We have been fortunate enough to visit Rome in Italy a few times and on each occasion I make a pilgrimage to Trajan’s Forum intending to see if I can view the lettering at the base of the column. But every single time the Forum has been closed for renovations and as the lettering is on the side of the column facing into the Forum, the lettering has been impossible to see!
I want to see the lettering up close because it’s regarded as one of the very best examples of Square Roman Capitals. The column was erected to celebrate Trajan’s victories in the Dacian (present-day Romania) wars between 101 and 106 AD and was completed in 113 AD. It is thought that the architect was Apollodorus of Damascus. The victories of Trajan were significant. It’s estimated that he brought back half a million pounds-worth of gold and a million pounds of silver.
The column is simply magnificent – it’s 98 feet (30 metres) tall, but when the pedestal is taken into account it’s even taller at 115 feet (35 metres), and consist of 20 drums of Carrara marble placed one above the other. Winding round the column is a 620 feet (190 metre) frieze with carvings of the wars between the Romans and Dacians. There are 155 scenes with 2,662 individual figures and they have even been used as an historical source for the clothes worn at the time.
The inside of the column is hollow and there is a spiral staircase winding to the top; there are narrow rectangular windows placed around the column to give light to this staircase which can just about be detected (there’s one just to the right of the arch almost in the centre of the top visible spiral, and then another beneath it three spirals down. In 1787 the German poet Goethe climbed to the 185 steps to the top to ‘enjoy that incomparable view’. Placed on the platform there was a bronze statue of Trajan but this was removed by Pope Sixtus V in 1588 and replaced by a statue of St Peter.
So there we were last month on our first morning, looking at Trajan’s Column and I happened to spot that the gate to Trajan’s Forum, which had always been firmly padlocked before, was open and it was possible to go down steps to the Forum. There was a kiosk selling tickets – it was open! We immediately bought tickets and I turned hoping to be able to stand in front of the column to view the lettering only to find this section was roped off and thus inaccessible! Without any Italian I tried to explain that I have visited Rome and each time been disappointed by Trajan’s Forum being closed as I really wanted to see the lettering at the base of the column. They very kindly lifted the rope and I was able to realise a long held dream of standing in front of the column and gazing at the lettering. The sun on the letters brought them in to sharp relief and it was such a privilege and thrill to view this panel of exquisitely cut letters that had eluded me for so long.
They really are magnificent! And the sun light added to the exhilaration. The letters also looked so fresh despite the fact that they are two thousand years old. At this point I do have to acknowledge that whoever it was who made the decision to cut into the inscription to allow for the roof of a porch to be built deserves every punishment they should get!
Standing at the base of the column and looking up the letters look very regular and even, but the top row of letters is considerably larger than the lowest row to allow for perspective – the Romans knew about this even then!
Each letter is so precisely cut and is a fitting tribute to the victor of the wars. And yes, if we go back to Rome, I shall indeed on the first day make my way back to Trajan’s Forum to view the lettering, though I may not be able to persuade the ticket seller to let me cross the barrier again!