Studia III

TROPAEUM TRAIANI, A REASSESSEMENT

Tropaeum Traiani is a key monument of Roman imperial art . The fact that books like that of prof. Niels Hannestad were issued only in the last decades, the most unknown to the Romanian scholars, occasioned the file closing of this monument upon iconographical and historical solutions of an unsatisfactory criticism, in spite of many unexploited data the trophy itself put to the disposal of anybody wanted to deal seriously with them.

The greatest archaeological surprise the trophy reserved to us in the last times is that its Doric frieze was placed in the middle of the drum and not under the attic; this proved once more the well known flexibility of the Roman architecture and on the other hand testifies about the propagandistic importance of the story told there, on the main field of the largest trophy in the Roman imperial, that is official, state art.A century ago, Tocilescu, Benndorf and Niemann, in the first monograph dedicated to the trophy (1895), have accepted the idea that the metopes represent the first and the second Dacian wars, in a continuous narrative. Gilbert‑Charles Picard (1957) validated Tocilescu's opinion, blaming the sculptors of the monument for they forgot to represent on the metopes the fall of Sarmizegetusa and Decebalus' death. This direction of research was partially denied by F.B. Florescu, based on a Sergio Bettini's idea; the Romanian scholar asserted in all the three editions of his book (1959, 1961, 1965, the last in German) that the metopes represent (generally in the order proposed by Tocilescu) the both Dacian wars, not in a continuous narrative, but in a succession of symbolical episodes. So he tried to establish and to confirm the succession of the metopes by ... their metrical measurements reported to the measurements of the other pieces, that is a pure phantasy in mathematical dress.The initiator of the second direction of research was Teohari Antonescu, professor of classical archaeology at the University of Iassy (1905). He was the first to underline the importance of trajanic campaign in Moesia Inferior during the first Dacian war, the fact that the end of this war was decided at Adamclisi and that the Trophy, the Altar and the Mausoleum where was buried that praefectus castrorum who saved Trajan's life in the battle, were all three grouped in the same tableland of Adamclisi. These three monuments were erected by Trajan who concluded there the most ferocious battle in his life, winning a blood victory. Antonescu believed that all the three battles of the moesic campaign were fighted at Adamclisi. This was not true. Roberto Paribeni (1926‑7) and Radu Vulpe (1938) followed Antonescu in his general interpretation of the metopes, Vulpe seeing in them not a continuous narrative, but evocative episodes of the last battle. Radu Florescu (1973) followed Antonescu ad litteram: on his mind the metopes represent all the moesic campaign of Trajan and they are grouped in two main historical moments (three grouped in two). Also from Antonescu's interpretative vision flows for the main and I. A. Richmond's solution (1968). Richmond supposed that the military operations figured upon the metopes are those which followed the Dacian wars, allowing the setting of Roman legions at Durostorum and Troesmis. The Trophy would commemorate the victorious activity of the Roman army of the province Moesia Inferior in settling the old accounts on the Low Danube frontier.Eclectism is not necessary a sin, but it could become so when logic is glaringly despised. This is the case of Lino Rossi's (1972) misinterpretation of the Trophy, which in fact is an uninspired compilation and a cocktail of all the upmentioned theories, in order to arrive to some particular, outside or phantastic results.The fate of the dualism in the interpretation of the triumphal monument seemed to change when Michael Speidel, the first editor of Tiberius Claudius Maximus' tombstone discovered at Filippi (Kavalla, Macedonia) announced in Revue archéologique, 1971, that on the metope No. IV he has seen the suicide of Decebalus, pressed by his tracker, the horseman and future decurion, the captor Decebali, Tiberius Claudius Maximus (the scene No. 145 on the Column). But in the same year, in the footnote No. 19, at the page 171 of the 78‑th volume of Römische Mitteilungen, he confessed his error and canceled en passant the brilliant study he just published in France. The error was not only his. The original photograph in the Romanian version of Tocilescu's monograph (1895) shows clearly the rim of the shirt collar, not a sica as could be seen on a more recent negative at DAInst., Rome. The stone is irrelevant: it is now debased. But the original error was that of the ancient sculptor who has not understood what the designer wanted to be represented: the sica was unknown to him; on the Column there are many such examples, especially in the case of the war machines. The novelty of gesture (the same on the Column) was at Adamclisi the cause of this misunderstanding.

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A lot of indications on the triumphal Monument plead for two distinct but connected actions; some of them were exploited also by Tocilescu; these are:1) The trophy on the top of the Monument has two faces and two groups of captives.2) There are two identical inscriptions set under each face of the trophy.3) The double acanthus stalk frieze (register) emerges from a common stem (this important sculptural piece was found by F.B. Florescu) and walks into a kantharos which is a very known funeral symbol [v.p. 273].4) The scrolls of the acanthus frieze have in their centers wolf heads, opposed two by two; this underlines the sense of the double, complementary and opposed stories on the metopes frieze [v.p. 273].5) There is a lot of identical or cvasi‑identical metopes which necessary implies the existence of two actions; if they are otherwise grouped, it leads to nonsenses. There are six pairs of such metopes.6) By their singular composition, two metopes separate the two actions; they are two imperial key metopes: No. X (Trajan frontally represented between two officers) and No. VI (equestrian statue of Trajan overwhelming a barbarian).7) The general sense of the representations on the metopes is from left to right: this is the common sense of reading. The reading was facilitated by the position of the metopes frieze at the middle of the drum.

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The division of the extant metopes in two groups is also facilitated by their subjects. If we draw out the two imperial key metopes, the six pairs of identical metopes and also the two imperial metopes No. XXXII (Trajan and guards to left) and No. XLV (Trajan and officer to right), the rest is dividing by itself: on one hand we have the metopes with Roman soldiers fighting the half naked barbarians with hair in nodus, the barbarians with long swords curbed at the pointed end and the barbarians with chariots (these are the German buri, the Sarmatians and the Dacians); on the other hand we have the metopes representing Roman soldiers fighting only the Dacians without chariots; these are bareheaded or wearing caps.Let's try to form the two hemicycles. If we put together on the same hemicycle the six pairs of identical metopes and the two imperial metopes above mentioned, the narratives will be a nonsense. So, we are obliged to divide them and to use them as standard elements of the two stories. Consequently, a first hemicycle could be formed by the 6+1 standard metopes, the metopes with Roman soldiers fighting barbarians (Germans, Sarmatians and Dacians) and the metopes with Dacian captives, Dacians in a chariot, two Dacian women and little horned cattle. It makes 25 metopes.The main sacrificial scene, as Tocilescu has well observed, is composed of three metopes: the main imperial key metope with frontal Trajan between two officers, flanked to the left by the fragmentary metope No. XXV and to the right by the metope with tubicines, No. XLII (pair metope). This is the main imperial scene in the key position pro itu et pro reditu, that is the incipit of reading.The other hemicycle is formed by the rest of 5+1 metopes with Roman army and Roman soldiers fighting the Dacians. I have considered that on this hemicycle was the place of the five missing metopes, because the story would seem too short otherwise and because no other place could be free or could be found on the first hemicycle; no metope from this hemicycle could be reasonably transfered on the second one. I shall be very happy to be gainsaid.What represents each hemicycle? The first represents the last and ferocious battle of Adamclisi because on the scene No. 38 of the Column we see Dacian chariots from Scythia Minor (trakiiskata kolesnita of Venedikov), a vehicle which appears in no other place on the Column and which is more appropriate to the Danube plain than to Dacian mountains.The second hemicycle represents in a symbolical form the second Dacian war as a vengeance of the bloody battle and victory of Adamclisi, where died about four thousand Roman soldiers whose names are on the near Altar. The double identical dedicatory inscription of the Monument testifies the fact: the unprevised second Dacian war was in Roman imperial propaganda a revenge of the first, closed a little unglorious owing to the consequences of the tactical faults of the emperor. In this case too, as in many others, the martial epithet ultor had an etymological value. Otherwise why the Trophy was erected at Adamclisi, near the Altar which commemorated the battle given in that place (Cassius Dio, 78, 8, 2). Two monuments for a single event is not in the Roman manner of thinking. But the Trophy is also well dated in the year 109 AD by its inscription, being the eponyme Trophy of the two Dacian wars. The metope No. XXIV indicates that Dacian corpses were thrown from crags and the metope No. XXXI that Roman soldiers hunted the Dacians climbed in the trees, the two pieces alluding to the specific scenery of the second war last battles in the mountains around Sarmizegetusa. Now we come to Speidel's miscarried discovery. The Dacian with cap and shield on the half metope No. IV keeps his left hand on the shield border. Why? Keeps he the shield with the both hands? Impossibly. He only wants to protect his body in order to cut the carotid and not to fall alive in the hands of the Romans.The unexperienced sculptor has not understood the gesture. To my mind there is a suite of three metopes, Nos. V, XXX and IV, generally identical to the scenes Nos. 142‑145 of the Column, which represents the pursuit, the surround and the suicide of Decebalus. The death of Decebalus must precede the second imperial key metope No VI which without this death loses its significance. In his equestrian statue the emperor would triumph over an unvanquished enemy.

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Where were placed the two hemicycles? It is normal that the narrative of the Adamclisi battle takes its place on that part of the drum which faces the Mausoleum of the praefectus castrorum, that is on the northern part of the Monument. Consequently, the imperial key metope with Trajan's equestrian statue faces the Altar. The second narrative is to be placed on the southern part. The reading of the Doric frieze begins from the main imperial key metope No. X which is flanked by the fragmentary metope No. XXV on the northern hemicycle and by the metope No. XLII on the southern.The ancient onlooker was reading firstly the narrative of the vengeance and only afterwards the narrative of the event which was revenged. This is the normal train of things. Prof. Hannestad underlined the knowledge the ancient spectator had of the topic: in the late antiquity the head of Trajan's equestrian statue was mutilated by the barbarians.This is the vertical sequence of the elements separating the two stories: one face of the trophy, one table of the inscription, necessary one battlement (that whith the date tree), a standing palmette in the center of a stone block of the upper register with cable mouldings finishing up and down in opposite volutes divided by palmettes alternatively standing and reversed, the main imperial key metope No. X, the piece with the acanthus stem on the lower register: all these mark the incipit of reading. On the opposite there are: one face of the trophy, one table of the inscription, perhaps one battlement (here the measurements are of actual utility), a standing palmette in the center of a stone block of the upper register, the imperial key metope No. VI, the piece of the lower register with kantharos receiving two acanthus stalks - this is the separation line of the two stories, with funeral value completed by the Altar facing the Monument.

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Who was the author of the iconographic program? A person of microasiatic origin because his plastic signature on the first battlement of the Trophy is a date tree with a date grape, to which a captive is bound. The other battlements represent captives bound to palmtree trunks with non palmleaves. On the other hand the alternation of the fluted pilasters with vegetal stalk pilasters is a characteristic we meet only at the nimphaeum in Milet, built by Trajan in the memory of his father who was governor of Asia between 79‑80 AD. The same designer has elaborated, under imperial survey, the program of the Column in Rome. There he also put his signature: the high and straight firs finish in palmtrees, separating the scenes and never touched for timber by the axes of the army which prefer to cut lower, distorted trees, rendered in the traditional Hellenistic manner. Many scenes on the triumphal Monument as well as on the Column are composed on the same sketches by an artist who has seen the assirian reliefs.The main error of the scholars is the confusion of the designer with the executive sculptors (I have studied on the scaffolding in Rome the well known error of execution, on the upper part of the Column). The designer deliberately composed the metopes to be accomplished by the inexpert hands of the stone cutters. This also was a point in the program. Many have believed that the Doric frieze of Adamclisi looks as it looks because Apollodor - il maestro delle imprese di Traiano - has left the place for Rome before the sculpturing of the metopes, or because there was not sufficient money to pay more qualified hands. A Doric frieze was planned because it was easier to read the metopes one by one than an ionic continuous narrative frieze. Their crude rendering into sculpture was also specially intended in order to be immediately understood by the barbarian onlookers.

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Some words about the constructors of the Monument. The stone masonry is perfect, as an oriental work. The circular promenade and steps are still in use. The fixed joinings of the stones are yet tight. On a fragment of a stone plate of the promenade, discovered 25 years ago, were engraved the Greek letters EΛΚHP, which were completed as EΛΚHTHP =  drawee, preceded probably by the name of the jobber.In Chiron, volume No. 5, 1975, C.P. Jones has published a long latin inscription discovered at Milet which speaks about the construction, as Trajan's gift, of the way between the town and Apollo's sanctuary at Didyma.The work finished in 101‑102 AD was put under the authority of Lucius Passerius Romulus (curam agente Lucio Passerio Romulo, legato pro praetore). A similar team, perhaps of microasiatic extraction, has begun in 106 the construction at Adamclisi. Was Apollodor the architect of the Monument? Most probably. There are many solutions of the elevation of the Trophy; we enter here the domain of pure speculations which is not strictly connected to our topic. However the sacred laws of Roman architecture are not to be invoked for the good reason that they don't exist.At the very beginning of this lecture I had asserted that Tropaeum Traiani is a key monument of Roman imperial art. In its quality of state monument it bears the greatest artizanal frieze in the Roman world. Besides the reading motives above mentioned, the fact has a political importance. It signifies the new status conferred by the emperor to artisanal sculpture in the state art. I meet partially here the ideas of Bernard Andreae (RM, 1979) about the processional on the Benevento Arch, but the role of the metopes is far more important than those of all other specimens of the so called popular current in the river of state art, occurring in architectonic context. It is not popular art, but confessional art (we lack a proper term for this non italic art issued from barbarian tradition under the influence of the mediteranean anthropomorphism and of italic popular art), an art which from barbaricum steps to Rome where it arrives in the times of Marcus Aurelius just to impression the late Bianchi Bandinelli and to determine him to erect the scaffolding of that romantic theory del dolore di vivere. It is no more the second latin term of the well known bandinellian bipolaritá dell'arte romana. It was already recognized as the new voice of the provincial Roman world, more efficient than the capital in leading the state affairs. Trajan was the first emperor who has lived in provinces more than in Rome, who was born and died out of Italy. Rome n'est plus dans Rome is a tacitian saying the French scholars have made theirs. Nobody has yet paid the adequate attention to the parallel Tropaeum Traiani - Marcus' Column in Rome. Otherwise the most intricate problem of the Roman state art should not lie drowned under a sea of ink.

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