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The Column And The Arch Of Trajan In Rome

( Originally Published 1920 )


THE beautiful "Column of Trajan," the justest of Roman princes, called Columna Cochlis, from its winding stairs resembling the spiral of a shell, was erected in his honor by the senate and people of Rome, A.D. 114, to show the height of the mound levelled by the emperor-ad declarandum quantae altitudinis mons et locus sit egestus. It is composed of thirty-four blocks of Luna marble, and is adorned with a spiral band of bas-reliefs illustrative of the Dacian wars, increasing in size as it nears the top, so that it preserves throughout the same proportion when seen from below. The reliefs include over two thousand figures. It was formerly crowned by a statue of Trajan, holding a gilt globe, which latter is still preserved in the Hall of Bronzes in the Capitol. The statue had been carried off by Constar's, or had fallen from its pedestal long before Sixtus V. replaced it by the existing figure of St. Peter. At the foot of the column was a sepulchral chamber, in which, preserved in a golden urn, in a "cella," were placed the imperial ashes.

"Apostolic statues climb

To crush the imperial urn, whose ashes slept sublime." Childe Harold, cx.

The triumphal "Arch of Trajan," which formed the entrance to the forum, was destroyed in 1526. Its site was near the present Pastorria Traiana.

"The forum of Trajan comprised seven different sections: namely, the propylaia, or triumphal arch of the emperor; the square itself, with the equestrian statue in the middle; the Basilica Ulpia; the Bibliotheca Ulpia; the two hemicycles; the monumental column; and the temple of Trajan. The ensemble of these various sections was considered not only the masterpiece of Roman architecture of the golden age, but one of the marvels of the world. Let me quote the words with which Ammianus Marcellinus (xvi. 10) describes the impression felt by the Emperor Constantius at the first sight of the group. 'Having now entered the forum of Trajan, the most marvellous invention of human genius,-singularem sub omni coelo structuram, he was struck with admiration, and looked round in amazement; without being able to utter a word, wondering at the gigantic structures,-giganteos contextus,-which do pen can describe, and which mankind can create and see only once in the course of centuries. Having consequently given up any hope of building himself anything which would approach, even at a respectful distance, the work of Trajan, he turned his attention to the equestrian statue placed in the centre of the forum, and said to his attendants that he would have one like it in Constantinople.' These words having been heard by Hormisdas, a young Persian prince attached to his court, he turned quickly towards the emperor, and said: `If your Majesty wants to secure and keep such a horse, you must first provide him with a stable like this..' "-Lanciani, "Ancient Rome."

It was while observing the monuments in this forum that Gregory the Great, noticing one of the marble groups which told of a good and great action of Trajan, lamented bitterly that the soul of so noble a man should be lost, and prayed earnestly for the salvation of the heathen emperor. He was told that the soul of Trajan should be saved, but that to ensure this he must either himself undergo the pains of purgatory for three days, or suffer seven different diseases and then die. He chose the latter, and immediately went lame. This incident is narrated by Paul Diaconus and John of Salisbury, and is picturesquely recounted by Dante in the 10th canto of the "Purgatorio" (v. 73-83).

The forum of Trajan was partly uncovered by Pope Paul III. in the sixteenth century, but excavated in its present form by the French in 1812. Behind the houses on the Quirinal side of the forum, remains of curvilinear buildings may be seen belonging to one of the two hemicycles which opened on to each side of the forum, and were designed to hide out the scrapings made in the Hill behind, on the north side, and the poorer houses on the opposite, or southern side. There is much irrevocably buried under the streets and gigantic neighboring houses.

"All over the surface of what once was Rome it seems to be the effort of Time to bury up the ancient city, as if it were a corpse, and he the sexton; so that, in eighteen centuries, the soil over its grave has grown very deep, by this slow scattering of dust, and the accumulation of more modern decay upon her older ruin.

"This was the fate, also, of Trajan's forum, until some papal antiquary, a few hundred years ago, began to hollow it out again, and disclosed the whole height of the gigantic column, wreathed round with bas-reliefs of the old emperor's warlike deeds (rich sculpture, which, twining from the base to the capital, must be an ugly spectacle for his ghostly eyes, if he considers that this huge, storied shaft must be laid before the judgment-seat, as a piece of the evidence of what he did in the flesh). 1n the area before the column stands a grove of stone, consisting of the broken and unequal shafts of a vanished temple, still keeping a majestic order, and apparently incapable of further demolition. The modern edifices of the piazza (wholly built, no doubt, out of the spoil of its old magnificence) look down into the hollow space where these pillars rise.

"One of the immense gray granite shafts lies in the piazza, on the verge of the area. It is a great, solid fact of the Past, making old Rome actually visible to the touch and eye; and no study of history, nor force of thought, nor magic of song, can so vitally assure us that Rome once existed, as this sturdy specimen of what its rulers and people wrought. There is still a polish remaining on the hard sub-stance of the pillar, the polish of eighteen centuries ago, as yet but half rubbed off."-Hawthorne.

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