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Bill Thayer

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Scene 75
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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Scene 77

Scenes of the spiral band running up the shaft

 p159  LXXVI. The Bridge

In the foreground is a crowd of personages standing on the banks of the Danube which flows behind. The background of the whole composition being formed by the bridge, which I shall presently describe.

The Emperor Trajan appears more than once among the figures here represented, and they must therefore be taken to represent different actions, though they are so combined as to make the artist's intention in this arrangement a little obscure. First, Trajan marches at the head of his legionaries. He seems to have issued from the encampments behind. He is in full armour, and the signiferi and imaginiferi, with three standards, are behind him. These standards differ from any we have met with in earlier scenes, having rostra or ships' beaks represented on portions of their ornaments, decorated with ornaments showing the connexion of the legion with some naval exploit.

The emperor appears to be speaking, and points with the forefinger of his right hand in the direction of the bridge. He is probably explaining to them the necessity or advantage of this construction. His men are armed, and carry their shields and the helmets slung over the shoulder on the march.

Another action of this composition is represented. The emperor is offering sacrifice. He is dressed in a loose gown (manicata) with long loose sleeves which contract at the opening for the wrists. It is drawn up, and girt round the loins, the upper portion falling in ample folds below the cincture.

Behind these groups is seen one of the bridges built by Trajan over the Danube, which flows between it and the personages engaged on these various actions. About one fourth of the entire structure, as it is described by Dion Cassius, is here represented. On the right or south bank the approaches to the river bank are given. Two arches of masonry, the one nearest the bank lower and less in span than the further of the two. The masonry above the smaller is in mass sufficient to bring it up to the level of the road above. Water flows under the larger arch, and probably the river is supposed to rise  p160 during the rains, and flow under the nearest as well. The larger arch abuts on the first large pier, built fairly in the bed of the river. The first pier rises to a considerable height out of the river. The height is described by the historian as 170 Roman feet. The top finishes with a projecting impost of stone, and there is a string course two courses of masonry lower. The other piers have the impost course only. All are represented as of hewn stone. The arches and the road above are of timber.

The thickness of the piers is represented by the historian as 60 Roman feet, and the distance from pier to pier as 170.

Over each pier are erected two pairs of strong shears of timber. The legs of each set are kept apart by rows of logs laid together the long way on the pier, and transverse timbers from leg to leg hold them all firmly together. Upon the legs of the shears abut arched girders composed of three concentric sets of beams tied to each other in three places by struts or ties, making altogether an arch, of which the curve is the fifth part of a circle. Horizontal beams rest on the points of junction of the shears from which they reach to the crowns of the timber arches.

[image ALT: A woodcut of part of a long stone bridge with wooden trestling, of which three arches are shown with their piles into the waves of a river; on the viewer's left, an abutment consisting of a pair of unequally tall arches and what appears to be a massive stone tower with a long one-story building on or in it. It is a schematic depiction of the bridge over the Danube built by Apollodorus in the course of Trajan's Dacian campaign. The bridge is described in minute detail in the text of this webpage.]

Fig. 29.

On the horizontal girders which touch, and are supported by the crowns of the timber arches and the summits of the shears alternately, are laid cross beams or joists. Above these are a pair of latticed girders, one each side of the bridge. On the lower member of these and on the cross timbers or joists the road is laid. We are shown both girders in perspective.

It is stated by Dion Cassius that all the piers and arches were of hewn stone. If so, they are not shown in this view, nor on coins which bear this bridge on their reverse side.

The spot at which Trajan passed the Danube to penetrate into the heart of Dacia was at a short distance below the pass known as the iron gates, at which the river bends  p161 at a right angle to the north and after a short distance as suddenly to the south before resuming its western course below the modern Gladova. The emperor must have passed the river before the desperate engagements described in previous compositions, and this representation of the bridge is independent of the course of history.

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Page updated: 3 Aug 20