Forum of Trajan

The Forum of Trajan is an ancient monument in Rome. It was designed by Appollodorus of Damascas, and it dates from the early part of the first century AD. This makes it the most recent of the imperial forums. Today, the forum is much reduced from its original imposing appearance, partly because of changes to Rome carried out by Benito Mussolini in the 1930’s.

Construction

After the Roman emperor Trajan had conquered Dacia in 106 AD, he wished to use some of the spoils he had obtained from the war to pay for a forum in his name. Appollodorus, who was selected as the architect, had been with Trajan during the campaign. The structure was built relatively quickly for the time, and received its inauguration in 112 AD. A matching column was put up on the site soon afterward and was inaugurated the following year.

The complex required very extensive excavation works to be carried out, with the sides of both the Capitoline and the Quirinal Hills being picked apart. This resulted in the closure of the valley in which other imperial forums stood.

Details and Dimensions

The enormous square on which the forum was erected measured more than 600 by 360 feet. Two sides of the square carried semicircular plinths known as exedrae. The piazza was also lined with porticos. On the south, an arch showing Trajan in triumph in a chariot drawn by six horses marks the entrance to the forum. Opposite is the Basilica Ulpia, where another equestrian statue of the emperor was placed. This area was lined with white marble cobblestones.

The sides of the piazza were home to markets, which were housed in the area of the exedrae. Close to the Basilica on its northern flank was another square. Here a temple in Trajan’s honor was built. On either side, to the north of the Basilica Ulpia, were a pair of libraries. As was the usual custom in imperial Rome, one of these was home to Greek documents and the other to those written in Latin. Trajan’s Column, a 100 foot tall triumphal sculpture, stood between them.

Later history

The fourth-century emperor Constantius II was astonished by the scale of the complex, especially the statue of Trajan, when he visited the city. The contemporary Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus reported that Constantius had “stood fast in amazement” when he observed the forum, and said that construction in such a manner would never again be produced by the labors of mortal men.

The forum gradually fell into disrepair after the fall of the empire, and by the ninth century its marble was being systematically removed for use elsewhere. Nevertheless, the pavement itself was repaired with other materials, signaling that the square itself still served a public function into early medieval times.

The ambitious city works carried out under Mussolini, in particular the 1933 building of the Via dei Fori Imperiali, led to the covering of some of the columns of the Basilica Ulpia. They are still preserved beneath the road’s arches. Trajan’s Column itself remains intact, but the forum is still deteriorating because of the pollution and vibration caused by the amount of traffic which now uses the road.


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