The Column of Trajan was erected in 113 AD in honor of Emperor Trajan. It was located at the then just completed Forum of Trajan and was hemmed in by buildings. The column commemorates Trajan’s victories in Dacia (now Romania).
The column including its base measures forty-two meters tall (138 ft.). This was exactly the height of the hill that stood at this site. It had been leveled to create open space for the construction of Trajan’s Forum.
Band of Reliefs
The column consists of twenty-nine pieces of white marble, the largest one weighing up to seventy-seven tons. A band of beautifully carved reliefs winds around the column. The band is more than 180 meters (600 ft.) long.
There are more than two thousand carved figures on the column that depict the story of Trajan’s Dacian war campaigns conducted between 101-102 and 105-106 AD. The width of the band varies from 60 cm. (2 ft.) at the bottom to 120 cm. at the top so that the carved figures would seem to have an equal height when seen from the ground.
The story starts with soldiers preparing for the war and ends with the Dacians being ousted from their homeland.
The reliefs were not always in plain white: originally they were partly gilded and – like many ancient Roman monuments and buildings – brightly colored.
Initially, a statue of an eagle topped the column, but after Trajan’s death it was replaced by a six-meter-tall (20 ft.) statue of the emperor himself. His ashes and later those of his wife Plotina were placed in the base of the column. In 1587 the statue was replaced again, this time by one of St. Peter.
Saved from Demolition
Legend has it that the column was saved from demolition thanks to Pope Gregory the Great (590-604). He was so moved by a relief depicting Trajan helping the mother of a dead soldier, that he begged god to save Trajan’s pagan soul from hell. God then told the pope that Trajan’s soul had been saved.
The legend also claims that Trajan’s tongue was still intact when his ashes were excavated. The tongue told about his rescue from hell. The area around the column was then declared sacred, thus saving the column from demolition.
The column is located at Trajan’s Forum – part of the Imperial Forums – at the Via dei Fori Imperiali, right next to the Piazza Venezia. But if you want to see the carved reliefs up close, head over to the Museum of Roman Civilization in EUR, where plaster casts are displayed in sequence at eye-level.