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    Roman emperor from AD 98 to 117

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    Trajan (Latin: Traianus; 18 September 53 – c. 11 August 117) was a Roman emperor from AD 98 to 117, the second of the Five Good Emperors of the Nerva–Antonine dynasty. He was a philanthropic ruler and a successful soldier-emperor who led the Roman Empire to its greatest territorial extent by the time of his death.

    • 28 January 98 – 11 August 117
    • 117-138
    • 138-161
    • Marcia
    • Overview
    • Origins and early career
    • Domestic policies as emperor

    Trajan was a Roman emperor (98–117 CE) who sought to extend the boundaries of the empire to the east, undertook a vast building program, and enlarged social welfare. He is also remembered for Trajan’s Column, an innovative work of art that commemorated his Dacian Wars.

    What was Trajan’s childhood like?

    Marcus Ulpius Traianus was born in the Roman province of Baetica (Andalusia). While his family was probably prominent in Baetica, his father was the first to join the imperial service. There is little documentation of Trajan’s early life, but presumably he grew up either in Rome or in various military headquarters with his father.

    What were Trajan’s achievements?

    Trajan undertook or encouraged extensive public works: roads, bridges, aqueducts, the reclamation of wastelands, and the construction of harbours and buildings. Impressive examples survive in Spain, in North Africa, in the Balkans, and in Italy. In Rome an aqueduct, a public bathing complex, and a forum designed by the architect Apollodorus of Damascus were built.

    How did Trajan influence the world?

    Marcus Ulpius Traianus was born in the Roman province of Baetica (the area roughly equivalent to Andalusia in southern Spain). Although his ancestors, whether or not original settlers, were undoubtedly Roman, or at least Italian, they may well have intermarried with natives. While his family was probably well-to-do and prominent in Baetica, his father was the first to have a career in the imperial service. He became a provincial governor and in 67–68 commander of a legion in the war the future emperor Vespasian was conducting against the Jews. In 70 Vespasian, by then emperor, rewarded him with a consulship and a few years later enrolled him among the patricians, Rome’s most aristocratic group within the senatorial class. Finally, he became governor, successively, of Syria and Asia.

    Although there is little documentation of Trajan’s early life, presumably the future emperor grew up either in Rome or in various military headquarters with his father. He served 10 years as a legionary staff tribune. In this capacity he was in Syria while his father was governor, probably in 75. He then held the traditional magistracies through the praetorship, which qualified him for command of a legion in Spain in 89. Ordered to take his troops to the Rhine River to aid in quelling a revolt against the emperor Domitian by the governor of Upper Germany (Germania Superior), Trajan probably arrived after the revolt had already been suppressed by the governor of Lower Germany (Germania Inferior). Trajan clearly enjoyed the favour of Domitian, who in 91 allowed him to hold one of the two consulships, which, even under the empire, remained most prestigious offices.

    When Domitian had been assassinated by a palace conspiracy on September 18, 96, the conspirators had put forward as emperor, and the Senate had welcomed, the elderly and innocuous Nerva. His selection represented a reaction against Domitian’s autocracy and a return to the cooperation between emperor and Senate that had characterized the reign of Vespasian. Nevertheless, the imperial guard (the praetorian cohorts) forced the new emperor to execute the assassins who had secured the throne for him. There was also discontent among the frontier commanders.

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    Therefore, in October 97, Nerva adopted as his successor Trajan, whom he had made governor of Upper Germany and who seemed acceptable both to the army commanders and to the Senate. On January 1, 98, Trajan entered upon his second consulship as Nerva’s colleague. Soon thereafter, on January 27 or 28, Nerva died, and Trajan was accepted as emperor by both the armies and the Senate. Before his accession, Trajan had married Pompeia Plotina, to whom he remained devoted. As the marriage was childless, he took into his household his cousin Hadrian, who became a favourite of Plotina.

    Trajan deified Nerva and included his name in his imperial title. In 114 he placed before his title Augustus the adjective Optimus (“Best”). This was undoubtedly intended, by recalling the epithets Optimus Maximus, applied to Jupiter, to present Trajan as the god’s representative on earth. Trajan was a much more active ruler than Nerva had been during his short reign. Instead of returning to Rome at once to accept from the Senate the imperial powers, he remained for nearly a year on the Rhine and Danube rivers, either to make preparations for a coming campaign into Dacia (modern Transylvania and Romania) or to ensure that discipline was restored and defenses strengthened. He sent orders to Rome for the execution of the praetorians who had forced Nerva to execute the conspirators who had brought him to the throne. He gave the soldiers only half the cash gifts customary on the accession of a new emperor, but in general, he dealt fairly, if strictly, with the armies.

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    When he returned to Rome in 99, he behaved with respect and affability toward the Senate. He was generous to the populace of Rome, to whom he distributed considerable cash gifts, and increased the number of poor citizens who received free grain from the state. For Italy and the provinces, he remitted the gold that cities had customarily sent to emperors on their accession. He also lessened taxes and was probably responsible for an innovation for which Nerva is given credit—the institution of public funds (alimenta) for the support of poor children in the Italian cities. Such endowments had previously been established in Italy by private individuals, notably by Trajan’s close friend, the orator and statesman Pliny the Younger, for his native Comum (modern Como) in northern Italy.

    For the administration of the provinces, Trajan tried to secure competent and honest officials. He sent out at least two special governors to provinces whose cities had suffered financial difficulties. One was Pliny the Younger, whom he dispatched to Bithynia-Pontus, a province on the northern coast of Asia Minor. The letters exchanged between Pliny and Trajan during the two years of Pliny’s governorship are preserved as the 10th book of his correspondence. They constitute a most important source for Roman provincial administration.

    In one exchange, Pliny asked Trajan how he should handle the rapidly spreading sect of Christians, who, refusing to conform to normal religious practices, suffered from great unpopularity but were, as far as Pliny could see, harmless. In his reply, a model of judiciousness, Trajan advised Pliny not to ferret out Christians nor to accept unsupported charges and to punish only those whose behaviour was ostentatiously recalcitrant. Clearly in Trajan’s time the Roman government did not yet have (and, indeed, was not to have for another century) any policy of persecution of the Christians; official action was based on the need to maintain good order, not on religious hostility. The correspondence also illustrates the wasteful expenditure of cities on lavish buildings and competition for municipal honours, an indication that the finances of the empire were already beginning to show inflationary trends.

  2. May 25, 2013 · Trajan, or Marcus Ulpius Traianus, was Roman emperor from 98 to 117 CE. Known as a benevolent ruler, his reign was noted for public projects which benefitted the populace such as improving the dilapidated road system, constructing aqueducts, building public baths and extending the port of Ostia.

    • Donald L. Wasson
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  4. Oct 19, 2023 · Trajan was a Roman emperor who ruled from C.E. 98 until his death in C.E. 117. Born in Italica (Seville in modern-day Spain), Trajan was the first Roman emperor born outside of Italy. He was also one of the first emperors to be chosen, rather than to inherit power as part of a ruling family. Before he was emperor, Trajan was an army commander ...

  5. Jun 24, 2019 · When Trajan returned to Dacia in 105 A.D., he showed no mercy. The devastation wrought by the Romans is depicted in elaborate carvings on the 126-foot-tall Trajan’s Column in Rome.

    • 5 min
    • Kristin Baird Rattini
  6. The Column of Trajan (dedicated in May of 113 C.E.) might be the crowning example of the inborn need to commemorate—in more permanent form—historical deeds that dominates the psyche of Roman art and artists. Returning from Dacia triumphant—100 days of celebrations.

  7. Trajan , in full Caesar Divi Nervae Filius Nerva Traianus Optimus Augustus or Caesar Nerva Traianus Germanicus orig. Marcus Ulpius Traianus, (born Sept. 15?, 53 ce, Italica, Baetica—died Aug. 8/9, 117, Selinus, Cilicia), Roman emperor (98–117). He had military commands in Asia and Europe before being named consul in 91.

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