2 – Trajan (98 – 117 AD)
Trajan was born near Seville in 52 AD which ensured he had the distinction of becoming the first Roman Emperor who was not born in Italy. He earned a reputation as an excellent military commander and assumed command of the Seventh Legion in northern Spain at a young age. In 88/89 AD, he marched his army into Upper Germany to help suppress a revolt against Domitian. Although he arrived too late to help, his actions earned the trust of the emperor who made Trajan consul in 91 AD.
Despite Trajan’s ties with Domitian, Nerva respected him and gave him the governorship of Upper Germany in 96 AD. The following year, he received a handwritten note from Nerva which said Trajan was to be âadopted’ by the emperor. Nerva made the decision to prop up his government, but instead of remaining by the emperor’s side, Trajan moved to punish the leaders of an earlier mutiny in Upper Germany. When Nerva died in January 98 AD, Trajan decided to inspect the German frontier borders to further increase goodwill amongst the soldiers.
Trajan eventually returned to Rome in 99 AD and was greeted as a hero. He helped his cause by entering the city on foot, embracing members of the Senate and meeting regular citizens. His modest and open nature ensured he enjoyed immediate support from politicians and the public alike. Throughout his reign, Trajan worked closely with the Senate and always informed them of his plans. He was a powerful and masculine figure who loved hunting, and while he was not a learned man, he was highly intelligent.
Most historians rate him as one of the greatest Roman Emperors because he was an excellent statesman, effective administrator, and an outstanding general. During his reign, roads were constructed to help citizens of the provinces, and he restored Italy’s harbors. Trajan also improved the city’s water supply and built two new baths; one was designed especially for women. Roman art also reached its pinnacle during Trajan’s reign. While its sculpture and painting tended to mimic that of the Greeks, Roman architecture stood out on its own during this period.
Above all, Trajan expanded the empire which hadn’t enjoyed any significant expansion since the death of Octavian barring the conquest Britain. He had a genuine passion for war and perhaps his most famous campaign came against the Dacia kingdom in modern day Romania. Although it took two wars, Dacia was eventually annexed and became a Roman province in 106 AD. The emperor used much of the booty taken from its new province to create public works such as Trajan’s Forum and the harbor at Ostia.
Trajan went to war again in 114 AD, this time in the Parthian War. Once more, Rome was successful, and it conquered the territories of Mesopotamia, Assyria, and Armenia. The Roman Empire reached its greatest extent under the leadership of Trajan, but he faced difficulties in the form of the Jewish Revolt of 114-118 AD. Although he captured Ctesiphon in 116 AD, he had to leave after insurrections weakened his army. He withdrew to Syria and set out for Rome. However, he died en route at Cilicia on August 9, 117. The man known as Optimus Princeps (the best ruler) was loved and respected, and his death was a terrible loss for Rome. Fortunately, his successor happened to be an exceptional leader too.