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Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Rise to Power and Conquests of Trajan

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Marcus Ulpius Traianus also known as Caesar Nerva Traianus Germanicus, but mostly known as Trajan, was a Roman Emperor from 98 to 117 AD. His reign is noted for public projects such as improving the diltrgyapidated road system, constructing aqueducts, building public baths and extending the port of Ostia. But he is mostly famous for his high success as ageneral, winning three major conflicts against the Dacians and conquering land in the east that resulted in the greatest territorial expansion of the Roman Empire. Trajan was born in 53 AD in Italica (Seville) in the Roman province of Hispania, becoming the first emperor born outside of Italy. His family had a very impressive military reputation. His father, first had acareer in the imperial service, had been governor of both Baetica in Spain and Syria. He was also a commander of a legion during the war against the Jews in 67-68 AD. In 70 AD the Emperor Vespasian rewarded him with a consulship. The young Trajan entered the army at an early age, serving as tribune under his father in Spain and commander in the Seventh Legion in northern Spain.

Rise to power and Trajan as Roman Emperor

In 89 AD Trajan marched to the river Rhine to help the Emperor Domitian in battle against Saturninus, the rebellious governor of Upper Germany. Unfortunately, he arrived too late, but Domitian showed his appreciation by naming Trajan as a praetor in 85 AD and as a consul later in 91 AD. After the assassination of Domitian in 96 AD, the new emperor Nerva appointed Trajan as governor of Upper Germany and shortly after his appointment in 97 AD he received a note from Nerva telling him of his adoption. Afterwards he made him the successor of the empire.

After the death of Nerva in 98 AD, Trajan did not immediately return to Rome but inspected the Rhine and Danube frontiers instead. He not only ordered the frontiers to be guarded against the Dacians but also to test the allegiance of many of the legions still loyal to Domitian. Finally in 99 AD he returned to Rome. Although he maintained an excellent rapport with the Senate, he was still considered an absolute ruler. Trajan instituted excellent domestic policy by providing for the poor, building bridges, baths, aqueducts and continuing his predecessor’s policy of undoing much of the harm done by Domitian by freeing prisoners and recalling exiles.

Military Campaigns

Under Domitian rule, Trajan had briefly been involved with king Decebalus and the Dacians along the Danube River but without any clear success. In 101 AD he resumed the invasion od Dacia. In two campaigns (101-102 and 105-106), Trajan captured the Dacian capital of Sarmizegethusa (Varhély). Decebalus evaded capture by suicide. The kingdom of Dacia was absorbed into the empire creating a new province of Dacia, which provided land for Roman settler, open for exploitation rich mines of gold and salt. Trajan returned to Rome victorious and celebrated by holding a series of gladiatorial contests involving 10 000 gladiators and causing deaths of at least 11 000 animals.

Roman aggression in the east began soon after the defeat of the Dacia. In 105/106 AD one of Trajan’s generals annexed the Nabataean kingdom, the part of Arabia extending from the east to the south of Judea. In 110 AD the Parthians deposed the pro-Roman king of Armenia. In 113/114 AD Trajan campaigned to reinstate the old king, leaving Rome for the last time. While marching against the Parthians, Trajan undertook the construction of a road along the ancient caravan trail known as the King’s Highway, naming it Via Nova Traiana. This road linked the city of Bostra, the capital of the new province of Arabia, with the Red Sea. In 115 Trajan conquered upper Mesopotamia, moved down the Tigris River, conquering Adiabene, Babylon, and finally captured the city of Ctesiphon, the Parthian capital.

After conquering Parthia and reaching the Persian Gulf, he wanted to go for India, repeating Alexander the Great’s achievement. Late in 115 he barely escaped death in an earthquake that devastated Antioch (Antakya, Turkey). In 116 revolts broke out in Mesopotamia. In Cyrenaica revolts broke out earlier in 115 and spread to Egypt and Cyprus. The revolts crushed in 117, but trouble broke out on the northern frontier. Trajan left his army in Syria and retreated to Rome. On his way, he fell ill after reaching Selinus in Cilicia and died there in August 117. His body was returned to Rome where it was cremated and buried in an urn at the base of the great Trajan’s Column.

Trajan’s legacy

Trajan’s memory remained in Rome for generations to follow. The Forum of Trajan, financed by the seized Dacian treasury, was dedicated in 112 AD. At this period, the population of Rome has grown close to a million, and it needed a new forum, not only a marketplace and shopping center but also a center for politics, commerce and religion. The forum lay between the Quirinal and Capitoline Hill. On either side of the plaza were two circular, six-story buildings, containing great halls and rooms for officers. At the north of the forum there was a new basilica, Basilica Ulpias, which housed law courts. After the death of Trajan, Emperor Hadrian added a large gateway and a statue of Trajan riding a six-horse chariot. The forum’s architect Apollodorus of Damascus had also designed Trajan’s Bridge across the Danube, the longest arch bridge in the world until its destruction in 275. Trajan’s Column was dedicated in 113 AD. A stairwell took people to a viewing platform at the top and at the column’s summit stood a statue of Trajan (latter replaced by a statue of St. Peter).
Trajan also formalized the alimenta, a program that helped orphans and poor children in Italy. The boys in Italy got 16 sestertius and the girld 12 sestertius until the age of 18. Some Italian cities were inhabited with veterans. Also by Trajan’s order, every senator was obligated to invest one-third of their property in Italian land. This led to increased value of the Italian land. But he didn’t care only about the Italian land. Trajan cared about the provinces. In the letters he sent to Pliny the Younger, Trajan was interested in the finances of the cities, the buildings, for the cities’ safety and the fire extinguishing. Trajan didn’t have children, so he decided to adopt his cousin’s son Hadrian as his successor. However, rumors persisted that Hadrian had never been officially adopted. Trajan’s wife Pompeia Plotina supposedly forged the documents in order to make the adoption official, thus making Hadrian the third of the five good emperors.

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