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Trajan, Roman Emperor

TRAJAN, ROMAN EMPEROR [MARCUS ULPIUS TRA JANUS] (A. D. 53-117), Roman emperor, was born at Italica, in Spain, on the 18th of September 52 (or 53). The family to which he belonged was probably Italian and not Iberian by blood. His father began as a common legionary soldier, and fought his way up to the consulship and the governorship of Asia. The younger Trajan was rigorously trained by him, and imbued with the same principles and tastes. He was a soldier born and bred. No better representative of the true old hardy Roman type, little softened by either luxury or education, had come to the head of affairs since the days of Marius. His training was almost exclusively military, but his experience as an officer gave him an acquaintance with almost every important province of the empire, which was of priceless value to him when he came to the throne. For ten years he held a commission as military tribune, which took him to many lands far asunder; then he filled important posts in Syria and Spain. By the year 89 he had achieved a considerable military reputation. At that time L. Antonius Saturninus headed a rebellion in Germany, which threatened seriously to bring Domitian's rule to an end. Trajan was ordered in hot haste from Further Spain to the Rhine. Although he carried his troops over that long and arduous march with almost unexampled rapidity, he only arrived after the insurrection had been put down. But his promptitude raised him higher in the favour of Domitian, and he was advanced to the consulship in 91. Of the next five years of his life we know nothing definite. It is not unlikely that they were spent at Rome or in Italy in the fulfilment of some official duties. When ' the -revolution of 96 came, and Nerva replaced the murdered Domitian, one of the most important posts in the empire, that of consular legate of Upper Germany, was conferred upon Trajan. An officer whose nature, as the event showed, was interpenetrated with the spirit of legality was a fitting servant of a revolution whose aim it was to substitute legality for personal caprice as the dominant principle of affairs. The short reign of Nerva really did start the empire on a new career, which lasted more than threequarters of a century. But it also demonstrated how impossible it was for any one to govern at all who had no claim, either personal or inherited, to the respect of the legions. Nerva saw that if he could not find an Augustus to control the army, the army would find another Domitian to trample the senate under foot. In his difficulties he took counsel with L. Licinius Sura, a lifelong friend of Trajan, and on the 27th of October in the year 97 he ascended the Capitol and proclaimed that he adopted Trajan as his son. The senate confirmed the choice and acknowledged the emperor's adopted son as his successor. After a little hesitation Trajan accepted the position, which was marked by the titles of imperator, Caesar and Germanicus, and by the tribunician authority. He immediately proceeded to Lower Germany, to assure himself of the fidelity of the troops in that province, and while at Cologne he received news of Nerva.'s death (Jan. 25, 98). The authority of the new emperor was recognized at once all over the empire. The novel fact that a master of the Romans should have been born on Spanish soil seems to have passed with little remark, and this absence of notice is significant. Trajan's first care as emperor was to write to the senate an assurance like that which had been given by Nerva, that he would neither kill nor degrade any senator. He ordered the establishment of a temple and cult in honour of his adoptive father, but he did not come to Rome. In his dealings with the mutinous praetorians the strength of the new emperor's hand was shown at once. He ordered a portion of the force to Germany. They did not venture to disobey, and were distributed among the legions there. Those who remained at Rome were easily overawed and reformed. It is still more surprising that the soldiers should have quietly submitted to a reduction in the amount of the donative or gift which it was customary for them to receive from a new emperor, though the civil population of the capital were paid their largess (congiarium) in full. By politic management Trajan was able to represent the diminution as a sort of discount for immediate payment, while the civilians had to wait a considerable time before their full due was handed to them.

The secret of Trajan's power lay in his close personal relations with the officers and men of the army and in the soldierly qualities which commanded their esteem. He possessed courage, justice and frankness. Having a good title to military distinction himself, he could afford, as the unwarlike emperors could not, to be generous to his officers. The common soldiers, on the other hand, were fascinated by his personal prowess and his camaraderie. His features were firm and clearly cut; his figure was tall and soldierly. His hair was already grey before he came to the throne, though he was not more than forty-five years old. When on service he used the mean fare of the common private, dining on salt pork, cheese and sour wine. Nothing pleased him better than to take part with the centurion or the soldier in fencing or other military exercise, and he would applaud any shrewd blow which fell upon his own helmet. He loved to display his acquaintance with the career of distinguished veterans, and to talk with them of their battles and their wounds. Probably he lost nothing of his popularity with the army by occasional indulgence in sensual pleasures. Ye*, every man felt and knew that no detail of military duty, however minute, escaped the emperor's eye, and that any relaxation of discipline would be punished rigorously, yet with unwavering justice. Trajan emphasized at once his personal control and the constitutionality of his sway by bearing on his campaigns the actual title of " proconsul, " which no other emperor had done. All things considered, it is not surprising that he was able, without serious opposition from the army, entirely to remodel the military institutions of the empire, and to bring them into a shape from which there was comparatively little departure so long as the army lasted. In disciplinary matters no emperor since Augustus had been able to keep so strong a control over the troops. Pliny rightly praises Trajan as the lawgiver and the founder of discipline, and Vegetius classes Augustus, Trajan and Hadrian together as restorers of the morale of the army. The confidence which existed between Trajan and his army finds expression in some of the coins of his reign.

For nearly two years after his election Trajan did not appear in Rome. He had decided already what the great task of his reign should be the establishment of security upon the dangerous north-eastern frontier. Before visiting the capital he determined to put affairs in train for the attainment of this object. He made a thorough inspection of the great lines of defence between the Danube and the Rhine, and framed and partly carried out a vast scheme for strengthening and securing them.

The policy of opposing uncivilized tribes by the construction of the limes, a raised embankment of earth or other material, intersected here and there by fortifications, was not his invention, but it owed in great measure its development to him. It is probable that the northernmost part of the great limes Germaniae, from the Rhine at Rheinbrohl, nearly midway between Coblenz and Bonn, to a point on the Main cast of Frankfort, where that river suddenly changes its course from north to west, was begun by Domitian. The extension of this great barrier southwards to the point at which it met the limes Raetiae was undertaken by Trajan, though we cannot say how far he carried the work, which was not entirely completed till long after his time. We may without hesitation follow the opinion of Mommsen, who maintains that the limes was not intended, like Hadrian's Wall between the Tyne and the Solway, and like the great wall of China, to oppose an absolute barrier against incursions From the outside. It was useful as marking definitely the boundary of the Roman sway, and as assuring the Romans that no inroad could be made without intelligence being had of it beforehand, while the limes itself and the system of roads behind it enabled troops to be directed rapidly to any threatened point, and the fortified positions could be held against large numbers till reinforcements arrived. Great importance was no doubt attached to the perfection of the lines of communication bearing on the limes. Among a people of roadmakers, Trajan was one of the greatest, and we have definite evidence from inscriptions that some of the military roads in this region were constructed by him. The more secure control which the Romans now maintained over the territory within the limes tended to its rapid civilization, and the Roman influence, if not the Roman arms, soon began to affect powerfully the regions beyond.

After his careful survey of the Rhine end of the frontier defences, Trajan proceeded to strengthen them in the direction of the Danube. From the age of Tiberius onwards the Romans possessed the whole southern bank of the river from its source to the Euxine. But the precarious tenure of their possession had been deeply impressed on them by the disasters and humiliations they had undergone in these districts during the reign of Domitian. A prince had arisen among the Dacians, Decebalus by name, worthy to be placed at the head of all the great barbarian antagonists of Rome. Like Maroboduus, he was able to combine the forces of tribes commonly hostile to each other, and his military ability almost went the length of genius. Domitian attacked him but was compelled to make an ignominious peace. He agreed to pay to Decebalus an annual subsidy, and to supply him with engineers and craftsmen skilled in all kinds of construction, but particularly in the erection of fortifications and defensive works. During the nine or ten years which had elapsed since the conclusion of this remarkable treaty the Dacian prince had immensely strengthened the approaches to his kingdom from the Roman side. He had also equipped and drilled his formidable army after the Roman fashion. It was impossible for a soldier like Trajan to endure the conditions accepted by Domitian; but the conquest of Dacia had become one of the most formidable tasks that had ever confronted the empire. Trajan no doubt planned a war before he left the Danube for Rome late in 99.

The arrival of the emperor had been awaited in the capital with an impatience which is expressed by Pliny and by Martial. 1 As he entered the city and went on foot to the Capitol thS plaudits of the people were unmistakably genuine. During his stay in the city he riveted more firmly still the affections both of the senate and of the people. The reconciliation of the empire with liberty, inaugurated, as Tacitus says, by Nerva, seemed now to be securely achieved. Trajan was absolutely open and simple, and lived with men at Rome as he had lived with his soldiers while on service. He realized the senate's ideal of the citizen ruler. The assurance that no senator should suffer was renewed by oath. All the old republican formalities were most punctiliously observed even those attendant on the emperor's election to the consulate, so far as they did not involve a restoration of the old order of voting at the comitia. The veneration for republican tradition is curiously attested by the reproduction of many republican types of coin struck 1 It has been conjectured, not improbably, that the Germania of Tacitus, written at this period, had for one of its aims the enlightenment of the Romans concerning the formidable character of the Germans, so that they might at once bear more readily with the emperor's prolonged absence and be prepared for the necessity of decisive action on the frontier.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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