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Bill Thayer

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Section 4
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 6

Scenes of the spiral band running up the shaft

p113 V. Trajan breaks up his camp

The emperor, with his two lieutenants, is standing on a raised platform such as has been already described. It appears to be the back of one from which he is seen in  p114 the next composition making the traditional speech to his troops. He gives a signal with his hand, which is obeyed by the trumpets of the legions. Six trumpeters, some with the tuba, a long straight trumpet of brass, and others with the cornu, the curved brass horn already described are sounding for the break up of the camp. Before this rear end of the platform is seen a slave falling from his mule. This scene has been strangely interpreted by commentators. Muziano, the painter, who first made a series of drawings from the column in the sixteenth century, seems to have offered no opinion on the meaning of this composition, nor does Bartoli who follows him. Froehner suggests that it may represent the ambassador from the Burri, that he falls terrified from his mule at the sudden appearance of the emperor on a hill. Dion Cassius related a somewhat similar story.a The message sent to Trajan was written on the surface or head of a mushroom, and the circular pierced plate represented on the mule's back is suggested as an explanation. But it is impossible, with the cast of the actual sculpture before us, to accept of such an interpretation. A messenger from a people able to send terms or exhortations in writing would not be unaccompanied, nor would he be alone in the Roman lines without guards to admit and introduce him to the emperor. In the composition here described the man is alone, dressed in the frock or tunic of a slave only, of whom numbers were carried with the Roman armies as camp followers.

The incident is simply the fall of a scullion from his mule, which is startled by the sound of the various signals given so near, and has kicked him off. He holds not a mushroom of any kind but a round kitchen drainer pierced with holes made by the drill, a tool generally used by the sculptors of these bas-reliefs. The action of the ears of the mule, even a wicked look in its eye, are rendered by the sculptor, who is singularly faithful in his portraiture of animals wherever they occur.

A window is formed above the back of the mule, which it touches, to give light to the staircase within.

Thayer's Note:

a 68.8.

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Page updated: 20 Aug 18