The Trajan Column

The sculpted frieze of Trajan's column is regarded as a masterpiece of Roman imperial art. It tells the story of Emperor Trajan's miltary defeat of the Dacians and was constructed in AD 113.

No expense was spared in its creation. The frieze, some 200 metres in length and carved of costly Carrera marble, winds around the full length of the monument, rising to 35 metres above ground level. It is situated on the Forum of Trajan, between the Capitoline and the Quirinal Hills, and it was designed by the famed architect Apollodorus of Damascus.

Cassius Dio described the site in his Roman History (Epitome of Book LXVIII, 16,3):“... he set up in the Forum an enormous column, to serve at once as a monument to himself and as a memorial of the work in the Forum. For that entire section had been hilly and he had cut it down for a distance equal to the height of the column, thus making the Forum level.” Dio was writing a hundred years after the construction of the column, and his reference to its height corresponding to the amount of earth removed in the valley in order to clear the site appears not to be true.

Dio records the presence of two libraries built near to the column which acted as viewing platforms from whose upper floors people  could admire the extraordinary spiral relief.

The monument quickly became an icon of the city of Rome and a symbol of its power. Indeed, such was its importance that it was depicted on coins. Unlike the Basilica Ulpia or the libraries, Trajan’s column remains standing, now free of those neighbouring buildings which had encroached on it. As with many other ancient buildings, the column survived thanks to its re-use as a Christian monument.Trajan’s statue had stood on the top of the column for centuries. It was replaced in 1587 with the statue of St. Peter that has lasted until today. (Next)

The images

Top: Investigi dell'antichità di Roma raccolti et ritratti in perspettiva. Rome, 1621.

Middle: Roma vetus ac recens utriusque aedificiis ad eruditam cognitionem expositis. Rome, 1738.

Bottom: Views of the Remains of Ancient Buildings in Rome, and its vicinity. London, 1820.