Trajan – most powerful Roman emperor?

Roman realm was vast and it experienced several glorious moments. There were several times than Roman army had no equal challenge around it’s borders and country was lead by strong emperor. So when was it as it’s mightiest? When was it in high noon of it’s day? These are good questions and somebody must
have though then now and then. At least I have. Maybe one answer could be the time period when Trajan ruled Rome. It was in years 98-117 AD. At that time Rome was in it’s largest and spread out from Britain to Red see and Mesopotamia. It’s army was strong and whole realm was unite under one commander. Only Parthia was standing as worth while opponent but even Parthia could not really charge Rome.

Who was Trajan?

Marcus Ulpius Traianus also said as Caesar Divi Nervae Filius Nerva Traianus Optimus Augustus was born is Spain. His origin was in Roman colony called Italica. It’s ruin still exist very near of our modern time Seville. I have been there and still there lays ruins of rather big amphitheatre and lot of nice mosaics. Trajan’s birth year was 52 AD and even though he was born in Spain his family origin was from northern Italy. When he became a Caesar his reign marked a new page in history of Rome. All earlier emperors were born in Rome – in Italy – and they were clearly italian origin. It also meant that for those Caesars Rome was the center of the Roman realm – everything else had much less worth.

Amphithetare in Italica
But Trajan was the first Caesar born and grown elsewhere than Italy – he saw the world different way. Rome was not anymore the sun in the middle of all. For Trajan Rome was an entity and Rome was a city among others – still the most important. So Trajan began an era when emperors did not have to be from Italy and after him many emperors were born and grown elsewhere on borders of Rome. Many of new becoming Caesars were very talented and experienced army generals. They knew that roman borders were as important than the heart of Rome.

Rome as it’s greatest

About Trajan’s career

Trajan came from noble family and his father was even senator. Father -also Marcus Ulpius Trajanus – commanded tenth legion (Fretensis) like Gaius Julius Caesar did in his time. Legion was some time located in Spain in Lugo. Trajan’s father became even consul in year 70 AD. later on he was governor of Syria, Baetica and Asia. We can deduct because of this that young Trajan travelled a lot and had seen the world even at young age. He got an excellent start because his father and started his career as a tribune in Syria. Son in 85 AD his reached the position of praetor. Just at age of 35 he was named a commander of seventh legion called Gemina. It has it’s camp in Leon. Not too far from Italica in Spain. He took part to turn down a rebellion at emperor Domitians side. From that he was appointed as a consul in year 91 AD – not too bad! After Domitian Nerva was elected as a emperor of Rome. Nerva has noticed the aura of Trajan to be strong and named Trajan as a governor of upper Germany. And even better – after some time he adopted Trajan to his son. This promised Trajan to be Caesar after Nerva. And Nerva was calculating to stabilize the Roman realm when he named Trajan as his successor. Because Trajan was a strong army commander – highly respected by other generals. And we will se that Nerva was right about Trajan.

Years as emperor

After nerva had adopted Trajan he asked commanders of mutiny armies to gather in upper Germany – and he executed all them. It was a sign for everybody that Trajan was a strong man. When Nerva died 98 AD Trajan took time even to 99 AD until he arrived to Rome. He wanted to achieve a strong support and he visited borderline camps and commanders near Danube first. He knew that soldiers had the real power no in Rome. When he finally entered Rome he walked through the city with common people – I guess he wanted to show the people that he was their emperor. Therefore Roman people took him as their own leader. But Trajan also understood senate and promise to kept them also informed about his intentions. After having power he showed to be a good Caesar and cared about public welfare. He supported poor, built bridges, aqueducts, baths and a new port to Ostia. And also even pardoned people earlier emperors had exiled. Of course maybe the greatest gift he gave to Romans was forum of Trajan. It was a wide commercial place for people to buy and sell things – and it is still existing. It also had big warehouses for companies to hold their merchandise. It lies beside forums of Augustus and Caesar.

Trajan’s Forum – an orchestra is playing on forum at twilight.

Trajan’s column – full of carvings from Dacian wars.

But real needed money and Trajan found a good way to write his name into history. Trajan was an army man and competent general. So he started a war against Dacians and king Decebalus. He had earlier had encounter with Dacians and now he wanted to finish the job. He left Rome 101 AD to hit Dacians and won them in Tapei. A peace was made and Dacians gave some land to Rome. But peace did not last. Next match followed soon 105 AD and Trajan defeated Dacians totally and king Decebalus committed suicide. Also the capital of Dacians – Sarmizegethisa – was sacked and all treasures taken into Rome. The campaign was a great victory for Trajan and he took chance of moment and carved campaign into Trajans columns. It is still standing in Rome. So he made himself immortal – not bad for Spaniards. At home big celebrations were hold and 10 000 gladiators took part into combats and 11 000 beasts were killed – not bad party! Dacians lands were annexed to Rome and original inhabitants were replaced by Roman settlers – so got beginning of todays Romania. After this even peace was hold for 6 years and Rome lived in peace and prosperity. AT 114 AD Trajan left from Rome to defeat rebellion in eastern front. Parthians were coming too brave and they had took control over Armenia.

Trajan in Vatican museum

Now Trajan took Armenia with his army and annexed it to Rome. he turned next to south to defeat Parthia. He took fast Mesopotamia and the capita of Parthia – Ctesiphon. This was a significant victory because both Crassus and Marc Antony were defeated earlier by Parthians. So Trajan succeeded were his predesessors had not. Now his empire was from Scotland to Caspian and Red see. However there was a rebellion in 117 AD and Trajan had to retreat from Mesopotamia. In war acts he nearly was killed by enemy. Suddenly also Cyprus and Egypt started to rebel and even worse – rebellion spread to northern frontier. Then Trajan decided to travel back to Rome maybe to get better control of his realm But on his journey back he got sick and died in Sicilia. His body was taken to Rome and burned there. His ashes were placed under Trajans column – to keep his memory and remind his glory days.

Trajan in Gadiz

Trajan’s forum at daylight

About his character and achievements

Trajan was a real military hero. A was a strong warrior type man who did not fear to fight. I guess because of that he aroused respect and trust around him and people believed his character. He was a strong leader. He also understood that role of emperor was to develop his empire and not use it to his own benefit. And he did develop Rome with construction works, kept army strong and gave his people food. Therefore in his time Rome was strong and great. Nobody could defeat it. It is also said that Trajan was reasonable with his life. He drink wine only suitable amount and did have a reasonable personal life. He did not had too bad lust in any direction. In the end he is held to be the second of five good Caesars after Domitian. The first was Nerva. After him came Hadrian. Trajan did not have any child with his wife Pompeia Plotina. Some people believe that Trajan was poisoned when he died. It is not really clear if Hadrian really adopted Hadrian before his death or was it a plot of his wife. Hadrian was a family member of Trajan and was his cousins son. But anyway also Hadrian became a good Caesar and continued good work of Trajan.

Trajan’s columns at twilight from upwards

What still holds memory of Trajan for all peoples are the forum of Trajan and his remarkable column. Both standing in middle of Rome. Forum was built at 112 AD from treasury taken from Dacians. At Trajan’s time population of Rome was in it’s highest – about 1 million. Therefore new marketplace and temples for gods were needed. Also temples were built beside forum. Also place for law and court was needed and it was built on northern side of forum – called basilica Ulpias. Later Hadrian built also a statue of Trajan riding six horse chariot were added on forum. The column of Trajan was finished years 113 AD and it has an exciting story of Trajan’s campaign against Dacians. Still learned people interpret carvings and learn Roman life from it.

Trajan’s column with many carvings

Trajan’s warehouses above Trajan’s forum in Rome