Imperial Art in the Age of Trajan


Although Roman sculpture and architecture in the age of Trajan have been extensively studied, the scholars have neither reached a consensus in matters of secondary importance, nor, more importantly, in answering fundamental questions regarding the purpose and the dating of the monuments themselves. Such a situation, which, on many occasions, verges on exegetic aporia, cannot be overlooked just because one is inclined to simplify things. However, one must move beyond this point, which threatens to dissolve the research itself, whether or not one is entitled to do so; rather, a positive, constructive and firm position should be adopted, which can lead, after sufficient counterargument, to the replacement of the outdated exegetical paradigm in question 1info with a new one, adequate to a higher stage in the cognition of the given conditions of a particular object.

In the first decade of the 20th century, the British school in Rome managed to gather the various fragments of the frieze, whether large or small, into a monumental whole, and to group them under the label Trajan’s Great Frieze (divided into four, now it is embedded in the Arch of Constantine). It also managed to ascribe all these fragments to the Roman Forum of the illustrious Emperor (grounding their observations on thoroughly argued analogies on thematic, formal and stylistic connections and on Renaissance and post-Renaissance information about Trajan’s Forum as the place of origin of those bas-reliefs kept either in collections in Rome or in the Louvre). Consequently, the exegesis of the 1970s managed to cast doubts on the unitary image of Trajan’s monuments, one of whose numerous supporters, among whom Ranuccio Bianchi-Bandinelli comes first.

However, it was William Seston who, for the first time, did his best to provide specious arguments to date to the time of Hadrian the two marble balustrades, known as the anaglypha Traiani2info found in 1872 in the Roman Forum, beneath a mediaeval structure (Torre del Campanaro). On the back side of both a suovetaurilia procession was represented, while on the front side the institutio alimentaria (Fig. 19) and the burning of the debt3info. Seston’s ideas are hard to defend nowadays, in the light of the marble base at Terracina4info ((Fig. 20 ), with figurative themes and analogies of the design outline which are close to that of the Roman balustrades in question.

The fact that Filippo Magi5info discovered, in 1937, two great marble fragments of the frieze on an official monument, found during the consolidation of the foundation to the Vatican Apostolic Palace for the administrative offices (Fig. 21), rekindled doubts which have been lasting for more than a decade and once more raised confusing questions: which parts should be dated to Domitian’s reign, which should be ascribed to the reign of Trajan, and which should be traced back to the reign of Hadrian? These questions were all the more pressing as several researchers remembered Seston’s words at the end of his 1927 study6info: “It is a mistake to believe that Roman sculpture was immediately reversed in matters of principle by the novelties on Trajan’s Column. Regretfully, at the beginning of Hadrian’s reign, Roman art suffered its influence; once it became emancipated from the constraints of architecture (the Column, the Arch of Beneventum), Roman art returned to the tradition adequate to its genius, to the precise, simple art that the Romans turned to for discovering life’s illusion”.

Although dating the reliefs found beneath the Vatican Apostolic Palace to the beginning of the period of Domitian’s reign was supported by Magi himself, by G. Bendinelli7info in his wake and by Paul MacKendrick, and although they were dated to the end of the Principate of this tyrant by J.M.C. Toynbee, Erika Simon, G. Hanfmann, Th. Kraus, G. Daltrop, Max Wegner etc. – or, in general, though they were dated to the reign of his brother Titus, without making any chronological specifications, by D. E. Strong and R. Bianchi-Bandinelli – ten years ago Anna Marguerite McCann8info attributed them to workshops, the sculptural milieu and in particular to the iconographic propaganda of the Emperor himself during the somewhat blurred and uncertain beginning of Hadrian’s reign.

The reliefs in question (two great friezes consisting of several fragments) do indeed raise iconographic problems, because they were reworked ancient portraits, explained by Magi as due to the need to depersonalize the face of Domitian (emperor condemned to the damnatio memoriae by a Senate decree issued during the reign of Nerva) as inscribed on an official monument on which Vespasian was also represented and which could not be entirely dismantled; what is more, this happened in the circumstances of Nerva’s accession after his appointment by the Senate. The fact that Domitian’s portrait was not reworked on frieze B is accounted for by Magi in terms of Domitian’s being a member of the imperial ruling house, which entitled him to be represented next to Vespasian. McCann demonstrates with virtuosity that this monument of Hadrian’s time, which was to represent Nerva’s investiture by Vespasian so as to clearly show the Romans Hadrian’s imperial origins and the legitimacy of his accession to the throne; in the end, the monument remained unfinished once the critical period of the first years of Hadrian’s reign had passed.

The real reason of this long-winded re-dating is the blatant conceptual and stylistic incongruity of these reliefs with the one from the Arch of Titus, with which it must surely have been contemporary. When we mentioned in the previous chapter (p. 144), the cold and conventional features of the neoclassical style during Domitian’s reign, we had in mind only the reliefs of the Apostolic Palace. Neither the famous trompe l’oeil reliefs (Fig. 23, 24) on the Arch of Titus (already indicated by Wickhoff as instances of Flavian trompe l’oeil), nor the entire edifice on which they were fixed (whose sizes and form resemble the Arch of Trajan at Beneventum) are traceable to Domitian’s reign; they belong to Trajan’s reign. This is the opinion held by Magi and some other Roman art historians, an opinion rejected by most scholars in this field; in the face of evidence, however, we tend to adopt this view, although we did not acknowledge this personal opinion in the Introduction, where there was no reference made to the context in question.

In answer to McCann’s argument, Magi remained firm in dating the Apostolic Palace reliefs9info to Domitian’s reign. The Arch of Titus will be dealt with under several aspects in what follows.

As regards both the panels of the Jewish Triumph on the Arch of Titus and Trajan’s anaglyphs in the Roman Forum, one essential thing is generally overlooked, although it was judiciously underlined by Marie Turcan Déléani10info: the fact that the architectural background persists on Trajanic monuments or those of Trajan’s Age proper, which monuments included the imperial Column as well as the private reliefs in the Mausoleum of the Haterii11info( Fig. 22); the architectural background also persisted, as could easily be seen, by being transmitted to the monumental reliefs of the following Principates. Constant use of the architectural background, as attested on such a great number of reliefs, is among the innovations characteristic of sculpture in the age of Trajan. It is one way of becoming firmly entrenched in reality, time and space, while attaining a kind of reportage-like precision in sculptural narrative or exposition.

If Magi was in haste – quite reasonably, we believe – to reject the ascription of the reliefs of the Apostolic Palace to the art of Hadrian’s reign, Werner Gauer is right in his prompt approval of McCann’s conclusions at the end of an ample study, which continued in the same vein of scholarly impetuousness of the mentioned exegesis; here he fills the hypothetical gap in Roman sculpture in Domitian’s reign by transferring to the period of the last Flavian ruler Trajan’s Great Frieze from the Arch of Constantine and the fragments situated to its right.12info

We believe that such swings of opinion about the most important monuments for the periods in question are symptomatic and eloquent and indicate serious shortcomings in perceiving and understanding what is specific to the artistic moments in question. Given such axiological and chronological instability, our previous insistence on the basic elements of Roman art theory, as well as the cultural and political diagnosis which we attempted in the first chapter are justified, from the methodological point of view at least.

The immense constructive activity of Domitian in Rome13info, mentioned by the ancient historiography itself (p.43), and the number of its sculptural vestiges that were able to escape the massive destruction which followed thedamnatio memoriae (as confirmed by Pliny, Panegyricus, 52; by Suetonius, Domitian, 23 and Dio Cassius, LXVIII, 1) would have been drastically cut to the two trophies on the Capitoline Hill (p. 132), had Gauer not replaced the reliefs of the Apostolic Palace by the unanimously recognized and admired frieze of Trajan’s time. This implicitly reopened discussion of an insoluble problem, which Gauer had transformed into an argument in favour of a bold but too scantily grounded theory: does Trajan’s Great Frieze come from the famous Forum comprising the equestrian statue, the Basilica [Ulpia] and the Column of the Optimus Princeps?

Aurelius Victor (Epitome, XLI, 13) has handed down to us the ironical label herba parietaria (ivy), which Constantine the Great applied to Trajan, since the latter’s name was never missing on any of the more significant monuments. In other words, Trajan inscribed his name also on buildings that he had not erected himself. All these statements were unjustified, for if the Arch of Titus indeed belonged to the name inscribed on it, then that was the most relevant proof to the contrary of these statements. Could Constantine the Great have been prompted by his convictions and irony to feel entitled to plunder the Forum of its sculptural decorations in order to construct his own Arch to commemorate his victory over Maxentius at Pons Milvius (312 AD)? But then what could Ammianus Marcellinus have meant by his account (XVI, 10, 15) of the visit paid to Rome and to Trajan’s Forum by Constantius II and the Persian prince Hormisdas in 357 AD, when the buildings and sculptures that decorated it were admired just as jewels, all having been unspoilt by the passage of time? We shall return in due time to these questions which have only been touched in passing.

Of all the vestiges of the monumental sculptures of Trajan’s time in Italy, the Roman Column is not only the most important but also, we might say, the key-document for understanding what is specific to Roman imperial art. Naturally, then, we must begin here the account designed for this chapter. Our option for dating all the other reliefs that these pages have set out to analyse to Trajan’s age will become obvious once we discuss them: first, the reliefs found in Rome, then the panels on the Arch of Beneventum. It goes without saying that we shall not set out to describe the sculptures we focus upon. Readers are free to study them in the annex containing illustrations to the present text and they can refer to the bibliographical entries if they need to settle any of their potential uncertainties.

The Column, made of Paros marble, was erected in Trajan’s Forum behind the Basilica Ulpia, between the two symmetrical libraries, one Greek, the other Latin. Its height is 100 Roman feet (the columna centenaria = 29.77 m); when the pedestal and the statue at the top are included, it is 38 m high. Over a cubic base with the side of 5.5 m were set 19 cylinder-shaped drums with deametres ranging from 3.0 - 3.5 m. The first and the last drum form the basis and the Doric capital, respectively, of the Column. Inside the Column is a spiral stair up to the platform of the capital. The strip of the continuous frieze (which includes the optical correction needed for the upper part of the column) turns 23 times around the spindle and was divided (by Conrad Cichorius) into 155 scenes that illustrate the two wars of the Romans with the Dacians; the first war ends with scene LXXVIII: Victory writing on the shield. There are 2,500 interlocking figures in this commemorative narrative. The cubic base, which has external relief decorations that feature Dacian weapons, was subsequently used to house the funerary urns of Trajan and Plotina – the first burial made inside the sacred precinct of the Eternal City. The most recent complete set of casts for the monument can be seen in the specially designed gallery at the National Museum of Romanian History.

The dedicatory inscription of the Column dates the monument to 113 AD. It is hard to tell if the drums were sculpted after being put in place or beforehand. My personal opinion is that they were sculpted after being put in place. But this is not the most problematic question. Instead of dedicating the monument to the Dacian Wars, the text over the pediment entrance (C.I.L. VI, 960) is a curt statement about the senate and the Roman people dedicating the column to Trajan... “so as to give testimony about the great height of the mountain and the place harnessed with strenuous efforts” (ad declarandum quantae altitudinis mons et locus tantis operibus sit egestus). Our translation is the almost unanimously accepted translation, because it rests upon the testimony expressed in similar terms by Dio Cassius (LXVIII, 16) and by several later historians inspired by his work. It is a fact that Dio Cassius wrote one century after Trajan, and he read the dedication himself, which, most certainly, would have surprised him. We do not know if it was still possible, once it was turned into an imperial tomb, to climb up the Column by the spiral stair that ended on the platform of the capital, and from thence to view the entire architectural unit formed by Trajan’s Forum and the imperial Forums. What other function could the Column have had than to act as a belvedere, since the reliefs that decorated its exterior, even if painted illo tempore, could not be read on the vertical further than the sixth spiral and neither could they be read by walking round them at all, since the view was blocked on nearly all sides by the Basilica [Ulpia] and the two libraries, and subsequently, by the Temple to the Divine Trajan?

In the first decade of the 20th century, Giacomo Boni14info tried to explain the enigma. Because he admitted that Trajan had indeed the slopes of the Quirinal cut to the level of the Column, as the end of the dedicatory inscription is supposed to state; the Italian archaeologist took earth samples from the area nearest the monument, or from farther away, and reached deep beyond the footprint of Trajan’s Forum. He expected to reach the virgin geological layers of earth, but he only found architectural traces from the beginning of the century and from the age of the Republic lower down, such as streets, foundations, house pavements, sewerage systems, remains of walls similar to those fortifications still standing on the Quirinal. G. De Angelis d’Ossat’s expertise, which was adopted and popularized by Giuseppe Lugli, strove to demonstrate that the obvious explanation of the notorious final clause in the inscription on the Column was Trajan’s cutting into the slopes of the Quirinal as far down as the Capitoline Hill escarpment, as a continuation of the one made by Domitian. Going even further, Silvio Ferri15infotried to relate not only the height of the Column to that of the escarpment (of the cut-down mountain) but also to relate the length of the spiral frieze (about 200m) to the width of Trajan’s Forum between the hemicycles of the opposite exedra and its length to the axis of the porta triumphalis, in other words, the exterior wall of the libraries. But these were mere speculations! What Boni demonstrated is worth paying attention to since, in his interpretation, the reading of the end of the inscription makes the Column a belvedere of the imperial Forums. His argument and the realities evoked in his little expository text quoted above, can still provide a worthwhile basis for discussion.

I have evoked only two views of one of the many thorny problems - mere questions of detail - raised by the exceptional architectural and cultural monument of Trajan’s time, so as to show that its exegesis is topical in all possible respects. We shall not undertake to report on the state-of-the-art in any of the mentioned directions. What we shall necessarily provide also in this chapter, however, are some general guidelines in the field.

Trajan’s Column16info has been a subject of keen interest and admiration to scholars since the Middle Ages. One young and highly imaginative researcher17info even attempted to prove that Dante’s Purgatorio, in its overall structure, might resemble Trajan’s Column (why, one wonders, precisely Trajan’s and not also Marcus Aurelius’ Column in the Piazza Colonna?), while the Inferno evoked Aristotle’s moral system and the Paradiso follows Claudius Ptolemaeus’ scheme of the universe. It is very unlikely that Dante, the Ghibelline, could have remained any longer in the Rome of the Popes. The first mention of the monument is in the Codex of Einsiedeln (8thcentury) and the references to it until the 19th century have nothing in common with the thematic research or the practical creation of the narrative frieze.18info After the mid-nineteenth century, once the first partial or integral casts of the monument were made, the number of studies increased and likewise the in-depth analyses. Exegetes19info could be grouped into narrators, historians who studied the Dacian wars according to the Column representations, art historians who dealt with the reliefs, and finally modern scholars who, either tackled particular issues or more comprehensive problems by appealing to factological or speculative analyses, provided essential contributions, even if contradictory at times, (and ipso facto), to the gradual clarification of the significance and value as historical or artistic document of this first class architectural and sculptural work.

Of the narrators whose texts were accompanied by drawings of the reliefs, Froehner20info, Reinach21info and Pollen22info should be mentioned. We owe great classicist historical monographs to Conrad Cichorius23info and Eugen Petersen24info, who considered the frieze an exact historical account; they also proposed various topographical identifications (without the authors having been de facto to the places where the events took place) and chronological interpretations. Karl Lehmann-Hartleben25info, as an art historian who dealt with reliefs, refuted the idea that the Column was a historical document. He groups the images into great iconographic themes that he studies as such: public discourses, sacrifices (offerings), buildings, messengers and prisoners, marches, expeditions and battles. In the part of the book dedicated to synthesis, the author deals with aspects regarding form and decoration: the overall composition (the tectonics of the sequences, the beginning, the middle, the end etc.), its landscape and architecture, the space and the representation of multiple elements (the perspective and foreshortening techniques), the representation and distribution of figures in perspective etc., the artist and his work. The fact that the scenes are not studied in their succession, and what is more, the actual meaning of the images is deliberately neglected and that the correct, informed analysis of the plastic details prevail over the whole – all these have turned the continuous narrative, with such a precise meaning for Cichorius and Petersen, into a merely gratuitous and simply decorative train of images. Possibly, Lehmann-Hartleben considered that since the images of the Column could not be actually read, they did not play any other role than the one of an architectural decoration. Nobody would ever have wasted so much compositional imagination and energy to make strenuous, minutely traced arabesque combinations of human figures for something that was beyond the limit of the visual. The monograph errs precisely by its excessive virtues, which is, in reality a methodological excess. Theoretically, Lehmann-Hartleben identifies in the monumental plastic representation of the Column that work of art which marks the beginnings of late Roman art. We take note of this point of view right from the title of the work. The “multi-layered” perspective is one of the important reasons why the author dates the Column to the (very late) beginnings of Alois Riegl’s Spätantike. We shall return subsequently to the distinctions between the artisanal, late Roman art, and the representation manners encountered on the spiral frieze of the Column.

In time, Trajan’s Column had numerous “replicas”. First, Antoninus Pius’ (completely damaged, only the pediment is preserved in the Vatican). Then Marcus Aurelius’ Column, still standing, unspoilt, in the Piazza Colonna of Rome. Lastly, the similar columns, which have also disappeared, of Theodosius and Arcadius, in Constantinople. The late Giovanni Becatti did a comparative study of all these, including Trajan’s Column, in a book published two decades ago26info.

But the first column of its kind to be erected in the Roman world, for which nobody found even a very remote “prototype” or “analogy” (apart from the “scholarly” ones to be mentioned later) has never ceased to arouse the interest of both specialists and dilettanti (unfortunately with predictable negative results). A case in question for the second category is the one of doctor Lino Rossi27info, whose “contributions” have already been mentioned, in the previous chapter, dedicated to the Adamclisi Trophy. Romanian historiography28info was prompt in indicating the bad turn such a work did, as it appeared at a prestigious British

publishing house. We regret to say that we did not have access to the quite recent study by Gauer29info, which was, we do hope, written to challenge and innovate and is more reasonable and more relevant than his previously mentioned contribution30info. Before the cited book by Gauer, which we had no access to, a PhD dissertation, by Alain Malissard31info, undertook to reduce to compatible positions the extreme methodological and interpretive views held by Cichorius and Petersen, on the one hand, and by Lehmann-Hartleben, on the other hand. What standpoint and what techniques were adopted for this? Quite obviously, the historical exegesis standpoint, which assumed that the Column was necessarily the faithful narrative of the Dacian wars. The techniques resorted to were the ones of the structuralism of the story, as applied to film language. By and large, Malissard managed to equate and explain the historical reality by means of the frieze sequences, by taking advantage of the morphological analysis achievements of Lehmann-Hartleben’s and by restoring to the continuous narrative its enchanting fluency. Eloquent gaps, ellipses, overlaps and repetitions are current filmic art strategies and Malissard gave them prominence in his reading of the frieze. “On Trajan’s Column”, he says, “just as in a film, the same object could be shown from various angles, which might risk changing its aspect; it could also be shown at distinct moments, when particular actions changed its aspect or sequential orientation”. Malissard’s study is an application (the first of its kind, so far as we know) to ancient art of the researches of the French semiotician, Christian Metz, regarding significance in the cinematographic art, the methodology of film analysis, about the language and cinematographic art32info. As regards the direction followed by the interpretation of quite a great number of details, which actually generated the mainstream attitude towards the entire Column narrative, Maria Turcan-Déléani’s already quoted study33infomade an important contribution, by mediating between Lehmann-Hartleben and Malissard, and finally by adopting the latter’s line of analysis.

Because the Column is, just like the Adamclisi Trophy, chronologically the second monument of Romanian genesis, our historical research has been naturally focused primarily on the faithfulness of the frieze’s narrative in respect of the historical events that it commemorates. Working in this spirit and actually travelling, for several years, to the theatre of the military operations that confronted Trajan and Decebal, Teohari Antonescu34info produced the first volume of his monograph about the Column, in which the first war was studied and located step by step. The author’s death at the height of his scholarly efforts prevented the second volume from being written. Antonescu’s opus is the consummate expression of the Column “topographism”. Antonescu found for each detail locations on site and invoked the proof of the ancient sources wherever applicable. He is not the last ”topographer” after Cichorius, though probably he is the most exacting one. Several years after the publication of his book, G.A.T. Davies35info confirmed the “topographical” exactness of several scenes in which the sculptor represented specific places such as Drobeta, Sarmizegetusa etc. and he brought arguments in favour of the exact representation of the course of the wars, without leaving aside the minimal and understandable errors. In their views about the factual faithfulness in the representation of the Column reliefs, Romanian archaeologists were less disturbed by the dissolution of Lehmann-Hartleben’s view, which was in fact adopted by other historians of Roman art; Romanian archaeologists were put off, however, by I. A. Richmond’s celebrated article36info, which claimed that the sculptures were obviously based on a drawing, that the roll of the drawing (which Richmond had already compared, as early as 1935, to a movie or to a Japanese print, Sesshu Toyo’s great print, painted in 1486, we might add) was not initially designed for the Column because it did not represent historical facts but rather the way history strives to come into being, while representing neither history, nor topography, ultimately, but they were aspects of social life which indicated the key role played by the army; in Richmond’s opinion, they illustrated, in rigorous and very accomplished ways never matched since, the additional fact that the Roman army was equally indebted to sword and to spade. Richmond emphasized that not only were the scenes unrelated to the history of events but that they were also imprecise in the intention that he had postulated for them: the imprecise reproduction of several military realities (war machines, murus gallicus etc.) was either due to a composition error arising in the artist’s workshop or to errors in their transcription in marble, which was due to the misunderstanding by the sculptor of some special (military) details in the drawing.

Consequently, H. Daicoviciu and C. Daicoviciu preferred to give their allegiance37info to the more moderate positions expressed by such scholars as Paribeni or C. Patsch, who believed that the Column largely represented the sequence of events, but observed the chronology and, so far as this could be acknowledged, the topography (which corresponded to the Roman point of view). It is, of course, the most natural option and, as is always the case with the golden mean, the option which is closest to the truth. We remain convinced, just like many other Romanian historians that, apart from the probable partial sketches made on site, Trajan’s own Comments, which were lost, played a crucial role in devising the iconographic programme of the Column, together with the memoir and monograph of Trajan’s private doctor, who accompanied the Emperor in the campaigns against Decebal, Titus Statilius Crito’s Getica38info, and maybe also Dion of Prusa’s – which are also lost.

R. Vulpe’s contributions to the exegesis of the Column follow the line of identifications of historical events and characters39info, they are part of the sole newer volume of a planned extensive monongraph40info and they provide inventories of the Dacians and Romans’ weapons and costumes; R. Florescu’s contributions consist in the comment41info of the images selected from the narrative sequence, while insisting on the division of the two wars into acts, episodes and scenes, which represent a sparse reductive echo of Malissard’s “filmology” and of H. Stuart Jones’ older overall chart.

But R. Florescu’s last monumental opus42info had higher ambitions than this, since it wished to be “an attempt to reconstruct the wars of the Dacians and the Romans starting from the sculpted reliefs of the Column and the Triumphal Monument”. This project placed the author in a position to draw up the itineraries of the Roman army on the Dacian territory only along the Olt Valley, in the first war, and following a line that circumscribed the future Limes transalutanus, at the beginning of the second war; after this incursion Trajan returned to Oescus in order to move upstream, as far as Drobeta, to Pontes, where he inaugurated Apollodorus’ bridge and crossed into Dacia with the greatest part of his army. To describe the Emperor’s itinerary for waging the second war, from Ancona to the Balkan Peninsula, R. Florescu adopts essentially the Domaszewsky-Weber itinerary, Domaszewski’s variant by modifying Benndorf’s route along the Dionysopolis-Oescus line. In a very serious study, H. Stuart Jones43info discusses all the hypotheses proposed in describing the expedition route comparatively and provides a synoptic map to reflect them. R. Florescu’s option for one of them testifies to this author’s right to exert his imagination, though he identifies Dionysopolis thanks to a presumptive Liber Pater temple. But when R. Florescu sees the representation of the Limes transalutanus on the Column or when he suggests strategically impossible directions for the penetration into Dacia, when he has Trajan cross the Danube at Oescus and takes him to Transylvania, in order to make him return and send him to Pontes for the inauguration of Apollodorus’ bridge44info, we feel that he is pushing his hypothetical explanations to breaking-point and exposing the already over-exerted adversary of the Dacians to serious personal and tactical risks.

We should not enter into too much detail in our account of the controversies about the time when the Column was erected and the time of its carving, about the role, significance and intentionality of the monument. We must note only the date of the dedicatory inscription, the year 113 AD, its threefold topographical, historical and funerary45info significance and its essential intention to praise the glory of the Roman army and imperial Rome with the Optimum Princeps at their head. It has already been noted that so far no “model” and no “analogy” of the Column have been detected as yet. But Ernst Robert Curtius46info indicates the ancient concept of the historical bookwhich was about to receive somebody’s name, sometimes inscribed in golden characters (and we should recall that in antiquity Trajan’s Column was painted and the Emperor’s metal cladding was gilded). For the Romans, the book was that rotulus, which was read by being unfolded; its presence in art was dealt with in Theodor Birt’s very thoroughly documented work47info, written early in the 20th century. Though it had no “model”, the Column itself was for centuries the prototype of some similar constructions, which were also similar in decoration. We have already mentioned those erected at the time of the Roman Empire. We need only to add that in studying Palace B and the fire temple at Bishâpur, Roman Ghirshman48info acknowledged in the decorative reliefs the presence of the Roman workforce and the figurative modalities typical of Trajan’s Column. The most faithful post-antique adaptation of Trajan’s monument was the metal column of Bishop Bernard of Hildesheim (960-1022), who had been preceptor to Emperor Otto III. The bishop lived in Rome for a while, became fond of the vestiges and its antiquities and had very small scale replicas of some of them made, among which was a 4 m high column, decorated with a continuous frieze in 8 spirals, which had a total of 154 figures, grouped into 28 scenes, which narrated Christ’s life49info. We must consider that all this happened over half a millennium before the sculptor Giacomo della Porta made a cast, in 1587, of the bronze statue of the Apostle Peter which replaced Trajan’s gilded bronze statue on top of the Column.

In what follows we shall try to demonstrate that the authors of the iconographic programme of Adamclisi and of Trajan’s Column were one and the same person. It goes without saying that the demonstration will rest not on the execution of the sculptural elements, but on the iconographical composition. Instances of thematic identity will be brought up as arguments, which might be accused of not being sufficiently pertinent, because the events to which the metopes of the Monument and the continuous frieze of the Column refer are the same, and the programmes in question, which were conceived by one or two persons, consequently had to include them, anyway. This is absolutely unarguable, but there is more to it. In fact, there is a case of imagistic “contamination”, which testifies to the existence of a single designer. The two women, of which one held a child in her arms on metope L (Fig. 15), evoke a similar group, which suggests the return of the population to normal life at the end of the first Dacian war, in scene LXXVI (Fig. 16) of the Column (the motif is to be found first in scene XXXIX); but metope L is part of the IX, L, VIII cluster, which concludes the Column hemicycle that narrates the battle from Adamclisi (the first war); this cluster has an identical theme to that of the scenes CLIV-CLV which conclude the Column’s frieze and represent the events of the last war. We do not wish to imply that the programming artist already had in mind the narrative of the Column when he was creating the Adamclisi metopes, but would insist that we have to do with the same manner of figurative expression, which belongs to the same forma mentis and should be attributed to a single person. As proofs of the above we can invoke the strikingly similar sequence of metopes V, XXX, IV and of scenes CXLII-CXLV on the Column (which show how Decebal’ s bodyguard was captured, how the Dacian king was made prisoner and committed suicide, Figures 6, 7, 8). The metopes of the Monument and the scenes of the continuous frieze are meant to be read in similar ways (as if they were parts of a script) since their orientation is to the right and mostly due the manner of “assembling” the action on the metopes and scenes, respectively. The relative identity of the two sequences mentioned is eloquent in its own right.

Consequently, the representation of the same events was similarly conceived on the two monuments, and the “contamination” noticed in the first case invoked has a bearing upon the unique designer. The imperial metope X, in the centre of the sacrificial scene and the front view of the Emperor and of the two adjutants between whom the Emperor is shown in scenes VIII-X (Fig. 12), XII (Fig. 25), XVIII etc. are identically composed on the Trophy and on the Column.

We can now deal with the cases of thematic identity noticed in the represented events and look at the common images on the metopes and on the Column frieze. In the latter case, the freedom of the composition is absolute; this would make singular similarities be a matter of chance and, therefore, irrelevant. We appeal to readers to judge on their own and give their assent to our opinion about the single designer, if they agree that the following compositional structures are akin to each other:

1. The prisoner carried by a legionnaire on metope XLVIII is comparable to the prisoner brought before Trajan also by a legionnaire in scene XL of the Column.

2. The barbarian killed in the upper left corner of metope XXXIV (and who is part of the background, Fig. 26) is comparable to the casualties in the battle of Adamclisi (Fig. 27), who are presented in the background of scene XXXVIII (see the previous chapter, p. 262).

3. The fallen man at the bottom of metope XXXI (Fig. 14), whose arm is over his head is comparable to the man (whose position is the same) at the bottom of scene LXXI (Fig. 28).

4. The body of the man fallen under the chariot wheel on metope XXXVII as well as the atmosphere suggested by this metope is comparable to the body of the man fallen over the chariot wheel (and whose body is deteriorated) and the carnage suggested in the images in the background of scene XXXVIII on the Column.

5. The Dacian killed when he fell off the cliffs and represented on metope XXIV (Fig. 13) is comparable to the dead one on the cliffs in scene CXIII (Fig. 29).

The comparison of the structures of conventional scenes, such as the marching scenes, public address scenes, sacrificial scenes – which belong to the Trophy and to the Column is irrelevant because these scenes are common to Roman art and any attempt at keeping separate the various personal options of the artist from the already established solutions is certain to end up in casuistry.

Assuming that there was a unique designer, the question to ask is why the battle of Adamclisi is represented on the Trophy as extensively as to cover a whole hemicycle and, moreover, why it is represented on such a restricted space on the Column. Because this hard-won Roman victory was actually a great defeat (to commemorate which, the Trophy was erected) and consequently it could not be allowed to take up more space on the Column than any other battle. We infer from here that both the compositional projects of the designer for the Trophy and for the Column had to toe the political line laid down by the circles of power, and ultimately had to receive the approval of Trajan himself.

If, in the light of the above mentioned, we admit that there was but one single designer of the metopes and the Column frieze (and later we shall introduce further confirmations of the identity, likely to demonstrate this fact very convincingly), then this means that the artist in question was Milesian, as shown in the previous chapter (p. 262).

This person put his “signature” on the Trophy through the Mediterranean trees on the battlements. A fairly similar arboreal vegetation appears also on the Column. By contrast to the twisted and knotty deciduous trees, here we have trees with a straight, tall and smooth trunk, ending in a cluster of leafy branches at the top. Sometimes these leafy branches come off the trunk, but more often than not they spring forth from the top of the tree-trunk. Cichorius50info interprets these trees as conifers (in his precise words, “trees with hanging branches, which seem to be conifers”). In the brief paragraph that Lehmann-Hartleben dedicates in his book to the representation of the arboreal vegetation, he does not raise the question of their species. R. Florescu thinks that on battlement No 1 at Adamclisi, where the palm-tree is clearly represented together with a bunch of fruit, we have to do “most probably with a willow”.51info If we accept that by contrast to the battlements of the Trophy, where the characteristics of the trees were so clearly represented that they left no room for doubt about the species of the trees (see Chapter II, p. 255), then the Column representations ought to be of conifers. But then, why were the trees that the Roman army usually felled for sapping work absolutely never “conifers”, but always twisted, knotty deciduous trees? And why would the hatchet avoid them? Because in the mind of the designer those trees were not conifers but palm trees and represented the artist’s own “signature”, which was to identify him as the author of both the Trophy and the Column decoration. He could not represent all the features of the palm tree, because this would have placed him at loggerheads with the authorities about to approve his project. The solution of making them nondescript (i.e., neither palm trees nor coniferous trees) was the only one which allowed him to be identified as the author of the previous work (since at Adamclisi nobody was likely to wonder what business had palm trees to be represented on the [battlements] – crenels, when they had never grown in that region in time historical). The pseudo-palm trees resorted to by our artist had another role on the Column, if they had never been used as building materials: they were supposed to divide the scenes. They appear on the helical frieze as early as sequence XVII (Fig. 30), which means they were low enough to be recognized for what they were. This represented a similar way of placing a discrete signature which resembled the one resorted to earlier, on the Trophy. If we look at things from the point of view of their stylization (so as to wonder at the fact that the stylization of the deciduous trees is correct by realistic standards, whereas the stylization of the “coniferous trees” is not so), we end up recognizing the same intentionality of the designer in placing his signature.

Several opinions have been expressed about the artist who created the Column. But nobody has made the absolutely necessary distinction between the artistic designer and the accomplisher, the person who physically created the work (except for Richmond and, to a certain extent, except for Lehmann-Hartleben, who stated that the reliefs were designed not by a man who wanted to make a chronicle but by an artist). Cichorius52info considers Apollodorus’ influence as certain for the Column reliefs. Emanuel Löwy thinks we had better give up connecting the Column reliefs with Apollodorus’ name and work and confine ourselves to recording his activity only as a military and civil architect53info. Lehmann-Hartleben54info is convinced that the entire Column relief is the work of a single artist, who could by no means be Apollodorus, even if we accepted the existence of his portrait on the Column, near the bridge at Pontes-Drobeta, a portrait which was authenticated by the comparison with the well-known, unique bust at the Munich Glyptothek. Though he was not thoroughly informed about Roman weapons, Lehmann-Hartleben admires the quality and precision of the representations on the Column “as if Apollodorus had been in charge of the sculptures”, while Richmond (p. 297) recommends that the Column images should not be invoked to illustrate the Roman war machinery before they have been confirmed by conclusive archaeological discoveries. R. Bianchi-Bandinelli acknowledges the existence of a unique master designer of the Column, the Great Frieze on the Arch of Constantine, of the Arch of Beneventum and he thinks this master designer may have been Apollodorus55info – because the architecture of Trajan’s time is, in his opinion, the support of the sculpture56info.
As regards Apollodorus’ qualification as a sculptor or designer, Bandinelli continuously maintains this ambiguity. Sometimes he makes statements such as the following: “The sustained high tension of the poetic tone, almost never interrupted, serves as perfect proof for the fact that there was a unique and great personality in control of the masterful work of various hands”57info; otherwise he stated contrary facts, for example that the Great Frieze of the Arch of Constantine and on the Column were stylistically related 58info. We have noticed how Gauer was not deterred by this hypothetical “great stylistic correspondence” when he dated earlier the frieze on the Arch of Constantine to the Age of the Flavians. Bandinelli believes that “The masterful artist behind all the monumental achievements of Trajan’s Age” was Apollodorus and he supports his belief with arguments from a text of Spartianus’ Historia Augusta: Hadrianus, 19. Here is the passage in question: “Likewise, the Colossus was moved from the site of today’s Temple of Rome (which was erected following Hadrian’s plans, for whose disapproval Apollodorus was sentenced to death, author’s note); the monument (the Colossus, author’s note) was so great that 24 elephants were needed to transport it standing and propped up from underneath, according to the indications of the architect Decvianus. Hadrian dedicated to the Sun this statue which represented Nero, the original dedicatee of this statue and the architect Apollodorus made a project for erecting a similar one also in honour of the Moon”.59info But here Apollodorus is mentioned as an architect, not as a sculptor. If the services of the architect, Decianus, had been necessary in order to move Nero’s colossus60info, for erecting a similar structure, the project of an architect was indispensable, because reinforcement, filling and computations for the balance, stability and weight-bearing capacity, resistance to wind, etc. were involved in such a construction. The sculptor would have moulded and cast in fragments the thin bronze sheet to be wrapped on the reinforcement bars. The practice was ancient and it could be traced back at least to the famous Colossus of Rhodes, which was no longer standing at that time.61info

Consequently, we have no reason to believe that Apollodorus may have been the “masterful artist behind all the achievements of Trajan’s Age” or that such a unique magister could have existed. Things will become clearer in the course of the present chapter. R. Bianchi Bandinelli often invoked Phidias, the artist of the Age of Pericles, in favour of his thesis about the uniqueness of the magister. But we know it was not Phidias who erected the monuments on the Akropolis, but Ichtinos and Callicrates. The idea of one masterful artist, both architect and sculptor can be traced back to Renaissance and especially to Michelangelo.

It has been tacitly assumed – and also expressly stated in so many words – that the author of the Adamclisi Trophy was the same Apollodorus, simply because he had been involved in various activities in the area. No emphasis has been placed, however, on the respective paternity, since the metopes were qualitatively incompatible with the reliefs of the Column. This was also implicit in the explanation about Apollodorus’ hurrying to arrive in Rome in order to erect and sculpturally decorate Trajan’s Forum, which was why he entrusted the execution of the metopes to the local stone masons. Yet another explanation was that already mentioned about the money shortage as the cause for the Trophy metopes ceasing to be the work of a highly professional sculptor. In fact, nobody any longer believes nowadays that the decoration of Trajan’s Forum was completed by the year 113 (when the Column was inaugurated?) or by 117, the year when Trajan died. But this is a problem that we cannot afford to discuss in this chapter.

We therefore claim, for the first time in Roman art exegesis (and by referring to all the elements outlined in our previous chapter and in this one), that the artist who designed the sculptural decoration of the Trophy and the Column was one and the same person, that he came probably from Miletus, and that he was not commissioned for any other of the set of great sculptural works of Trajan’s Age that as we know of so far.

Lehmann-Hartleben identified the beginnings of late Roman art in the Column reliefs and Bianchi-Bandinelli identified the origins of “true national Roman art, which was fundamentally unitary until the age of Theodosius”.62info “In the Age of Trajan”, the late Italian art historian said, “a great artist, who was a follower to an interrupted Hellenistic tradition and who had reached maturity in the Roman milieu, summarised in his work some specific means of Italian and provincial art, creating a new artistic language, which for us is the equivalent of the most typical Roman art that was supposed to represent, for its age, on the one hand the crowning of a century of activity, on the other hand the beginning of a new period”.63info Bianchi-Bandinelli saw the artist of the Column as having a Western, Roman formation, though he identified in it “certain Rhodian and Pergamene modulations”. The Italian scholar considers that the great contribution of this artist in creating the reliefs on the Column was the fact that he was the first – and very talented - creator who granted artistic dignity to those elements which appeared in provincial reliefs as ponderous and devoid of refinement; from now on, they would return in force, with enhanced personal marks in Roman art. “The immediacy of these crude but effective expressive elements, that incisive, linear language, that rapid and effective technique – are to be found uninterruptedly in the so-called provincial sculpture from Augustus to Trajan.”64info

In our Introduction (p.39), we mentioned the similarities found between the reliefs at Glanum (Saint Rémy-en Provence, in the Mausoleum of the Julii [Caius and Lucius, the great-grandsons of Augustus, see p. 39], with the particular linear contours of the figures and the sculptures on the Column. R. Bianchi-Bandinelli adopted this point of view and showed that, in what the artistic kinship is concerned, the hundred years that separate the Monument to the Julian Brothers and the Column count for less than the 15 years between Augustus’ Ara Pacis (Fig. 31) and the Provençal mausoleum, which sculptural works are structurally antinomic. Bandinelli shows that the contour groove of the figures on the Column resembles the groove of the provincial reliefs and the contours of the figures on the reliefs from the Mausoleum of the Julii65info and he insists that “the formal code at Saint-Rémy can be characterized by the predominance of the line over the mass, of the drawing over the raised surfaces of the relief bordered by the contour groove which separated the figures from the background groups”. In this view, the compositional innovation of the Column consisted in the use of the human figure as a decorative element, i.e., as an arabesque, which is why the relief itself is not very prominent (as in Adamclisi), because it does not wish to break the architectural profile of the Column (as is the case on Marcus Aurelius’ Column).

The contour lines on the Column (which are hard to observe on the plaster casts and photographs but have been pointed out among others by Silvio Ferri66info) testify to the technique employed, which was very much one for frescoes. The patterns were applied on the freshly plastered surface by using a sharp knife to trace the contours. Then the colour was applied. Similarly, the contour grooves of the scenes were first drawn on the Column, the figures and the background being sculpted afterwards. Because the background reached quite far in the depth of the marble, the contour grooves are visible only on the sides of the figures but cannot be discerned on the vanishing edges of the background. For this reason and for others that we will elucidate later, Wladimiro Dorigo67info also includes Trajan’s Column among the monuments which are the subject of his interest in his book that deals with late Roman painting.

For us, the technique, which was not even identical, of drawing contours for the figures, as observable at Glanum and on the Column, is not a good enough reason to consider these two monuments similar. On the contrary, we are convinced that this similarity is not a clear indication in any respect and has a merely rhetorical value. However, we consider Bianchi-Bandinelli’s observations about the reliefs of the Column judicious, although we are not inclined to embrace the confusion currently made between the idea of adopting some artisanal features, sublimated by the artist who designed the Column, and the new, completely new manner resorted to in the narrative representation on the monument of Trajan’s time. There is a sublimation of the artisanal, indeed, in official Roman art: the Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus (Fig. 32), the frieze of the Temple to Apollo Sosianus (Fig. 33), the artisanal friezes of the triumphal arches etc. But this phenomenon is not in question on the Column. What is pertinent will be seen later. In fact it is clear that this is how things stand and not otherwise because we have a proof to the contrary in the metopes at Adamclisi. In the previous chapter (p.262) we showed that some compositional solutions of the metopes were impossible in the artisanal manner. If the artist designer had been versed in sublimating the artisanal, he would have been in a position to provide diagrams for the actual execution of the uncouth carvers.

If we were to explain the Column reliefs by reference to a Roman tradition in this genre different from the one represented by the Mausoleum of the Julii at Glanum (actually closer and more amply illustrated), we would have to direct our attention to the biographical sarcophagi, which have been often studied in the past but rarely analysed from the point of view of both their iconographic programme and evolution. Rodenwaldt is one of the few scholars who, almost half a century ago, saw sculptural objectivity of representations on now lost triumphal monuments in these sumptuous funerary monuments, which appeared in the second quarter of the 2nd century AD and evolved during the time of the Antonines and the 3rd century AD, and even the triumphal paintings, which were less likely to survive than stone reliefs but were, by compensation, more frequent than the latter. The absence of individual portrayal, the typified character of some scenes in which figures appear as personifications, allegories and symbols – just as on republican and then on imperial coins – are indications of an ample repertoire and of a long tradition whose famous products are the sarcophagi at Frascati (the Villa Taverna, Fig. 34), at Florence (Uffizi, Fig. 35), at Mantua (the Ducal Palace, Fig. 36) and at the Los Angeles County Museum.68info A funerary monument was discovered on the Via Portuense, right outside Rome, in 1949 (it is now in the National Museum in Rome) and represents a biographical cycle that extends from childhood to maturity (and represents a narrative condensed in time and space); its relief dates to the end of the 1st century AD or the beginning of the next century, which makes it be 30-60 years earlier than the iconographical programmes of the sarcophagi cited earlier and than those which illustrate childhood, for example in the Torlonia Museum or in the Villa Doria Pamphili (both in Rome). In other words, the climate of continuous narrative as represented by the biographical species69info had existed in Rome on particular monuments as early as the end of Domitian’s totalitarian Principate. We feel entitled to state that once totalitarianism collapsed, the well-off Roman classes were no longer constrained by fear and stiffness in their everyday behaviour and dared to commemorate their dead in ways that Domitian’s imperial absolutism had exclusively reserved to itself in order to confer an eternal aura upon the “historical” deeds of its own regime.

The huge spiral frieze of Trajan’s Column, which comprises about 2,500 figures, typified scenes, continuously taken up in new variants, and scenes in which the artist had to face the novelty and diversity of the subject and the historical truth by investing inexhaustible inventiveness and a remarkable unconstraint; because this great polyphonic cantata in in plastic art glorifying Rome and the virtus of its first administrator could hardly have come into being if despotism had not collapsed, so as to give free rein to the liberty, certainty, pragmatism and enthusiasm of the new reign, and to allow the triumph of the Stoic ideals as they were recorded by the biographical narrative on the mentioned funerary monuments. Who were their sculptors, after all? They were certainly Oriental (just as that Marcus Ulpius Orestes who placed his signature on a relief of Trajan’s reign in the Forum); Trajan and the numberless beneficiaries of the new expansion and internal reconciliation policy provided work for these sculptors in Rome and Italy. The artist who designed the Column’s iconographic programme ought to have been one of these and he ought to have come from Miletus to the Empire’s capital, being at the head of a team of sculptors or perhaps making up his own team of Greeks from Asia Minor; this is corroborated by testimonies which include, finally, even Bianchi-Bandinelli’s70info, who stated that “the masterful artist behind all of Trajan’s monumental achievements” had not been apprenticed in the West, but in the East, as he adhered to the great tradition of Hellenistic naturalism. There is no doubt that the 2,500 figures which make up the human arabesque of the historiated Column retain their full organic character and their privileged position of the human representation in Greek art; the same fully retained tradition can be observed in the representation of the multitudes of defeated, captive or fighting Dacians. The respect and dignity in the representation of the enemy on the spiral frieze are due both to the mentality of the soldier-Princeps as well as to the great admiration proven by the Greeks, in Hellenistic plastic arts, for the barbarians against whom they fought sword in hand.

The Column represents more than a genus oratorium, as the spiral narrative was termed (in being compared to Pliny the Younger’s Panegyricum): it testifies to the very essence of the new policy of pragmatism and to the resonances and the popularity it enjoyed with the mass of people in the Empire, of both Greek and Roman origin; Plutarch’s writings record this and the prestige it enjoyed at the Imperial court confirms it. We do not find it necessary to insist on this matter. By reading our first chapter – especially its last part – the reader can easily see the links and meanings that we wish to convey.

One more specification is in order here, so as to block any suspicions that we might be running counter to one of the theoretical questions which is about to be dealt with in our following chapter. But we need to clarify first the previously used phrase “the human arabesque”. We do not have in mind here the use of figures in a decorative tissue but the overall decorative effect, which results precisely when the approximately 2,500 figures on the Column are brought into the limelight and by means of fully artistic thoroughness.

In speaking about the Column as the embodiment of Trajan’s ideology as an immediate epiphenomenon in respect to other political, social and cultural mentalities, what we had in mind when mentioning the change of the political regime from Domitian’s totalitarianism to Trajan’s pragmatism was not a set of new, simultaneous plastic art structures, but a redistribution of accents, a greater liberty, more free spirited creativity and a greater number of innovations; we considered that all of these occurred strictly in the framework of Hellenic and Hellenistic formalism, with no structural transformation in the organic character of the human figure, but remaining fully in the plastic arts tradition of Greek paideia. We have emphasized this in order to corroborate the case we will make in our following chapter about the profound transformations of the sculptural conceptions, which are never concurrent and sudden as social and political changes, even when they occur in the context of official, totalitarian art. Of course, we have sculpture in mind.

Trajan’s decennial portrait71info (108 AD) is a faithful translation of the concept of state established by him. In what ways? Through the simplification of the forms, which is parallel to the simplification and humanization of the state. It is, indeed, a programmatic, political portrait, as the one on the Column, which showed the Emperor discussing with L. Licinius Sura, in a scene (scene CIV) during the second Dacian war. This kind of portraits belongs in the line of the Roman portrait.

It is a very different story in architecture, an art which has always been directly connected to the social aspects of life. The wellbeing (felicitas temporum) of Trajan’s Age is attested by the appearance of a new type of house at Ostia and in Rome; it was a type of house that met the everyday needs of the middle-class, which was on the increase. This type of home tended to cancel the difference between the houses used by the class in question up to that moment and the houses of the well - off. Trajan’s Halls in Rome are an example in this respect. Their architecture is a living testimony to the pragmatism of Trajan’s reign: there are 200 rooms erected on several levels, without a single load-bearing column, with no monumental front although they stood so close to the architectural jewels which were Trajan’s Forum and the Basilica Ulpia. So what is there to tell about this construction? It represented yet another face of Trajan’s pragmatic Principate, another aspect of the Stoic liberties and humanitarian spirit; hence, it showed no signs of being some kind of echo of the beginnings of late Antiquity that some scholars72info found on the Column. But, in spite of their “conformism” regarding the main factors which they operate with and several novelties that we cannot deny, the reliefs of the Column “for the first time confront us with an autonomous artistic expression which legitimately places Roman art on the same footing with classical Greek art, Hellenistic art and other artistic cultures of the ancient world”.73info

What does the skillfulness and originality of the masterful artist who designed the Column consist in, then? It consists in the following particular solutions and overall options:

1. The standardized scenes studied by Lehmann-Hartleben (consisting of ceremonial allocutions, sacrifices, fortification works, scenes with messengers and prisoners, marches and moments of leisure, battles) were conceived in two compositional formulae: orderly groups and mobs74info, the latter being used to represent Dacians. The representation of imperial groups is linked to the Hellenistic, Asia Minor tradition75info. The main characteristic of the mob is the equality of the represented figures, which is meant to increase their number only in the vertical half of the space.

2. The narrative is predominantly descriptive rather than allegorical. There are only five personifications on the entire Column: Danuvius (scene III), Jupiter Tonans, who intervenes in the first great battle (scene XXIV), Night (scene XXXVIII), Victory writing on the shield (scene LXXVIII) and a Dacia devicta, interpreted as such in scene CL by Lehmann-Hartleben76info.

3. The representation of the battles proper does not take more than a quarter of the frieze77info, since their duration in the lives of the soldiers does not mean in reality any more than that. Richmond78info regarded things unilaterally when he insisted that the Column frieze placed in the limelight the army as a predominant element in the life of the Empire. Without granting the army the importance attached to it by Richmond, the masterful artist certainly stressed the human, i.e., the military, factor and subordinated all the other aspects to it. In other words (and in keeping with Malissard’s “filmological” terms), the narrative focuses on fighters (on Romans and Dacians alike, in a conjunction of eloquent equity); the lens is focused on their deeds, which are the most important elements of all the co-occurring events; it records the vegetal, architectural, polyorcetic landscape or side actions, trying to capture as much as possible from the historical reality79info, without sacrificing anything of the secondary from the essential foreground. A whole series of consequences derives from here:

a) The landscape, irrespective of its kind, tends to be true to nature in ways that are not gratuitous but meant to satisfy the knowledge and memories of the onlookers and of the people who participated in the campaigns. In respect to Dacia’s topography, the mimetic truthfulness is allusive and, when it is aimed at representing the realities to which the army was directly confronted, it remains symbolical. Any modern attempt at identification is bound to recognize these limitations beyond which lies the free flight of pure fancy.

b) The perspective is no longer a bird’s-eye view.80info There is no such perspective in the scene. It cannot be stated that the various details are seen from above.

c) The various angles of vision and details of particular scenes may recall the paratactic narrative of “the Odyssey-landscapes”, for example. But whereas the latter express succession, we cannot tell if the Column reliefs in question express concomitance or succession. This temporal ambiguity has been recognized by the exegesis81info and it is comparable with the famous Pompeii painting of the battle between the Pompeiians and the Nucerans in and around the amphitheatre in Pompeii.

4. In general, the succession of the scenes on the Column is from left to right and the few exceptions stand for temporal flash-backs, which have been signalled not only by contemporary scholars but also by Cichorius himself82info. On the Column, the normal development of the marching scenes, for example, testifies to the votive character of the narrative, by contrast to the reverse order at Adamclisi, where it had to be read (Chapter II, p. 189).

5. The sculpted narrative on the Column belongs to the reportage-like narrative. As we have mentioned, all the noteworthy events are inscribed here. Its style, which is original, bears the mark of an artist with an advanced conception, who placed at Adamclisi the metope frieze in the middle of the drum and here he showed he was able to make free with the tradition and its standards, without avoiding them but remaining within their confines, while discovering their new values when he added complementary, connotative images. No convention whatsoever was allowed to prevail over the clarity of the narrative and the “reading”. Perspective was sacrificed to it from the beginning. The master who succeeded in all these so thoroughly, with no trace of clumsiness or nagging codification stridence must have been extremely familiar with Greek painting on clay and with the Assyrian reliefs, as they suggest themselves to us now.

6. The creation of spatial coherence and a unique temporal flow in Roman art are the amazing outcomes of eliminating perspective and of the concrete representation in images with amazingly natural gestures, a compositional application of objects and exquisite balance in the distribution of figures, which never become crowds as they are never prompted by the barbarian horror vacui but have, on the contrary, the same brightness and natural flow as the Adamclisi metopes. Time and space are subordinated to the continuous form and thus they make the Column a social and psychological document enveloped in an atmosphere that matches the best history of events to which it refers, as a pars pro toto of Trajan’s Principate. The figures themselves create the space like an aura which envelops them and are not in the least “consumed” by the undetermined space, as in the already mentioned “landscapes of the Odyssey”. The impressionistic trompe l’oeil becomes mature in the hands of the masterful artist of the Column, not because he imitates in any way the evolution and the contemporary state-of-the-art in the painting of his day, but as a result of the inner conditions of sculpture at a time when it was ready for a great qualitative leap. In Sergio Bettini’s words83info, “as a typically Roman subject, the deeds of an army whose leader was the Emperor himself were shaped in a continuous narrative which was an eloquent expression of the meaning given by the Romans to tempus; it was also a trompe l’oeil narrative that defined the Roman sense ofspace”; Bettini also added that “the classical unity of time and space, which had been concentrated in and limited to a single moment of the representation, had been replaced by spatial continuity, which clearly proved that the temporal dimension had overcome the classical principle of merely spatial extension”. The effects achieved in the fourth Pompeiian style84info also featured on the Column relief through the counterpoint marks of light and shadow created in the background setting, whose elements were diminished, simplified until they became symbols and were even sometimes stylized (by contrast to painting); in fact these setting elements merged with the persons and became their binder to such an extent that they almost identify with the figures. W. Dorigo was right in affirming that the illusion of space is so completely entrenched in the representation and the distribution of the figures as to make the figures both enclose and compose the space. 85info

The above mentioned solutions and options of the masterful artist of the Column are intimately connected to the high-quality sculptural execution that he had most certainly supervised. Given the deliberate absence of such an execution style at Adamclisi, the search for consonance with the Column in virtue of the mentioned solutions and options is a mere waste of time. Not to mention the fact that the composition follows other laws in a frame than in a continuous band, which resembles cartoons, a comparison, first made, as far as we know, by Salvador Dali, between the reliefs of the Column and this type of graphic narrative. Yet the reportage style, as resorted to by the same person, is also visible here. The amazing vitality of the movement, both on individual scenes and on the frieze as a whole, is to be found not only on each of the Adamclisi metopes but also in their deployment, grouping and structuring into scenes. The masterful artist not only had the same overall conception but he also did not hesitate to resort to unprecedented representations to suggest movement and life, so as to create snapshots or flashes, for example in the images on metopes VII, XXIV, XXXI, XXXV, which have already been mentioned.

The reportage-like narrative of the Column, as it has been regarded by us so far, has nothing in common with the artisanal. No sublimation of the features, inherent in artisanal representation, can be traced here. Whoever identifies on the Column the premises of late Antiquity understood as the promotion of the artisanal in official art makes a regrettable mistake. The Trophy and the Column, especially, are unique monuments from the reportage-like narrative point of view. This kind of narrative did not lead to any later developments along the same lines. Only impoverished imitations, devoid of the original refinement, are known. We can safely state that the artist only improved on his own style in representing the second Dacian war more ingeniously and more freely by comparison with the first one86info.

On reviewing for the sake of comparison the metopes (ordered as we suggested) and the spiral frieze of the Column (in the plates of Cichorius), anyone can tell that the rhythms of their narratives are related. Obviously, the architectural characteristics of the two monuments call for, in both lines of images, a greater and a lesser intensity respectively of the information bits and are inversely proportional to the maximum applicable number of information items present in the space allotted to each narrative. The increased tension in the plastic art expressiveness requires a correspondingly and inversely proportional simple, unequivocal reading. In their uncouth execution, the Adamclisi metopes were meant by the master designer to be read and understood by the eye devoid of refinement of the provincial inhabitant who had just become a naturalized Roman or the eye of the barbarian who had only just come by crossing the borders of the Empire. The Column reliefs, which commemorated Trajan’s heroic saga, were probably only read few times, by very few people and only as projects underway. For this reason they were executed far less carefully and strenuously up to the capital where they ended, and down along the grooves, just as in the almost invisible Ionian frieze of the Parthenon.

Some of the things asserted so far might lead one to believe that the sculptural decorations of the Trophy and of the Column were merely gratuitous and failed to satisfy the requirements of the first principle which reigned supreme in Roman art: that objects should be seen and consequently yield their message. The Adamclisi Monument lay at the margin of the Empire, far from any significant urban centre, while the Column allowed its reliefs to rise far too high and almost discouraged whoever was going to walk around it on foot. One wonders whose will these monuments expressed, when regarded from the Kunstwollen point of view. They were expressions of the imperial will and from the psychology of that epoch’s point of view, of the objective social will found in the artistic creations of that time which identifies itself with that conscious or unconscious will of the people from that epoch. Consequently, in the modern scholarly perspective, the two great monuments, whose fate was to remain quite unknown even to their immediate posterity, though one of them stood right at the heart of Rome, should be included in Panofsky’s second category, when he interpreted Riegl’s will to art concept (Introduction, p. 24).

In Chapter I we saw the striking frequency in Domitian’s Principate of epic songs, “made up” using Homeric clichés and the following models by Virgil or Lucan. The proliferation of this kind of epigone literature found a very favourable climate in the Neo-classic oppressive pseudo-cultural atmosphere encouraged by the Princeps himself, who was bent on putting literature in the service of his totalitarianism. The colossal Equus Domitiani in the Roman Forum, that Statius had written about, as well as the reliefs of the Administrative Palace and the panel representing Minerva, which stands over the Forum passage door as a symbol, are echoes of the absolutism of that time as reflected in the contemporary sculpture. Resuming a question suggested earlier: could one imagine a monument like Trajan’s Column erected to exalt Domitian’s “victories”? We are confident that everything we have tried to show in this book prompts the reader’s firm, sincere answer in the negative. The Column is not the work of chance or accident; on the contrary, it demonstrates the grandiose possibilities of Roman art as used by a knowledgeable emperor as Trajan was, who did not dictate to the artist what to create and how, as Domitian had, but only indicated what he expected the artist to present – not so as to suit his person but for the glory of the Empire.

The Trophy at Adamclisi and the Roman Column are the most prominent plastic arts expressions of the impetus recorded in Trajan’s time for the official development of cultural ambivalence in the Greek and Roman imperial civilization. During the reign of the first provincial Emperor, the Romans shed their complex (which had in fact been artificially nourished and turned into a tópos) and stopped feeling frustrated in their Latinity by the ascendancy of the Greeks and Orientals; this complex was allowed to expire clamorously, to the sound of tin drums, after going utterly hungry, in Juvenal’s satires (Chapter I, p. 102).

On the Trophy, the metopes with a typically Roman figuration, which were crafted in an artisanal manner, are framed on the vertical by two friezes with characteristic Greek motifs and by pilasters analogical with the Milesian ones. The link of the vegetal trailing stem87info to the metopes is achieved here with more difficulty than on the Ara Pacis Augustae88info, where the figures themselves are sculpted in the neo-Attic manner. Yet the Monument is totally coherent. On the Column, the Hellenistic figurative tradition yielded, when creatively applied to the Roman realities, the continuous reportage-like narrative. In Greek sculpture in the age of the Empire89info, the time during Trajan’s Principate does not represent a hiatus but a low-key period, which allowed Hadrian to turn to good account the momentum of the merger, which was so propitious for the personalization of Roman art.

The Trophy and the Column brought an indirect homage to the liberty advocated by Pliny in the Panegyricum; liberty was inextricably connected to security (securitas) and together served as grounds for the stipulated right of citizens to live in peace and unabused by the imperial authority, as had been the case in Domitian’s day. Trajan’s great imperial monuments are dedicated to Rome as victor90info and they stand not only for her military victory but also for her civilizing triumph in respect to both the non-Romans and the Latins themselves; this involved the defeat of totalitarian tyranny and the elaboration of a new form of the universal Principate, benevolence equally extended to all the ethnic groups in the widespread Empire. In the virtuous century91info inaugurated by Trajan, the deified personification of Rome merged with the representations of Virtue itself and of Victory. Gh.-C. Picard’s words92info suggest a place occupied by the two monuments within the overall ideas of imperial art: “The Adamclisi Trophy, albeit considerably different from the Column, suggests, through the artistic quality of the decoration, a similar symbolism. While the Trophy of the Alpes (La Turbie) had been dedicated to that transcendent Genius Augusti, which secured the victory of the Roman army through its divine nature, the Dobrudjan rotonda is a monument which speaks on behalf of a humane, unsophisticated emperor, who secured his victory by strenuous efforts, helped by his comrades in arms. The Column, just like the Trophy, shows that the deified victory was won at the cost of the pónos (sufferance); this essential observation allows us to attribute most certainly the Monument to the conqueror of Dacia and to provide a definitive solution to the enigma created for the Roman art historians by the strangely barbarian character of its decoration”. We hope that the “strangely barbarian decoration” of the Trophy and the unique character of the Column as demonstrated by us so far have shed sufficient light upon this subject.

As shown earlier, most of Trajan’s monumental sculpture known so far comes from the Imperial Roman Forum. It was inaugurated in 113 AD but it may well have continued to be embellished by artistic works, as mentioned above, until as late as the end of Trajan’s reign, and even later. Its extension after 121 was due to Hadrian who ordered the erection of a temple to his deceased foster-father and framing porticoes erected in front of the Column (Fig. 37).

We owe to Paul Zanker93info a serious analysis of the structure of its components and of the Forum buildings; the analysis used the materials which were known at the time when the study in question was completed and which followed, in general, the results and restoration proposals of the Italian archaeologists. While he criticizes the solutions for the layout of the sculptures as argued by Zanker, Hugh Plommer94info does not bring up any new relevant facts or solutions to support his negations; moreover, he sometimes errs rather grossly, for example when mistaking the wall of the Forum portico for the front of Trajan’s Halls. The already rich literature about Trajan’s Forum has increased once the latest excavations on this important site of Roman archaeology have been published. Even afterwards, the sophisticated speculations of someone like Andreas Linfert95info about the topographical and symbolic relationships, which allegedly translated the political concepts of the respective principes and connected the temples in the sequence of Imperial Forums with some monuments in the Roman Forum and on the Capitoline Hill, remain a model of useless speculation in search of hidden meanings in the actually very chaotic layout of the sacred and lay buildings of imperial Rome (given that in history there had never existed any urban planning).

The statues of Dacians96info from Trajan’s Forum would have alternated on the attic tier of the lateral porticoes with those imagines clipeatae97info from which some fragments are extant (Fig. 38). The inner part of the arched wall which held the entrance to the Forum was decorated with engaged (?) columns, above which ran a frieze of lion-griffins (Fig. 39), which is known to us through the segments in the Forum at Vatican and at Pergamonmuseum, Berlin. In the middle of the Forum was Trajan’s equestrian statue, Equus Traiani, which was also situated on the axis of the lateral exedrae and was reproduced on the back of a sesterce, in the same way as the symbolic image of Dacia’s conqueror, fixed as the iconogram of a rider who crushes the defeated enemy under the feet of his horse; it is attested not only on the back of an aureus98info, but also on the key imperial metope VI at Adamclisi, on the breast-plate of the Trophy (where it features as a unique occurrence of the decorative motifs characteristic to Roman armours99info) as well as on the central image of Trajan’s Great Frieze – all of these obviously deriving from the ancient model of the Alexandromachia, which was later perpetuated on various funerary steles and on the numerous group of sarcophagi with battle scenes.

Where was the Great Frieze located? Zanker100info placed it on the four walls of the porticoes, which stood on either side of the two exedrae, walls that were approximately 30 m long each, which Massimo Pallottino managed to gather from that portion of the frieze which was thematically grouped around the unhewn blank plates inserted into the Arch of Constantine. Normally, a unitary scene should have been represented on each wall. The fragments in the Louvre, which will be dealt with later, constituted a single theme. The frieze was probably erected at the attic level of the porticoes because it was up to that level that the engaged pilasters gave the walls their rhythmic structure (Fig. 40), as can be observed from the traces left over the floor101info. Was it visible at that height, we may wonder? We believe that it was visible because the marble floor of the Forum and of the porticoes reflected enough light to dispel the darkness under the roofs. This also explains why it was conceived as a high relief. Not to mention the fact that Constantine the Great could borrow from this location the battle scene section to decorate with it the Arch which commemorated the victory over his rival, without impairing the beauty of the whole102info for the on-looking laymen (for example Constantius II and the Persian Prince [Hormisdas]). But what about the statues of the captive Dacians, which were also used to embellish the same Arch? Most certainly, their absence from the attics of the porticoes could not possibly have gone unnoticed. We are still far from able to explain everything, it seems!

Apart from the exterior decorations, which consisted mainly in statues and statuary groups, the Basilica Ulpia, whose façade was reproduced by iconographic abbreviation (with selections that never add anything to reality) on the reverse of one sesterce and on the back of one aureus103info, on the long sides of the central room, under the cornice of the first tier of columns also had a narrow frieze with taurochtonous Victories (Fig. 41) and with Victories that decorated spice burners, as demonstrated by a fragment discovered in Trajan’s Forum104info.

The architect of the Forum, of Trajan’s Halls and of other imperial constructions that we do not know must have been Apollodorus of Damascus. He was also put in charge of the main restoration works and of the renewals for Trajan’s public works. These included primarily, as demonstrated by recent research105info, the building of Agrippa’s Pantheon, one of the architectural glories of Roma Aeterna. Albeit originally attributed to Hadrian, it seems that this restoration was part of Trajan’s “commemorative policy” manifested by minting gold coins with effigies of the preceding emperors, by dedicating monuments to their memory, for example the Arch of Titus, (which will be dealt with below in a little while [...]), by commissioning busts and statues of the ruling class predecessors, of the main members of their families and of other very important persons who had made their public-life contribution since Caesar’s time and up until the time of his Principate. The Emperor bedecked his Forum, Basilica, libraries and porticoes with these hundreds of faces sculpted in marble. Trajan’s “commemorativism” represented one side of the liberal regime he had instituted, a kind of reconsideration of past or contemporary values; this had not only been, in totalitarian principates, something out of the question but also subversive, as shown in Chapter I (p. 92).

The eight blank plates inserted into the Arch of Constantine, whose unity was perfectly retraced thanks to moulds, make up the main part of the vestiges from Trajan’s Great Frieze. Massimo Pallottino summed up the opinions about them106info and showed that Petersen doubted that the Frieze represented Trajan’s Dacian wars and E. Strong anticipated somehow what W. Gauer107info later came to consider a certainty: that the Frieze represented Domitian’s Dacian campaigns. This idea was actually embraced by S. Reinach, while it was rejected by Sieveking, who adopted the traditional position about the Frieze by attributing it to Trajan. To add up what was missing to the right of the Frieze, Pallottino selected the fragment from the Louvre, the very deteriorated fragments from the Forum Antiquarium and the Villa Borghese slabs, which (discontinuously) represented an adlocutio. The central scene is the most extensive and it depicts a Roman attack, which is the allegorical equivalent of the battle that routed the Dacians and put an end to their resistance. In the centre, an equestrian representation of the Emperor shows him in his gesta (or legendary triumph) (Fig. 42). The scene on the left features the arrival (adventus) in Rome of the Princeps. To the right, he is crowned by a Victory, whose wings emerge from the group of Roman fighters; to the left, he is invited by the goddess Rome herself to enter the city. The Frieze records the Dacian triumph, because, just as the Iliad, the Column ends when the war ends. Most of the Frieze represents the allegorical motivation of the triumph, as mentioned earlier. Pallottino considers that this extraordinary work is both an original composition and the climax of Roman trompe l’oeil; he thinks that the sculpture was made by another than the Column artist, who was, nevertheless, very much in the Hellenistic tradition in plastic arts.108info He was also the one to notice that the compositional scheme of the Arrival (Adventus) on the Frieze resembled the one on the central vault panel of the Beneventum Arch.109info [Fig. 55]. In spite of Pallottino’s judiciously stressed observations, R. Bianchi-Bandinelli still held the conviction that the Frieze and the Column were stylistically related because of their thematic sequence (!). In his opinion, they had been conceived by the same artist, whom he now calls “The masterful artist of the dying Dacians”.110info

There is no point in demonstrating that the Column cannot possibly be akin to the Frieze. The allegorical poverty of the former has already been remarked in the present work. As regards the latter, the conventional representation of the casualties (Fig. 43, 44), the tumult of the great battle, which had the Emperor at its centre, the insignificant and inadequate character of the architectural background, the exclusively allegorical intentionality of the whole, with historical objectivity reduced to a minimum – to include, in our enumeration, only these outstanding features of major interest – oll these serve as arguments for the existence of two distinct artists, two different manners in which the classical and Hellenistic paideia in the plastic arts adhered to the deontology of the annals and to Roman propaganda.

By referring the reader to the succinct theoretical evocation of the basic aspects, which we presented in our Introduction (p.37), of trompe l’oeil and space representation in Roman art, what we need to further specify here is that the Frieze and the Column illustrate these aspects differently. The trompe l’oeil of the Column’s reliefs is structured along two coordinates: firstly, the iconographical paratactic, which suggests the simultaneity or immediate sequence, within a scene, of minor events by contrast to the major events in the foreground; secondly, the continuous representation of events linked in time but with spatial discontinuity marked by the architectural and landscape diversity of the background and by other characteristic details, which locate in space the foreground of the representation. The way that the figuration on the Column was made gives, as already stated, a generous sense of space, which stems from the never excessively agglomerated figures, never filling the field in excess, in spite of the low relief of the monument. The construction takes the just needed amount of space and shows no fear of empty space (horror vacui) because it enjoys enough space in length. The distribution of the figures on the vertical is resorted to on both the Column and the Great Frieze, but the Column does not fill the spiral band in this way, whereas the Great Frieze makes the heads of the fighting soldiers, reach as high as the upper limit, and shows them clashing. The Column is original and unique, once again, owing to an innovation meant to give the illusion of space-depth, which is not in point of fact available in the relief of the spiral band. We will give just one example of several cases. On scene XLII, the soldiers listening to the Emperor addressing them turn their backs on the onlooker, who is consequently made to participate in the scene; this increases the depth of the scene by trompe l’oeil (Fig. 45). The solution is taken up on the Column of Marcus Aurelius, whose relief is higher than that on Trajan’s Column and in this way provides infinitely more ways for viewing the planes distinctly.

The Great Frieze has been carved in high relief, and the creation of the spatial trompe l’oeil does not need to resort to any tricks; the marble depth allows several planes to exist and the overlapping figures also increase the spatial extension of the monument. Because the scenes are paratactic, space appears to be partitioned in sectors, but these are cancelled by the prominence of the foreground. We need to ask if the overlapping of the figures, on the Column and the Great Frieze, represent “the sublimation” of the well-known artisanal technique or if it should be interpreted as a means to suggest to the onlooker the normality of the relief representing a battle scene or a military camp, relief which can never be flat like the pavement in a forum or like a road. We think that this dissociation should not be left out when considering the intentionality of the ancient artist. Let us recall the reliefs of the two panels in the Arch of Titus in Rome (Fig. 23, 24), which were considered by Wickhoff and others as the climax of Roman trompe l’oeil. To multiply the planes, the sculpting of the background is concave. When the issue of their dating again was in question together with the re-dating of the Arch in which they were included to Trajan’s reign by analogy with the Great Frieze, the objection raised came from the observable isocephalia (the lining up of the heads). In fact, isocephalia is not perfect here, but even if it were, we should think of the procession that took place in a paved road with no potholes. The architectural backgrounds of these panels are similar in conception to the corresponding panels on the Arch of Beneventum (Fig. 46), to the Frieze fragments in the Louvre (which will be dealt with soon in what follows), to Trajan’s Anaglyphs in the Roman Forum (Fig. 19), to the reliefs in the Mausoleum of the Haterii (Fig. 22) etc.

The unconstrained manner in dealing with the planes and passages from one plane to another in the Great Frieze justly inspired Pallottino to consider that monument the climax of trompe l’oeil in Roman relief. This does not mean that the panel on the Arch of Titus failed to be part of the same numerous class of reliefs of Trajan’s reign, which had been created by a group of artists with a common vision and a similar sense of space but which definitely did not include the artist of the Column and the Adamclisi Trophy. That group of artists were probably still active at the beginning of Hadrian’s reign, when the master designer of the Column and the Triumphal Monument had already ended his career. Let nobody imagine that the artist in question could have been Apollodorus! We have insisted enough earlier on the incompatibilities, so it would be pointless to return to it now.

We shall now pick up again the idea of dating the Arch of Titus to Trajan’s age. One of the major exegetes of the Column who dealt with the monument in question was Lehmann-Hartleben111info, who showed that the figurative panels are not historical, since they do not render reality precisely, but epic, as they have a funerary, commemorative character. But let us leave aside the artistic criteria which prompted Magi and other scholars, on whose side we declare to be, too, to exclude the monument from the ideological and plastic context of Domitian’s reign. We have already stated and repeated that those panels in trompe l’oeil and rendering the sense of space could by no means crystallize into an artistic idea during the totalitarian and neo-classic Principate of the last Flavian. As early as 1955, Magi formulated the hypothesis that the Arch of Titus used to have a different inscription on the side facing the Roman Forum than the one visible today in situ on the side facing the Colosseum. On the site of today’s epigraph of Pius VII, which commemorates Valadier’s restoration was the inscription discovered in the old San Pietro basilica, which was mentioned for the first time in 1776 (C.I.L VI, 946). But Magi112info quotes Giacomo Grimaldi (1568-1623), who had recorded all that could be seen in the edifice a long time before, namely when the old San Pietro basilica, erected at the time of Constantine the Great (313-337 AD), had been pulled down; among the things recorded was the slab on which the following text was inscribed:




VAE F. NERVA Traianus ger

maNICVS DACicus Pont. MAX

TRIB. PO cos


In other words, “Nerva Traianus, the son of the divine Nerva, who defeated the Germans, the Dacians etc... who erected the monument in honour of the divine Titus, the son of the divine Vespasianus Augustus”. Magi believes that the Arch was erected by Trajan, because the inscription visible in situ nowadays does not mention Domitian’s name; the inscription in the Circus Maximus (C.I.L., VI, 943) on the Arch of Titus erected during the reign of Domitian celebrates too little Titus’s glory as victor in the wars with the Hebrew people and, last but not least, the monument in question does not show two construction phases (in the reigns of Domitian and of Trajan). But its similarity with the Arch of Beneventum is more telling than any other argument.

Without observing the trompe l’oeil innovation on the Column, for whose illustration we have quoted scene XLII (Fig. 45), R. Bianchi-Bandinelli113info refers to the panels on the Arch of Titus, which he considers to be funerary and dating from Domitian’s reign; he also considers it to be the first attempt to modify, within the classical form of representation, the relation between the sculpture and the onlooker by making the background not flat any longer but curvilinear and giving an illusory sense of infinite space instead of the sense of indefinite space associated with Greek sculpture. Bandinelli adds that one century later (during the reign of Marcus Aurelius) this relation changed again, when the onlookers found themselves situated in the foreground of the ideal spatiality of the relief, like the viewers of a scene in which the figures turn their backs on them. On the other hand, Bandinelli justly saw an anticipation of the mentioned modification in the way the figures were presented on the central panel of the vault, which represented the Emperor’s apotheosis, on the Arch of Titus (Fig. 47). The innovation on the Column and the above mentioned anticipation seem to us contemporaneous rather than successive. This additional detail is also significant and supports the dating to Trajan’s reign of the Roman Arch of Titus.

The last in the Roman group of monumental reliefs of Trajan’s reign are the ones at the Louvre (excepting that already fitted in the Great Frieze). The Villa Medici fragment, which represents a Dacian rider swimming across a water-course on the architectural background of the wooden structure of a bridge (interpreted as being the bridge built by Apollodorus, over the Danube), was at times not seen to have belonged to the decoration of the Forum, at times it was introduced in the structure of the Great Frieze to replace the reliefs of the Villa Borghese114info.

We owe to Wace the idea that the friezes in Trajan’s Forum were located on the precinct wall below the colonnade of the porticoes. At the same time, we have seen that Zanker took over this idea, adapted it, and brought about further arguments. Wace also supported the hypothesis that of the four friezes beneath the porticoes, only one dealt with the Dacian campaigns, another depicted the Parthian campaigns, probably, and the remaining two presented various events in the Emperor’s life; Wace also believed that the decoration of the Forum with works of sculpture continued in Hadrian’s reign115info. He included, in the outline of the iconographic sequence of the Louvre fragments, also the Lateran fragment discovered, in the opinion of mid-nineteenth century authors, in Trajan’s Forum. The Louvre reliefs, which Wace reconstituted by appealing to certain sixteenth-century drawings, represent an extispicium (examination of the victims’ entrails to find signs of the divine intentions about an envisaged action) and a nuncupatio votorum (saying prayers) in front of the hexastyle temple of Jupiter Capitolinus (Fig. 48). The sculpture was signed by Marcus Ulpius Orestes, probably a Greek artist, who was granted Roman citizenship by Trajan, rather than an imperial freedman. The main fragments combine into a perfectly retraceable whole but the context of the lesser fragments has not yet been identified. The frieze sector at the Louvre stands out not only because of the signature it bears but also because of a remarkable note of neoclassicism, irrepressible in spite of the obvious Romanization, which tends to integrate the composition of the scene, the overall manner of rendering the gestures and the costume of the characters to the set theme. There is an attempt to suggest the sense of space through a rather crude perspective (in the case of the temple). The frieze has a restricted depth and the fact that its upper part is missing makes quite uncertain its trompe l’oeil potential.

If the Louvre fragments were a special case in the sculptural decoration of Trajan’s Forum, (and in fact, by comparison to the Great Frieze, the height of the sculpted decoration of these fragments is actually inferior to the one of the Great Frieze), the overloaded iconographic programme of the Arch of Beneventum, as well as its size and architectural decoration are equally related to the sculptural decoration of the Forum and the Arch of Titus in Rome.

The dimensions of this arch116info (Fig. 49, 50), which was dedicated to Trajan by the Senate in 114 AD and stood at the head of the avenue that the Emperor created to connect Beneventum to Brundisium, generally exceed by 3 to 20 cm the dimensions of the Arch of Titus in Rome (Fig. 51, 52). From the plastic arts perspective, the two panels on either side of the Arch span at Beneventum are similar to the panels on the Arch of Titus. In both series, isocephalia is a dominant note, to express the fact that the processions were performed on levelled, urban ground. The spatial trompe l’oeil resembles that of the mentioned Roman panels (that belonged to the Arch of Titus). There are further analogies with the Roman Arch presupposed to be the Arch of Titus, which Hassel117info, in blatant disregard for historical plausibility, dated to the last years of Domitian’s reign; there is an identical way of “sublimating” the artisanal, which survives in the narrow friezes situated immediately beneath the cornice on both monuments (Fig. 53, 54) (the frieze on the Roman monument is extant on only one part of the façade with the ancient inscription). The soffits and voids designed in the arch vaults and cornices of the attics are similar, even identical on the two arches. The capitals and bases of the engaged Corinthian columns are also in a reciprocal relationship of similarity.

The two pairs of small-scale identical reliefs on both façades are iconographically related to the frieze of the Basilica Ulpia (see above, p. 39). They are opposed taurochtonous Victories separated by an incense burner, which serves as axis of symmetry, and by symmetrical groups of two heraldic objects separated by the same ritual worship object. The repetition, on the central vault panel at [the Arch of] Beneventum (Fig. 55), of the iconographical cliché – Trajan crowned by Victory – of the Great Frieze has been mentioned earlier. One reasonable question to ask, which arises when acknowledging that the two Arches belonged to Trajan’s reign, is why the Roman arch is not decorated whereas the Arch of Beneventum looks like an advertising billboard? Because the Roman Arch is a commemorative monument, erected in honour of a deceased emperor, whose memory was blotted out in the eyes of his immediate posterity by the demented totalitarianism of the imperial brother. Trajan censured totalitarianism rather than the Flavian family when he made posthumous reparation to the deceased and restored the gratitude due to him. What sculptures could have decorated the Arch dedicated by Trajan to Titus? We believe not many, given the shortness of Titus’ reign and the smallness of his gesta (restricted number of valiant deeds to honour him for). But we should not forget that the Roman Arch was heavily damaged, as witnessed not only by Pius VII restoration but also by the small segment of the narrow artisanal frieze. I am personally disinclined to believe that the Arch dedicated to Titus118info had been equally covered in profuse relief, in spite of the partition into tiers of pilasters, as in the Arch of Beneventum. The pragmatism of art in Trajan’s time excluded iconographic redundancy, or, as we have mentioned before, the paucity of possible themes would have led inherently either to this, or to iconographic sterility and generality (which were equally impossible in the artistic context in question).

Returning to the Arch of Beneventum and to its frieze, which is in the artisanal tradition, we need to stress an interesting detail. The frieze represents the Dacian triumph of the year 107. Among the spoils vaunted in the procession, next to a tubby pot with a short leg, was represented a rhyton, that reminds us of a similar one from the Dacian spoils, and which Hadrian dedicated to Zeus Kasios in Syria119info.

We do not want to enter the polemic about the Beneventum iconographical programme or the dating to Hadrian’s reign of the four attic panels (an idea we were inclined to adopt some time ago judging by the similarities with Trajan’s last marble portrait of his lifetime120info). There has been a lot of literature on this subject lately: first the already quoted monograph by Hassel, next, this time the conscientious study by Werner Gauer121info, who considers it a unitary monument, typical of Trajan’s time, with absolutely no additions during Hadrian’s time and characteristic of Trajan’s iconographic policy and execution (we should recall that this author attributed the Great Frieze to Domitian’s reign); by the same token, the insets with hunting scenes on the Arch of Constantine are emblematic for the art of Hadrian’s Principate. Because he proposed such an ingenious dating of the Great Frieze, Gauer was not sensitive in the least to the similarities of the panels on either side of the Arch of Beneventum span with their Roman counterparts on the Arch of Titus. He interpreted the identical details of the sculpture, which he did notice, and the resembling trompe l’oeil as proofs of the paradigmatic role that Flavian art played in constituting the art of Trajan’s time122info It is obvious that, in understanding the trompe l’oeil and sense of space in the art of Trajan’s time, everything revolves around the dating of the Arch of Titus. Consequently, the decision to consider as evidence of plastic art in Domitian’s reign the panels in question has the effect of delaying the full comprehension of the most representative and most Roman moment in the history of Roman art: the monumental relief in Trajan’s time.

What are, in conclusion, its main features?

1. The style of the reportage-like narrative, which is illustrated, in its isolated scenes variant, by the metopes at Adamclisi, and, in its continuous narrative variant, by the helical frieze of the Column.

2. The trompe l’oeil rendering of space, whose technique was differently used on the Column, on the Great Frieze, on the panels over the Arch spans at Beneventum and in Rome (where the Arch, though dedicated to Titus, we firmly regard as a manifestation of art in Trajan’s time).

3. Pragmatism and objectivism, even in the small number of allegorical representations. The architectural background, the profusion of Roman realities rendered by the costume, posture, gestures and personifications are some of the concrete solutions that gave iconographic expression to the will to art characteristic to the historical moment in question, when the pragmatic principate replaced the totalitarian one.

4. The freedom of the high and bas reliefs and the near frenzy of the movement, which resembled the style of Scopas’ art; it was compensated by the balanced sense of proportion and harmony, symptomatic of both the freedom sought for by the Stoics and the political stability and capacity of the state to restore faith in political actions and representatives once the despotism of Domitian’s reign had collapsed.

5. Iconographic programmes that expressed the new ideology of the political class in terms of plastic art and which was open to the novel provincial element and, particularly, to the Oriental, which was propitious for the Greek expression of that romana voluntas and which consequently associated the Oriental element to that ideology.

6. The same impulse prompted artisanal language to be adopted on official monuments; on the Adamclisi metopes, this tendency was crudely manifested while on the narrow friezes of the Arches of Beneventum and Rome (in the memorial to Titus) it took “sublimated” forms.

7. With the above mentioned exceptions, there are no “influences” or “adaptations” of artisanal techniques or mentalities on any of the monumental reliefs of Trajan’s time.

8. This is the time when the cooperation of the master designers of the iconographic programme with the sculptors and the architects became especially clear owing to the great number of works produced and to their uncommon dimensions. There is no way we can admit that all the functions mentioned earlier could have been the work of a single person.

9. Because of the specific novelties of the relief of Trajan’s time and of its unique and striking character, it failed to develop a well-deserved posterity for its strong and original plastic expression, which managed to establish its prestigious individuality within the limits of Hellenic figurative language formalism. The main reason for this was the phil-Hellenic artistic policy adopted by Hadrian, the Emperor who ordered thousands of replicas to be made, in both Greece and Italy, of classical Greek sculptures and placed them as decorations in the Tivoli Palace and in the edifices constructed in Rome or elsewhere in the Empire. The resulting greatest replica industry of Antiquity sank any attempt at originality, especially by creating statuesque groups or by the modification of their details; it also put an end for two centuries to the direct translation of the romana voluntas in terms of a specifically Roman will to art. Though he retained the fundamental contract of the state, which was Trajan’s great achievement, Hadrian dealt a deadly blow to the art that had been employed by his predecessor and foster parent to bedeck his reign.

10. Under such circumstances, the art of Trajan’s time became “classical” pretty soon and was quick in showing signs of mannerism. We do not know the Column of Antoninus Pius, though we have its base and some official reliefs, the Column of Marcus Aurelius and the famous Aurelian panels. Each and all of these are in one way or another indebted to the reliefs of Trajan’s time by the formal solutions found; but there is nothing left of the spirit engendered in that brief artistic age, which came to its end prematurely but definitively.