Ulpii was Italica, in Spanish Baetica,[3] where their ancestors had settled late in the third century B.C. This indicates that the Italian origin was paramount, yet it has recently been cogently argued that the family's ancestry was local, with Trajan senior actually a Traius who was adopted into the family of the Ulpii.[5]

As a young man, he rose through the ranks of the Roman army, serving in some of the most contentious parts of the Empire's frontier. In 76–77, Trajan's father was Governor of Syria (Legatus pro praetore Syriae), where Trajan himself remained as Tribunus legionis. Trajan was nominated as Consul and brought Apollodorus of Damascus with him to Rome around 91. Along the Rhine River, he took part in the Emperor Domitian's wars while under Domitian's successor, Nerva, who was unpopular with the army and needed to do something to gain their support. He accomplished this by naming Trajan as his adoptive son and successor in the summer of 97. According to the Augustan History, it was the future Emperor Hadrian who brought word to Trajan of his adoption.[6] When Nerva died on January 25, 98, the highly respected Trajan succeeded without incident.

His reign

As issued by the Roman Senate, to the "Optimus Princeps" Trajan.

The new Roman emperor was greeted by the people of Rome with great enthusiasm, which he justified by governing well and without the bloodiness that had marked Domitian's reign. He freed many people who had been unjustly imprisoned by Domitian and returned a great deal of private property that Domitian had confiscated; a process begun by Nerva before his death. His popularity was such that the Roman Senate eventually bestowed upon Trajan the honorific of optimus, meaning "the best".[7][8]

Dacian Wars

Denarius issued by Trajan to celebrate the winning of the Dacian Wars.

Front. Text: IMP TRAIANO AVG GER DAC PM TR P COS V PP. Image: Laureate head right; the legend abbreviates as Imperator. Trajan. Augustus. Germanicus. Dacicus. Pontifex Maximus. Tribuniciae Potestate. Consul V. Pater Patriae.

Reverse. Text: SPQR OPTIMO PRINCIPI. Image: Dacian soldier wearing the Dacian peaked cap, seated on shield in mourning, with the curbed Dacian Falx \(sabre) below. The reverse abbreviates Senatus Populus Que Romanus. Optimo Principi. Reference: RIC II 219, BMC 175, RSC 529.

It was as a military commander that Trajan is best known to history, particularly for his conquests in the Near East, but initially for the two wars against Dacia — the reduction to client kingdom (101-102), followed by actual incorporation to the Empire of the trans-Danube border kingdom of Dacia—an area that had troubled Roman thought for over a decade with the unfavourable (and to some, shameful) peace negotiated by Domitian's ministers[9] In the first war c. March–May 101, he launched a vicious attack into the kingdom\]with four legions,[10] crossing to the northern bank of the Danube River on a stone bridge he had built, and defeating the Dacian army near or in a mountain pass called Tapae (see Second Battle of Tapae). Trajan's troops were mauled in the encounter, however and he put off further campaigning for the year to heal troops, reinforce, and regroup.[11]

During the following winter, King Decebalus launched a counter-attack across the Danube further downstream, but this was repulsed. Trajan's army advanced further into Dacian territory and forced King Decebalus to submit to him a year later, after Trajan took the Dacian capital/fortress of Sarmizegethusa. The Emperor Domitian had campaigned against Dacia from 86 to 87 without securing a decisive outcome, and Decebalus had brazenly flouted the terms of the peace (89 AD) which had been agreed on conclusion of this campaign.

Trajan now returned to Rome in triumph and was granted the title Dacicus Maximus. The victory was celebrated by the Tropaeum Traiani. Decebalus though, after being left to his own devices, in 105 undertook an invasion against Roman territory by attempting to stir up some of the tribes north of the river against her.[12]

Trajan took to the field again and after building with the design of Apollodorus of Damascus his massive bridge over the Danube, he conquered Dacia completely in 106. Sarmizegethusa was destroyed, Decebalus committed suicide, and his severed head was exhibited in Rome on the steps leading up to the Capitol. Trajan built a new city, "Colonia Ulpia Traiana Augusta Dacica Sarmizegetusa", on another site than the previous Dacian Capital, although bearing the same full name, Sarmizegetusa. He resettled Dacia with Romans and annexed it as a province of the Roman Empire. Trajan's Dacian campaigns benefited the Empire's finances through the acquisition of Dacia's gold mines. The victory is celebrated by Trajan's Column.

Expansion in the East

At about the same time Rabbel II Soter, one of Rome's client kings, died. This event might have prompted the annexation of the Nabataean kingdom, although the manner and the formal reasons for the annexation are unclear. Some epigraphic evidence suggests a military operation, with forces from Syria and Egypt. What is clear, however, is that by 107, Roman legions were stationed in the area around Petra and Bostra, as is shown by a papyrus found in Egypt. The empire gained what became the province of Arabia Petraea (modern southern Jordan and north west Saudi Arabia).

Period of peace

The next seven years, Trajan ruled as a civilian emperor, to the same acclaim as before. It was during this time that he corresponded with Pliny the Younger on the subject of how to deal with the Christians of Pontus, telling Pliny to leave them alone unless they were openly practicing the religion. He built several new buildings, monuments and roads in Italia and his native Hispania. His magnificent complex in Rome raised to commemorate his victories in Dacia (and largely financed from that campaign's loot)—consisting of a forum, Trajan's Column, and Trajan's Market still stands in Rome today. He was also a prolific builder of triumphal arches, many of which survive, and rebuilder of roads (Via Traiana and Via Traiana Nova).

Coin showing the Forum of Trajan

One notable act of Trajan was the hosting of a three-month gladiatorial festival in the great Colosseum in Rome (the precise date of this festival is unknown). Combining chariot racing, beast fights and close-quarters gladiatorial bloodshed, this gory spectacle reputedly left 11,000 dead (mostly slaves and criminals, not to mention the thousands of ferocious beasts killed alongside them) and attracted a total of five million spectators over the course of the festival.

Another important act was his formalisation of the Alimenta, a welfare program that helped orphans and poor children throughout Italy. It provided general funds, as well as food and subsidized education. The program was supported initially by funds from the Dacian War, and then later by a combination of estate taxes and philanthropy.[13] Although the system is well documented in literary sources and contemporary epigraphy, its precise aims are controversial and have generated considerable dispute between modern scholars. Usually, it's assumed that the program was intended to bolster citzen numbers in Italy. However, the fact that it was subsidized by means of interest payments on loans made by landowners restricted it to a small percentage of potential welfare recipients (Paul Veyne has assumed that, in the city of Veleia, only one child out of ten was an actual beneficiary) - therefore, the idea, advanced by Moses I. Finley, that the whole scheme was at most a form of random charity, a mere imperial benevolence.[14]

Maximum extent of the Empire

The extent of the Roman Empire under Trajan (117)

In 113, he embarked on his last campaign, provoked by Parthia's decision to put an unacceptable king on the throne of Armenia, a kingdom over which the two great empires had shared hegemony since the time of Nero some fifty years earlier. Some modern historians also attribute Trajan's decision to wage war on Parthia to economic motives: to control, after the annexation of Arabia, Mesopotamia and the coast of the Persian Gulf, and with it the sole remaining receiving-end of the Indian trade outside Roman control[15] - an attribution of motive other historians find absurd, as seeing a commercial motive in a campaign triggered by the lure of territorial annexation and prestige[16] - by the way, the only motive for Trajan's actions ascribed by Dio Cassius in his description of the events.[17] Other modern historians, however, think that Trajan's original aim was quite modest: to assure a more defensible Eastern frontier for the Roman Empire, crossing across Northern Mesopotamia along the course of the river Khabur in order to offer cover to a Roman Armenia.[18]

Trajan marched first on Armenia, deposed the Parthian-appointed king (who was afterwards murdered while kept in the custody of Roman troops in an unclear incident) and annexed it to the Roman Empire as a province, receiving in passing the acknowledgement of Roman hegemony by various tribes in the Caucasus and on the Eastern coast of the Black Sea — a process that kept him busy until the end of 114.[19] The chronology of subsequent events is uncertain, but it's generally believed that early in 115 Trajan turned south into the core Parthian hegemony, taking the Northern Mesopotamian cities of Nisibis and Batnae and organizing a province of Mesopotamia in the beginning of 116, when coins were issued announcing that Armenia and Mesopotamia had been put under the authority of the Roman people.[20]

Bronze bust showing an ageing Emperor Traianus, Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, Ankara, Turkey

In early 116, however, Trajan began to toy with the conquest of the whole of Mesopotamia, an overambitious goal that eventually backfired on the results of his entire campaign: One Roman division crossed the Tigris into Adiabene, sweeping South and capturing Adenystrae; a second followed the river South, capturing Babylon; while Trajan himself sailed down the Euphrates, then dragged his fleet overland into the Tigris, capturing Seleucia and finally the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon.[21] He continued southward to the Persian Gulf, receiving the submission of Athambelus, the ruler of Charax, whence he declared Babylon a new province of the Empire, sent the Senate a laurelled letter declaring the war to be at a close and lamented that he was too old to follow in the steps of Alexander the Great and reach the distant India itself.[22] A province of Assyria was also proclaimed, apparently covering the territory of Adiabene, as well as some measures seem to have been considered about the fiscal administration of the Indian trade.[23]

However, as Trajan left the Persian Gulf for Babylon — where he intended to offer sacrifice to Alexander in the house where he had died in 323 B.C.[22]- a sudden outburst of Parthian resistance, led by a nephew of the Parthian king, Sanatrukes, imperilled Roman positions in Mesopotamia and Armenia, something Trajan sought to deal with by forsaking direct Roman rule in Parthia proper, at least partially: later in 116, after defeating a Parthian army in a battle where Sanatrukes was killed and re-taking Seleucia, he formally deposed the Parthian king Osroes I and put his own puppet ruler Parthamaspates on the throne. That done, he retreated North in order to retain what he could of the new provinces of Armenia and Mesopotamia.[24]

Bust of Trajan, Glyptothek, Munich

It was at this point that Trajan's health started to fail him. The fortress city of Hatra, on the Tigris in his rear, continued to hold out against repeated Roman assaults. He was personally present at the siege and it is possible that he suffered a heat stroke while in the blazing heat. Shortly afterwards, the Jews inside the Eastern Roman Empire rose up in rebellion once more, as did the people of Mesopotamia. Trajan was forced to withdraw his army in order to put down the revolts. Trajan saw it as simply a temporary setback, but he was destined never to command an army in the field again, turning his Eastern armies over to the high ranking legate and governor of Judaea, Lusius Quietus, who in early 116 had been in charge of the Roman division who had recovered Nisibis and Edessa from the rebels;[24] Quietus was promised for this a consulate in the following year — when he was actually put to death by Hadrian, who had no use for a man so committed to Trajan's aggressive policies.[25]

Early in 117, Trajan grew ill and set out to sail back to Italy. His health declined throughout the spring and summer of 117, something publicly acknowledged by the fact that a bronze bust displayed at the time in the public baths of Ancyra showed him clearly aged and emaciated.[26] By the time he had reached Selinus in Cilicia which was afterwards called Trajanopolis, he suddenly died from edema on August 9. Some say that he had adopted Hadrian as his successor, but others that it was his wife Pompeia Plotina who hired someone to impersonate him after he had died.

Hadrian, upon becoming ruler, recognized the abandonment of Mesopotamia and restored Armenia — as well as Osroene - to the Parthian hegemony under Roman suzerainty[23] - a telling sign the Roman Empire lacked the means for pursuing Trajan's overambitious goals.[15] However, all the other territories conquered by Trajan were retained. Trajan's ashes were laid to rest underneath Trajan's column, the monument commemorating his success.

The Alcántara Bridge, widely hailed as a masterpiece of Roman engineering.
Eugène Delacroix. The Justice of Trajan (fragment).

Building activities

Trajan was a prolific builder in Rome and the provinces, and many of his buildings were erected by the gifted architect Apollodorus of Damascus. Notable structures include Trajan's Column, Trajan's Forum, Trajan's Bridge, Alcántara Bridge, and possibly the Alconétar Bridge. In order to build his forum and the adjacent brick market that also held his name Trajan had vast areas of the surrounding hillsides leveled.

Trajan's legacy

Unlike many lauded rulers in history, Trajan's reputation has survived undiminished for nearly nineteen centuries.

Ancient sources on Trajan's personality and accomplishments are unanimously positive. Pliny the younger, for example, celebrates Trajan in his panegyric as a wise and just emperor and a moral man. Dio Cassius added that he always remained dignified and fair.[27] The Christianisation of Rome resulted in further embellishment of his legend: it was commonly said in medieval times that Pope Gregory I, through divine intercession, resurrected Trajan from the dead and baptized him into the Christian faith. An account of this features in the Golden Legend.

Theologians, such as Thomas Aquinas, discussed Trajan as an example of a virtuous pagan. In the Divine Comedy, Dante, following this legend, sees the spirit of Trajan in the Heaven of Jupiter with other historical and mythological persons noted for their justice. Also a mural of Trajan stopping to provide justice for a poor widow is present in the first terrace of Purgatory as a lesson to those who are purged for being proud.

He also features in Piers Plowman. An episode, referred to as the justice of Trajan was reflected in several art works.

In the 18th century King Charles III of Spain comminsioned Anton Raphael Mengs to paint The Triumph of Trajan on the ceiling of the banqueting-hall of the Royal Palace of Madrid - considered among the best work of this artist.

"Traian" is used as a male first name in present-day Romania - among others, that of the country's incumbent president, Traian Băsescu.

Nerva–Antonine family tree

  • (1) = 1st spouse
  • (2) = 2nd spouse (not shown)
  • (3) = 3rd spouse
  • SMALL CAPS = posthumously deified (Augusti, Augustae, or other)
  • dotted lines indicate adoption or (in the case of Hadrian and Antinous) lovers
NERVA (r. 96-98)
TRAJAN, adoptive son (r. 98-117)
Aelius Afer
Paulina Major
Libo Rupilius Frugi (3)
L. Vibius Sabinus (1)
Rupilia Annia
M. Annius Verus
Rupilia Faustina
HADRIAN, adoptive son (r. 117-138)
Paulina Minor
Domitia Lucilla
M. Annius Verus
M. Annius Libo
ANTONINUS PIUS, adoptive son (r. 138-161)
Aelius, adoptive son
Julia Paulina
MARCUS AURELIUS, adoptive son (r. 161-180)
Aurelia Fadilla
two infant sons
VERUS, adoptive son (r. 161-169)
COMMODUS (r. 177-192)
nine other children


  1. ^ Julian Bennett, Trajan: Optimus Princeps, 2nd Edition, Routledge 2000, 12.
  2. ^ Nelson, Eric (2002). Idiots guide to the Roman Empire.. Alpha Books. pp. 207-209. ISBN 0-02-864151-5. 
  3. ^ a b Syme, Tacitus, 30-44; PIR Vlpivs 575
  4. ^ Arnold Blumberg, "Great Leaders, Great Tyrants? Contemporary Views of World Rulers who Made History", 1995, Greenwood Publishing Group, p.315: "Trajan is frequently but misleadingly designated the first provincial emperor, because the Ulpii were from Baetica (southern Spain). The family, resident in Spain for some time, originated in Italian Tuder, not far from the Flavian home of Reate. The emperor's father, M. Ulpius Traianus, was an early adherent of Vespasian and perhaps the old family friend. This Trajan evidently married a Marcia (her name is inferred from that of their daughter Marciana) whose family owned brickyards in the vicinity of Ameria, near both Reate and Tuder. She was possibly an older sister of Marcia Furnilla, second wife of Vespasian's son Titus. Further, Ulpia, sister of the senior Trajan, was a grandmother of Hadrian. In other words, the emperor Trajan was succeeded in 117 by his cousin, member of another Italian family resident in Baetica."
  5. ^ See Canto
  6. ^ Augustan History, Life of Hadrian 2.5–6.
  7. ^ Bernard W. Henderson, "Five Roman Emperors" (1927).
  8. ^ F. A. Lepper, "Trajan's Parthian War" (1948).
  9. ^ "De Imperatoribus Romanis" (Assorted Imperial Battle Descriptions). An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors. Retrieved 2007-07-21. "Battle of Sarmizegetusa (Sarmizegetuza), A.D. 105. During Trajan's reign one of the most important Roman successes was the victory over the Dacians. The first important confrontation between the Romans and the Dacians had taken place in the year 87 and was initiated by Domitian. The praetorian prefect Cornelius Fuscus led five or six legions across the Danube on a bridge of ships and advanced towards Banat (in Romania). The Romans were surprised by a Dacian attack at Tapae (near the village of Bucova, in Romania). Legion V Alaude was crushed and Cornelius Fuscus was killed. The victorious Dacian general was originally known as Diurpaneus (see Manea, p.109), but after this victory he was called Decebalus (the brave one)." 
  10. ^ "De Imperatoribus Romanis" (Assorted Imperial Battle Descriptions, Battle of Sarmizegetusa (Sarmizegetuza), A.D. 105). An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors. Retrieved 2007-11-08. "Because the Dacians represented an obstacle against Roman expansion in the east, in the year 101 the emperor Trajan decided to begin a new campaign against them. The first war began on 25 March 101 and the Roman troops, consisting of four principal legions (X Gemina , XI Claudia , II Traiana Fortis, and XXX Ulpia Victrix), defeated the Dacians." 
  11. ^ "De Imperatoribus Romanis" (Assorted Imperial Battle Descriptions). An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors. Retrieved 2007-11-08. "Although the Dacians had been defeated, the emperor postponed the final siege for the conquering of Sarmizegetuza because his armies needed reorganization. Trajan imposed on the Dacians very hard peace conditions: Decebalus had to renounce claim to some regions of his kingdom, including Banat, Tara Hategului, Oltenia, and Muntenia in the area south-west of Transylvania. He had also to surrender all the Roman deserters and all his war machines. At Rome, Trajan was received as a winner and he took the name of Dacicus, a title that appears on his coinage of this period. At the beginning of the year 103 A.D., there were minted coins with the inscription: IMP NERVA TRAIANVS AVG GER DACICVS." 
  12. ^ "De Imperatoribus Romanis" (Assorted Imperial Battle Descriptions). An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors. Retrieved 2007-11-08. "However, during the years 103-105, Decebalus did not respect the peace conditions imposed by Trajan and the emperor then decided to destroy completely the Dacian kingdom and to conquer Sarmizegetuza.he died" 
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ M.I. Finley, Ancient Economy, 201/203
  15. ^ a b Christol & Nony, Rome, 171
  16. ^ Finley, Ancient Economy, 158
  17. ^ Quoted by Bennett, Trajan, 188
  18. ^ Luttvak, Grand Strategy, 108
  19. ^ Bennett, Trajan, 194-195
  20. ^ Bennett, Trajan, 196; Christol & Nony, Rome,171
  21. ^ Bennett, Trajan, 197/199
  22. ^ a b Bennett, Trajan, 199
  23. ^ a b Luttvak, Grand Strategy, 110
  24. ^ a b Bennett, Trajan, 200
  25. ^ Bennett, Trajan, 203
  26. ^ Bennett, Trajan, 201
  27. ^ Dio Cassius, Epitome of Book 6; 21.2–3

References and further reading

  • Ancell, R. Manning. "Soldiers." Military Heritage. December 2001. Volume 3, No. 3: 12, 14, 16, 20 (Trajan, Emperor of Rome).
  • Bennett, J. Trajan: Optimus Princeps, 2nd Edition, Bloomington: Indiana University Press 2001, ISBN 0-253-21435-1
  • Bowersock, G.W. Roman Arabia, Harvard University Press, 1983
  • Christol, M. & Nony, N. Rome et son Empire, Paris: Hachette, 2003, ISBN 2-01-14-5542-1
  • Finley, M.I. The Ancient Economy, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999, ISBN 0-520-21946-5
  • Fuller, J.F.C. A Military History of the Western World. Three Volumes. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1987 and 1988.
    • v. 1. From the earliest times to the Battle of Lepanto; ISBN 0-306-80304-6: 255, 266, 269, 270, 273 (Trajan, Roman Emperor).
  • Isaac, B. The Limits of Empire, The Roman Army in the East, Revised Edition, Oxford University Press, 1990
  • Kennedy, D. The Roman Army in Jordan, Revised Edition, Council for British Research in the Levant, 2004
  • Lepper, F.A. Trajan's Parthian War. London: Oxford University Press, 1948.
  • Luttvak, Edward N. The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century A.D. to the Third, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1979, ISBN 0-8018-2158-4
  • Wildfeuer, C.R.H. Trajan — Lion of Rome, Aquifer Publishing, 2009

External links

Primary sources

Secondary material

Born: 18 September CE 53 Died: 9 August CE 117
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Roman Emperor
98 – 117
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
Marcus Cocceius Nerva
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Manius Acilius Glabrio
Succeeded by
Quintus Volusius Saturninus
Preceded by
Marcus Cocceius Nerva
Lucius Verginius Rufus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Nerva
Succeeded by
Aulus Cornelius Palma Frontonianus
Quintus Sosius Senecio
Preceded by
Aulus Cornelius Palma Frontonianus
Quintus Sosius Senecio
Consul of the Roman Empire
100 – 101
Succeeded by
Lucius Iulius Ursus Servianus
Lucius Licinius Sura
Preceded by
Lucius Iulius Ursus Servianus
Lucius Licinius Sura
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Marcus Laberius Maximus
Succeeded by
Sextus Attius Suburanus Aemilianus
Marcus Asinius Marcellus
Preceded by
Gaius Calpurnius Piso
Marcus Vettius Bolanus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Titus Sextius Africanus
Succeeded by
Lucius Publilius Celsus
Gaius Clodius Crispinus

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

TRAJAN [MARCUS ULPIUS TRAJANUS] (A. D. 53-117), Roman emperor, was born at Italica, in Spain, on the 18th of September 52 (or 53). The family to which he belonged was probably Italian and not Iberian by blood. His father began as a common legionary soldier, and fought his way up to the consulship and the governorship of Asia. The younger Trajan was rigorously trained by him, and imbued with the same principles and tastes. He was a soldier born and bred. No better representative of the true old hardy Roman type, little softened by either luxury or education, had come to the head of affairs since the days of Marius. His training was almost exclusively military, but his experience as an officer gave him an acquaintance with almost every important province of the empire, which was of priceless value to him when he came to the throne. For ten years he held a commission as military tribune, which took him to many lands far asunder; then he filled important posts in Syria and Spain. By the year 89 he had achieved a considerable military reputation. At that time L. Antonius Saturninus headed a rebellion in Germany, which threatened seriously to bring Domitian's rule to an end. Trajan was ordered in hot haste from Further Spain to the Rhine. Although he carried his troops over that long and arduous march with almost unexampled rapidity, he only arrived after the insurrection had been put down. But his promptitude raised him higher in the favour of Domitian, and he was advanced to the consulship in 91. Of the next five years of his life we know nothing definite. It is not unlikely that they were spent at Rome or in Italy in the fulfilment of some official duties. When the revolution of 96 came, and Nerva replaced the murdered Domitian, one of the most important posts in the empire, that of consular legate of Upper Germany, was conferred upon Trajan. An officer whose nature, as the event showed, was interpenetrated with the spirit of legality was a fitting servant of a revolution whose aim it was to substitute legality for personal caprice as the dominant principle of affairs. The short reign of Nerva really did start the empire on a new career, which lasted more than threequarters of a century. But it also demonstrated how impossible it was for any one to govern at all who had no claim, either personal or inherited, to the respect of the legions. Nerva saw that if he could not find an Augustus to control the army, the army would find another Domitian to trample the senate under foot. In his difficulties he took counsel with L. Licinius Sura, a lifelong friend of Trajan, and on the 27th of October in the year 97 he ascended the Capitol and proclaimed that he adopted Trajan as his son. The senate confirmed the choice and acknowledged the emperor's adopted son as his successor. After a little hesitation Trajan accepted the position, which was marked by the titles of imperator, Caesar and Germanicus, and by the tribunician authority. He immediately proceeded to Lower Germany, to assure himself of the fidelity of the troops in that province, and while at Cologne he received news of Nerva's death (Jan. 25, 98). The authority of the new emperor was recognized at once all over the empire. The novel fact that a master of the Romans should have been born on Spanish soil seems to have passed with little remark, and this absence of notice is significant. Trajan's first care as emperor was to write to the senate an assurance like that which had been given by Nerva, that he would neither kill nor degrade any senator. He ordered the establishment of a temple and cult in honour of his adoptive father, but he did not come to Rome. In his dealings with the mutinous praetorians the strength of the new emperor's hand was shown at once. He ordered a portion of the force to Germany. They did not venture to disobey, and were distributed among the legions there. Those who remained at Rome were easily overawed and reformed. It is still more surprising that the soldiers should have quietly submitted to a reduction in the amount of the donative or gift which it was customary for them to receive from a new emperor, though the civil population of the capital were paid their largess (congiarium) in full. By politic management Trajan was able to represent the diminution as a sort of discount for immediate payment, while the civilians had to wait a considerable time before their full due was handed to them.

The secret of Trajan's power lay in his close personal relations with the officers and men of the army and in the soldierly qualities which commanded their esteem. He possessed courage, justice and frankness. Having a good title to military distinction himself, he could afford, as the unwarlike emperors could not, to be generous to his officers. The common soldiers, on the other hand, were fascinated by his personal prowess and his camaraderie. His features were firm and clearly cut; his figure was tall and soldierly. His hair was already grey before he came to the throne, though he was not more than forty-five years old. When on service he used the mean fare of the common private, dining on salt pork, cheese and sour wine. Nothing pleased him better than to take part with the centurion or the soldier in fencing or other military exercise, and he would applaud any shrewd blow which fell upon his own helmet. He loved to display his acquaintance with the career of distinguished veterans, and to talk with them of their battles and their wounds. Probably he lost nothing of his popularity with the army by occasional indulgence in sensual pleasures. Yet every man felt and knew that no detail of military duty, however minute, escaped the emperor's eye, and that any relaxation of discipline would be punished rigorously, yet with unwavering justice. Trajan emphasized at once his personal control and the constitutionality of his sway by bearing on his campaigns the actual title of "proconsul," which no other emperor had done. All things considered, it is not surprising that he was able, without serious opposition from the army, entirely to remodel the military institutions of the empire, and to bring them into a shape from which there was comparatively little departure so long as the army lasted. In disciplinary matters no emperor since Augustus had been able to keep so strong a control over the troops. Pliny rightly praises Trajan as the lawgiver and the founder of discipline, and Vegetius classes Augustus, Trajan and Hadrian together as restorers of the morale of the army. The confidence which existed between Trajan and his army finds expression in some of the coins of his reign.

For nearly two years after his election Trajan did not appear in Rome. He had decided already what the great task of his reign should be - the establishment of security upon the dangerous north-eastern frontier. Before visiting the capital he determined to put affairs in train for the attainment of this object. He made a thorough inspection of the great lines of defence between the Danube and the Rhine, and framed and partly carried out a vast scheme for strengthening and securing them.

The policy of opposing uncivilized tribes by the construction of the limes, a raised embankment of earth or other material, intersected here and there by fortifications, was not his invention, but it owed in great measure its development to him. It is probable that the northernmost part of the great limes Germaniae, from the Rhine at Rheinbrohl, nearly midway between Coblenz and Bonn, to a point on the Main east of Frankfort, where that river suddenly changes its course from north to west, was begun by Domitian. The extension of this great barrier southwards to the point at which it met the limes Raetiae was undertaken by Trajan, though we cannot say how far he carried the work, which was not entirely completed till long after his time. We may without hesitation follow the opinion of Mommsen, who maintains that the limes was not intended, like Hadrian's Wall between the Tyne and the Solway, and like the great wall of China, to oppose an absolute barrier against incursions from the outside. It was useful as marking definitely the boundary of the Roman sway, and as assuring the Romans that no inroad could be made without intelligence being had of it beforehand, while the limes itself and the system of roads behind it enabled troops to be directed rapidly to any threatened point, and the fortified positions could be held against large numbers till reinforcements arrived. Great importance was no doubt attached to the perfection of the lines of communication bearing on the limes. Among a people of roadmakers, Trajan was one of the greatest, and we have definite evidence from inscriptions that some of the military roads in this region were constructed by him. The more secure control which the Romans now maintained over the territory within the limes tended to its rapid civilization, and the Roman influence, if not the Roman arms, soon began to affect powerfully the regions beyond.

After his careful survey of the Rhine end of the frontier defences, Trajan proceeded to strengthen them in the direction of the Danube. From the age of Tiberius onwards the Romans possessed the whole southern bank of the river from its source to the Euxine. But the precarious tenure of their possession had been deeply impressed on them by the disasters and humiliations they had undergone in these districts during the reign of Domitian. A prince had arisen among the Dacians, Decebalus by name, worthy to be placed at the head of all the great barbarian antagonists of Rome. Like Maroboduus, he was able to combine the forces of tribes commonly hostile to each other, and his military ability almost went the length of genius. Domitian attacked him but was compelled to make an ignominious peace. He agreed to pay to Decebalus an annual subsidy, and to supply him with engineers and craftsmen skilled in all kinds of construction, but particularly in the erection of fortifications and defensive works. During the nine or ten years which had elapsed since the conclusion of this remarkable treaty the Dacian prince had immensely strengthened the approaches to his kingdom from the Roman side. He had also equipped and drilled his formidable army after the Roman fashion. It was impossible for a soldier like Trajan to endure the conditions accepted by Domitian; but the conquest of Dacia had become one of the most formidable tasks that had ever confronted the empire. Trajan no doubt planned a war before he left the Danube for Rome late in 99.

The arrival of the emperor had been awaited in the capital with an impatience which is expressed by Pliny and by Martial.' As he entered the city and went on foot to the Capitol the plaudits of the people were unmistakably genuine. During his stay in the city he riveted more firmly still the affections both of the senate and of the people. The reconciliation of the empire with liberty, inaugurated, as Tacitus says, by Nerva, seemed now to be securely achieved. Trajan was absolutely open and simple, and lived with men at Rome as he had lived with his soldiers while on service. He realized the senate's ideal of the citizen ruler. The assurance that no senator should suffer was renewed by oath. All the old republican formalities were most punctiliously observed - even those attendant on the emperor's election to the consulate, so far as they did not involve a restoration of the old order of voting at the comitia. The veneration for republican tradition is curiously attested by the reproduction of many republican types of coin struck 1 It has been conjectured, not improbably, that the Germania of Tacitus, written at this period, had for one of its aims the enlightenment of the Romans concerning the formidable character of the Germans, so that they might at once bear more readily with the emperor's prolonged absence and be prepared for the necessity of decisive action on the frontier.

by senatorial officers. Trajan seized every opportunity for emphasizing his view that the princeps was merely the greatest of the magistrates, and so was not above but under the laws. He was determined, he said, to be to his subjects such a ruler as he had desired for himself when a subject. Real power and influence were accorded to the senate, which had now, by the incorporation of members whose origin was provincial, become in a manner representative of the whole empire. Trajan associated with the senators on equal terms, and enjoyed in their company every kind of recreation. All pomp was distasteful to him and discarded by him. There was practically no court, and no intrigues of any kind were possible. The approach to his house was free, and he loved to pass through the city unattended and to pay unexpected visits to his friends. He thirsted for no senator's blood, and used severity against the delatores alone. There was but one insignificant conspiracy against him during his whole reign.. Though not literary himself, Trajan conciliated the literary men, who at all times had close relations with the senate. His intimate, M. Licinius, played an excellent Maecenas to his Augustus. In his efforts to win the affections of Roman society Trajan was aided by his wife Plotina, who was as simple as her husband, benevolent, pure in character, and entirely unambitious. The hold which Trajan acquired over the people was no less firm than that which he maintained upon the army and the senate. His largesses, his distributions of food, his public works, and his spectacles were all on a generous scale. The exhibitions in the arena were perhaps at their zenith during his tenure of power. Though, for some unexplained reason, he abolished the mimes, so beloved of the populace, at the outset of his reign, he availed himself of the occasion of his first triumph to restore them again. The people were delighted by the removal of the imperial exedra (a large chamber with open front) in the circus, whereby five thousand additional places were provided. Taxation was in many directions reduced, and the financial exactions of the imperial officers controlled by the erection of a special court. Elaborate precautions were taken to save Italy from famine; it is said that corn for seven years' consumption at the capital was retained in the granaries. Special encouragement was given to merchants to import articles of food. The corporation of bakers was organized and made more effective for the service of the public. The internal trade of Italy was powerfully stimulated by the careful maintenance and extension of the different lines of road. But the most striking evidence of Trajan's solicitude for his people's welfare is found in his institution of the alimenta, whereby means were provided for the rearing of poor and orphan children in Italy. The method had been sketched out by Nerva, but its great development was due to Trajan. The moneys allotted by the emperor were in many cases supplemented by private benevolence. As a soldier, Trajan realized the need of men for the maintenance of the empire against the outer barbarians, and he preferred that these men should be of Italian birth. He was only carrying a step farther the policy of Augustus, who by a system of rewards and penalties had tried to encourage marriage and the nurture of children. The actual effect of Trajan's regulations is hard to measure; they were probably more effectual for their object than those of Augustus. The foundations were confiscated by Pertinax, after they had existed less than a century.

On the 1st of September in the year zoo, when Trajan was consul for the third time, Pliny, who had been designated consul for a part of the year, was appointed to deliver the "Panegyric" which has come down to us, and forms a most important source of our knowledge concerning this emperor. Pliny's eulogy of Trajan and his denunciation of Domitian are alike couched in extravagant phrases, but the former perhaps rests more uniformly on a basis of truth and justice than the latter. The tone of the "Panegyric" certainly lends itself to the supposition of some historians that Trajan was inordinately vain. That the emperor had an honest and soldierly satisfaction in his own well-doing is clear; but if he had had anything like the vanity of a Domitian, the senate, ever eager to outrun a ruler's taste for flattery, would never have kept within such moderate bounds.

On the 25th of March in the year ioi Trajan left Rome for the Danube. Pretexts for a Dacian war were not difficult to find. Although there was no lack of hard fighting, victory in this war depended largely on the work of the engineer. The great military road connecting the posts in Upper Germany with those on the Danube, which had been begun by Tiberius, was now extended along the right bank of the river as far as the modern .Orsova. The campaign of ioi was devoted mainly to road-making and fortification. In the following campaign, after desperate fighting to the north of the Danube in the mountainous region of Transylvania, Sarmizegethusa, the capital of Decebalus, was taken, and he was forced to terms. He agreed to raze all fortresses, to surrender all weapons, prisoners and !Roman deserters, and to become a dependent prince under the suzerainty of Rome. Trajan came back to Italy with Dacian envoys, who in ancient style begged the senate to confirm the conditions granted by the commander in the field. The emperor now enjoyed his first Dacian triumph, and assumed the title of Dacicus. At the same time he royally entertained the people and no less royally rewarded his brave officers. But the Dacian chief could not school his high spirit to endure the conditions of the treaty, and Trajan soon found it necessary to prepare for another war. A massive stone bridge was built across the Danube, near the modern Turn Severin, by Apollodorus, the gifted architect who afterwards designed the forum of Trajan. In 105 began the new struggle, which on the side of Decebalus could now only lead to victory or to destruction. The Dacians fought their ground inch by inch, and their army as a whole may be said to have bled to death. The prince put an end to his own life. His kingdom became an imperial province; in it many colonies were founded and peopled by settlers drawn from different parts of the empire. The work done by Trajan in the Danubian regions left a lasting mark upon their history. The emperor returned to the capital in 106, laden with captured treasure. His triumph outdid in splendour all those that went before it. Games are said to have been held continuously for four months. Ten thousand gladiators are said to have perished in the arena, and eleven thousand beasts were killed in the contests. Congratulatory embassies came from all lands, even from India. The grand and enduring monument of the Dacian wars is the noble pillar which still stands on the site of Trajan's forum at Rome.

The end of the Dacian wars was followed by seven years of peace. During part of that time Pliny was imperial legate in the provinces of Bithynia and Pontus, and in constant communication with Trajan. The correspondence is extant and gives us the means of observing the principles and tendencies of the emperor as a civil governor.

The provinces (hitherto senatorial) were in considerable disorder, which Pliny was sent to cure. It is clear from the emperor's letters that in regard to nine out of ten of the matters which his anxious and deferential legate referred to him for his decision he would have been better pleased if the legate had decided them for himself. Trajan's notions of civil government were, like those of the duke of Wellington, strongly tinged with military prepossessions. He regarded the provincial ruler as a kind of officer in command, who ought to be able to discipline his province for himself and only to appeal to the commander-in-chief in a difficult case. In advising Pliny about the different free communities in the provinces, Trajan showed the same regard for traditional rights and privileges which he had exhibited in face of the senate at Rome. At the same time, these letters bring home to us his conviction that, particularly in financial affairs, it was necessary that local self-government should be carried on under the vigilant supervision of imperial officers. The control which he began in this way to exercise, both in Italy and in the provinces, over the "municipia" and "liberae civitates," by means of agents entitled (then or later) "correctores civitatium liberarum," was carried continually farther and farther by his successors, and at last ended in the complete centralization of the government. On this account the reign of Trajan constitutes a turning-point in civil as in military history. In other directions, though we find many salutary civil measures, yet there were no far-reaching schemes of reform. Many details in the administration-of the law, and particularly of the criminal law, were improved. To cure corruption in the senate the ballot was introduced at elections to magistracies. The finances of the state were economically managed, and taxpayers were most carefully guarded from oppression. Trajan never lacked money to expend on great works of public utility; as a builder, he may fairly be compared with Augustus. His forum and its numerous appendages were constructed on a magnificent scale. Many regions of Italy and the provinces besides the city itself benefited by the care and munificence which the emperor bestowed on such public improvements. His attitude towards religion was, like that of Augustus, moderate and conservative. The famous letter to Pliny about the Christians is, according to Roman ideas, merciful and considerate. It was impossible, however, for a Roman magistrate of the time to rid himself of the idea that all forms of religion must do homage to the civil power. Hence the conflict which made Trajan appear in the eyes of Christians like Tertullian the most infamous of monsters. On the whole, Trajan's civil administration was sound, careful and sensible, rather than brilliant.

Late in 113 Trajan left Italy to make war in the East. The never-ending Parthian problem confronted him, and with it were more or less connected a number of minor difficulties. Already by 106 the position of Rome in the East had been materially improved by the peaceful annexation of districts bordering on the province of Syria. The region of Damascus, hitherto a dependency, and the last remaining fragment of the Jewish kingdom, were incorporated with Syria; Bostra and Petra were permanently occupied, and a great portion of the Nabataean kingdom was organized as the Roman province of Arabia. Rome thus obtained mastery of the most important positions lying on the great trade routes between East and West. These changes could not but affect the relations of the Roman with the Parthian Empire, and the affairs of Armenia became in 114 the occasion of a war. Trajan's campaigns in the East ended in complete though brilliant failure. In the retreat from Ctesiphon (117) the old emperor tasted for almost the first time the bitterness of defeat in the field. He attacked the desert city of Hatra, westward of the Tigris, whose importance is still attested by grand ruins. The want of water made it impossible to maintain a large force near the city, and the brave Arabs routed the Roman cavalry. Trajan, who narrowly escaped being killed, was forced to withdraw. A more alarming difficulty lay before him. Taking advantage of the absence of the emperor in the Far East, and possibly by an understanding with the leaders of the rising in Armenia and the annexed portions of Parthia, the Jews all over the East had taken up arms at the same moment and at a given signal. The massacres they committed were portentous. In Cyprus 240,000 men are said to have been put to death, and at Cyrene 220,000. At Alexandria, on the other hand, many Jews were killed. The Romans punished massacre by massacre, and the complete suppression of the insurrection was long delayed, but the Jews made no great stand against disciplined troops. Trajan still thought of returning to Mesopotamia and of avenging his defeat at Hatra, but he was stricken with sickness and compelled to take ship for Italy. His illness increasing, he landed in Cilicia, and died at Selinus early in August i i 7.

Trajan, who had no children, had continually delayed to settle the succession to the throne, though Pliny in the "Panegyric" had pointedly drawn his attention to the matter, and it must have caused the senate much anxiety. Whether Hadrian, the relative of Trajan (cousin's son), was actually adopted by him or not is impossible to determine; certainly Hadrian had not been advanced to any great honours by Trajan. Even his military service had not been distinguished. Plotina asserted the adoption, and it was readily and most fortunately accepted, if not believed, as a fact.

The senate had decreed to Trajan as many triumphs as he chose to celebrate. For the first time a dead general triumphed. When Trajan was deified, he appropriately retained, alone among the emperors, a title he had won for himself in the field, that of "Parthicus." He was a patient organizer of victory rather than a strategic genius. He laboriously perfected the military machine, which when once set in motion went on to victory. Much of the work he did was great and enduring, but the last year of his life forbade the Romans to attribute to him that felicitas which they regarded as an inborn Quality of the highest generals. Each succeeding emperor was saluted with the wish that he might be "better than Trajan and more fortunate than Augustus." Yet the breach made in Trajan's felicitas by the failure in the East was no greater than that made in the felicitas of Augustus by his retirement from the right bank of the Rhine. The question whether Trajan's Oriental policy was wise is answered emphatically by Mommsen in the affirmative.

It was certainly wise if the means existed which were necessary to carry it out and sustain it. But succeeding history proved that those means did not exist. The assertion of Mommsen that the Tigris was a more defensible frontier than the desert line which separated the Parthian from the Roman Empire can hardly be accepted. The change would certainly have created a demand for more legions, which the resources of the Romans were not sufficient to meet without danger to their possessions on other frontiers.

The records of Trajan's reign are miserably deficient. Our best authority is the 68th book of Dio Cassius; then comes the "Panegyric" of Pliny, with his correspondence. The facts to be gathered from other ancient writers are scattered and scanty. Fortunately the inscriptions of the time are abundant and important. Of modern histories which comprise the reign of Trajan the best in English is that of Merivale; but that in German by H. Schiller (Geschichte der romischen Kaiserzeit, Gotha, 1883) is more on a level with recent inquiries. There are special works on Trajan by H. Francke (Gi.istrow, 1837), De la Berge (Paris, 1877), and Dierauer in M. Biidinger's Untersuchungen zur romischen Kaisergeschichte, (Leipzig, 1868). A paper by Mommsen in Hermes, iii. pp. 30 seq., entitled "Zur Lebensgeschichte des jiingeren Plinius," is important for the chronology of Trajan's reign. The inscriptions of the reign, and the Dacian campaigns, have been much studied in recent years, in scattered articles and monographs. (J. S. R.)

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Roman emperor from 98 to 117. Like Vespasian, Titus, and Hadrian, he is frequently mentioned by Jewish writers; and he exercised a profound influence upon the history of the Jews throughout the Babylonia, Palestine, and Hellenistic Diaspora. His ambition led him to the farthest eastern boundaries of the Roman empire, where he warred against the Parthians, although in the meantime the Jews arose in Egypt and in Cyrene "as though carried away by some wild and riotous spirit" Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl." iv. 2). The insurrection at Alexandria is mentioned in a papyrus fragment in the Louvre, which refers to a suit brought before the emperor by an Alexandrian and a Jew, although the ruler there designated may be Hadrian, Trajan's successor (see T. Reinach in "R. E. J." xxxvii. 218).

The task of subduing the Jews in Egypt and Cyrene was entrusted by Trajan to Marcius Turbo, with whom the emperor is confused in rabbinical sources, which frequently write the name Trajan "Tarkinos" (Krauss, in "R. E. J." xxx. 206, xxxi. 47; idem, "Lehnwörter," ii. 273). Cyprus also was the scene of a violent Jewish uprising, which seems likewise to have been quelled by Turbo. In the same year (116), or possibly a year later, when Trajan thought the Parthians subdued, the Jews of Mesopotamia, mindful of the treatment which their Palestinian brethren had received at the hands of the Romans, and of their own sufferings, especially at Nisibis and Adiabene, during the four years of Trajan's campaign, arose in rebellion, determined to expel the Romans from their country. Trajan thereupon ordered the Mauritanian prince Lusius Quietus to proceed against the Jews, and gave him strict orders to purge the provinces of them, his rigid obedience to this order winning for the legate the governorship of Palestine (Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl." iv. 2; idem, "Chronikon," ed. Schoene, ii. 164; Orosius, vii. 12; Dion Cassius, lxviii. 32).

In the meantime, however, rebellion had again broken out in Judea; and it is highly probable that the Palestinian Jews also rendered assistance to their oppressed brethren elsewhere, especially in Egypt, this fact possibly furnishing an explanation of Trajan's expedition to Egypt (Esther R. proem, § 3). The rabbinical legend gives the following reason for the revolution: The emperor's wife (the governor's wife is probably meant) bore a child on the 9th of Ab, when the Jews were lamenting, and it died on the Feast of Ḥanukkah, when the Jews illuminated their houses; and in revenge for these fancied insults the wife urged her husband to punish the Jews (ib.). No such legend, however, is needed to explain the Jewish rebellion against the Roman government, for during the reign of Trajan the Christian descendants of David, who were relatives of Jesus, were persecuted; and Schlatter rightly infers that the patriarchal family likewise died for its faith, since it was supposed to be Davidic. The Palestinian revolt appears to have been organized by two brothers, Pappus and Luliani, and rabbinical sources expressly allude to Trajan's proceedings against the pair (Sifra, Emor, viii. 9, and parallels; see also Kohut, "Aruch Completum," iv. 74), whom he is said to have sentenced to death in Laodicea, although he afterward ordered them taken to Rome, where they were executed. Here again the rabbinical sources confuse Trajan with his governor, Lusius Quietus, who was later deposed and executed by Hadrian. The marvelous escape of Pappus and Luliani was celebrated by a semifestival called "Trajan's Day," which fell, according to the Meg. Ta'an., on the 12th of Adar (see Ratner in Sokolow," Sefer ha-Yobel," p. 507), although it is more probable that this day really commemorated the success of the Jewish forces against the Roman army. Denarii of Trajan are mentioned in the Talmud ('Ab. Zarah 52b); and it is also noteworthy that, according to the inscriptions of this emperor, he constructed a road from the Syrian border to the Red Sea. The unrest which marked the end of his reign was not allayed until his successor Hadrian became emperor.

Bibliography: Grätz, Gesch. 3d ed., iv. 112-117; Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., i. 661-668; Schlatter, Die Tage Trajans und Hadrians, p. 88, Gütersloh, 1897.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.

Simple English

Emperor of the Roman Empire
Marble bust of Trajan.
Reign 28 January 98 —
9 August 117
(&&&&&&&&&&&&&019.&&&&&019 years, &&&&&&&&&&&&0193.&&&&&0193 days)
Full name Marcus Ulpius Traianus
(from birth to adoption);
Caesar Marcus Ulpius Nerva Traianus (from adoption to accession);
Imperator Caesar Divi Nervae filius Nerva Traianus Optimus Augustus Germanicus Dacicus Parthicus (as emperor)
Born 18 September 53(53-09-18)
Birthplace Italica, ancient Hispania
Died August 9, 117 (aged 63)
Place of death Selinus, Cilicia
Buried Rome
Predecessor Nerva
Successor Hadrian
Wife Pompeia Plotina
Offspring Hadrian (adoptive)
Dynasty Nervan-Antonine
Father Marcus Ulpius Traianus
Mother Marcia

Trajan (Marcus Ulpius Nerva Traianus, 18 September 53 – 9 August 117) was Roman Emperor from 98 to 117. Born into a non-patrician family in the province of Hispania Baetica,[1] Trajan rose to prominence during the reign of emperor Domitian.

Serving as a general in the Roman army along the German frontier, Trajan successfully put down the revolt of Antonius Saturninus in 89.

In September 96, Domitian was succeeded by Nerva, an old and childless senator who proved to be unpopular with the army. After a brief and tumultuous year in power, a revolt by members of the Praetorian Guard compelled him to adopt the more popular Trajan as his heir and successor. Nerva died on 27 January 98, and was succeeded by Trajan without incident.

Trajan as Emperor

As a civilian administrator, Trajan is best known for his extensive public building program which reshaped the city of Rome and left multiple enduring landmarks such as Trajan's Forum, Trajan's Market and Trajan's Column.

Early in his reign he annexed Nabataea (between the Arabian and Sinai peninsulas), creating the province of Arabia Petraea. His conquest of Dacia enriched the empire greatly - the new province possessed many valuable gold mines. His war against the Parthian Empire ended with the sack of its capital Ctesiphon and the annexation of Armenia and Mesopotamia. His campaigns expanded the Roman Empire to its greatest territorial extent.

In late 117, while sailing back to Rome, Trajan fell ill and died of a stroke in the city of Selinus. He was deified by the Senate, and succeeded by his adopted son Hadrian.

As an emperor, Trajan's reputation has endured — he is one of the few rulers whose reputation has survived nineteen centuries. Every new emperor after him was honoured by the Senate with the prayer felicior Augusto, melior Traiano, meaning "may he be luckier than Augustus and better than Trajan". Among medieval Christian theologians, Trajan was considered a "virtuous pagan", while the 18th century historian Edward Gibbon popularized the notion of the Five Good Emperors, of which Trajan was the second.[2]


  1. Julian Bennett, Trajan: Optimus Princeps, 2nd Edition, Routledge 2000, 12.
  2. Nelson, Eric (2002). Idiots guide to the Roman Empire.. Alpha Books. pp. 207–209. ISBN 0-02-864151-5. 

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