by: M. Pomponius Lupus
A brief introduction on Trajanus
Marcus Ulpius Trajanus, being the emperor of Rome from 98 to 117 AD, is generally considered one of the "good" emperors, if not the best. Even in his own time he received recognition for this, as the Senate gave him the name "Optimus Princeps". When we think of Trajanus, we think of a noble man who tried to do his best for the people of Rome ; he offered special protection for the farmers of Italy and used the income of taxes to offer a decent education for the youth of Rome. But Trajanus was in the first place a Roman (he originally came from Spain, but was raised completely in the Roman way) and so he was a soldier. After two Campaigns against Dacia and a third against Mesopotamia, Trajanus had changed the sight of the known world and the Roman empire had never been bigger than under the reign of this remarkable emperor.
The Column itself
That the Column was unique in its kind, is the least we can say. It consists of a 100-foot tall marble column set atop a massive rectangular base, topped by a gilded statue of the emperor himself. But what really makes this one special are three facts, never before to be found in Roman architecture.
1) A chamber beneath the Column to house the ashes of the emperor.
2) A spiral staircase inside the Column that went all the way up to a viewing point at its top.
3) The sculpted frieze that covers the exterior of the Column and goes like a spiral all the way to the top Apart from its size, Trajan's Column is especially known for this frieze, which depicts the story of Trajan's campaigns against the Dacians. Over 2000 persons appear on the frieze and are sculpted at about two thirds life size. We can see a variety of actions on the frieze : a marching army, the building of a fort, speeches from Trajan,...but we can only see them on pictures taken from it at close distance. Looking at the column from a ground level, allows us to see something of the lower parts, but makes it impossible to distinguish anything at all from the upper parts. Why then, did they construct such a monument if it was not to be seen by anyone ? Two theories present themselves : 1) On buildings next to the Column there would have been platforms from which we would have been able to see more of the frieze, but it still wouldn't allow us to fully experience the frieze as we wouldn't be able to follow the frieze around the Column upwards. 2) "Ordinary men" weren't supposed to see all of it ; what Marcus Ulpius Trajanus had achieved was destined for the eyes of the gods. Romans, and all races to come would be impressed by its size and the knowledge that there was a frieze going all the way around it, but the gods would be the ones to fully experience the beauty of the Column and they would ensure that this testimony of a once great emperor would last for many years.
How was this column constructed ?
Nothing was held back by Trajanus to construct "his mark upon this world" and so the work began in Luna (North of Italy), where workers quarried the marble, which was then shipped to Rome. Twenty massive marble blocks, each three and a half m. in diameter, were used for the shaft and eight more for the base of the Column. Carving them out was a precise work as they had to fit in the ones above and below them, leaving a flat surface and a staircase in the middle. Though sculpting the frieze almost certainly began on the ground, it was finished when the column was standing. Appearantly the sculptors themselves didn't quite know what the exact measurements would have to be, as they began carving spirals. The first thirteen spirals have a width of 1.2 m, the next six spirals become smaller and smaller as if they feared that they would run out of place, after which the last two spirals become bigger again, now certain that they had enough place for it. Trajan's column is a marvelous piece of art and represents almost all that is Roman. It's a big monument, reaching for the sky and demanding respect from anyone that looks at it, but it's even greater in its small details. A truly remarkable monument for a truly remarkable Emperor.