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Monuments: Column of Trajan

Erected in AD 113, the Column of Trajan is a 38 m high monument composed of twenty-nine blocks of Luna marble. It is made up of a base, capital and a long shaft down the middle of which a spiral staircase runs. The top was originally decorated with a large bronze statue of Trajan. Although originally set up as a victory monument the column was made into Trajan's tomb on his death in AD 117. This was an unusual act, which required permission from the Senate, and it has been proposed that Trajan intended the column to be his tomb from the beginning. More

The most famous feature of the column is the long helical frieze carved on its shaft. Around 200 m long, it wraps around the column twenty-three times. The subject of the continuous frieze are Trajan's two campaigns in Dacia in AD 101-2 and 105-6. These are represented through 155 scenes, many symbolic set-piece arrangements, which contain over 2,500 figures. The focus is primarily on the daily tasks of military life and the superiority of the Roman army over its enemies in all aspects of warfare. The details of the frieze are possibly based on Trajan's own written commentaries of these wars and the emperor features heavily: he is represented nearly sixty times, repeatedly in the act of addressing his troops, performing sacrifice, and meeting prisoners. The figures on this frieze are roughly two-thirds lifesize and finished in extraordinary detail which is consistent across its entire surface, even though some of it was displayed more than 20 m from the ground. The details of the carving, analysed by Peter Rockwell, suggest that the frieze was carved as the column was erected by a series of teams of sculptors, some specialising in figures, others in details of the background. The scenes are numbered in the following catalogue using the convention established by Conrad Cichorius in his publication of 1896-1900 (Die Reliefs der Trajanssäule (Berlin)).

Coarelli, F. et al. (2000). The Column of Trajan. Rome.

Conti, C. (2001). ‘Gli scultori della Colonna Traiana’, in F. Festa Farina, G. Calcani, C. Meucci, M. L. Conforto (eds). Tra Damasco e Roma: l'architecttura di Apollodoro nella cultura classica. Rome: 199–215.

Claridge, A. (1993). 'Hadrian's column of Trajan', Journal of Roman Archaeology 6: 5–22.

Galinier, M. (2007). La Colonne Trajane et les Forums Impériaux (Collection de l'École française de Rome 382). Rome.

Lancaster, L. (1999). ‘Building Trajan’s Column’, American Journal of Archaeology 103.3: 419–39.

Lepper, F., and Frere, S. S. (1988). Trajan's Column: a new edition of the Cichorius plates. Gloucester.

Rockwell, P. (1981-1983). 'Preliminary study of the carving techniques on the column of Trajan', in P. Pensabene (ed.). Marmi antichi: problemi d'impiego, di restauro e d'identificazione (=Studi miscellanei 26). 101–11.

Wilson Jones, M. (1993). ‘One hundred feet and a spiral stair: the problem of designing Trajan’s Column’, Journal of Roman Archaeology 6: 23–38.


Luna Marble (Archaeometric identification)  
circa ad 113 



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