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Trajan

TRAJAN 157 by senatorial officers. Trajan seized every opportunity for emphasizing his view that the princeps was merely the greatest of the magistrates, and so was not above but under the laws. He was determined, he said, to be to his subjects such a ruler as he had desired for himself when a subject. Real power and influence were accorded to the senate, which had now, by the incorporation of members whose origin was provincial, become in a manner representative of the whole empire. Trajan associated with the senators on equal terms, and enjoyed in their company every kind of recreation. All pomp was distasteful to him and discarded by him. There was practically no court, and no intrigues of any kind were possible. The approach to his house was free, and he loved to pass through the city unattended and to pay unexpected visits to his friends. He thirsted for no senator's blood, and used severity against the delatores alone. There was but one insignificant conspiracy against him during his whole reign. Though not literary himself, Trajan conciliated the literary men, who at all times had close relations with the senate. His intimate, M. Licinius, played an excellent Maecenas to his Augustus. In his efforts to win the affections of Roman society Trajan was aided by his wife Plotina, who was as simple as her husband, benevolent, pure in character, and entirely unambitious. The hold which Trajan acquired over the people was no less firm than that which he maintained upon the army and the senate. His largesses, his distributions of food, his public works, and his spectacles were all on a generous scale. The exhibitions in the arena were perhaps at their zenith during his tenure of power. Though, for some unexplained reason, he abolished the mimes, so beloved of the populace, at the outset of his reign, he availed himself of the occasion of his first triumph to restore them again. The people were delighted by the removal of the imperial exedra (a large chamber with open front) in the circus, whereby five thousand additional places were provided. Taxation was in many directions reduced, and the financial exactions of the imperial officers controlled by the erection of a special court. Elaborate precautions were taken to save Italy from famine; it is said that corn for seven years' consumption at the capital was retained in the granaries. Special encouragement was given to merchants to import articles of food. The corporation of bakers was organized and made more effective for the service of the public. The internal trade of Italy was powerfully stimulated by the careful maintenance and extension of the different lines of road. But the most striking evidence of Trajan's solicitude for his people's welfare is found in his institution of the alimenta, whereby means were provided for the rearing of poor and orphan children in Italy. The method had been sketched out by Nerva, but its great development was due to Trajan. The moneys allotted by the emperor were in many cases supplemented by private benevolence. As a soldier, Trajan realized the need of men for the maintenance of the empire against the outer barbarians, and he preferred that these men should be of Italian birth. He was only carrying a step farther the policy of Augustus, who by a system of rewards and penalties had tried to encourage marriage and the nurture of children. The actual effect of Trajan's regulations is hard to measure; they were probably more effectual for their object than those of Augustus. The foundations were confiscated by Pertinax, after they had existed less than a century.

On the 1st of September in the year 100, when Trajan was consul for the third time, Pliny, who had been designated consul for a part of the year, was appointed to deliver the " Panegyric" which has come down to us, and forms a most important source of our knowledge concerning this emperor. Pliny's eulogy of Trajan and his denunciation of Domitian are alike couched in extravagant phrases, but the former perhaps rests more uniformly on a basis of truth and justice than the latter. The tone of the " Panegyric " certainly lends itself to the supposition of some historians that Trajan was inordinately vain. That the emperor had an honest and soldierly satisfaction in his own well-doing is clear; but if he .had had anything like the vanity of a Domitian, the senate, ever eager to outrun a ruler's taste for flattery, would never have kept within such moderate bounds.

On the 25th of March in the year 101 Trajan left Rome for the Danube. Pretexts for a Dacian war were not difficult to find. Although there was no lack of hard fighting, victory in this war depended largely on the work of the engineer. The great military road connecting the posts in Upper Germany with those on the Danube, which had been begun by Tiberius, was now extended along the right bank of the river as far as the modern Orsova. The campaign of 101 was devoted mainly to road-making and fortification. In the following campaign, after desperate fighting to the north of the Danube in the mountainous region of Transylvania, Sarmizegethusa, the capital of Decebalus, was taken, and he was forced to terms. He agreed to raze all fortresses, to surrender all weapons, prisoners and Roman deserters, and to become a dependent prince under the suzerainty of Rome. Trajan came back to Italy with Dacian envoys, who in ancient style begged the senate to confirm the conditions granted by the commander in the field. The emperor now enjoyed his first Dacian triumph, and assumed the title of Dacicus. At the same time he royally entertained the people and no less royally rewarded his brave officers. But the Dacian chief could not school his high spirit to endure the conditions of the treaty, and Trajan soon found it necessary to prepare for another war. A massive stone bridge was built across the Danube, near the modern Turn Severin, by Apollodorus, the gifted architect who afterwards designed the forum of Trajan. In 105 began the new struggle, which on the side of Decebalus could now only lead to victory or to destruction. The Dacians fought their ground inch by inch, and their army as a whole may be said to have bled to death. The prince put an end to his own life. His kingdom became an imperial province; in it many colonies were founded and peopled by settlers drawn from different parts of the empire. The work done by Trajan in the Danubian regions left a lasting mark upon their history. The emperor returned to the capital in 106, laden with captured treasure. His triumph outdid in splendour all those that went before it. Games are said to have been held continuously for four months. Ten thousand gladiators are said to have perished in the arena, and eleven thousand beasts were killed in the contests. Congratulatory embassies came from all lands, even from India. The grand and enduring monument of the Dacian wars is the noble pillar which still stands on the site of Trajan's forum at Rome.

The end of the Dacian wars was followed by seven years of peace. During part of that time Pliny was imperial legate in the provinces cf Bithynia and Pontus, and in constant communication with Trajan. The correspondence is extant and gives us the means of observing the principles and tendencies of the emperor as a civil governor.

The provinces (hitherto senatorial) were in considerable disorder, which Pliny was sent to cure. It is clear from the emperor's letters that in regard to nine out of ten of the matters which his anxious and deferential legate referred to him for his decision he would have been better pleased if the legate had decided them for himself. Trajan's notions of civil government were, like those of the duke of Wellington, strongly tinged with military prepossessions. He regarded the provincial ruler as a kind of officer in command, who ought to be able to discipline his province for himself and only to appeal to the commander-in-chief in a difficult case. In advising Pliny about the different free communities in the provinces, Trajan showed the same regard for traditional rights and privileges which he had exhibited in face of the senate at Rome. At the same time, these letters bring home to us his conviction that, particularly in financial affairs, it was necessary that local self-government should be carried on under the vigilant supervision of imperial officers. The control which he began in this way to exercise, both in Italy and in the provinces, over the " municipia " and " liberae civitates," by means of agents entitled (then or later) " correctores civitatium liberarum," was carried continually farther and farther by his successors, and at last ended in the complete centralization of the government. On this account the reign of Trajan constitutes a turning-point in civil as in military history. In other directions, though we find many salutary civil measures, yet there were no far-reaching schemes of reform. Many details in the administration of the law, and particularly of the criminal law, were improved. To cure corruption in the senate the ballot was introduced at elections to magistracies. The finances' of the state were economically managed, and taxpayers were most carefully guarded from oppression. Trajan never lacked money to expend on great works of public utility; as a builder, he may fairly be compared with Augustus. His forum and its numerous appendages were constructed on a magnificent scale. Many regions of Italy and the provinces besides the city itself benefited by the care and munificence which the emperor, bestowed on such public improvements. His attitude towards religion was, like that of Augustus, moderate and conservative. The famous letter to Pliny about the Christians is, according to Roman ideas, merciful and considerate. It was impossible, however, for a Roman magistrate of the time to rid himself of the idea that all forms of religion must do homage to the civil power. Hence the conflict which made Trajan appear in the eyes of Christians like Tertullian the most infamous of monsters. On the whole, Trajan's civil administration was sound, careful and sensible, rather than brilliant.

Late in 113 Trajan left Italy to make war in the East. The never-ending Parthian problem confronted him, and with it were more or less connected a number of minor difficulties. Already by 106 the position of Rome in the East had been materially improved by the peaceful annexation of districts bordering on the province of Syria. The region of Damascus, hitherto a dependency, and the last remaining fragment of the Jewish kingdom, were incorporated with Syria; Bostra and Petra were permanently occupied, and a great portion of the Nabataean kingdom was organized as the Roman province of Arabia. Rome thus obtained mastery of the most important positions lying on the great trade routes between East and West. These changes could not but affect the relations of the Roman with the Parthian Empire, and the affairs of Armenia became in 114 the occasion of a war. Trajan's campaigns in the East ended in complete though brilliant failure. In the retreat from Ctesiphon (117) the old emperor tasted for almost the first time the bitterness of defeat in the field. He attacked the desert city of Hatra, westward of the Tigris, whose importance is still attested by grand ruins. The want of water made it impossible to maintain a large force near the city, and the brave Arabs routed the Roman cavalry. Trajan, who narrowly escaped being killed, was forced to withdraw. A more alarming difficulty lay before him. Taking advantage of the absence of the emperor in the Far East, and possibly by an understanding with the leaders of the rising in Armenia and the annexed portions of Parthia, the Jews all over the East had taken up arms at the same moment and at a given signal. The massacres they committed were portentous. In Cyprus 240,000 men are said to have been put to death, and at Cyrene 220,000. At Alexandria, on the other hand, many Jews were killed. The Romans punished massacre by massacre, and the complete suppression of the insurrection was long delayed, but the Jews made no great stand against disciplined troops. Trajan still thought of returning to Mesopotamia and of avenging his defeat at Hatra, but he was stricken with sickness and compelled to take ship for Italy. His illness increasing, he landed in Cilicia, and died at Selinus early in August 117.

Trajan, who had no children, had continually delayed to settle the succession to the throne, though Pliny in the " Panegyric " had pointedly drawn his attention to the matter, and it must have caused the senate much anxiety. Whether Hadrian, the relative of Trajan (cousin's son), was actually adopted by him or not is impossible to determine; certainly Hadrian had not been advanced to any great honours by Trajan. Even his military service had not been distinguished. Plotina asserted the adoption, and it was readily and most fortunately accepted, if not believed, as a fact.

The senate had decreed to Trajan as many triumphs as he chose to celebrate. For the first time a dead general triumphed. When Trajan was deified, he appropriately retained, alone among the emperors, a title he had won for himself in the field, that of " Parthicus." He was a patient organizer of victory rather than a strategic genius. He laboriously perfected the military machine, which when once set in motion went on to victory. Much of the work he did was great and enduring, but the last year of his life forbade the Romans to attribute to him that felicitas which they regarded as an inborn duality of the highest generals. Each succeeding emperor was saluted with the wish that he might be " better than Trajan and more fortunate than Augustus." Yet the breach made in Trajan's Jelicitas by the failure in the East was no greater than that made in the felicitas of Augustus by his retirement from the right bank of the Rhine. The question whether Trajan's Oriental policy was wise is answered emphatically by Mommsen in the affirmative.

It was certainly wise if the means existed which were necessary to carry it out and sustain it. But succeeding history proved that those means did not exist. The assertion of Mommsen that the Tigris was a more defensible frontier than the desert line which separated the Parthian from the Roman Empire can hardly be accepted. The change would certainly have created a demand for more legions, which the resources of the Romans were not sufficient to meet without danger to their possessions on other frontiers.

The records of Trajan's reign are miserably deficient. Our best authority is the 68th book of Dio Cassius; then comes the " Panegyric " of Pliny, with his correspondence. The facts to be gathered from other ancient writers are scattered and scanty. Fortunately the inscriptions of the time are abundant and important. Of modern histories which comprise the reign of Trajan the best in English is that of Merivale; but that in German by H. Schiller (Geschichte der romischen Kaiserzeit, Gotha, 1883) is more on a level with recent inquiries. There are special works on Trajan by H. Francke (Gustrow, 1837), De la Berge (Paris, 1877), and Dierauer in M. Biidinger's Unlersuchungen zur romischen Kaisergeschichte, (Leipzig, 1868). A paper by Mommsen in Hermes, iii. pp. 30 seq., entitled " Zur Lebensgeschichte des jiingeren Plinius," is important for the chronology of Trajan's reign. The inscriptions of the reign, and the Dacian campaigns, have been much studied in recent years, in scattered articles and monographs. (J. S. R.)

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

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