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Roman Emperor - Trajan

Updated on February 21, 2012
Photo by Bibi Saint-Pol
Photo by Bibi Saint-Pol

AD 53 - 117

Trajan was born Marcus Ulpius Nerva Trajanus to a Spanish provincial family of Roman origins. His father was a provincial governor and honored by Emperor Vespasian, who made him a consul and enrolled him among the patricians.

The younger Trajan held the usual magistracies and became commander of a legion and later governor of Upper Germany. He was respected as a firm and talented military commander and was adopted as successor by the ailing Nerva, who had been elected emperor on the death of the tyrant Domitian.

As a professional soldier he was popular with the army and also with the senate. After serving with distinction in the east and in Germany, he was made consul in 91.

Trajan automatically succeeded as emperor on Nerva's death in AD 98. He was the first Roman emperor born outside Italy.

Trajan married Pompeia Plotina, who persuaded him to adopt Hadrian; as he had no children of his own.

Relief of Trajan surrounded by lictor (bodyguards).
Relief of Trajan surrounded by lictor (bodyguards).

Military and Political Career

The rule of the Roman emperor Trajan began an era in Rome's history that later writers were to call a golden age. This era was marked by security and prosperity and the emperors were for the most part efficient administrators and able to keep the army in check.

The reign of Trajan began with firmness; he ordered the execution of those praetorian guardsmen who had forced Nerva to execute the murderers of Domitian. On returning to Rome from the Rhine in AD 99 he won the favor of the populace by distributing largesse and by other measures, including the establishment of grants of public money to support poor children in provincial cities.

He was concerned with the efficient management of provinces and wherever possible sent out commissioners to reorganize municipal finances. The younger Pliny was one of these commissioners and he was sent to the province of Bithynia. Trajan also improved communication throughout the empire by road-building and road-repair schemes and the implementation of other public works, such as bridges, canals, ports and aqueducts.

In foreign policy Trajan was aggressive. In 101 he set out for his first Dacian (now Romania) campaign and celebrated a triumph in 103, when he assumed the title Dacicus.

Trajan's Column, sculptured column in the Forum of Trajan at Rome. The column proper was 100 Roman feet high, and stood on a pedestal. It was erected by Trajan in AD 113 to commemorate his victories over the Dacians, and shows vivid scenes from the campaigns on a spiral band about 30 meter high which winds up the shaft. Trajan's tomb was in the pedestal of the column, and his statue (now replaced by one of St Peter) stood on its top.

In Africa he extended the southern boundaries of Numidia to open up more agricultural land and on the eastern frontier he annexed the kingdom of the Nabateans, which became the province of Arabia.

The second campaign opened in 104 and was entirely successful: the Dacian king Decebalus committed suicide (106), the capital Sarmizegethusa became the Roman colony of Ulpia Traiana, and Dacia itself was made a Roman province.

The celebrations in honor of these victories lasted at Rome for 123 days. At about this time Arabia Petraea was also made a Roman province.

He then turned his attention to Rome's traditional enemy, Parthia. Armenia, a buffer state between the two superpowers, was made a Roman imperial province and Trajan's forces went on to conquer Upper Mesopotamia. Two campaigns (115-116) sufficed to overrun, but not to defeat, the Parthians, and the province of Mesopotamia was formed. Trajan then descended the Tigris to the Persian Gulf, but was obliged to return to Ctesiphon by news a series of revolts that broke out in AD 116 in the new provinces and Jewish communities in the East. In 117 he fell ill, set out for Italy, but died at Selinus in Cilicia (now Turkey) on his way back to Rome.

As the emperor was childless on his deathbed he adopted a distant relative, Hadrian, who was a favorite of Empress Plotina, as his son and successor.


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      This really helped me on my school report thanks! :)

    • darkside profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Australia

      I was unaware of that, but thanks to you, now I know! :)

    • blue parrot profile image

      blue parrot 

      8 years ago from Madrid, Spain

      A nice hub, darkside. The ruins of Trajan's birthplace, called Itálica, are just a few miles outside Seville and well worth a visit--perhaps you know them. You can walk down some of the original streets and sit in the huge amphitheater. "Could you show us Trajan's birthplace?" Romanian tourists sometimes ask on arriving here in Spain. They studied him in school--the man who Romanized their country.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      you are awsome


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