Table of Contents
- Who Was Trajan?
- The Early Life of Trajan
- Roman Empire Under Trajan
- Trajan's Accomplishments
- How Did Trajan Die?
- Lesson Summary
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.
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.
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.
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.
In addition to raising the number of legions to ensure the defense of newly annexed territories, Trajan dedicated himself to infrastructure projects throughout the Roman Empire. He built and improved roads, bridges, and aqueducts across the empire; in the city of Rome, he built a new aqueduct, a bathing complex on Esquiline Hill, and a forum featuring an equestrian statue of Trajan himself.
Behind the newly built forum was a basilica, which was a public hall, and then a court with libraries. Trajan's Column was erected in the court to honor the emperor's achievements in the Dacian Wars. This column, which is still standing, is decorated with reliefs depicting his military campaigns. In 1588, the statue of Trajan that sat on top of the column was replaced with a statue of St. Peter.
Trajan died in 117 CE in what is modern-day Turkey, then the city of Selinus in Cilicia. The people changed the name of the city to Trajanopolis in his honor. His ashes were placed under his Column in Rome.
Although Trajan and Plotina had no children, Trajan had ensured a seamless transition by naming his cousin and ward, Hadrian, as his successor. Similar to his adoption by Nerva, Trajan helped to eliminate the danger of dynastic succession by adopting and choosing who he felt would be the best person for the job.
Trajan was a Roman Emperor who ruled from 98 CE until his death in 117 CE. He ascended to the throne as the chosen successor of Emperor Nerva and earned the title Optimus Princeps, meaning the best of emperors. Trajan was one of five Roman 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. In 101 CE, Trajan continued a conquest against the Dacian kingdom. After capturing the Dacian capital, Sarmizegethusa, Trajan annexed the kingdom into the empire. Ultimately, the province became an important defensive outpost given its proximity to the Danube River.
In addition to raising the number of legions to ensure the defense of newly annexed territories, Trajan earned the populace's respect by freeing individuals who were wrongfully imprisoned during Emperor Domitian's rule and returning confiscated private property to the people. Trajan focused on many infrastructure projects throughout Roman territories, including roads, bridges, and aqueducts. He also undertook architecture projects within the city of Rome, building a new aqueduct, a bathing complex on Esquiline Hill, and a new forum. One still standing monument in Rome, Trajan's Column, commemorates his role in the Dacian Wars. Trajan died in 117 CE in what is modern-day Turkey. Trajan had ensured a seamless transition by naming his cousin and ward, Hadrian, as his successor.
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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.
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.
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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