Trajan's Column is a monument in Rome raised by order of emperor Trajan. It is located in Trajan's Forum, built near the Quirinal Hill, north of the Roman Forum. Finished in 113, the spiral bas-relief commemorates Trajan's victory in his military campaigns to conquer Dacia.
The structure is about 30 meters (98 ft) in height, 38 including its large pedestal. The shaft is made from a series of 18 colossal Carrara marble drums, each weighing about 40 tons, with a diameter of about 4 metres (13 ft). The 200 meter (656 ft) frieze winds around the shaft 23 times. Inside the shaft, a spiral staircase of 185 stairs provides access to a viewing platform at the top.
Originally, the column was topped with a statue of an eagle, and later by a statue of Trajan himself. In 1588, it was replaced by a statue of St. Peter (which still remains) by Pope
The relief portrays Trajan's two victorious military campaigns against the Dacians; the top half illustrating the first (101-102), and the lower half illustrating the second (105-106).
The two sections are separated by a personification of Victory writing on a shield. Otherwise, the scenes on the frieze unfold continuously and in tipped-up perspective. The imagery is not realistic as the sculptor pays little attention to perspective. Often a variety of different perspectives are used in the same scene, so that more can be revealed (e.g. a different angle is used to show men working behind a wall).
The scenes depict mostly the Roman army in military activities such as setting out to battle and engaging the Dacians, as well as constructing fortifications and listening to the emperor's address. The carvings are crowded with sailors, soldiers,statesmen and priests, showing about 2,500 figures in all and providing a valuable source of information for modern historians on Roman and barbaric arms and methods of warfare (such as forts, ships, weapons etc.). The emperor Trajan, depicted realistically (not superhuman), makes 59 appearances among his troops. A large figure of a river god is also visible.
Traces of coloring have been found in the crevices of the carving. The base is covered with reliefs of trophies of Dacian weapons.
The translated inscription at the base of the column reads:
The senate and the people of Rome [built this] for the emperor, son of the divine Nerva, Caesar Nerva Traianus Augustus Germanicus Dacicus, pontifex maximus, in his 17th year in the office of tribune, having been acclaimed 6 times as imperator, 6 times consul, pater patriae, as an illustration of the height which this hill and place attained, now removed for such as these.
That is, the column is claimed to be as high as the hill which had formerly stood in its place.
This is perhaps the most famous example of Roman square capitals, a script often used for stone monuments, and less often for manuscript writing. As it was meant to be read from below, the bottom letters are slightly smaller than the top letters, to give proper perspective. Some, but not all, word divisions are marked with a dot, and many of the words, especially the titles, are abbreviated. In the inscription, numerals are marked with a titulus, a bar across the top of the letters. A small piece at the bottom of the inscription has been lost.
The modern computer typeface "Trajan," designed in 1989 by Carol Twombly (who worked for Adobe Systems and for Bigelow & Holmes), uses letterforms based on this inscription.
It was traditionally thought that the Column was a propagandistic monument, glorifying the emperor's military exploits. But because the structure would have been generally invisible, surrounded by other buildings in Trajan's Forum, and simply the difficulty involved in following the frieze from end to end, it is now considered to have had much less propagandistic value. Based on the inscription, the column may have been a measuring guide for the construction of the forum.
After Trajan's death in 117, the Roman Senate voted to have Trajan's ashes buried in the Column's base in a golden urn. The ashes no longer exist there.
A plaster cast taken in the 19th century dominates the Cast Court at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Displayed in two sections, it offers students a closer look at the reliefs. ironically, after a century of acid pollution, the cast is now more legible in some details than the original.
Forum of Caesar, Augustus, Pax and Trajan including Trajan's Column and Trajan's markets, mark the passage from the Republic to the period of Empire and constitute the archaeological area of the Imperial Fora.
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