Before you even start, go to this link -- -- to see the amazing thing we are talking about!

Trajan's Column: Augustus had claimed them as tributary allies, but they didn't pay much attention to his claim and seldom paid the tribute. Vespasian's second son, Domitian, set out to collect the back dues after his much more popular older brother, Titus, died in his first year as emperor. But he had to pull back his legions when trouble erupted elsewhere in the north, and he signed an ignoble treaty -- Rome ended up paying tribute. Finally, eleven years later in 101 AD, Trajan led his first campaign across he Danube and through dense forests and fought the Daci (pronounced DOT-chee) on the Transylvanian plateau for a year and a half (Trans Silvania meant "through the forests" in Latin.) Three years later he came back to finished the job, and he made the whole area, all the way up into the Carpathian Mountains, a Roman province by 107 AD. Trajan repopulated the new province with hordes of Latin-speaking Roman colonists who called the place Terra Romania (Romans' Land) so you can guess where the modern name of Romania (Tvera Romanesca in Romanian) comes from. The Romanians are the only eastern Europeans who have a Romance language, and it's really closer to Latin than are French, Spanish, Italian, or Portugese.

Trajan refused a formal "triumph" when he brought his troops home to Rome, after his first Dacian war, in 102. Instead, he came into town on foot with only a few of his top officers and went to pay his respects to the Senate. The games, sacrifices, and performances normally associated with victorious returns were held, however. This endeared him to Senate and the people of Rome (SPQR) and made it easy for him to secure their support three years later when Decebalus, the leader of the Daci, raised his head again. After the second campaign, Trajan held a massive triumph. Contemporary historians said that 11,000 cattle were slaughtered to provide the ritual feasts and sacrifices and that 10,000 gladiators fought in the arenas during games lasting 120 days.

This is how one 19th century historian described Trajan:

He was wise in council, farsighted in policy, sagacious in dealing with men, unsuspicious, generous, and tolerant; an able strategist, brave, humane, patient, active, tolerant of hunger and thirst, with all the qualities that make up the Pagan hero. He was a sportsman, a boon companion, not above the grossest vices of his age, never cruel except to the Christians and Jews·. His head is square and compact, the forehead broad, and well covered with hair, the lower jaw long, the chin small, the nose large but well cut, the eyes set in, the lips fine, and compressed, with a general expression of firmness and decision. The Senate voted Tajan a commemorative column after his second successful campaign against the Daci, but it's not known whether they had in mind anything on the scale of the massive structure that the architect, Apollodorus of Damascus, built for his master as the centerpiece of the forum and market already under construction in the center of Rome. From the ground to the top of the capital, the Tuscan order pillar (mixed Ionic and Corinthian) rises 117 feet and seven inches. The column itself was composed of 20 circular drums, each 12 and a third feet in diameter. The insides of the drums were carved out to form a spiral staircase of 82 steps winding around a central internal pillar. Numerous small openings pierce the surface to provide light to the stairway. Above the column is an 18 foot pedestal that was initially the perch of a giant bronze eagle. When Trajan died the eagle was replaced with a statue of him, about 20 feet tall based on the size of the bronze head of Trajan that was found during early excavations. His ashes were placed either in the central chamber of the cubic base of the column (where there are two niches) or in a gold plated ball in the hand of the Trajan statue, depending on what sources you believe.

The column's most important feature, of course, is the band depicting more than 2500 persons, with animals, accoutrements, weapons, fortresses, bridges, etc., battling their way in the upward spiral of Trajan's two Dacian campaigns. The spiral winds around the column 23 times and is more than 600 feet long. Its width varies from two feet eight inches to more than four feet at the top -- not, as some have supposed, to give a better view of topmost turns, but rather to use up available space at the end.

The ancients had a much better view of the military progression than we do today: there were multi-level colonnades on two sides of the column (sheltering Greek and Latin libraries) to facilitate viewing, and the detailed reliefs were brightly colored and gilded. It was not at all like the drab bare white marble that we can now see. The whole spiral was apparently carved as the 29 pieces of marble (8 in the base, 20 column drums, plus the upper pedestal) weighing from 25 to 77 tons each, were assembled, and most authorities think that it was all carved, starting at the bottom, by the same artist.

Everyone who has been to Rome has already seen the column just east of piazza Venezia and should see it again. Bring binoculars to see the upper carvings. A visit to the Museo de la Civiltá Romana to see the plaster casts of the entire spiral is an enriching experience. The Internet is just loaded with sites on Trajan, the wars, his forum, and the column.

Here are some of the best Internet sites:

The source of most of what you will find anywhere on the column, the wars, military organization, equipment, etc., is the 19th century historian cited above, John Hungerford Pollen. Full text is at

The Trajan's Column site from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, is the most detailed "modern" explanation on the net, thoroughly cross-referenced and with drawings of the entire spiral and more than 500 photos:

Views of the column:

A cutaway view of its construction:

Trajan (Caesar Divi Nervae Filius Nerva Traianus Optimus Augustus, earlier known as Caesar Nerva Traianus Germanicus, and originally named Marcus Ulpius Traianus) from

Decebalus from Britannica: There's actually more info on him at the first site listed above, but this is more accessible. Note that his name is rather suspicious. It could just be what the Romans called him: the name can mean "that Dacian guy."

P.S.: Pope Sixtus V restored Trajan's Column in 1588 but took down Trajan's statue and replaced him with a statue of St. Peter. That same year he put St. Paul on the top of the restored column of Antoninus Pius in Piazza Colonna and re-sited and re-erected the obelisks. During his five year reign from 1585 to 1590, busy Sixtus also built the Vatican library, added the residential wing to the Vatican Palace, drove through new straight streets connecting the pilgrimage churches, founded a bunch of new Roman monasteries, added a new 20-mile aqueduct (ending at the ugly Moses fountain in Piazza S. Bernardo), and reformed the Catholic hierarchy into the fifteen permanent "Congregations".