Monthly Archives: March 2012

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The Column of Trajan provides an accurate historical reference for Dacian military architecture in one regard: we know they built forts.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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Trajan’s Column: Bridge

Bridges have always been something that many civilizations have had trouble with. What with the bridges having being able to withstand weather, floods, and also being strong enough to hold up to travelers and an army. The Romans were given the credit of having the “first and longest lasting bridges built” (Wikipedia) in first and second century AD. As shown in the below picture, the Romans are able to put a lot of weight on their bridges that are even still up today.

File:Roman bridge.jpg

Before the Romans many of the past civilizations had been trying to a form of cement, which the Romans used as well, but they were the ones who had thought of making arches which opened up a whole new world of bridge making. The Romans got much of their engineering from the Etruscans and also the Persians (Jays History) but learning to use a keystone arch for their bridges had been a new thought process entirely. It was during the reign of Trajan, a Roman emperor, that the new design of bridges were built. “Some of the most impressive Roman bridges are over ravines. A fine surviving example, built for Trajan in AD 105, spans the Tagus in Spain, at Alcántara. Its two massive central arches, 110 feet wide and 210 feet above the normal level of the river, are made of uncemented granite. Each wedge-shaped block weighs 8 tons.” (History net)

The bridges that were created essentially had made traveling and new towns because people could have easier access. “Allowing the river to be crossed at any time of the year, the bridge was an important factor of development for the town, but it was also necessary and useful for the Pax Romana: here there were hot springs visited by a lot of people; in the region there were mines with precious metals, whose product was taken to Rome; across the bridge passed the important Roman road of Braga to Astorga, with a lot of traffic; and lastly here was quartered a numerous detachment of legionnaires of the Roman army.” (Wikipedia)

The bridges that the Romans had created were the first steps into making the idea of a unified world. Not to mention that bridges have changed the architecture of everything. The picture of the bridge in the Trajan’s column shows how much without the bridges, the Romans couldn’t get across the Danube, and it has changed the outcome of the world. (Peter Rockwell, STOA)

Works Citied:

Rockwell, P.  Bridge. Retrieved March 8, 2012 from

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Marcus Ulpius Traianus, the Roman Emperor known as Trajan was born in about 54 AD in Spain. He was the son of a Consul which made him royalty.  Due to his exceptional public and military reputation he was chosen to be the successor of Nerva who adopted him in approximately 98 AD.  Shortly after his adoption, Emperor Nerva died and Trajan became the Emperor.  Just three years later Rome would embark on the first of two wars with the Dacians (Germanic barbarians) who lived across the Danube in what is now known as Romania. The leader of the Dacians was by Decebalus.  Emperor Trajan’s lead the Romans to victory in both wars (Beckman, 1998).Trajan’s Column is a monument located Rome, Italy and was created to commemorate Rome’s victory in the Dacian Wars.  Emperor Trajan was the leader of the Roman Army and he is the subject of many of the etchings which depict the Roman army in their daily activities as well as when they were in battle with the Dacians (Trajan’s column, 2012).

This section of the column below to the left depicts Trajan standing on a bridge welcoming his soldiers on the left. Upon close examination of the section the construction of the bridge is apparent.  Also, notice how the soldiers are wearing their armor.  The soldiers are depicted standing lower that Trajan and his advisors.  Trajan arrives at a campsite and is conversing with the soldiers.  Here the soldiers are dressed more casually.  The construction of the walls which the Roman soldiers are famous for is clearly shown in the background (Rockwell, Trajan interacting with his soldiers, 1980-1990).

Scene 50-51 Trajan interacting with his soldiers. Used by permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell

Scene 428 Trajan making a sacrifice on the danube. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell.

In the section of the column to the right, the army is standing in front of a fort on a bridge. Trajan appears to be offering a sacrifice in their behalf. He is bare headed and in wearing what is known as military undress uniform. He appears to be pouring something on the alter.  The people standing around Trajan seem to be at ease and there is also a small girl known as a camulis standing by with a incense box.  There is at least one high ranking officer standing next to Trajan.   (Rockwell, Trajan sacrificing by the danube, 1980-1990).


Trajan’s column. (2012, March 2). Retrieved March 8, 2012, from Wikpedia:’s_Column

Beckman, M. (1998). Trajans Column. (M. G. George, Editor, G. Rockwell, Producer, & The MacMaster Trajan Project) Retrieved March 8, 2012, from

Richmond, I. (1935). Trajan’s army in trajan’s column. Papers of the British School at Rome, 13, 1-40. Retrieved March 8, 2012, from

Rockwell, P. Trajan sacrificing by the danube. Retrieved March 8, 2012, from

Rockwell, P. Trajan interacting with his soldiers. Retrieved March 8, 2012, from

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Dacian Prisoners

During the reign of Trajan over the Roman Empire, the Romans experienced a great amount of resistance from the kingdom of Dacia. As a result, the Roman leader, Trajan, prepared his forces to fight against the forced of the Dacian Empire led by Decebalus. Battle began between these two nations in 101 A.D. and lasted until roughly 106 A.D. over the period of two wars (Schmitz 7-8). These wars took place on the Dacian’s land, which was in their favor, but they ultimately ended up losing although they dealt many devastating blows to the Roman forces.

As the wars waged on between these two forces, the Romans took many captives and the number of slaves only increased once they claimed victory in the war. The prisoners were treated poorly and expected to complete many tasks for the Romans. The slaves could be assigned any number of tasks including stone work, although they were given low quality tools to work with (Petrie 1917). Although the prisoners provided large amounts of labor for the Romans, they were also used to show a symbol of status and wealth among the Romans. Along with the gold and silver, the servants received from the war were considered to be a part of the goods gained for the Roman Empire. They were displayed in front of the emperor, along with other treasure, as a part of celebration for the Roman army (Cracknell 2010).

75.Subjugation of the Dacians. Used by permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell

As the picture demonstrates, the slaves were brought before the king not only to be shown off, but also to pledge their allegiance to the kingdom. It was important for the slaves to know that they were now a part of the Roman culture and under its influence for the remainder of their existence.


Works Cited

Cracknell, N. (2010, April). Trajan’s forum: A triumphal reading. Retrieved from

Petrie, W. (1917). 104. links of north and south. Man, 17(Oct), 158-162.

Piperno, R., & Moore, R. (n.d.). Two roman wars. Retrieved from

Rockwell, P. (1999). Subjugation of the Dacians.Trajan’s Column, The McMaster Trajan Project. Photograph retrieved from

Schmitz, M. (2005). The Dacian Threat. 101-106 A.D. Caeros, 7-8


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The Roman Signum

Roman Legions carried many different standards. One of the most recognizable is the signum, the decorated spear-like pole. As depicted on Trajan’s column, the standards of Legio I Minervia consisted of a wreathed open-hand symbol (manus) on top of the pole, a crossbar underneath with a strip of leather hanging from either end, and a series of discs below the crossbar. Archaeologists have found signa of other types, topped with spear heads instead of the manus, and with wreaths between the discs (Kraeling). These wreaths, as well as the one on the manus, are believed to be a symbol of an award or honor given to the standard’s unit (“Signum”).

Scene 48. Standards of Legio I Minervia. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Another set of standards on Trajan’s Column have a very different design. In between the discs are ambiguous rectangles that protrude from the column almost as if they are supposed to be representations of short cylinders. The discs themselves, instead of being plain-surfaced, have images on them. The top image is of an eagle, but the ones below almost look like a portrait. Legions in the Roman Empire would each have an image of the Emperor, but this would have been one standard only in the first cohort of the legion (“The Roman Standards”). No sources clarify whether these portraits (if that is what they are) are of the Emperor Trajan, or are other important figures or deities.

Scene 53. Roman military standards. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Roman signa were very important to the legionaries. They represented the honor of their unit and legion, and were used in religious festivals and other ceremonies. When pitching camp, the standards were staked into the ground before anything else (“The Roman Standards”). Most importantly, they were used in battle as rallying points and signals for different tactical maneuvers (Kraeling).


Works Cited

“Signum (Military Standard).” Legion XXIV Media Atlantia. Feb. 2010. n.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2012. <;

“The Roman Standards.” Illustrated History of the Roman Empire. 19 July 2008. n.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2012. <;

Kraeling, Carl H. “The Episode of the Roman Standards at Jerusalem.” The Harvard Theological Review 35.4 (1970): 263-289. Print.

Rockwell, Peter. Photo of Roman military standards on Trajan’s Column. n.d. The Stoa Consortium. Web. 8 Mar. 2012.

Rockwell, Peter. Photo of Standards of Legio I Minervia on Trajan’s Column. n.d. The Stoa Consortium. Web. 8 Mar. 2012.

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Vehicles on Trajan’s Column

Pairs of mules drag carroballistae, cart-mounted missile throwing weapons, into battle

Scene 40, Carroballistae. Used with permission. Copywrite Peter Rockwell. Via

Trajan’s column gives a glimpse of life at war and war technology during Trajan’s campaign against the Dacians.  One particular insight on the column shows the use of wagons and siege equipment specifically a carroballistae. This type of ballista was mounted to a cart with two eight spoke wheels and drawn by mules or horses. This is an assumed technological advancement allowing for mobile artillery. Richmond suggests that it is “much like a hopper-trailer of a modern field gun (13). The wagon was serviced by two soldiers. One soldier seems to be loading and the other preparing the torrsion propulsion system.

The ballista was mounted on a cart were one man took position on the back to aim and fire the bolt while another solider likely wound the winch to create the needed tension for firing. Disputes amoung scholars has suggested the carts were only used to transport the ballistaes during the campaign; however, depictions on the column show the ballistaes loaded. This would have been a very dangerous way to transport them. Also, there is evidence that ballistaes mounted on carts or charriots have been seen on other forms of archeology (Wikipedia).

Scene 40, Soldiers above ballistae. Used with permission. Copywrite Peter Rockwell. Via

The viewer must keep in mind that Trajan’s Column is monument to a victorious campaign on a monochrome stone medium. It was carved by a scuplter rather than a soldier. The portrayal of the soldiers are too simplistic to be a rendition of actual soldiers in battle. Evidence of this can be seen in the uniforms as well as in the incorrect representations of the ballista.  The depictions are meant to be decisively recognized as roman. (Richmond, 14).




Works Cited 

“Carroballista.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundations. Mar. 6 2011. Web. Mar 8 2012. 

Richmond, I. A. “Trajan’s Army on Trajan’s Column.: Papers  of the British School at Rome. Vol. 13 (1935), pp. 1-40. JSTOR Web. Feb 28 2012.

Rockwell, Peter. Soldiers above ballistae. Trajan’s Column. Photograph. The McMaster Trajan Project.  1999. 8 Mar. 2012. Web.

Rockwell, Peter. Carroballistae. Trajan’s Column. Photograph. The McMaster Trajan Project.  1999. 8 Mar. 2012. Web.

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Legate being saluted

The man in charge of the Roman Legions.

The role of Legatus was considered the highest rank that a legionary could strive to gain, while then it was still usually granted to a senator more often than a soldier who worked his way up through the ranks.

The Legatus was in charge of overall military strategy and campaigning. The Legatus would need to lean heavily on the other staff officers that would be surrounded by him, the business of day-to-day operations was run by these officers.

There were a few different “ranks” of Legatus in the Roman Army. There were Legatus in each province, in charge of their own regional legion, who would protect regional interests unless called upon by the Empire to go to battle, which was a common occurrence in the Roman times. (Milner)

One of the most important roles of the Legatus was to know when to press war upon his foes, and when it was time to hold back. In many cases the wisest Legate would listen to the senior “non-commissioned” soldiers who would almost always have the truest feel for what the soldiers were feeling and whether pushing the fight was wise. Vegetius was quoted, via translation, as saying that :

One should find out how soldiers are feeling before battle. Explore carefully how soldiers are feeling on the actual day they are going to fight. For confidence or fear may be discerned from their facial expression, language, gait and gestures. Do not be fully confident if it is the recruits who want battle, for was is sweet to the inexperienced. You will know to postpone it if the experienced warriors are afraid of fighting. An army gains courage and fighting spirits from advice and encouragement from their general, especially if they are given such an account of the coming battle as leads them to believe they will easily win a victory. (Keppie)

One of the largest dangers of the rank of Legatus is that they were subject to the displeasure of the Emperor. If a Legate has a bad campaign, they may not be long for the rank.

Works Cited

Keppie, Lawrence. The Making of the Roman Army: From republic ot empire. Lawrence: University of Oklahoma press, 1984. Print.

Milner, N.P. Vegetius: Epitome of Military Science. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1993. Print.



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