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Bill Thayer

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Section 3
This webpage reproduces a section of
A Description of the Trajan Column
by John Hungerford Pollen

printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode,
printers to Queen Victoria
London, 1874

Text and engravings are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Section 5

Scenes of the spiral band running up the shaft

p112 IV. First sacrifice.

Trajan before beginning the campaign against the Dacians offers the sacrifice of the Suovetaurilia. In the background is a fortified camp surrounded by trees. It is not square but round or semicircular. The outer enclosure is of square blocks of turf built regularly, as if with hewn stones, and battlements, or square pinnae are left at intervals to protect the sentries. There are five tents, papiliones, made of skins, cloth, linen, or wool, decorated with fringed valances cut into large notches, and the entrances protected by ample curtains. The outsides are protected by cords crossed and tied in large reticulations over the roofs and sides, against the danger of being carried away by the weather. In front of the imperial tent are ranged the standards of the legions. On the extreme left of the enclosed space one eagle is between two of the ensigns already described as those of the manipuli. An eagle enclosed within a circular wreath, with the wings half open, forms the top ornament of these two standards. At the back of the eagle is a draco; to the right of these is a group of three more standards, the ornaments being a thick horizontal wreath of leaf work above a semi-globular ornament also of leaf work. Above the wreath is a bust of one of the emperors in a large wreathed medallion, then another horizontal wreath above that, which seems to be an eagle in a medallion, then another horizontal wreath and on the top a globe, or what looks like it, but this part is much decayed. There are three of these standards and all have suffered alike as regards the top ornament, so that it is not possible to state exactly what these ornaments were.

Before the praetorian or principal entrance to the parade in front of the tents a small altar, of square stones, has been erected. It is about three feet in height by 18 inches or so in breadth on each face. On this the emperor, as Pontifex Maximus is offering a sacrifice. He is arrayed in white linen and wears the toga in the fashion called cinctus  p113 Gabinus, a portion covering his head like a veil. This mantle covers him almost to the feet which are clothed in white boots bound round the ancles. In his left hand is the lituus, a short staff curling over on the end. His right hand holds a patera, and from this he is pouring a libation on the fire that burns upon the altar. His face expresses the utmost solemnity.

In front of him is a camillus. He holds a vase from which wine has been poured into the dish already mentioned. On the right of the emperor a tibicen or flute player is performing on a double flute such a religious melody as may soothe the hearers, keep them silent, and prevent as far as possible anything in the nature of a sound, even a breath out of harmony with the sacred occupation. Two attendants, attired like the sacrificer in white togas, stand on each side and appear to be looking anxiously around to insure silence. In front of these personages, and partly screened from them by the outer dyke or wall of the camp, are the other attendants who take part in the ceremony. To the right is the cultrarius, stripped to the waist and clothed with the limus, an ample skirt descending to the feet on which are sandals; buckled round his waist hangs a leather case on the right hip, in which are two small knives, cultra, from the use of which in cutting the throats of the victims this official took his name. To his left is the popa, also stripped to the waist and bearing a poleaxe, one side of the blade sharp and the other in the form of a square hammer. His office was to fell the victim with a blow on the brain. In front of him is a bull with the dorsale, a narrow cloth like a stole, fringed with gold hanging over its back and reaching halfway down the flank. Further on are two victimarii holding a ram that tries to escape and a pig. Behind the cultrarius is an attendant holding what has been a vase of lustral or purifying water, with which the victims and attendants are to be sprinkled. Behind him a man holds up on high a small dish containing what looks like a cucumber or a cake, to represent the first fruits of the earth. A crowd of attendants is standing round. All are crowned with leaves or with a ribbon bound round the head.

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Page updated: 2 Aug 20