The Mother of All Forums: Civic Architecture in Rome under Trajan

Lecture by Dr. Diana E.E. Kleiner / 03.05.2009
Dunham Professor, History of Art and Classics
Yale University

Trajan Expands the Empire and Initiates Public Architecture in Rome

Marble bust portrait of Nerva, c.96-98 A.D. / National Museum of Rome

You’ll recall that Nerva was old, and in fact also relatively sickly, when he became emperor of Rome. You’ll also remember–and I remind you of his portrait above–you’ll also recall that he was a member of the Senate, and that he was chosen by the Senate, one of their own, to become emperor of Rome, the first emperor to come from the senatorial ranks in the history of Rome, and he was very popular with the Senate. But Nerva recognized quite early on that, although he was popular with the Senate and with the aristocracy, he was not a favorite of the army, and he realized that was not a good position to be in, and so he wisely decided, very early on, that he would select the most popular military man and the most highly successful military man in Rome, a man by the name of Trajan, as his heir.

Marble statue of Trajan / Photo by Thomas Thie, Colonia Ulpia Traiana, Wikimedia Commons

And so Nerva adopts Trajan–and you see Trajan’s portrait above–Nerva adopts Trajan in 97 A.D., so that in 98, when Nerva dies–because he dies after only sixteen months in office–when Nerva dies, Trajan succeeds him without contest. Trajan was an extraordinary emperor for Rome. There are a number of important points about Trajan that should be made that have an impact on our understanding and analysis of his architecture. One of those is he’s the first Roman emperor to be born outside of Italy. He was born in Spain, the first emperor born in Spain. That’s not to say that Spain was the boondocks, by any stretch of the imagination. Spain had already been colonized by Rome and was very highly developed with regard to its civilization. He also came to power as a relatively young man. He was only 45 years of age–a couple of years younger than Obama–and consequently he was in–and he was in very good physical shape, and so he had the physical wherewithal to be the kind of energetic emperor that Rome needed at this particular point.

He undertook many military campaigns, and very successfully, and he was the emperor that extended Rome to its furthest reaches, to its greatest borders, to its most extensive borders, during his reign. And actually these were borders that were never gone beyond. After this point, we’ll see that the emperor Hadrian consolidates the extent of the Empire, as reached by Trajan, and no one ever takes it beyond that. So this is going to be the furthest extent of the Empire that we’ll see in the course of the semester. And he was also extremely wise when it came to his choice of the kinds of buildings that he wanted to put up, because he followed in the footsteps of Vespasian and Titus, by favoring major public architecture in Rome, and by eschewing private architecture. He wanted, above all, to disassociate himself from Nero, and from Domitian, who had favored palatial architecture, as you’ll recall. And so he builds public architecture in Rome, and allies himself in this regard to such earlier emperors as Augustus and as Claudius and as the Flavian dynasts, and we’re going to see that in his building projects today.

Like so many other emperors, when he first came to power, he looked around to see which buildings had fallen into disrepair, and he decided to restore as many of those as he could. And he chose very carefully. Again, he obviously did not choose buildings of Nero, many of which had already been destroyed, in any case, but rather looked back further, in fact, dug deep into the Republic, a time, a simpler time in many respects, and a time prior to the shenanigans of the monarchically minded emperors like Nero and Domitian, and he restored buildings from the Republic and from the Augustan period. And he looked back, for example, to the Forum of Caesar in Rome, the Forum Iulium, which you all know well, and we’ve talked about it before, and I’m not going to discuss it in any detail today. Just to remind you that it began to be restored–that is, the Forum of Julius Caesar–under Domitian, and that that restoration was completed by Trajan at some point during his reign, between 98 and 117 A.D. And I remind you of that here. You’ll recall its location, right next to the Victor Emmanuel Monument in Rome. You’ll remember that even though it was restored by Domitian and Trajan, it has fallen on hard times.


Forum of Julius Caesar, Rome / Wikimedia Commons

And if you look at the Temple of Venus Genetrix, you see that all that survives, besides the podium and the staircase, are three columns from that restored version, by Trajan. You see the same three columns over here, and then you’ll recall the great open space, with colonnades on either side, and then the market area, the shops or tabernae on the left. You can see that Trajan continues this interest in ornamentation that was characteristic of the Flavian period: very ornamental architectural decoration, very deeply carved, with a strong contrast between light and dark. So he does continue this Flavian interest in very elaborate architectural decoration.

Temple of Venus Genetrix frieze wtih Cupids, Forum of Julius Caesar / Photo by Carole Raddato, Wikimedia Commons

I show you a detail of part of a frieze from the Temple of Venus Genetrix that depicts cupids–chubby, winged babies, as you can see here, cupids–who are carrying the arms–you can see one of them with a sword sheath over here–they are carrying the arms and armor of Mars: Mars, of course, the consort of Venus, and Mars making reference also to military victory. This frieze, as far as we can tell, does belong to the Trajanic renovation of the building, but it probably does look back to an earlier Julian frieze that decorated the original temple in Rome. And I use that restoration of the Temple of Venus Genetrix, in the Forum of Julius Caesar, as an example of the kind of restoration work that Trajan embarked on, at the beginning of his principate.

The Baths of Trajan

Plan of the Baths of Trajan / Wikimedia Commons

But much more important to us today are two buildings, the first a bath, and the second a forum, that are examples of the devotion that Trajan had to public architecture during his reign. And I show you a view here, in fact, a plan of the so-called Baths of Trajan in Rome that were dedicated in A.D. 109. It is Apollodorus of Damascus. And his name says a lot about him: Apollodorus from Damascus, modern Syria. So it’s very interesting. We have an emperor from Spain and an architect from Syria, who worked together. This is a sign that things are beginning to change in the Roman Empire, as the Romans–as Trajan extends those borders even further. It brings in even more multifaceted civilizations around the world, and talent begins to pour into Rome from all of those places. Apollodorus of Damascus, as we’ll see today, was an extraordinary architect, right up there with Severus and Celer, and with Rabirius: in fact, one could argue even the equal of Rabirius.

And what’s particularly interesting is that Apollodorus of Damascus, like Severus and Celer before him, appears to have been, above all, a great engineer. He actually accompanied Trajan on Trajan’s military campaigns, and served as Trajan’s military architect. So his first commissions were building bridges–I’m going to show you a reference to one today–building bridges, or building forts and camps on Trajan’s military campaigns, and then using that expertise, ingratiating himself with the emperor, who sees that he is enormously talented–because Trajan participated in these campaigns himself–seeing how talented he was, and then putting him in charge of his building projects in Rome, which is really quite interesting. And so these projects are not only aesthetically pleasing and fascinating, but also show extraordinary engineering skill on the part of the major designer, namely Apollodorus of Damascus.

Baths of Titus model / Wikimedia Commons

Now these Baths of Trajan are very interesting in all kinds of ways. You can already see, by looking at the plan, their location. They are located on the Esquiline Hill and part of the smaller Oppian Hill. And the Baths of Titus–well let me remind you first that the Domus Aurea of Nero was built, in part, on the Esquiline Hill. And you’ll recall the so-called Esquiline Wing, which is the one wing of Nero’s Domus Aurea that is still preserved underground. You’ll recall that after Nero’s damnatio memoriae, and the coming to power of the Flavian dynasty, that Vespasian and Titus, and even Domitian, razed to the ground Nero’s buildings–Vespasian did that–and then he and Titus and Domitian built new buildings, on top of those, and chose to make those buildings the kind of public buildings that the citizenry as a whole would enjoy; from the Colosseum and amphitheater to the Baths of Titus. And you see again the Baths of Titus here, located right again on top of this area that originally belonged to Nero’s Domus Aurea.

Trajan follows suit. He not only is interested in public architecture, like Vespasian and Titus before him, but he follows their lead in building these buildings on top of earlier structures, now destroyed, of Nero. So it’s again this same message, giving back to the people the land that Nero had taken illegally from Rome during his reign. The Baths of Trajan are based, in large part, on the plan of the Baths of Titus, with some additions. But you can see the extraordinary difference in scale. The Baths of Titus were not small, and yet the Baths of Trajan are at least three, if not four or more, times the size of the Baths of Titus. So this tells us something again about the grandiosity of the vision of Trajan, about the funds that he had at his disposal, and he got those funds, in large part, because of all these military victories in which he took all kinds of spoils and booty, which he used to fund his building campaigns in Rome. And it also tells us something about his ambitions.

Now I don’t want you to get the impression that we never had big buildings before. You can think back way to the beginning of the semester when we talked about Julius Caesar and his architecture, and his bragging that he had built a–or one of the authors of that period tells us that Julius Caesar had built a Temple to Mars, the biggest in the world. So in its own day it was, supposedly, the biggest in the world. But we’re getting even more ambitious vis-à-vis scale. And I think–perhaps again I’m psychoanalyzing Trajan too much–but I think the fact that this is a man who had the ambitions that he did, to extend the Empire to its furthest reaches, seems to be in keeping with the kind of man who would want to make the buildings in Rome, that he built, a kind of microcosm of that hugely expanded Empire.

Baths of Titus plan / Wikimedia Commons

With regard to the plan of the baths, you will see that it follows the so-called Imperial Bath type that was initiated by the Baths of Titus, at least with regard to baths that are still preserved. I mentioned to you, when we talked about the Baths of Titus, there may have been an earlier bath of Nero that actually followed this same Imperial Bath form. But we’re not absolutely sure about its plan, that is, the Neronian Baths. They existed, but we’re not absolutely sure about their plan. But if we look back at the Baths of Titus, you’ll remember that what made them distinctive, and what made them differ from the earlier Stabian Baths or Forum Baths at Pompeii, was the way in which they placed the bathing block in the center, rather than to the side; that they arranged the main rooms–the tepidarium, the frigidarium and the caldaria, in this case–in axial relationship to one another. And then all the other rooms of the bath were displayed around those, in a symmetrical way. So axiality and symmetry reigned supreme. And then otherwise we saw here the rest of the precinct, with an elaborate entranceway over here.

We see roughly the same in the Baths of Trajan, in that again the bathing block is located right at the center of the structure, and the main rooms are aligned with one another axially. If you look up to where it says Baths of Trajan that at the northern end is the entrance into the baths. You enter from there, into N, which is a natatio or swimming pool; a piscina. And then you can see that is surrounded by columns. On axis with the swimming pool is the frigidarium, at F, and you can see, just like that of the Baths of Titus, it is a groin-vaulted room: a triple groin vaulted room, as you can see by the three x’s over the rectangular area. It has a kind of an apse or exedra at the uppermost part, through which one comes from the natatio into the frigidarium, and you can see that is screened by columns. Then from there into the fairly simple, rectangularly shaped tepidarium, that serves more as a kind of passageway from the frigidarium, into C, which of course is the caldarium, or the warmest room, the sauna of the baths. That also has a rectangular shape, but with these radiating alcoves, radiating alcoves that we’re going to see are screened by columns. And they are, of course, facing the southern end where the sun is, and that would, of course, help to heat the caldarium as well.

And then what we see though with regard to the Baths of Trajan, that make them differ from the Baths of Titus, and are part of this evolution of Imperial Bath architecture in Rome, is the fact that the bathing block is placed in this very large rectangular precinct. And this large rectangular precinct has a series of rooms around it, as you can see, real rooms, and rooms that take all kinds of shapes. Many of them are these hemicycle type shapes, screened with columns from the larger central space, but some of them also look like the tabernae that we’ve become used to in plan. We see all of those there, and these were used, as far as we can determine, as meeting halls, lecture halls, Greek and Latin libraries. So there’s this extension of the bath, from being just a place where you went for wellness essentially, to bathe and to relax and to have social interaction with your friends.

They are adding an intellectual element to the bath buildings, so that you can also go there if you want to read–if you want to go to the library and read Greek books, read Latin books–go to lectures, go to seminars, have conversations, intellectual conversations, are also beginning to happen here. So the bath becomes even more of a mecca for people who are interested in intellectual life, as well as bathing and social life, which is a very important development culturally for the Romans. Note here also this great hemicycle, down here, which is part of the bath building — a hemicycle that had seats on it, which probably served for performances of whatever kind, that would have taken place here. So that’s another interesting addition to the bathing scene, and should you remind you of the kind of hemicycles that we saw, for example, in the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina, or the Sanctuary of Hercules at Tivoli, where they also had those performance areas. So bringing in some of those elements from sanctuary design, into bath design, in the Baths of Trajan in Rome.


Baths of Trajan ruins / Wikimedia Commons

The Baths of Trajan, some parts of them still exist, but scattered, and in fact they are located now in a kind of a pleasant garden area, as you can see here. This is a Google Earth view that shows you their proximity to the Colosseum; we see the edge of the Colosseum over here. So the Esquiline Hill, in large part. And you can just barely make out here–if you look, see this curved wall, down here, that curved wall is in fact that hemicycle with the–for the theatrical performances that I showed you, just before. And that is actually the entrance — for anyone going to Rome over break, that’s actually the entrance to the Domus Aurea. If it’s open–it periodically closes, sometimes, if things are falling down–but if it’s open, that’s how one gets there. And over here you can actually see this is the–I may have shown this to you before–but this is actually the oculus of the octagonal room of Nero’s Domus Aurea. You can see it, if you wander through this park, you can see it from above, with a grate on top of it, as well as down below, if you visit the palace itself. And then up here, you can see another–just right up above my finger–you can see another curved wall, and there’s another one somewhere down here, that are part of those curved rooms, those hemicycle-shaped rooms, that are these lecture halls and meeting halls and so on. And actually that one, the one that’s up here, actually has niches in the wall, with shelves, which indicates to us that that was used as one of the libraries. The scrolls would have been placed on those shelves, and then have cupboards in front of them. So one can see remains–it’s made out of concrete, faced with brick–one can see remains on the top of that hill.

Baths of Trajan model / Dartmouth University, Creative Commons

The model gives you a better sense of what it looked like in antiquity. We’re again looking at that large hemicycle that served, with its seats that served for performances here. We’re looking at the outer precinct wall. We can see the semi-domes of some of the hemicycles here. And we can also see the bathing block; at the uppermost part, the entranceway; the courtyard, surrounded by columns, which is where the pool or natatio was located. The covered area here was the frigidarium; then the tepidarium. The caldarium is here, and here you can see those radiating alcoves, with columns, that opened them up for vistas and the like, as well as to the warmth of the sun. So an incredible bathing establishment, and one that has taken us a step further in the evolution of imperial bath architecture in Rome, and will serve as the major model for the two most famous and much better preserved baths in Rome, and that is the Baths of Caracalla and the Baths of Diocletian, which we’ll look at later in the semester.

The Forum of Trajan

But I’d like to turn from the Trajanic baths to unquestionably the most important public building that was commissioned by Trajan during his reign, and I can’t overemphasize enough the importance of this building in the history of Roman architecture. And we’re going to see that it is two part, in the sense that it has–it is a forum, it has the forum proper, and it also has markets appended to it. They are done in a different architectural style, and herald something very important; a very important development in Roman architecture that’s going to be carried further by Trajan’s successors.

Forum of Trajan aerial / Wikimedia Commons


Palazzo Venezia and Mussolini balcony close-up / Wikimedia Commons

Trajan was restoring Julius Caesar’s Forum, at the same time he’s building his own. I can also show you here the Palazzo Venezia. If you look at the center of that building, right over the doorway, there’s a balcony. That is the famous Mussolini balcony; that’s the balcony from which Mussolini made all his speeches, with his followers gathering in the Piazza Venezia. And from that, from the Piazza Venezia, the street that goes from there to the Piazza del Popolo, is the Corso, the racecourse, the Corso of Rome, which is one of the major streets of Rome that takes you–if you go down halfway, take a right, you are at the Via Condotti, and ultimately at the Piazza di Spagna, or the Spanish Steps, which of course is a trek that everybody who visits Rome follows that path, to see the Spanish Steps.

Forum of Trajan / Wikimedia Commons

Over here, the forum that we’re going to be talking about today, the Forum of Trajan. Here we are looking at some of the columns from the Basilica that’s part of that forum, from the very well-preserved Column of Trajan.

Imperial Fora plan / Wikimedia Commons

Forum of Trajan plan / Wikimedia Commons

It’s important for us to look back at the general plan of the Imperial Fora, to see where the Forum of Trajan fits in. We have already looked at the Forum of Julius Caesar, with its Temple of Venus Genetrix. We have looked at the Forum of Augustus, with its Temple of Mars Ultor. Remember the exedrae on either side of that temple, the embracing arms, that were new at that time, and an important component of the Forum of Augustus. Vespasian adds his Forum Pacis over here. Domitian adds a narrow forum, the so-called Forum Transitorium that served as a point of transit between the Roman Forum and the Subura here. He puts a temple to his patron goddess, Minerva, in that forum. But it is, at his death, it is taken over by Nerva and renamed the Forum of Nerva.

I mentioned to you, when we talked about the Forum Transitorium, that Domitian also had his eye on this property over here. He had schemes as grandiose for public architecture, at one point, as for palatial architecture, but palatial architecture won out and he put all of his effort into the palace, on the Palatine Hill, and never realized any construction in this area. When Trajan became emperor, he decided that he would again focus on public architecture, and that he would build a forum like none other before it. And so he begins to do that. Now that was no small feat in this particular part of the city, because most of this area was occupied by a hill; the so-called Quirinal Hill, in Rome, occupied most of this space.

So what he needed to do–it’s great to have an architect engineer in your back pocket, so he set Apollodorus of Damascus to work. He said: “You’re a great engineer. All you need to do is take down a good part of the Quirinal Hill, to make way for this great forum that I want to build.” And lo and behold, Apollodorus was absolutely up to the job, and that’s exactly what he sets out to do. He removes 125 feet of the Quirinal Hill, in order to make way for the Forum of Trajan. And that very number, 125 feet, is actually commemorated in the Column of Trajan, because the Column of Trajan was built to that very same height, 125 feet, to show you, as you stand in the forum, how much of that hill had to be cut back in order to make way for the forum.

You can see by looking at the plan of the Imperial Fora as a whole that not only did Trajan take the Empire to its furthest extent, this is the last forum that was added to the Imperial Fora, in Rome. You can see, by looking at it in connection to the others, that if you count it, plus the markets–which you see wending their way up what was left of the Quirinal Hill here in plan–if you compare that to the others, you can see that the Forum of Trajan, and the Markets of Trajan, were almost as large as all of the other fora–not counting the Roman Forum–but all of the other Imperial Fora together, which gives you some sense of why I called this “The Mother of All Forums.”

I want you to look at the exedrae that you see on either side of the main space of the forum, and on either side of the basilica over here. These are not coincidental. They are certainly meant to make reference to the exedrae of Augustus’ forum. Trajan modeled himself after Augustus. He became a kind of neo-Augustus. He took on Augustus’ hairstyle and his manners, and so he was trying to associate himself, in his life, with Augustus. He’s doing it here also, through architecture, by placing those exedrae on either side of his forum.

The Basilica Ulpia

Basilica Ulpia plan / Flickr, Creative Commons

Here’s a plan of the Basilica Ulpia, where we can see all of its major features. You’d enter into the forum down here. There was a very elaborate entranceway, here. And you can see that the façade is actually not straight, but convex, convex: a convex façade, which is very interesting, curved façade, with an elaborate entranceway over here. The entrance into the main part of the forum, rectangular in shape. There’s a base here for an equestrian statue of Trajan. The exedrae on either side, mimicking those of the Forum of Augustus. Colonnades, also on either side, and some additional columns here. And we’re going to see that just as in Augustus’ forum–another reference back to Augustus–that the columns in this main area are Corinthian below, but in the second tier there are figures — not figures of caryatids, but different kinds of figures, and I’m going to show you those soon.

The basilica is perpendicular to the forum proper. This is quite different from the Forum at Pompeii, where you’ll remember the basilica was splayed off, to the side. Here we have it as a more integral part of the forum, and perpendicular to the main space here. It’s a very large basilica. It takes the name of Trajan’s family. His family name was Ulpius. This is the Basilica Ulpia in Rome, with a central nave, and side aisles, a couple of side aisles around it. So a veritable forest of columns, and then other exedrae, matching exedrae, or, in this case, apses on either end. Then through here you see the location of the Column of Trajan, in a small piazza, and to left and right, libraries, Greek and Latin libraries. And then at the end, a temple.

We don’t know what Trajan actually–the northern end of the structure was not completed at Trajan’s death, and we don’t know if he would have put a temple there. It’s highly likely, because what forum have we seen, without a temple at the short end? They all had them. So it’s a good guess that Trajan had that in mind too. But the temple that was built there was actually built after his death, by his successor, Hadrian: a temple that Hadrian put up to honor Trajan, and also Trajan’s wife, Plotina.

Forum of Trajan on coin / Wikimedia Commons

Now we know quite a bit. A lot of the forum, some of the forum, is still preserved, and we have evidence for other parts of it that are not preserved. This entrance gate, down here. Believe it or not, we have coins that have an entrance gate on them, and nicely they say–fortunately they say, down below, FORVMTRAIAN, Forum of Trajan. So putting two and two together, we have to go on the assumption that what we are looking at here is a rendition, on a coin, of the entrance gate into the Forum of Trajan, FORVMTRAIAN. And if we look at it here, we see some interesting things. We see, first of all, that it has a single arcuation in the center — so one doorway. It has a series of bays, that have in them what we call aediculae, which are little temple fronts that are–niches with little temple fronts around them, with columns and pediments. And then you can see statuary, inside those. So a series of bays, decorated with these aediculae with statues.

Then a series of circles with blobs in them. I think those series of circles with blobs in them are probably portraits represented on shields, because we have remains of actual portraits on shields from the inside of the forum. So that seems to be the case here as well. And then in the uppermost part, we see that the gate looks very much like an arch, in the sense that it supports a quadriga at the top that represents two people, possibly the emperor–again, we’re dealing with blobs here; we have to do the best we can to interpret them–but they seem to be probably the emperor, and possibly Victory crowning him, the way we saw Victory crowing Titus in his chariot, on his arch. Six horses in this particular case, and then on either side trophies, these tree trunks decorated with captured arms and armor. And we’re not absolutely sure what’s surrounding them in this case, whether they’re prisoners or Roman soldiers.

So this gives you a very good idea of the entrance gate into this structure. And I also want to point out, if you look very closely at the columns and the elements above them in the attic, you can see that the columns project, and the attic seems to have projecting entablatures. So it looks as if we have the kind of scheme here that we saw in the Forum Transitorium, with that wall decorated with columns that project out of the wall, and that have projecting entablature, giving this undulation–undulating movement from projecting to receding, projecting to receding, across the façade of the entrance gate.

The figures that were located on the upper tier of the center–of the main body of this forum again were not caryatids, or female figures, but rather male figures: male figures of captured Dacians, because the war that Trajan had, that enabled him to celebrate and to fund this building, was his wars against the Dacians, from ancient Dacia, modern Romania today. Trajan had two military campaigns there, one from 101 to 102; the second one from 105 to 107. He was victorious in both of those, and this forum was built from the spoils of that war, to honor his victory over the Dacians. The figures that are in the uppermost tier, of the main body of the forum, are depictions of captured Dacians; of Dacian prisoners brought back to Rome.


Headless statue and recreation from Forum of Trajan / Wikimedia Commons

Here a headless figure, here a much more complete figure. The headless figure still can be seen on the site, and the one on the left is now in the Vatican Museums in Rome. The one on the right gives you a better sense of what these looked like in antiquity. You can tell that these are not Romans; wearing leggings, a tunic, a fringed mantle, that the Romans did not wear, a long fringed mantle. And then above you see that he has, unlike Trajan’s closely cropped Augustan-type hairstyle, you can see he has very long hair, and also a beard, and this identifies him as a very different–sort of boots that seem to be made out of suede or felt of some sort. So a very different kind of image. Clearly these are again the Dacian prisoners, one after another, aligning that second tier.

And for any of you interested in the fact that the Romans made nearly exact duplicates of things, mechanical copies, you can see in this particular statue–we rarely have this preserved, so it’s an interesting example of these points–you see these little excess pieces of marble. The Romans had created a kind of pointing machine, which they used to make exact replicas of originals. And they usually, when the statue was done, they would usually obviously take these away, carve them away, which they didn’t do. This one probably was not used, for some reason; it was copied and never put up on the building, and so those points still remain.

Model of the Forum of Trajan by Paul Bigot in MRSH / Photo by Pascal Radigue, Wikimedia Commons

This is a model of the Forum of Trajan, as it would have looked in antiquity, with that convex entranceway; the location of the equestrian statue, the exedrae on either side here. You can imagine the Dacians in the second tier. The roofed Basilica Ulpia here. The Column of Trajan, flanked by the Latin and Greek libraries, and then over here the Temple to Divine Trajan. Looking back at the plan, that there was also another elaborate entranceway from the main part of the forum, into the Basilica Ulpia, on its long side. And once again, how fortunate we are that we have coins that say BASILICAVLPIA, Basilica Ulpia. So we can guess, I think quite accurately, that this must be the entranceway to the Basilica Ulpia.

Forum of Trajan basilica entrance on coin / Photo by Roger Pearse, Wikimedia Commons

We see three openings, not arcuated openings but trabeated openings, straight lintels above. But look again in the way in which they’re represented. It looks like they’re quite solid, and that they project into the spectator’s space. So again this idea of projection, recession, projection, recession, across this façade. This is very important because, as I mentioned, Roman architecture, using the traditional language of Greek architecture, ultimately developed something that we call a baroque trend in Roman architecture, and you see it happening here, in Rome, based on the experiments of Domitian’s Forum Transitorium. And you can see that same, roughly that same scheme here. Up above, once again, a chariot, in this case a four-horse chariot, seemingly with one figure, and a series of standards, being held, possibly by Roman soldiers.

Forum of Trajan reconstruction illustration / UCLA, Creative Commons

The Forum of Trajan has been the professional, the life work of a professor, formerly of Northwestern University, James Packer, who spent a very long time pulling together all the evidence that the Forum of Trajan still provides, to allow a very good reconstruction of what that forum looked like. It’s computer generated. He has done enough research to allow a very accurate reconstruction of what this forum would’ve looked like.

This is the Basilica Ulpia here. We are looking at the marble; you can see real marble and variegated marbles brought from all over the world. So Trajan continues the Flavian tradition of bringing marbles from all over, from places outside of Italy–from Africa, from Asia Minor, from Egypt and so on–for the decoration of these buildings, and an interest in multicolored marbles as facing.

You can see it conforms to basilican architecture that we’ve looked at before, with a central nave, divided by its two side aisles–in this case, as you’ll recall in plan. You can see also that it’s a gargantuan structure. Look at the size of the people, the men in their togas, and the building itself. And it had a flat roof with a coffered ceiling, and you can see that it had a clerestory. We’ve talked about the clerestory before. We saw it in the House of the Mosaic Atrium, for example, the clerestory, which is the opening up of the wall, in this case through Ionic columns, to see the vistas that lie beyond, and to let light into the structure.

The Column of Trajan

Column of Trajan / Wikimedia Commons

This is the Column of Trajan. It’s not that difficult to climb the Column the Trajan because there’s a spiral staircase in the center of it, that goes up to the top. The part that’s hard is getting permission to get in there. It’s always locked, and you have to get special permission to do that. So I did it only once, but it was a great thing to do, and you go way up to the top, and you can look down. You can see fantastic views of Rome.

Forums were a place for people to meet and to market and to conduct law cases and so on, in the basilica. But this monument reminds you again and again and again and again that it is a monument in stone to Trajan’s victories over the Dacians. And not only do we see those Dacians, as we looked at before, but we see lots of other imagery that refers to military victory. This is a fragment of what we think was a frieze, in the Basilica Ulpia, that depicts victories, female personifications of victory, winged, either kneeling at candelabra, or over here, this woman, kneeling on the back of a bull. You can see that she’s winged. She’s holding the snout of that bull back. She’s got a knife in her right hand, and she is about to slit the throat of the bull. And she is doing this to–not only is victory over the Dacians being marked here, but she is also representing the sacrifice that takes place in honor of that victory, by being shown depicting killing a bull.

Model of Forum of Trajan with libraries on either side of column / Wikimedia Commons

The Column of Trajan is located was flanked by Greek and Latin libraries, on axis with the entranceway, the equestrian statue of Trajan, the other entranceway, the column, and ultimately the temple, at the very end: the temple ultimately to divine Trajan. This is a model of what we think the library may have looked like, or both of the libraries may have looked like from the outside — fairly smallish square buildings with a portico in the front, and then, most important, a balcony over here. Why a balcony? So that you could come out and look at the Column of Trajan, and read some of the scenes that encircled it.

The Column of Trajan is an extraordinary work of art, extremely well preserved. Why so well preserved? Well likely because Pope Sixtus V, in the Renaissance, used this column, and also the column of the later emperor, Marcus Aurelius, as important nodes in his reconstruction of the city of Rome. What he did, however, at that time, was that he took the statues of Trajan that would’ve stood on this one, and Marcus Aurelius on the other, and replaced them with statues of Peter and Paul. And it’s Peter who’s on the Column of Trajan, and Paul who is on the Column of Marcus Aurelius. But you can see how well preserved they are here. The column shaft rests on a base, decorated with arms and armor, Dacian arms and armor, with a statue of Trajan up at the–a bronze statue of Trajan at the uppermost part.

It’s a spiral frieze, done all in marble, of course, that wraps from the base of the column, all the way up to the top. And it tells, in documentary form, the exploits, the military exploits of Trajan, in his two Dacian military campaigns–those two campaigns that I’ve already mentioned–divided in the center by a Victory writing on a shield. There’s been a lot of speculation; there’s nothing like this earlier in Roman art quite like this. And so it is a new innovation, probably at the behest of–possibly out of the mind, the creative mind, of Apollodorus of Damascus. And some scholars have suggested, and I think very convincingly, it’s an intriguing idea, that because this was located between two libraries, the likelihood–and that the Romans had scrolls–the likelihood is what we are dealing with here is one of these scrolls, sort of wrapped around the column, from base to top, unfurled and wrapped around the column from base to top, with the text removed, with images instead of text. And that makes a lot of sense, again given that you could view it best from the two libraries on either side.

Column of Trajan base with lowest spirals / Wikimedia Commons

Column of Trajan scene of bridge over Danube / Wikimedia Commons

A detail of the base, just to show you how very well preserved the sculptural decoration is. This is not a course in sculpture. I’m not going to go into this in detail, but I want to quickly show you some of the scenes, because again they can be revealing, from the point of view of architecture. This is at the very base. We see a personification of the Danube River, in that area up north, in Dacia, where the Romans went to conquer those tribes. And this is very important, because we know that Apollodorus of Damascus was responsible for building a bridge over the Danube River. It was one of his great engineering feats. And you actually see that bridge located here, which even increases the likelihood that Apollodorus of Damascus was the designer of this particular structure. You see the Roman soldiers have gotten off boats. They’re walking through an archway.

Here you see the Roman soldiers. The Roman soldiers did not only do battle, but they also Romanized the areas that they went. We’ve talked about this a lot: the colonization of the Roman world, Trajan extending the borders to their furthest most points. The Romans get there, what do they do? They start to build architecture. They start to build walls with headers and stretchers. They start to build forts and city walls, in which they put buildings with Roman amenities. Remember, after the war is over, they’re often given land by the general, or the emperor — it becomes theirs, and where they can live from that point on. So they had every reason to want to fill these towns with Roman amenities. And we see the Roman soldiers building cities in many of these scenes.

Column of Trajan scene of Roman soldiers building a fort / Wikimedia Commons

Column of Trajan fort battle scene / Wikimedia Commons

This is the most famous scene from the column, in which we see a battle between the Romans, inside one of these forts that they’ve built. They are all with helmets and shields. They have their hands around something; we think these were probably spears that were added in metal, originally. The Dacians down below. You can identify them by their leggings and tunics and scraggly hair and beards, here. They are attacking the camp. The Romans are, of course, going to be victorious, but the Dacians are shown as heroic and valiant, and enemies who are pretty much the equals of the Romans in strength, which only underscores that the Romans were stronger still, to have conquered them. And then over here, if you’ve ever wondered where the term ‘battering ram’ came from, you can see it right here–I told you the Romans invented everything–you can see it right here: this pole, with a ram’s head at the end, which is serving again as a battering ram, as they try to tear down the walls of the Roman fort.

Column of Trajan scene of the suicide of Decebalus / Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the most poignant and interesting scene happens way up at the top of the column, where the leader of the Dacians, Decebalus, is shown kneeling, almost like one of those Victories, on the bull. He has a knife in his hand. What is he doing? He is kneeling here. He has decided–you can see the Romans; he’s got Romans to the left of him, Romans to the right of him. He’s about to be taken prisoner by them and paraded in a triumphal procession in Rome, in honor of Trajan. He doesn’t want to do that, so he heroically, valiantly, takes his own life. He is about to plunge that knife into his heart, so that he doesn’t have to be taken by the Romans. It’s very interesting to see them depicting, the Romans depicting, the Dacians in such a heroic way on this column.

Plaster casts of the 155 scenes in the Museo della Civiltà Romana / Wikimedia Commons

I mentioned the museum in Rome that is located in EUR, the Museo della Civiltà Romana, the Museum of Roman Civilization, that has casts and models. I mentioned that they had casts of all the scenes from the Column of Trajan. I show you a view that I took in that museum, just to give you a sense of how one can see those, and how one can see those at eye’s level, to get a good sense of them. In antiquity they would have been harder to read. But I should point out that the background was likely painted blue, and there probably would have been some additions, like the metal spears, that might have made it easier to read–almost like Wedgwood–might have made it easier to read in antiquity.

Firefighter Memorial at Ground Zero in New York / Wikim

And I also thought I would mention–I’m sure all of you have been down to Ground Zero, but if you go a block or two away from Ground Zero itself, there’s the Fireman’s Memorial there, that was put up to many of the fireman who sadly lost their lives fighting those fires in the Twin Towers. We see this here: “Dedicated to those who fell and to those who carry on” here. And what’s interesting about this, if you look, if you Google this and look at the website for the Fireman’s Memorial in New York, you will find out that the designer for this talks unabashedly of his admiration for the Column of Trajan in Rome, and that he used, as an artistic model, for the way in which he massed figures here, showing them in relationship to buildings, he used, as his model, the figures on the Column of Trajan, in Rome.

Forum of Trajan model / Wikimedia Commons


Column of Trajan spiral staircase and burial chamber / Wikimedia Commons

At the end again, the column, surrounded by the Greek and Latin libraries, the temple over here at the end. You can see it’s a conventional Roman temple: deep porch, freestanding columns, staircase, one staircase, façade orientation, just as we saw elsewhere. The staircase also goes down below, into a burial chamber. Two urns were found in that burial chamber; the urns of Trajan and Plotina, which tells us, of course, that this also served as Trajan’s tomb. So a victory, not only one of his great victories, military victories, but also victory over death.


Column of Trajan with St. Peter statue and coin with original Trajan statue at top / Wikimedia Commons

And then at the apex, we see a good view of the top, with a statue of St. Peter; but we have coins depicting Trajan on–depicting the original statue–the base, the shaft, a portrait of Trajan, a naked portrait of Trajan, a heroicized portrait of Trajan, depicted after death, divinized at the apex of the column. And if you read the inscription on the coin, you see it refers to Trajan as Optimus Princeps. Trajan received many titles. One was Dacicus, for his victories over the Dacians; but at the end of his life Optimus Princeps, the greatest princeps of all time. The implication: greater than Augustus. And it is arguable, I think probably correct, that Trajan was the even greater of the two.

The Markets of Trajan and the Succession of Hadrian

Markets of Trajan / Wikimedia Commons

Just to show you again the location of the Markets of Trajan, in relationship to the Forum of Trajan. While the forum was the Romans imposing a rectangular plan on nature–remember, they have to cut back the hill, to make way for it–the markets are something quite different. They are the Romans accepting the shape of the remaining Quirinal Hill, and allowing the shape of that hill to determine the irregular shape of the markets. The markets, unlike the forum that is made out of marble, for the most part–as we’ve seen, variegated marble–the markets are made out of concrete, faced with brick: a very different material, but a material that is absolutely appropriate, when you want to cover a hillside with tiered buildings, looking back very much to the spa at Baia, looking back to Fortuna Primigenia, at Palestrina. The same idea, to turn this hill, what remained of the Quirinal Hill, into essentially the precursor of the modern shopping mall.

You have shopping–there are 150 shops in the Markets of Trajan. All of these things date, by the way, to the same period, around A.D. 113, the forum and also the markets. We see 150 shops here, on a variety of levels. This is the bottom level, that is located where the exedra, the first exedra is, on the right side. A great hemicycle, with shops. Here, a street, called the Via Biberatica; that name is on your Monument List. And then a covered bazaar up here. All of this on different levels; all of this done in a very innovative way, with concrete faced with brick. You can also see here the very large windows; the semi-dome, that I’ll show you in detail in a moment. These large windows indicate to us that the architects are real masters of the concrete medium here, able to de-materialize the wall, by putting up these very, very large windows. That’s how good they were in building this, at this point.

Markets of Trajan tabernae / Wikimedia Commons

The building block here is essentially the taberna: not unlike what we saw in Pompeii, this small space with shops. They took this individual motif, and they replicated it throughout this building, over and over and over again, offering 150 possibilities. Here you see a series of these in a row, a series of these tabernae, with their attic windows, with their travertine decoration, with their sidewalks — a kind of mini city within a city. And then over here the polygonal masonry of the streets, looking very much like streets in Rome.

Markets of Trajan hemicycle / Wikimedia Commons

Villa of Publius Fannius Sinistor, Second Style painting, Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons

Here is a view of the great hemicycle, down on the first story. We see the shops again. What’s interesting here is in the second story you see arcuated elements. You can see the facing with–the brick facing, although we do believe this was stuccoed over, in this case. Here, pilasters. But look very carefully. You’ll see these pilasters support, in the center, an arcuated pediment, and then on either side these broken triangular pediments, as if the pediment has broken, been broken, to allow the arcuated pediment to show through. We have never seen that before. Yes, we saw it in the paper topics, but that stuff is later. We have not seen that, up to this point chronologically, in built architecture. We have seen it in painting–Cubiculum at the Met, over here, for example–this breaking the triangular pediment to allow something else to show through. This is the beginning of this experimentation that ultimately leads to this baroque element in Roman architecture that I’m going to talk about.

Interior corridor of the hemicycle in Trajan’s Markets, Rome. Sunlight streams through arched openings on the right to fall on shop entrances on the left. / Wikimedia Commons

Behind the hemicycle, annular vault, with an additional set of shops, and attic windows there as well. This is the most famous street, from the Markets of Trajan. It’s an incredible place to wander, by the way. And they have just recently, in the last couple of years, opened an entirely new museum here, which has a lot of remains from the forum, from the markets, and a great deal of very useful information: an absolute must-see for anyone going to Rome. This is the famous Via Biberatica of the Markets of Trajan, where again you get the sense, once you’re in here that you’re in a kind of city within a city, but with all these wonderful shops. You can see how skilled they are in using ramps, with polygonal masonry, as well as sidewalks and stairs, so that you can make your way up with either alternative here. Again, the tabernae on either side; the opening up of the walls, with these incredible windows throughout.

Via Biberatica in the Markets of Trajan / Wikimedia Commons

Markets of Trajan axonometric plan / Wikimedia Commons

Markets of Trajan covered bazaar / Wikimedia Commons

The greatest part, perhaps, of the Markets of Trajan is this building here. It’s the covered bazaar, and it really is a market bazaar, on two tiers. You can see in this restored view, this series of tabernae down below; the attic up above. You can see that groin vaults are used here, in an incredible way. I’ll show you in a moment how. A second story up here, with additional tabernae, opened almost completely to the sky, an incredible feat on the part of Apollodorus of Damascus, assuming he also designed these markets.

Ferentino Market Hall / Wikimedia Commons

Here is the market hall, as it looks today. What is its ancestor? The Ferentino Market Hall, with its single barrel vault; or some of the cryptoporticuses that we also saw, with their barrel vaults. It’s that idea, that market hall idea. But look how sophisticated the Romans have become in their use of concrete faced with brick. They have realized that they don’t even need a wall, to support vaults. They can lift their vault on top of individual piers, as they have done so spectacularly here; lift them up. I described this, I think, in the introductory lecture as in a sense opening up a series of umbrellas over the space. They have opened it up so that light can flow in from the sides; light can flow in from either long end, just flooding the whole system with light.

San Francisco Ferry Building marketplace / Wikimedia Commons

Down below, again, the typical markets, with their attic windows above. But this is a real tour de force, probably the greatest — certainly the greatest vaulting that we have seen thus far, and again a test to just how far the Romans have come from this to this, by the time of the emperor Trajan. And any of you headed to San Francisco, if you go to the Marketplace there, you will see that that owes so much to Roman antiquity, with all the tabernae-like structures on either side; the vaulting. I mean, this sort of thing absolutely presupposes this kind of architectural development.


Arch of Trajan and attic relief, Benevento / Wikimedia Commons

I just want to show you one last monument, and make one basic point about it, that really has more to do with the transition from Trajan to Hadrian, than anything else. An arch went up, not in Rome, but in a place called Benevento, which is about an hour’s drive from Naples, in the south of Italy, in Campania; a place called Benevento. An arch went up between 114 to 118, honoring Trajan, and all of Trajan’s accomplishments. You can see it’s covered with sculpture, and each of those scenes represents one of the accomplishments of Trajan. It was put up on the so-called Via Traiana, taking Trajan’s name, a road that was built from Rome to Benevento, and was opened during Trajan’s reign, and again, a compendium of all his accomplishments.

You can see very clearly that it is based in general form on the Arch of Titus in Rome: a single central arcuated bay; the pedestals supporting double columns on either side; the inscription at the top; the receding panels on either side of that inscription. The major difference, of course, between the two, that this has sculpture only on the inside, and sparingly in the center and around the frieze, and this has much more sculpture, again telling us in much greater detail a list–or describing a list of the great accomplishments of Trajan. The main reason that I show it to you today, besides to show that the Flavians again served–Flavian architecture served as an important model for Trajanic architecture, is that a couple of the scenes in the attic above are very interesting, and tell us something about the succession.

Hadrian does not appear in the lower part of the arch, in any of the scenes, but he appears in two of the scenes in the uppermost part, which has led scholars, I think rightly, to conclude that the arch was finished up to the attic before Trajan’s death, and that Hadrian finished it. And what did he do? He put his own portrait up there, with Trajan’s. Why was he motivated to do that? Well he had an ego, as we’ll see when we talk about Hadrian’s architecture. But more than that, it had something to do with the succession. We know that Trajan died on August 8th in 117 A.D. We know that on August 8th he had no successor officially chosen. Plotina, his wife, was–she had no children of her own; she was crazy about Hadrian, very much his sponsor, and wanted to see him succeed Trajan. It’s likely that Trajan had the same idea in mind, but it’s a little strange, because wouldn’t he then have adopted him before his death? Why would he have waited? But Plotina decides–she consults with advisors. She says: “We’re not going to announce Trajan’s death. We’re going to keep it a secret. Tomorrow we’re going to announce that Trajan has adopted Hadrian.” That happens on August 9th. And then it was only on the 11th, the 11th of August that Trajan’s death was announced to the public.

So some hanky-panky was going on behind the scenes. But whoever made the choice, whether it was Trajan himself or Plotina, they made a great choice: Hadrian, an extraordinary emperor as well. And the one point that I want you to hold and keep with you  is what we learned from the Forum of Trajan, and that is that Trajan combined, in an incredible way, with the help of Apollodorus, traditional architecture in the form of the Forum, with its marble columns and the like, and innovative Roman architecture, in the form of the brick-faced concrete market, brought those together in one building, in a way that is very different from anything we’ve seen up to this point. Hadrian keeps that tradition alive, not only in the Pantheon, but also in his Villa of Tivoli.