Trajan’s Column II

IMG_0281Trajan’s Column in Rome, completed in 113 AD, commemorates the victory of the Emperor Trajan over the Dacians. It is stunning when viewed in real life as it towers over the ruins of Trajan’s Forum and Market, being 98 feet (30 metres) high. The main part of the column consists of a frieze in bas relief which shows in great detail the preparations, movement of troops and battles that took place before the final victory, with Trajan, not surprisingly, being the tallest of all the figures in the column. There are 20 drums in all around which the figures wind, each drum weighing about 32 tons. It truly is a magnificent example of Roman engineering.



IMG_0262It is the base of the column, though, which is most interesting to calligraphers and letterers because it shows exquisitely carved Roman Capitals, regarded by many as the purest examples. It has been only recently (post written May 2024) that it has been possible to get anywhere near this part of the column to view the lettering.



IMG_4762An exhibition in spring 2024 at the Coliseum detailed how the column was constructed. Huge blocks of Carrara marble were moved from the quarries in Lunigiana sliding on wooden poles and being pulled by a team of oxen.







IMG_4764The stone drums were shaped into circles and the inner staircase cut as well. What is amazing is the accuracy of each block which had to fit on the next. The masons also had to allow for the fact that to make the columns look straight, there needed to be a swelling just below half way. This is explained in a blogpost on this website here. The huge round blocks were then loaded on to ships using a system of pulleys and a lot of labour as shown here.





IMG_4767 2Once at the forum, they needed to be put into position. The stone blocks were far too heavy to use a simple system of pulleys, and so a tower was built as here.

Either side of the column were two libraries, one for Greek texts and one for Roman, with bookshelves to store the scrolls. It was possible from balconies on these buildings to view the carvings spiralling round the column close up.





IMG_4771At the base of the column during construction was a huge wooden treadwheel. A similar one is shown carved into the family tomb of the Haterii. During the reign of Domitian (81–96 AD) Haterius was working on the construction of buildings and would have used a treadmill as the one carved on his tomb. The treadwheel had 5 men inside and ropes held by more men outside acted as brakes. There were two parallel wide poles creating the crane’s mast between which was the wheel’s axle; this all made up a strong block and tackle system.


IMG_4768 2This is shown more clearly here. The sheer mass of the wood being used for construction is amazing, and also the strength of the men using this machinery.







IMG_4737The spiral stone staircase carved inside the blocks led to the top of the column where there was a viewing platform. It must have been quite a sight, climbing the stairs and reaching the top for a view over Trajan’s Forum and the main Forum itself!






IMG_4812But, of course, it is the carvings on the outside of the column that are the true stars! Twisting round the column, with no allowance given from one stone drum to the next, a narrow carved line stands proud and separates the scenes one from another.






IMG_4823Here preparations are being made for the battles, with Neptune looking on benignly, no doubt giving his blessing to the campaign. The detail on the clothing, the wooden ships, the horses, a wooden bridge and building walls is really wonderful.






IMG_4821And even the base has the same care and attention to detail, with enviable precision of carving. Note the carefully carved garland of individuals leaves, and the metal ‘scales’ on the cuirass in the middle.

It truly is one of the wonders of the ancient world, and still astounds today.