27 January 98 - 8 August 117

27 January 98 - 8 August 117


Glyptothèque de Munich

Trajan, the successor of Nerva, whose family was originally from Italy, was born at Seville, in Spain. Upon being informed of the death of Nerva, A. D. 98, he prepared to return to Rome from Germany, where he was governor. One of the first lectures, he received upon his arrival at Rome, was from Plutarch, the philosopher, who had the honor of being his master.

This good monarch's application to business, his moderation to his enemies, his modesty in exaltation, his liberality to the deserving, and his frugality in his own expenses, have all been the subject of panegyric among his cotemporaries; and they continue to be the admiration of posterity.

Upon giving the praefect of the praetorian bands the sword, according to custom, he made use of this remarkable expression : ake this sword, and use it, if I have merit, for me; if otherwise, against me. After which he added, that he who gave laws was the first who was bound to observe them.

The first war in which Trajan was engaged after coming to the throne was with the Dacians, who, during the reign of Domitian, had committed numberless ravages upon the provinces of the empire. He raised a powerful army, and marched into those barbarous countries, where he was vigorously opposed by Decebalus, the Dacian king, who for a long time withstood his boldest efforts.

At length Decebalus, being constrained to come to a general battle, was routed with great slaughter, though not without great loss to the conquerors. The Roman soldiers wanted linen to bind up their wounds, and the emperor tore his own robes to supply them. This victory compelled the enemy to sue for peace, which they obtained upon very disadvantageous terms; their king coming into the Roman camp, and acknowledging himself a vassal of the Roman empire.

Upon Trajan's return, after the usual triumphs and rejoicings, he was surprised that the Dacians had renewed hostilities. Decebalus was now a second time adjudged an enemy to the Roman state, and Trajan invaded his dominions with an army equal to that with which he had subdued him. But Decebalus, now grown more cautious by his former defeat, used every art to avoid coming to an engagement. He also put various stratagems in practice to distress the enemy; and at one time Trajan himself was in danger.

He also took Longinus, one of the Roman generals, prisoner, and threatened to kill him in case Trajan refused granting him terms of peace. But the emperor replied, that peace and war had not their dependence upon the safety of one subject only. Longinus destroyed himself by a voluntary death. The fate of this general seemed to give new vigor to Trajan's operations. In order to be better able to invade the enemy's territories at pleasure, he undertook to build a bridge across the Danube.

This amazing structure, which was built over a deep, broad, and rapid river, consisted of more than twentytwo arches, an hundred and fifty feet high, and an hundred and seventy broad; the ruins remain to this day.

Upon finishing this work, Trajan continued the war with great vigor, and notwithstanding the country was spacious and uncultivated, and the inhabitants brave and hardy, he subdued the whole, and added the kingdom of Dacia, as a province, to the Roman empire.

Decebalus made some attempts to escape, but being surrounded, he slew himself, and his head was sent immediately to Rome to certify his misfortune there. These successes seemed to advance the empire to a greater degree of splendor than it had hitherto acquired. Ambassadors came from the interior parts of India, to congratulate Trajan's success, and bespeak his friendship. He entered Rome in triumph, and the rejoicings for his victories lasted 120 days.

Trajan having given peace and prosperity to the empire, continued to reign, loved, honored, and almost adored by his subjects. He embellished the city with public buildings; he freed it from such men as lived by their vices, and entertained persons of merit with the utmost familiarity.

It had been happy for this great prince's memory, if he had shown equal clemency to all his subjects; but about the ninth year of his reign, A. D. 107, he was persuaded to look upon the Christians with a suspicious eye, and great numbers of them were put to death, as well by popular tumults, as by edicts and judicial proceedings. The persecution ceased after some time; for the emperor having advice from Pliny, the proconsul at Bithynia, of the innocence and simplicity of the Christians, and of their inoffensive and moral way of living, he suspended their punishments.

During Trajan's reign there was a dreadful insurrection of the Jews in all parts of the empire. This wretched people, still infatuated and ever expecting some signal deliverance, took the advantage of Trajan's absence in the East, in an expedition which he had undertaken against the Armenians and Parthians, to massacre all the Greeks and Romans which they got into their power, without reluctance or mercy.

This rebellion of the Jews began in Cyrene, a Roman province in Africa : from thence the flames extended to Egypt, and next to the island of Cyprus. These places they in a manner dispeopled with ungovernable fury. Their barbarities were such that they ate of the flesh of their enemies, wore their skins, sawed them asunder, cast them to wild beasts, made them kill each other, and studied new torments by which to destroy them.

However, these cruelties were of no long duration; the governors of the respective provinces making head against their tumultuous fury, soon treated them with a retaliation of cruelty, and put them to death, not as human beings, but as outrageous pests to society.

During these bloody transactions, Trajan was prosecuting his successes in the East, where he carried the Roman arms farther than they had ever been before; but resolving to return once more to Rome, he found himself too weak to proceed in his usual manner. He therefore ordered himself to be carried on ship board to the city of Selerius, where he died of the apoplexy A D. 117, in the sixtythird year of his age, after a reign of above nineteen years.

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