Civilians in Trajan’s column

Trajan’s column stands “34 meters high to the top of the statue base and… tell[s] the story of Trajan’s victories in the Dacian wars of AD 101 to 106” (Lancaster). The outside of the column is carved with a winding frieze, whose “scenes depict mostly the Roman army in military activities.” However, battles aren’t the only part of the wars depicted on the column; many of the segments portray glorious send-offs and returns of armies to towns and forts, and several scenes of civilians, from prisoners to nobles, “showing about 2,500 figures in all.” (Wikipedia Contributors)

What struck me about the scenes in the column depicting civilians was the number of children. In most stories of military victories, one wouldn’t expect to find women or children, but many of the scenes on Trajan’s column that depict towns or the aftermath of battles portray women, children, and even what seem to be elderly people.

John Hungerford Pollen explains one such scene in detail, describing “a stronghold, in which the old, the women, and children of the enemy have taken refuge” while “an old man tries to escape with a child.” Women in the scene “carry their infants with them in the effort to escape,” though “The emperor… is giving assurance of protection to the women and children.”

It’s unclear whether this is attention to detail, some kind of propaganda, or merely an artistic preference of the sculptors, but children – not just Roman children, but Dacian and ‘Barbarian’ children as well – show up in nearly every civilian segment. Often they look slightly disproportionate, or are held up at impossible or dangerous angles, but they seem to add a sense of realism and a richness of detail to the piece.


Scene 39 Subjugated Dacians. Used with permission, Copyright Peter Rockwell

Lancaster, Lynne. “Building Trajan’s Column.” American Journal of Archaeology. 103.3 (1999): 419-439. Print.

Pollen, John Hungerford. A Description of the Trajan Column . London: George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode, 1874. Web. <*.html&gt;.

Wikipedia contributors. “Trajan’s Column.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 02 Mar 2012. Web. 6 Mar 2012. <’s_Column&gt;.

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