Trajan's Column

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A tall commemorative stone victory monument in the form of a column erected in Trajan's Forum in Rome in honour of the emperor Trajan and dedicated to him on 18 May ad 113. Composed of 29 huge blocks of white Italian marble (eight for the base, nineteen for the column, and two for the pedestal on top), the whole structure stands 38 m high. Originally, the column bore a bronze statue of Trajan in military dress, but in ad 1588 the statue of St Peter was placed there and has remained there ever since. The inside of the column is hollow and contains a spiral staircase leading to the platform at the top of the capital. On the outer face is a helical frieze about 200 m long, minutely carved in low relief. The 155 scenes, containing more than 2600 figures at about two‐thirds life‐size, commemorate the emperor's triumphs in Dacia in ad 101–2 and 105–6. Together, these scenes provide an important source of information about the structure and workings of the Roman army on campaign. Trajan's Forum was inaugurated in January 112 with the Basilica Ulpia as its focus, and markets to the northeast side. The column was added to the northwest end of the basilica, set between two libraries, a year or so later. It is possible that originally it was plain‐faced apart from the 40 narrow windows lighting the stairs, and that the frieze was added after the emperor's sudden death in ad 117 when, by special dispensation of the Senate, the column became Trajan's tomb. The Temple of the Deified Trajan, built by his successor Hadrian between ad 125 and 128, lies on the axis of the column to the northwest.


F. Lepper and S. Frere, 1988, Trajan's Column. Gloucester: Sutton Publishing

Subjects: Archaeology.

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