The Forum and Column of Trajan with Dr. Jeffrey Becker

Past Event: Wednesday, Nov.03.2021

In this Smarthistory conversation, Dr. Jeffrey Becker will discuss strategies on how to approach the Forum and Column of Trajan—the final and largest of Rome’s complex of so-called “Imperial fora,” or public urban squares for civic and ritual business—in the classroom.

Teaching Trajan

The monuments in brief

  • “Never again to be imitated by mortal men”
    • In the mid-4th century, Constantius II, while visiting Rome, was amazed by the huge equestrian statue of Trajan and by the surrounding buildings: “But when he came to the Forum of Trajan, a construction unique under the heavens, as we believe, and admirable even in the unanimous opinion of the gods, he stood fast in amazement, turning his attention to the gigantic complex about him, beggaring description and never again to be imitated by mortal men.”(Ammianus Marcellinus 16.14)
  • Themes
    • Monumentality (monumentum [neuter], monumenti) “reminder, memorial”
    • Commemoration
    • Collective memory
    • Historical narrative
  • Forum (and markets) of Trajan 
    • Dacian wars (101–102, 105–106 CE) 
    • Inaugurated in 113 CE 
    • Quirinal and Capitoline hills 
    • Forum measures 300 x 185 m; exedrae 
    • Final “Imperial forum” complex 
    • Basilica Ulpia, 117 x 55 m
  • Column of Trajan
    • Dedicatory inscription: “The Senate and people of Rome [give or dedicate this] to the emperor Caesar, son of the divine Nerva, Nerva Traianus Augustus Germanicus Dacicus, pontifex maximus, in his 17th year in the office of tribune, having been acclaimed 6 times as imperator, 6 times consul, father of his country (pater patriae), to demonstrate of what great height the hill [was] and place [that] was removed for such great works.”
    • Dimensions:
      • 29 blocks of Luna marble
        • 25 to 77 tons
      • 38.4 m tall
      • Helical frieze of 190 m with ca. 2,500 figures
      • Wraps 23 times around
      • Trajan appears 59 times.
      • Visual synopsis of the Dacian Wars (101–102, 105–106 CE)

Approaching the monuments – opportunities and challenges

  • Historical narration (historical relief)
  • Commemoration, collectivity
  • Themes – points of view in public art – victory vs. defeat – imperialism – the defeated 

Monuments in context 

  • Confronting the unfamiliar with the familiar 
  • What (and whom) do we commemorate – contextualizing monumentality


Other online resources 

Trajan’s Column in Rome (2021, Roger B. Ulrich)

The McMaster Trajan Project (hosted by

Trajan’s Column – Cichorius Plates at Wikimedia Commons

Trajan’s Column (University of St Andrews)

Building an Ancient, Mysterious Monument (Amazing Stop-Motion) | National Geographic Mar 25, 2015


Dr. Jeffrey Becker