Column of Trajan: a summary

(Intended) Functions of the Column through the course of time

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Trajan's Column, located on a prominent spot nearby the Altare della Patria, is undoubtedly among Rome's most noteworthy artifacts from the days of the early Empire. Although there is little left of the Forum Traiani that once surrounded it, the column has survived the centuries remarkably unscathed. For over 1900 years since the completion of its construction, the relief adorning the column's spiraling frieze has painted a vivid picture of Roman efforts during the Dacian wars, providing a unique insight into – among others – the day-to-day life of soldiers on a campaign, contemporary military, civil engineering and Trajan's exploits. However, some mysteries surrounding the column and its intended purpose remain. In this series of wiki articles on the Column of Trajan, we will explore the various purposes the column has served over time and attempt to discern the function intended by its builders. Although the column came to serve the function of a funerary monument shortly after its construction, we believe it was originally intended solely as a triumphal monument. This introductory page presents a brief overview of the various subjects. These subjects are: 'Details and surroundings', The death of Trajan and his succession', 'Functions of the Column throughout history', The column of Trajan as a funerary monument' and 'The column of Trajan as a triumphal monument'. For a more detailed discussion of the subjects touched upon, see the respective wiki pages.

The following wiki's are part of this series concerning the Column of Trajan:

Details and surroundings The death of Trajan and his succession Functions of the Column throughout history The column of Trajan as a funerary monument The column of Trajan as a triumphal monument

The Column of Trajan as it would have looked like in Ancient Times. [1]

Contents
1. Details and surroundings
2. The death of Trajan and his succession
3. Functions of the Column throughout history
4. Column of Trajan as a funerary monument
5. Column of Trajan as a triumphal monument
6. Sources

Details and surroundings


Main article: Details and surroundings

Construction of the column was completed in 113 AD [2], though the forum on which it stands had been completed several years prior to that. Trajan's Column was the first of its kind in Rome – a free standing, intricately decorated column of monumental proportions – and was therefore something very different from the archetypal triumphal arches dotted around Rome. The most likely candidate for its architect is Apollodorus of Damascus, known for his impressive bridge crossing the Danube river[3], which is also depicted on the column's frieze.


The death of Trajan and his succession


Main article: The death of Trajan and his succession

Only a few years after the column's completion, in 117 AD, Trajan unexpectedly died while on an expedition in Parthia[4]. Hadrian, who had been close to the emperor and even claimed to be Trajan's adopted son, seized the opportunity and declared himself emperor. On Hadrian's instigation, Trajan's ashes were placed underneath the column, which then came to serve as a funerary monument[4].


Functions of the Column throughout history


Main article: Functions of the Column throughout history

Over time, the Column of Trajan has served a multitude of (possible) functions. It was almost certainly primarily intended as a triumphal monument dedicated to the great Trajan and his victories in Dacian wars, but it also functioned as a funerary site after Trajan's death[5]. (For more detailed information, see the respective wiki pages.) The column may also have served a very practical purpose: its height was precisely 100 Roman feet and could therefore be used as a reference for making accurate measurements of distance[5]. In the 16th century, the column was part of pope Sixtus V's efforts to Christianise many of Rome's remaining pagan monuments and artifacts[6].


Column of Trajan as a funerary monument


Main article: Column of Trajan as a funerary monument

Whether the column had been originally intended to serve as a funerary monument is unclear. The presence of a small chamber inside the column in which Trajan's ashes were placed, as well as the peculiar shape and positioning of the column may suggest that Trajan's burial there was the plan all along. We believe however that the function as funerary monument was conceived after Trajan's death. Burial within Rome's ancient city limits was highly unusual and could not – at least not openly and officially – have been arranged before the emperor's death[7], and Hadrian's involvement in the matter may indicate that use of the column as a burial site was decided upon only after the emperor's death[4].


Column of Trajan as a triumphal monument


Main article: Column of Trajan as a triumphal monument

The column's intricately decorated frieze, depicting scenes of Trajan's exploits during the Dacian wars suggests this column a triumphal monument. The presence of a possible deification theme [8] and the column's location on the Forum Traiani [9] provide additional arguments to support this theory. Though the type of triumphal monument was somewhat unusual, it had been used before [10].


Sources


  1. Rome across Europe. Trajan's Column: A Historical Comic Book. (As accessed on the 27th of August, 2015)
  2. Julian Bennett, Trajan optimus princeps, Routledge (December 23, 2000) p. 90, 92-94, 97-101
  3. Livius.org; articles on Ancient History. Apollodorus of Damascus. (As accessed on the 4th of October, 2015)
  4. Julian Bennett, Trajan optimus princeps, Routledge (December 23, 2000) , p 202 - 204
  5. Frank Leppard and Sheppard Frere, Trajan’s column, Fonthill media, (November 19, 2015) p 2 – p 47
  6. Robert Hughes, Rome, E-book version, p5 of CH7
  7. P.J.E. Davies, 'The Politics of Perpetuation: Trajan's Column and the Art of Commemoration', American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 101, No. 1 (Jan., 1997), p. 45
  8. Frank Leppard and Sheppard Frere, Trajan’s column, Fonthill media, (November 19, 2015) p 2 – p 47
  9. Laura Salah Nasrallah, Christian responses to Roman art and architecture : the second-century church amid the spaces of empire, Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, (2010) p.154
  10. Florea Bobu Florescu, Die Trajanssaüle: Grundfragen und Tafeln, Bukarest : Akademie-Verlag ; Bonn : Rudolf Habelt Verlag GmbH, (1969 )p 29-32