Who Was Trajan?

Who Was Trajan?

roman empire Jun 1, 2021

Emperor Trajan – The Good

Have you ever known a “good guy”? In the Roman Empire the ultimate good guy was Emperor Trajan.

Emperor Trajan was the “gold standard” for virtue in the Roman Empire. Every new emperor would receive the wish from the senate that he might be “luckier than Augustus and better than Trajan”. Even later Christian theologians would refer to Trajan as a “virtuous pagan”.

Emperor Trajan’s reputation as a “good guy” has endured 20 centuries. To be like Trajan or perhaps even “melior Traiano” (better than Trajan) is a great compliment.

Did you know that…

  • Emperor Trajan expanded the Roman Empire to its largest territory ever?
  • Emperor Trajan was one of Rome’s most successful “soldier emperors”, winning both the Dacian and Parthian wars?
  • Trajan’s arch bridge was the longest in the world for over 1,000 years?
  • Trajan’s column in Rome was built to commemorate his victory over Dacia?
  • Trajan created the first known government social welfare program in history?
  • To be like Emperor Trajan is to say that you are a “good guy”?

Here is the story of Marcus Ulipius Trajanus who after his adoption by Emperor Nerva became Caesar Nerva Trajanus – We know him as Emperor Trajan – born 18 September 53 A.D. – died 9 August 117 A.D.

The First Provincial Emperor

Trajan was born in Italica, near modern Seville, Spain. His family probably migrated from Rome hundreds of years earlier. No one would have expected anyone from this provincial family to become emperor. This impossibility would take someone special. It would take a Trajan.

Trajan followed the family tradition of a military career. He rose through the ranks quickly serving in some of the most contested parts of the empire. He was a skilled commander and quickly earned a reputation for both courage and virtue. When his father became the Governor of Syria he was the top military commander in the province. Later he was elected Consul, the top military / political post in the Roman Empire. He was one of the youngest consuls ever.

Adopted by the Emperor

When Nerva became emperor, he was unpopular with the army. Emperor Nerva decided (or was compelled) to make the army’s most popular general, Trajan, his successor. The praetorian guard was satisfied. Emperor Nerva was elderly. They anticipated that Trajan would be emperor soon. They were right.

Bronze statue of emperor Caesar Nervae Trajan
Bronze statue of emperor Caesar Nervae Trajan, Forum of Caesar Nervae Trajan in the background

Emperor Trajan Optiumus

Trajan became emperor in January of 98 A.D. He didn’t rule by fear as many had before him. Rather he led by example. He didn’t look down on the people, but walked among them. When he arrived in Rome he actually walked into the city greeting both rich and poor. He embraced each senator that greeted him. Everyone came to love him, rich and poor, senate and army. He didn’t simply impose his will on the people, but seemed to always do what everyone in Rome felt was right.

The senate even gave him honorific title “optimus” (the best) in 105 A.D. This title shows the respect and trust that the Roman people held for Trajan. This title was usually reserved for the god Jupiter. No other Emperor was ever bestowed with this title.

Expanding the Empire

Emperor Trajan did not spend his almost 20 years as emperor just ruling from Rome. He expanded the Empire through the conquest first of Dacia (modern Romania) and then Parthia. These were not “uncivilized barbarian” tribes, but strong empires in their own right. To conquer and expand the Roman Empire to the east was a considerable military accomplishment. Both Dacia and Parthia were noble adversaries. Rome had suffered defeat from both empires in the past.

After conquering Dacia, Trajan successfully “Romanized” the empire of Dacia. He was so successful that the modern country is called Romania. He built a bridge across the Danube that was the longest of its kind for a millennium! He used this bridge to move his army and it was an important part of his success in conquering and Romanizing the old Dacian empire.

Close up detail on Trajan's Column in Rome, Italy
Close up detail on Trajan's Column in Rome, Italy

Rome Under Emperor Trajan

Various buildings were built to commemorate Emperor Trajan’s victory including Trajan’s Column in Rome. He even hosted a three month long gladiatorial festival at the great colosseum in Rome that reportedly attracted five million spectators and left 11,000 combatants dead.

Emperor Trajan was a generous philanthropist and started numerous welfare programs for the poor. He allowed more citizens to receive free grain and started programs to feed poor children. He even refused to actively persecute the Christians. The Roman Empire grew and prospered during Trajan’s reign as in no other time in history.

Parthian Conquest

Trajan didn’t stop with the conquest of Dacia, but turned to an old adversary – Parthia. The empire of Parthia extended from modern Turkey to India, including all or portions of the territory of the modern nations of Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and northern India. Parthia was a large empire who had defeated Rome during the days of Julius Caesar.

Caesar had plans to leave Rome 2 days after he was assassinated and head to Parthia. Caesar’s benefactor, Crassus, the richest man in Rome, had been killed in battle with the Parthians. Thus many Romans had come to fear Parthia.

Emperor Trajan was able to do what the first Caesar had wanted to do. He defeated the Parthians. This increased both the Roman Empire to its largest size and Emperor Trajan’s fame and respect as both a general and emperor. To be both good to the Roman people and one of Rome’s most successful generals solidified Trajan as the best of the best among patriotic Romans.

Trajan's Column of Honor and Trajan's Forum
Trajan's Column of Honor and Trajan's Forum

He was everything a Roman aspired to be…

Can you see why to be a “Trajan” was considered such a compliment for the following centuries? Emperor Trajan embodies everything that Romans considered virtuous. He was a man of courage and valor. He had an excellent character and worth. He was a man’s man. He was both strong and honest. Emperor Trajan was everything a Roman aspired to be. He was always dignified and fair.

Emperor Trajan was headed back to Rome to celebrate these victories. However, he became ill and died on his journey. Rome mourned him and every Roman emperor would be compared to him for as long as the empire remained.

Trajan Decius among Roman gold and silver
Trajan Decius among Roman gold and silver

Coin #4 in the Roman Empire series

The fourth coin in the Roman Empire commemorative coin series honors Emperor Trajan. The inscription on the coin is his name and title. Like most Roman coins it is a series of abbreviations. IMP CAES NERVA TRAIAN AVG GERM stands for Emperor Caesar Nerva Trajan Augustus Germanicus.

No Roman Empire commemorative coin series would be complete without a replica of one of Emperor Trajan’s coins.

May you be a “Trajan” or at least own the coin replica that honors him.

Year of Issue: 2021
Country of Issue: Cook Islands
Face Value: 5 Dollars
Coin Weight: 1 Troy Ounce
Metal Purity: .999
Metal Composition: Fine Silver
Mintage: 500


Roman Empire Coin Series
Exclusively from 7k Metals: A 12 coin series featuring prominent historical figures from the Roman Empire.
See The Whole Series Here

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