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Forum of Trajan

Forum of Trajan

The last, largest, and arguably the grandest, of the imperial fora, it was built by Trajan (A.D.53-117) and designed by the architect Apollodorus of Damascus. Dedicated in A.D. 113, it celebrated the emperor's victories in the wars against the Dacians (A.D. 101 and 106). The forum consisted of a large plaza, dominated by a large bronze equestrian statue of Trajan and lined on its long sides by colonnades. Closing the plaza on the north was the Basilica Ulpia. Beyond this stood Trajan's Column, 138 feet high and topped by a statue of the emperor that could be seen far and wide in the city. Flanking the column were Greek and Latin libraries. After his death, Trajan's cremated ashes were placed in a golden urn set in the base of the column. The fate of the urn is an unsolved mystery.

Forum Trajani

From Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, rev. Thomas Ashby. Oxford: 1929, p. 237-245.

The last, largest and most magnificent of the imperial fora, built by Trajan with the assistance of the Greek architect Apollodorus, and dedicated, at least in part, about 113 A.D. (Cass. Dio LXVIII.16.3; LXIX.4.1; Vict. Caes. 13.5: adhuc Romae a Domitiano coepta forum atque alia multa plusquam magnifice coluit ornavitque, which may perhaps mean that the work was planned and possibly begun by Domitian; see S. Sculpt. 149; SScR 135; NS 1907, 415; CQ 1908, 144). When completed by Trajan it consisted of the forum proper, the basilica Ulpia, the column of Trajan, and the bibliotheca, and extended from the forum Augustum north-west between the Capitoline and Quirinal hills, with the same orientation as the other imperial fora. Unlike these it did not contain a central temple of which it formed a virtual porticus (for the possible significance of the sacellum Libertatis, see below). After Trajan's death, however, Hadrian erected the great temple of Trajan on the north-west side of the bibliotheca (Hist. Aug. Hadr. 19.9; CIL VI.966, 31215), which thenceforth formed an integral part of the forum whole, and made it conform somewhat to the imperial type. Although the walls of the forum of Trajan and the forum of Augustus seem to have been separated by a short distance, they must have been connected by a wide avenue at least, and thus Caesar's plan of connecting the forum Romanum and the campus Martius (Cic. ad Att. IV.16.8) was finally carried out.

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Additional source material

  • Ancient Library Sources (from Peter Aicher, Rome Alive: A Source Guide to the Ancient City, vol. 1, Bolchazy-Carducci: 2004) [Works cited]

    78. Forum of Trajan. Sources.


    Apollodorus was Trajan's builder in Rome, designing among other things the Forum of Trajan….

    Dio, History 69.4.1


    [During his visit to Rome in AD 357,] when the emperor Constantius came to the Forum of Trajan, which in my opinion is the most outstanding structure anywhere on earth, a marvel even in the judgment of the gods, he stood still in amazement, gazing around him at the gigantic creations, which can neither be conveyed in words nor ever again duplicated by mortals. His hopes of equaling something of this scope dashed by this sight, Constantius said he was willing and able to create an imitation of Trajan's horse alone, a statue of which, mounted by Trajan, was located in the center of the courtyard. Standing near him and hearing this, the prince Ormisdas responded with customary Persian wit: “Emperor, order first a similar stable to be built, if you can manage it. Then the horse you propose to make can range as widely as the one we see here.” When someone asked Ormisdas his impression of Rome, he said that the only thing giving him any comfort was learning that the men who lived there were mortal like himself.

    Ammianus, History 16.10.15-16


    All around the Forum of Trajan on the roof of the colonnades there are gilded statues of horses and military standards, and below them is written “From the sale of booty in war.” Favorinus, walking around in the courtyard of the forum while he was waiting for his friend (a consul hearing cases from the tribunal) asked about the precise meaning of this phrase.

    Gellius, Attic Nights 13.25.1-2


    Many nobles also died in this Germanic (or rather Marcomannic) war [c. AD 170], and Marcus Aurelius had statues of them placed in the Ulpian forum.

    Imperial Lives, Marcus Aurelius 22.7


    The emperor Alexander Severus relocated statues of famous men, gathered from numerous other places, in the Forum of Trajan.

    Imperial Lives, Alexander Severus 26.4


    Lest some reader think that I am relying too heavily on some Latin or Greek writer as my source here, there is in the Ulpian Library, in Case 6, an ivory book which contains this senatorial decree, to which the emperor Tacitus himself appended his signature in his own hand.

    Imperial Lives, Tacitus 8.1


    When I was looking for something else in the library of the Temple of Trajan, the edicts of old praetors fell into my hands by chance, and I took the opportunity to read and become familiar with them.

    Gellius, Attic Nights 11.17.1


    When the emperor Marcus Aurelius had exhausted the entire treasury while waging the war against the Marcomanni, he refused to consider raising funds through an extra tax upon the provincials, but held instead an auction of imperial valuables in the Forum of the deified Trajan. The sale, which included gold, crystal, and agate goblets, the vases of kings, his wife's silk robes embroidered with gold, and even numerous jewels that he had found stored away by Hadrian in a special box, lasted for two whole months and raised enough money to carry out the remainder of the war according to plan.

    Imperial Lives, Marcus Aurelius 17.4-5


    [Statue inscription:] In honor of Claudius Claudianus…, tribune and notary, practitioner of various polite arts but with unmatched glory in the art of poets. His poems alone would bring him immortal fame, but to acknowledge the esteem they have for him, Arcadius and Honorius, our most fortunate and learned Emperors, ordered with the Senate's encouragement that his statue should be set up in the Forum of Trajan [c. AD 395].

    ILS 2949 = CIL 6.1710


    [Statue inscription:] The invincible Emperors Honorius Theodosius and Constantius, judges and rewarders of virtue, ordered at the bidding of the full Senate and the people of Rome that a statue be set up in the Ulpian forum to Petronius Maximus, city prefect, as a lasting memorial of his merits.

    ILS 809 = CIL 6.1749

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