Trajan, the second of the Five Good Emperors, served as an instrumental figure in the Roman Empire’s expansion during the second century C.E.


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Anthropology, Archaeology, Social Studies, World History

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Trajan was a Roman emperor who ruled from C.E. 98 until his death in C.E. 117. Born in Italica (Seville in modern-day Spain), Trajan was the first Roman emperor born outside of Italy. He was also one of the first emperors to be chosen, rather than to inherit power as part of a ruling family.

Before he was emperor, Trajan was an army commander, senator, and governor of upper Germany. These experiences helped him gain the support of both the sitting emperor, Nerva, who named him as his successor, and generals of the Roman army.

After Nerva’s death in C.E. 98, Trajan prioritized protecting and expanding the Roman Empire. He twice defeated the people from the region of Dacia, where modern-day Romania is located. He used the bountiful plunder from these victories to fund public works projects in Rome. These included a spacious new forum with two libraries and a massive stone column called Trajan’s Column. The column was covered in carvings depicting the victory over the Dacians and still stands today. It is one of the largest monuments to survive the fall of Rome.

During his 19-year reign, Trajan expanded the Roman Empire to its farthest territorial limits up until that date. The empire stretched from Scotland down to North Africa and swept east across the Mediterranean as far as Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq.

Trajan ruled strictly, but fairly, and struck an effective balance between making conquests and maintaining a high quality of life for his people. Trajan died in C.E. 117 after falling ill while defending the empire’s extensive borders.

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National Geographic Society
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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