Trajan. CE 98-117. Rome mint, CE 114-115. AR denarius, 18 mm, 3.7 gm. IMP CAES NER TRAIANO OPTIMO AVG GER DAC. Laureate and draped bust right / P M TR P COS VI P P S P Q R. Trajan’s column surmounted by statue of Trajan, holding patera and scepter; two eagles at base. RIC II 35

About the column

 

  • Completed in CE 113

  • Funded by the spoils of the Dacian wars

  • 35 meters tall (125 feet), including the base

  • The shaft is composed of 20 drums of Carrera marble, each ~3.7 meters in diameter (11 feet)

  • A spiral staircase within leads to a viewing platform

  • The bas relief friezes spiral 23 times up the column and has 155 scenes with more than 2600 carved figures. Unwound, the frieze measures 190 meters (625 feet) in length.

  • The story of both Dacian wars are shown in the friezes. The first war starts at the bottom, a beautiful carving of Victory separates the two stories.

  • Trajan's and Plotina's ashes were interred in the column's base (since removed)

  • The topping statue of Trajan, lost in the middle ages, was replaced by Pope Sixtus V in 1587. St. Peter's statue remains atop the column to this day.

 

 

How did they lift the 32-ton marble drums that high?

 

Probably by something similar to this lifting tower:

National Geographic has an interesting stop-motion video of how Trajan's Column may have been constructed.

 

 

Where's Trajan?

 

Trajan appears 59 times in the friezes. He is distinctive and the carving realistic enough to pick him out, although with 2600 figures to sort through it's a bit like finding Waldo.

One of the most desirable issues for Trajan collectors, this denarius depicts the triumphal column of Trajan, an incredible and still-standing tribute to the emperor's successful Dacian campaigns of CE 101-2 and 105-6.

image from Wikipedia

image from Wikipedia

A fun and fanciful tour book story

 

"The column's survival was largely thanks to the intervention of Pope Gregory the Great (reigned 590-604). He was so moved by a relief showing Trajan helping a woman whose son had been killed that he begged God to release the emperor's soul from hell. God duly appeared to the pope to say that Trajan had been rescued, but asked him not to pray for the souls of any more pagans. 

 

According to legend, when Trajan's ashes were exhumed his skull and tongue were not only intact, but his tongue told of his release from hell. 

 

The land around the column was then declared sacred and the column itself was spared." --ItalyGuides.it

 

 

Further reading

 

Detailed studies of the column on Dartmouth.edu

United Nations of Roma Victrix, summary of the Dacian wars

Trajan's Column iPad app

Interactive presentation of the column's panels by National Geographic