TRAJAN'S FORUM, Column

Audio File length: 2.50
Author: STEFANO ZUFFI E DAVIDE TORTORELLA
English / USA Language: English / USA

You can see a spiral of bas-reliefs all around the shaft of Trajan's Column that almost resemble a scroll of parchment: they chronicle the battles fought by Trajan against the people of Dacia, where Romania now stands. The conquest of Dacia marked the Roman Empire's most extreme territorial extension. But the column also had the practical function of marking the lowest point of the hill's valley before it was excavated for the construction of the forum.

The column, called the "centenary" because its 30 meters in height corresponded to one hundred "Roman feet", belongs to the Doric order. But don't think that its fame is due solely to its originality and size: its strength is in the artistic quality of its bas-reliefs. For the first time ever in a sculptural decoration, even while celebrating a great victory, the Romans showed great compassion towards the conquered. The emperor himself does not appear as an unbeatable "god", but in all his humanity as a fighter. Trajan put all of himself in the column, literally: when he died his imperial ashes were collected in the base, at the point where an internal spiral staircase starts. There was also a statue of the emperor at the top that was replaced with a statue of St. Peter at the end of the 16th century.

In addition to the most important battle scenes, the bas-reliefs also depict the troops' march there, the construction of their camp, the embassies, the sacrifices made in hopes of victory, and even scenes depicting the Dacians' torture of Roman prisoners. The description of the two war campaigns conducted against Dacia depicted a personification of Victory that put the Emperor's gestures in writing.

The bird's eye views, the landscapes in a smaller scale compared to the figures, the importance of the narration: these typical features of Roman bas-reliefs are merged with some peculiarities of Hellenistic art in Trajan's Column, such as the ability to depict scenes in a soft manner, creating very delicate chiaroscuro effects.

 

FUN FACT: it is said that when Pope Gregory the Great saw the scene where Trajan consoles the mother of a dead soldier, he prayed for the emperor's soul. So God appeared to him personally, telling him that Trajan's soul had been saved, but that he should no longer pray for pagans!

And with this we have finished our tour of Trajan's Forum. MyWoWo thanks you for staying with us, and will see you at the next Wonder of the World!

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