The Column of Trajan: Forts

The Column of Trajan provides an accurate historical reference for Dacian military architecture in one regard: we know they built forts. As in any military campaign, fortifications play a role in both defense of an army’s supplies and troops, and are an obstacle that must be overcome in the siege of an enemy city or encampment. Much of a legionary’s time was spent either trying to undermine the defenses of another fort, or creating an impenetrable barrier around themselves (Matyszak, 149).

In an argument regarding the reality of representation, it is noted that “for all…camps and fortifications on the frieze, the basic material making up the walls is depicted in the same way: regular, horizontal rectangular blocks, with alternating joins between the rows” (Wolfram, 40). The type and material of construction however, is subject for argument. Historical evidence suggests that fortifications built during Roman Empire were constructed primarily of timber and turf, yet the representation on the Column depicts forts constructed with meticulous cut stone masonry (Trueman; Wolfram, 55).

Scene 12, image 17. Legionaries constructing a fort. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Scene 16, image 24. Building a Fort. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

The debate regarding materials in scenes of construction suggest that not only is it illogical for an army to construct a fort out of stone while on campaign, but it would be nearly impossible for any army to create the necessary defensive structures within the given time frame if they were to construct with blocks of masonry as depicted on Trajan’s column (Wolfram, 41). Explanation of the inconsistencies in material vary from blocks of timber and turf to ashlar masonry to cut stone—in reality, various fortifications were likely constructed using all three and others (Wolfram, 54).

Although incongruities exist regarding mode and material of fort construction, it is generally agreed upon that the uniform depiction of Roman and Dacian fortifications throughout the frieze on Trajan’s column is a sculptural misrepresentation of military architecture, and gives very limited historical information (Wolfram).

Works Cited:

Matyszak, Philip. “How to Storm a City.” Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s Unofficial Manual. London: Thames & Hudson; 2009. Print (149-164). 7 Mar 2012.

Rockwell, Peter. “Trajan’s Column.” The McMaster Trajan Project, 1999. Web. 7 Mar 2012.

Trueman, Chris. “The Roman Army and Warfare.” History Learning Cite, A History of Ancient Rome. 2000. Web. 8 Mar 2012.

Wolfram, Elizabeth. The glory of Rome: Depictions of architecture on the Column of Trajan. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Pg 24-60. Web: Google Books. 8 Mar 2012.

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