Details and Surroundings

An impressive column, built in even more impressive surroundings

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This Wiki is part of the series The Column of Trajan. Other parts of this series are:

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

In the year 113 Trajan's Column was finished[1]. Being the first column of its kind, it rose 40 meters into the air and was decorated with the most ingenious spiraling frieze consisting of war scenes. Apollodorus of Damascus is believed to be the designer of this impressive column. On the pedestal of the column one can find an inscription describing the nature and intention of the monument[4]. This large column is for most tourists today the only memory of Trajan. Often the glorious forum and the market of Trajan that once surrounded the column [6] are forgotten.

1. Structural details of the colum
2. The frieze
3. The inscription
4. Forum Traiani
5. Sources

Structural details of the column

Internal structure of the column[9]

The Column of Trajan was completed in the year 113 and was dedicated on May 12 of that year[1].On the forum Traiani, a new column had arisen. It was completely covered by relief from bottom to top, showing army themed scenes depicting the two wars Trajan fought against the Dacians. When rolled out the frieze spans 200 meters[2].The column is hollow inside, with stairs cut out of the stones. 185 steps lead to the top, which gives a magnificent view of some of Trajan’s greatest works in Rome, such as Trajan's forum and the market of Trajan.

The frieze

The column is believed to be designed by Apollodorus of Damascus and shows the two Dacian wars which took place in the first decade of the 2nd century. Trajan’s works and victories are displayed in 400 scenes, using more than 2500 figures of which sixty depictions of Trajan[3]. It seems one continuous scene, but in fact the frieze consists of seventeen separate Luna marble drums[2].

The Danube bridge and other buildings that were designed by Apollodorus are depicted in detail on the column. Therefore it is believed that he had a big influence on the design of the frieze. As Apollodorus was originally a military engineer before he became a civil engineer [7], it is very well possible that he did indeed design the frieze as the depictions on it fit his knowledge of war.

The inscription

The inscription on the pedestal of Trajan's Column.

On the pedestal of the column the following Latin inscription still remains:


Translation: The Senate and the People of Rome to the Emperor, Caesar, son of the deified Nerva, Nerva Traianus Augustus Germanicus Dacicus, Pontifex Maximus, invested with the power of the tribune seventeen times, hailed imperator six times, elected consul six times, father of the fatherland, to show the height and location of the hill removed for such great structures.[12]

This text explains that this column was given to Trajan by the Senate and the people of Rome “to show the height and location of the hill removed for such great structures”[4]. Many scholars believe the hill refers to the Quirinal, which was supposedly excavated to make place for the forum of Trajan. However, the archeologist Giacomo Boni researched this theory and showed that no hill was ever on this site[8]. This means the inscription is likely to be meant figuratively and then probably refers to the amount of work put into building the forum or fighting the wars displayed on the column. However, there are no ancient sources concerning this inscription or about the reason for building the column. Therefore it is very difficult to determine what the inscription refers to[5].

Forum Traiani (the forum of Trajan)[10]

Forum Traiani

The forum Traiani(the forum of Trajan) is the last, largest and most magnificent of the imperial fora. It is possible that the building of the forum was already started by Domitian (as is hinted in Cass. Dio [11] and Vict. Caes.). In its completed state the forum consisted of the forum proper, the basilica Ulpia, the column of Trajan and the bibliotheca, of which one was Greek and the other Latin. In its original state it did not contain a central temple, which was unlike the other imperial fora. However, after Trajan’s death, Hadrian erected the great temple of Trajan on the north-west side of the bibliotheca which made it more conform to the imperial type (most imperial fora had a temple as centre piece). Trajan’s and Augustus’ forum must have been connected by a wide avenue, which is in line with Caesar’s initial plan of connecting the Forum Romanum and Campus Martius[6].

The forum Traiani was completed by Hadrian. In that time the forum of Trajan was probably one of the most impressive and magnificent buildings in Rome. As far as we know, its destruction began in the sixth century and continued throughout the Middle Ages. The pieces that are now lost have served as decorations for the churches and palaces of Rome[6].


  1. Julian Bennett, Trajan optimus princeps, Routledge (December 23, 2000) p. 90, 92-94, 97-101
  2. Robert Hughes, Rome, E-book version p11 of CH3
  3. Robert Hughes, Rome, E-book version, p12 of CH3
  4. Wikipedia page concerning Trajan's column (as accessed on the 26th of August, 2015)
  5. Florea Bobu Florescu, Die Trajanssaüle: Grundfragen und Tafeln, Bukarest : Akademie-Verlag ; Bonn : Rudolf Habelt Verlag GmbH, (1969 )p 29-32
  6. M. Cartwright, Trajan’s Market, History online, (08-10-2013)
  7.; articles on Ancient History. Apollodorus of Damascus. (As accessed on the 4th of October, 2015)
  8. Giacomo Boni, Trajan's Column [From the Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. 111], London, Oxford University Press, page 4
  9. James E. Packer, Forum of Trajan in Rome, Volume 1-3, University of California, April 1997, plate 23.2
  10. Roman Architecture. Concrete Visions. (As accessed on the 5th of October, 2015)
  11. Cassius Dio: Roman History (full text)
  12. Trajan's Column in Rome; the Dedicatory Inscription of the Column