Emperor Trajan of Rome: Bio and Accomplishments

Melinda Ray, Patricia Chappine
  • Author
    Melinda Ray

    Melinda Ray, an experienced educator, holds an Advanced Professional Teaching Certification with endorsements for elementary education, MS Social Studies, and HS History. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership. As a classroom teacher for 8 years, she has designed curriculum and resources for all subjects that encourage critical thinking.

  • Instructor
    Patricia Chappine

    Patricia has a Ph.D. in Progress, History and Culture as well as a master's degree in Holocaust and genocide studies. She has taught heritage of the western world and U.S. history.

Learn who Emperor Trajan was. Discover more about Trajan's early life, how he became the Roman Emperor, Trajan's accomplishments as emperor, and how he died. Updated: 06/09/2022

Table of Contents


Who Was Trajan?

Roman Emperor Trajan, ruling from 98 CE until he died in 117 CE, was the first emperor not to inherit the role and title, as he was the first to have been chosen by his predecessor. As a respected military leader, he garnered the support of the Senate and the Roman army. He also held the distinction of being the first Roman Emperor to have been born outside of Italy; Trajan was born in the ancient town of Italica, Spain, in the year 53 CE.

Emperor Trajan is remembered for his generosity, infrastructure projects, and territorial expansion. Evidence of his rule can still be seen today in Rome as a result of his enduring landmarks, such as Trajan's Forum, Trajan's Market, and Trajan's Column.

A bust of Emperor Trajan.

Stone bust of the Roman Emperor Trajan

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  • 0:00 Pax Romana Emperors
  • 0:38 Trajan's Early Life
  • 1:10 Trajan as Emperor
  • 1:59 Trajan's Accomplishments
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The Early Life of Trajan

Born Marcus Ulpius Traianus in the Roman province of Baetica, located in modern-day Spain, the future Roman Emperor lived a prominent life as the son of a provincial governor. His father served as a commander of a Roman legion under Emperor Vespasian; he was rewarded with a consulship and membership in the patricians, which was the aristocracy. Historians assume that Trajan came of age in Rome while he fought with his father in various military campaigns.

His proximity to the military naturally led to his joining the army at a young age. He served under his father as a tribune in Spain, commanding the Seventh Legion. After being recognized for his service by Emperor Domitian, Trajan was named praetor in 85 CE and then consul in 91 CE.

In 96 CE, Domitian was assassinated. The new emperor, Nerva, needing the support of the military, appointed the highly respected and popular Trajan to be the governor of Upper Germany. Soon after, Emperor Nerva formally adopted Trajan and named him his successor, presumably to further solidify military support.

Before his adoption, Trajan had married Pompeia Plotina. Although the marriage produced no children, they did serve as wards to Trajan's cousin, Hadrian, also a future emperor.

Roman Empire Under Trajan

Emperor Nerva's reign was short, and upon his death in 98 CE, his adopted son and chosen successor Trajan ascended to the Roman throne, quickly accepted as emperor by both the Senate and the military. He assumed the title Optimus Princeps, meaning the best of emperors. Emperor Trajan was one of five emperors who served during the Pax Romana, the period between 27 BCE and 180 CE, during which there was generally peace and prosperity throughout the Roman Empire.

Along with his reputation for being honest and fair, Trajan became an active ruler and was known for his generosity to the Roman people. He distributed cash gifts and allowed more of the citizenry to relieve free grain from the state.

Not long into his reign, in 101 CE, Trajan continued a conquest started by Domitian against the Dacian kingdom. Over two campaigns, Trajan captured the Dacian capital, Sarmizegethusa, and annexed the kingdom into the empire. Ultimately, the province became an important defensive outpost given its proximity to the Danube River.

Trajan's Accomplishments

One of Trajan's initial accomplishments was freeing individuals wrongly imprisoned during Domitian's rule. He continued Nerva's attempt to return private property that the empire had confiscated from its people.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Trajan best known for?

Trajan succeeded Nerva as the Roman emperor from 98 CE to 117 CE. He was the first emperor to have been born outside of Italy. He was also the first emperor to break the tradition of familial inheritance, having been chosen by his predecessor.

Why is Trajan considered a good emperor?

Trajan was supported as emperor by both the Senate and the military. Additionally, he was respected and beloved by the Roman people and assumed the title, Optimus Princeps, meaning the best of emperors. Trajan is one of five emperors that served during the Pax Romana, the time period between 27 BCE and 180 CE in which there was generally peace and prosperity throughout the Roman Empire.

What are five interesting facts about Trajan?

Trajan was the first Roman emperor to have been born outside of Italy and the first not to inherit the role but to have been chosen. He is one of five emperors that served during the Pax Romana, the time of peace and prosperity in the Roman Empire. The Trajan Column, which is still standing in Rome, is decorated with reliefs depicting the Dacian campaigns. In 1588, the statue of Trajan that sat on top of the column was replaced with a statue of St. Peter.

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