Imperial Art in the Age of Trajan


It was one hundred years in 1982 since the inception of Grigore Tocilescu’s excavations of the Triumphal Monument of Adamclisi, the greatest and most well-preserved object of its kind in the field of Roman archaeology. The present book, however, does not have a commemorative character, planning to offer a survey of different aspects regarding this subject and the stage of the site research, as well as ethnographic and art history researches or political and military history studies about the Dobrudjan Trophy, Trajan’s Column in Rome or other monuments erected in the Empire during the rule of the first Roman emperor who had a provincial Hispanic origin. For scores of years and even centuries now all these above-mentioned research directions and studies of imperial art in Trajan’s time have received maximum, long-standing attention, which has led to the exhaustive interpretation of these monuments’ iconographical message and to pertinent, definitive conclusions on all the questions that could be given a final answer regarding the historical, sculptural and architectural issues related to them. There is an immense list of books about the constructions and the art belonging to the age of Trajan in the context of the Roman art of the first century of our era. But the reader should neither anticipate nor fear to get from this book a show of vain erudition, since the purpose of our present work is by no means to be ascribed to arrogant bookishness. This work aims at discussing the imperial art which corresponds to the period of Trajan’s reign because the research of the author and the novelties that he has met with during the comparative study of the monuments make him feel entitled to take advantage of the readers’ leisure and interest while imparting them. I think one should cherish the fact that, in the iconographical re-ordering and interpretation that we propose here, the Monument of Adamclisi becomes the key for a more profound and at the same time more richly circumstantial understanding of the art of Trajan’s time as a whole, accompanied by an insight into the manner in which the social and political motivations insinuated themselves in the general landscape, together with the ideologies and elements of philosophical agendas and in a specific overall cultural atmosphere and mores developed by Roman politicians as a class when responding to the events that reshaped the Principate at a time spanning two centuries. All these both explain and can, in turn, be explained by the repertoire of rich iconography that covers in their entirety, in Trajan’s time, the buildings which they decorate.

The readers who, perhaps, cannot boast a fair enough familiarity with the paradigm of Roman art until the middle of the second century AD are, therefore, likely to find in the Introduction an outline of the main theories of modern exegesis on the theme of the genesis and characteristics of this kind of art, while they will also meet with elements that circumscribe the personal choices of the author and announce the theoretical profile of his work. The first chapter will provide a historical, political and cultural review of the years when Trajan ruled over the Roman Empire, placing these two centuries when Roman civilization reached maximum plenitude against the bleak, dreary backdrop of Domitian’s reign. The second chapter will outline and support with arguments the new ordering of the sculptural decoration (metopes) from Adamclisi and will present the iconographic and artistic aspects which are relevant for explaining the origin of the Monument and its relationships with the other architectural and plastic establishments erected by Trajan. These features and their implication in the discussion of Trajan’s Column and the rest of the major monuments are discussed in the following chapter. In the last chapter, we shall insist upon the fate of the artisanal during the time of the Antonines, starting from the values acquired by it in the sculptural works of Trajan’s time.

We hope that the picture we have just drawn of the volume’s structure will be indicative of the work’s wider scope. What we mean by wider scope is by no means a less rigorous or less strict application of our work to its object, but a clearer approach, since we have striven constantly for increased clarity. This should be seen to explain the minimum number of bibliographical references, including mainly latest These, together with the selective bibliography provided at the end of the book, will enable anyone to retrace our steps and keep track of the path followed in writing the present book, while they will open the way for supplementary information about so many related aspects which we have been forced to leave out because we have wished to observe the coherence and equilibrium of the whole work.