Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Trajan's Column and Forum: Immortality and Memory

Shivali Agnani
Honors in Rome - Summer 2005

I. Introduction

www.moyak.com/.../resume/ papers/roman_art.html
Column of Trajan
The Column of Trajan currently stands in the heart of Rome.

After two successful wars against the Dacians, the Emperor Trajan presented the Roman people with a grand reward- the Forum of Trajan and the Column of Trajan. Built from 112-113 CE, the Forum and Column are an enduring example of military propaganda and artistic achievement which remain in the heart of present-day Rome. The Forum offered the Roman people new facilities in which to conduct business and legal affairs. The Column, which stands in the middle of the Forum, is covered with scenes depicting Trajan's account of the two glorious wars fought against the Dacians from 101- 106 CE.

Emperor Trajan was born Marcus Ulpius Nerva Trajanus in 53 CE in Spain. Because the previous Emperor, Nerva, was extremely unpopular with the soldiers, he chose Trajan as his adoptive son and heir. Trajan, at the time, was well known for his military skill and valor. With Nerva's adoption of Trajan began the Roman tradition of “succession by adoption.” Later Emperors "used sucession by adoption" to name the heirs to the throne. Trajan's rule was marked by peace and prosperity for the Romans; he freed slaves and returned property that had been seized by Nerva. Furthermore, Trajan expanded the Roman Empire with a series of conquests, most notably the Dacian Wars. During his reign, Trajan brought Rome to its greatest size.

Through Trajan's Forum and the Column of Trajan, Trajan hoped to commemorate his victories in the two Dacian Wars. Before Trajan came into power, Nerva had been removing gold from the gold coins used for the Roman currency, which destabilized the economy. Rome's neighbor, Dacia, located in current-day Romania was known to be rich with gold mines. It was the perfect opportunity for Trajan, an able solider, to aid the Roman economy while displaying his military abilities. In 101 C.E, Rome invaded Dacia with blessings from the Senate. As the Roman soldiers moved into the interior of Dacia, they built forts and bridges as well burning down Dacian villages. At the Battle of Tapea in 102 C.E, the Dacians were forced to surrender. King Decebalus was allowed to stay in Dacia to guarantee gold production for the Romans. However, by 105 C.E, the Dacians had reorganized under King Decebalus. During the second Dacian War, the Romans suffered higher causalities and the war lasted longer. The decisive Roman assault occurred in the Dacian capitol of Sarmizegethusa; the city was burned to the ground and King Decebalus committed suicide rather than be humiliated by the Romans. Dacia was incorporated into the Roman Empire with Romans leaving the walled-city to colonize the new territory. Upon returning to Rome, Trajan ordered 123 days of celebration and Dacian riches of gold, bronze, and marble were marched into the city. With the war spoils, Trajan financed the building of his Forum and the Column.

II. Description

Trajan's Forum
Trajan's Forum include the Basilica, the Piazza, two libraries,
the Temple of Trajan, and the Trajan's Column (upper).
The grandeur of the interior of the Basilica includeds its marble floors and walls (lower).

An ancient Roman would enter the Forum and the large Piazza through an elegant archway. The Piazza was eighty meters by a hundred and twenty meters; it could fit the entire Forum of Augustus. The Piazza was the center of ceremony and business. In the center of the Piazza stood an equestrian statue of Trajan which is currently being excavated. The horse and Trajan alone are rumored to be over twelve meters tall! Beyond the Piazza was Trajan’s Market, which is well-preserved and compared to the rest of the Forum stands as solid brick-work. The market was the equivalent to the modern shopping mall, rich with spices and clothes for sale. Moving passed the Piazza was the Basilica Ulpia. The Basilica had marble floors and walls and was sheltered by a bronze-tiled roof. It functioned as the center for legal affairs as well as a location to display the spoils of the war. Along the interior were statues of Dacians, displaying not only their integration into the Empire, but also their subjugation to the might of the Roman military. After moving through the Basilica was an opening into a small courtyard which contained the Column of Trajan, two libraries, and Temple of Divine Trajan which was built by Hadrian, Trajan’s successor, after his death. East and west of the Column are the Greek and Latin libraries, known together as the Bibliotheca Ulpia. The Column of Trajan itself stands approximately forty-four meters tall and is over three meters in diameter. It was designed by Apollodrus and is made from eighteen solid blocks of marble imported from the Greek island of Paros. Careful construction obscures the joints between the blocks of marble, though the sections are visible from the interior. On the interior is a staircase leading to the upper viewing platform. On the exterior, the bands that outline the history of the Dacian War gradually increase in height from .9 meters to 1.25 meters at the top. The upper carving of the Column are difficult to see from the ground, although balconies in the libraries planking the Column could have been used a viewing stations. When the Column was originally built, color was added with metal accessories. The Column presently stands as a white marble monolith with only ruins representing the remainder of the Forum.

III. Function

The Glory of Trajan's Forum
When the Forum was orginally built, it functioned as the center of commerce and politics for the Roman Empire.

Trajan's intentions were clear: he wanted to be remembered for his contribution to the Roman Empire. In all its glory, the Forum was richly decorated with the spoils of the Dacian Wars. By offering the Roman people the Forum, Trajan displayed sympathy for their needs, because it was the people who used the Forum regularly. In addition, the opulence and richness of the Forum was used to remind the Romans of Trajan's might and valor as an Emperor and solidier. The Forum glittered with both subtle and more obvious reminders of Trajan and the Dacian conquest. Therefore, a major function of the Forum was propaganda for the Dacian Wars. The statues of the Dacians and reminders of the War were incorporated into the design of the Forum and acted to commemorate the Roman success. Even by current standards, the largeness of the marble floors and grandness of the Basilica's interior would be awe-inspiring. A Roman entering the Basilica would feel physically small in comparison to the vastness of the space, reinforcing the grandness of Trajan's contribution to the Empire. If there were any skeptics at the onset of the Wars, the grandeur of the Forum would have removed any doubts.

For years, scholars have debated other possible functions of the Column of Trajan. When experiencing the Column from the inside, the viewer must first climb the steep, helical staircase. The inside of the shaft is dim; only a few small windows line its height. Before the viewer enters the bright light of the viewing station at the top of the Column, most people are thoroughly disorientated. From the viewing station, one would observe the glittering bronze roof of the Basilica Ulpia, the Capitol, and Campus Martius. If any viewer doubted the merit of the Wars against the Dacians, their fear about the costs and loss of human life would be quickly subdued by the magnificent sight. The Column's interior reinforced the Trajan's themes of propaganda for the Dacian Wars and commemoratation the Roman Empire under his reign.

How would an average Roman experience the exterior of the Column of Trajan? The detailed frieze, which covers the entirety of the Column, recounts each phase of the war from building forts and Trajan addressing the troops to battle scenes with the Dacians. The Column has been a source of military history and topographical information about the Roman Empire. Because the Column served as military propaganda, there is no blood-shed or other gruesome realities of war depicted. Also, Trajan and his soldiers are shown as brave and triumphant in their conquest of Dacian. The exterior of the Column, then, also emphasizes Roman superiority and Trajan's military successes.

IV. Patron

Viewing the Column
Viewing Trajan's Column was especially difficult from the small courtyard.

There are several architectural difficulties to overcome to view the Column of Trajan. To read the story, the viewer must physical circle the Column, making following the narrative quite difficult. First, it is often tricky to keep one's place in the story horizontally. Secondly, the carvings become increasingly difficult to view as one moves up the Column. Finally, the size of the courtyard would have prevented the viewer from moving backward far enough to view the Column in its entirety. Scholars have been unable to determine why such inextricably detailed story would be told in a manner which would be largely unappreciated by the viewer. Some believe that in ancient times, viewers would have used the balconies of the flanking libraries to see the upper portions of the Column. Other historians believe that the primary function of the Column of Trajan was accomplished by the viewing station. They believe that the Roman public at the time would have be informed about the events of the war and visualizing the details of the narrative would have been secondary to the view of city.

Recent academic dialogue and the Column’s architectural design suggests that Trajan may have intended the Column to function as a funerary monument as well. Memory in Roman history offers man immortality. Through sculptures, monuments, and great works of art, exceptional artists and leaders are remembered by citizens with each viewing of the piece. In order to understand the freize of the Column, a viewer must know Trajan and his military feats. Because Trajan's ashes were placed at the base of the Column, scholars like Penelope J. Davies believe that it was meant to serve as a funerary monument. Common Roman procedure denied an Emperor the right to a public burial until the Senate decreed it after his death. Therefore, it is interesting to consider whether Trajan could have anticipated and planned for his burial at the site of the Column. In Davies essay entitled, “Trajan's Column and the Art of Commemoration,” she states that the original design of the Column has a chamber at the base specifically made to house Trajan's ashes. If the Column was intended to serve as a funerary monument, circumambulation is appropriate. Consider that in Ancient Roman, encircling the funeral pyres was an essential part of the burial ritual. Therefore, it is possible that Trajan intended to use the Column as his burial site as well as for propagandistic and commemorative purposes. Davies says a tomb, “ may be monumental and unusual, but it has meaning only through those who look at it; it may speak, but it is always dependent on the passerby to read it aloud, and in a glance or the voice of the living lies perpetuation through memory…” To have no lasting monument which bears his name and records his feats would have meant a truly finite death of Trajan to future generations. But to understand the intricate details of the frieze which surrounds the Column requires an understanding of Trajan and the War. To read the story, the viewer must move around the Column. By controlling the viewer's physical movement, the Column forces active participation. Encirclement of the Column has a dual meaning: it essentially forces viewer reenactment of the ancient burial processions in addition to acting a military propaganda. Thus, the Column of Trajan is memorable to each of its viewers. It is a distinct piece of art amidst the more commonplace statues and monuments.

V. Conclusion

Trajan's Column and Forum
The Forum lies mostly in ruins, while much of the Column is well-preserved.

Despite its splendor, only weathered ruins of Trajan's Forum have survived centuries of destruction. The Forum was pillaged for the building of the Arch of Constantine in the 4th Century. Then, a series of earthquakes caused further destruction. In the Middle Ages, much of the marble of the Basilica and the Piazza was removed. However, in 1162, a decree was issued that preserved only the Column; punishment for destroying it was death. Major excavations were conducted by Napoleon from 1811-1814 and Mussolini in 1932. Although Mussolini covered half the Forum with the Via dell Impero, some of the ruins are now visible. The original statue of Trajan which surmounted the top of the column was replaced by Pope Sixtus V in 1588 with a statue of Saint Peter. The column was so unquie that it served as the prototype for a similar column erected for Antoninus Pius and for Marcus Aurelius. Also, the Vendome Column built by Napoleon in Paris to memorialize the Grand Army of France uses the Column of Trajan as a model. The column of Trajan is considered to be one of the most outstanding works of Roman art and historical documentation of military history.

VI. Personal Observations

The Frieze of Trajan's Column

Pictures do no justice to the intricate details of the frieze that encircles the Column of Trajan. Though I had seen various depictions of the carvings, nothing compared to standing before the Column itself. It is an amazing work of art for each detail of each scene to the very top of the Column is carefully carved. I was astounded by the artistic skill it displays. Also, I now appreciate the details of artistic meaning and intent. I was surprised to learn about the Column's interactive qualities. It was ingenious of Trajan to build a monument that so successfully requires each of its viewers to remember his reign and the glory of the Roman Empire under his rule. It is impossible to understand the frieze without such information. To view the frieze requires encircling the Column. In doing so, each viewer participating gives Trajan the immortality he craved. Imagine almost two centuries later, a group of Honors students from Seattle has a fuller appreciate of Trajan's life and triumphs. Because of this, Trajan's Column is a successful tribute to Trajan's life and memory.

VII. Bibliography
Butz, Patricia A. "Public and Private Transformation in The Art Of The Trajan Inscription" American Journal of Archaeology. 2001,292.

Coarelli, Filippo. The Column of Trajan. Colombo : German Archaeological Institute, 2000.

Davies, Penelope J. E. "The Politics of Perpetuation: Trajan's Column and the Art of Commemoration" American Journal of Archaeology. 1997, 41-65.

Lancaster, Lynne C. "Building Trajan's Column" American Journal of Archaeology 1999,419-39.

Munro, Richard K. "The Last Great Roman Conqueror: Emperor Trajan's brilliant campaigns against King Decebalus were among the final bloody scenes in the drama of Roman conquest." Military History. Feb 2002, 23.