by Rachel Hiser Remmes

The Column of Trajan was completed in 113 C.E. and is a victorious monument that commemorates Trajan’s victory over the Dacians in the Dacian Wars. The column is impressive not only for its size, at 115 ft, but also for its exemplification of linear narrative, one of the earliest extant visual examples. The story begins at the bottom where the Romans can be seen marching over a personified Danube River. The narrative is constructed in a spiral format that continues, unobstructed, until the story reaches the top. There has been much debate about the use and change in the depth of relief in the scenes from the base to the top. At the bottom the figures are shown in low relief, and the further up the narrative climbs the higher the relief of the figures. A predominate theory is that this manipulation enabled greater visibility of the scenes from down below or, possibly, from nearby buildings, which are now destroyed. The composition acts as Roman imperial propaganda, ennobling the victory of Trajan’s defeat by depicting the Dacians as unruly and disordered, while showing the Romans as composed. The column is not only significant for its artistic innovations but also because the emperor’s ashes were laid within the base of the column after his death in 117 C.E., an unusual custom for Roman emperors at this time. Originally a sculpture of the emperor would have stood atop the column, but this was replaced by the figure of St. Peter on December 4, 1587.

Trajan’s Column, 113 C.E., Rome, marble.

Personification of the Danube River, Trajan’s Column, 113 C.E., Rome, marble.

Roman Soliders, Trajan’s Column, 113 C.E., Rome, marble.

Trajan’s Column, plaster reproduction.

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