National Geographic recently wrote an article about Trajan’s column and its history. They also included an interactive graphic which allows readers to explore the 126-ft tall column. And I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty neat.
Trajan’s column commemorates the Roman emperor’s victory over the Dacians between 101 and 106 AD. Since then, the column, carved with 2662 individual figures, has stood as a monument to and a reminder of the former glory of Rome. According to the article, the column focuses on the wars from Trajan’s point-of-view.
The emperor is the story’s hero. He appears 58 times, depicted as a canny commander, accomplished statesman, and pious ruler.
That this monument should commemorate a victory comes as no surprise. What is surprising to me, at least, is that it has survived so long. The column stands amidst the ruins of the Trajan Forum near a modern monument to King Immanuel I. 155 scenes climb in a spiral, culminating in a statue at the top. How is it that such a piece of history still exists?
The article points out that:
The column was deeply influential, the inspiration for later monuments in Rome and across the empire. Over the centuries, as the city’s landmarks crumbled, the column continued to fascinate and awe. A Renaissance pope replaced the statue of Trajan with one of St. Peter, to sanctify the ancient artifact. Artists lowered themselves in baskets from the top to study it in detail. Later it was a favorite attraction for tourists: Goethe, the German poet, climbed the 185 internal steps in 1787 to “enjoy that incomparable view.” Plaster casts of the column were made starting in the 1500s, and they have preserved details that acid rain and pollution have worn away.
It’s entirely possible the column has survived for so long because it is inspirational and a reminder of Rome’s glorious past. It also provides modern Romans with insight on their Dacian ancestors. The column tells a grand story and continues to fascinate us today. On the whole, I highly recommend checking out the graphic and the story that goes along with it for more information.