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Bill Thayer

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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 1

 p101  The base

The base is composed of a square dado richly sculptured with upper and lower mouldings delicately carved, standing on a double plinth. Above the upper mouldings is placed the proper base of the column itself, the torus, plinth and lower plinth, which expands with a bold and graceful apophyges to meet the fillet that forms the upper member of the moulding of the dado. Sitting above this curve are four Roman eagles, one at each angle of the upper plinth supporting a swag or garland of oak and other emblematic leaves tied with ribands at the corners, and the upper mouldings of the dado are delicately sculptured all over their surfaces. They consist of a carved cymatium and corona, an ovalo carved with egg and tongue ornament, a cyma recta carved with acanthus leaf, and an astragal. In the lower group at the base of the dado, those two mouldings are reversed and there is a fretted torus below. The carving on these members is in slight relief, so as not to break up their surfaces or destroy the outlines of the various curves and their value in the architectural arrangement. The sculptures on the dado are much injured both by time and violence, having been buried for many centuries, besides which parts have been cut away to admit the wall plates of a roof gable. The general arrangement and outlines, however, remain unchanged, though there is partial ruin in many places.

Beginning with the south side in which the door is cut, the scene is divided by a horizontal fillet which passes above the frame of the door.

The upper division contains a tablet supported by winged female figures one on each side. They are gracefully inclined forward, stretching diagonally from corner to corner of the square space they fill. They wear the usual women's tunic or ἱμάτιον gathered up at the waistband and falling over so as to form a graceful sinus. Over this garment is a πέπλον, the ends of which flow loose, and a scarf falls over the furthest shoulder. The lines of all these various loose ends of drapery diverge from the outline of the figure with every variety of graceful curve. On the table is the inscription: Senatus populusque Romanus Imperatori Caesari, Divi Nervae filio Nervae Trajano Augusto Germanico Dacico, Pontifici Maximo tribunitiae potestatis XVIIo (anno) imperii VIo, consulatus  p102 VIIo, ad declarandum quantae altitudinis mons et locus tantis operibus sit egestus. The missing letters tis oper are cut away by the chase made for the wall plates of a roof, and Gruter and other commentators supplied the hiatus with other letters, such as tis ruder and tis e mont; but there is not room for more than the letters supplied in the text, and that reading certainly better completes the sentence than any of the others suggested.

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Fig. 32.

The lower half of the scene is divided by the doorway which cuts through the plinth and base mouldings, and gives access by an ascent of three steps to the interior of the tower. It is framed round by slight lines of moulding.

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Fig. 33.

On the door side the trophy is divided into two parts. That on the right hand (spectator's left) has on it several Roman shields, a sagum, or military cloak, a draco, measuring 25 inches across the bar by 18 inches in depth, including the fringe; an axe, with one blade and a hammer; lituus, the mouth carved into the head of a wolf, with an ornamental cresting down the back of the neck marked off in checquers; a bow case, pointed casque with a griffin elegantly carved in relief on the side, and flaps, apparently of fine flexible chain mail, or leather in this as in similar casques, on the remaining faces of the  p103 stylobate: a tuba, straight; a sword and belt, Roman 3 ft. 8 in. long, with foliated relief work on the sheath; part of a battering ram; a crooked Dacian blade, measuring 3 feet, of which the handle, of wood, with a necking in the middle, measures 13½ inches; a coat of plumated or scale mail, the sleeves reaching halfway to the elbow, and part of a corslet of chain mail.

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Fig. 34.

On the other side of the door are several shields; a tuba and horn or lituus wolf headed; (No. 35) a draco; bow or arrow case; tuba and a square panel with a boss ornament much broken, but having an edge of pointed leaves or rays, perhaps the bow panel of a boat.

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Fig. 35

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Fig. 36.

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Fig. 37.

West side. — Many shields, all slightly varying in ornament, but several so much alike as to show that they were used by one particular legion. The first in the lowest row has a palm on it in low relief. These shields all measure 4 ft. 2 in. by 2 ft. 9 in., the measurements varying very little. Swords of 3 feet, short dirks or semispathae, 2 feet. The hilts are square blocks, the handles end in a flat pommel; the blades measure, with scabbard, 3 inches at the greatest width. On this side is a linen lorica gathered by a narrow leather strap at the waist in full folds, and round the neck a focale or scarf tied in two or three places down the chest. Another on the further end of this front is covered by the sagum, or red cloak, fastened by a fibula on the right shoulder and covering the left arm and back. A Numidian bow on this side measures 3 feet; an arrow case with the arrows 2 ft. 6 in.; a single arrow on this side measures 2 ft. 10 in.; a bow; a spear, the head fitted with a socket, length of the iron head, socket included, 11 inches; bow 3 feet (cord); helmets with pikes on  p104 the top; another helmet, circular, high, with cheek pieces, on one of which is a goose in relief; another helmet with a notched crown in relief round the lower edge.

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Fig. 38

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Fig. 39.

North side. — Twenty-six shields with varying ornaments, remains of pila and other lances, the shafts of which are all about an inch in diameter, the blade of one of them 8 inches; a tuba, a little more than 3 feet long, part being hidden behind a shield; three casques; a sagum; an axe 31 inches long, the blade 8 inches wide, and the metal head 8 inches across; a dirk or semispatha, of which the blade is 19 inches long by 2¼ inches at the widest portion; a Dacian dragon standard. On this front two chases have been rudely cut one under the other, to insert the tiles of a roof.

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Fig. 40.

East side. — A number of shields; several helmets of Romans and socii; a cuirass or shirt of linked chain, the sleeves reaching halfway to the elbow; cuirass of thongs or straps of leather, all buckled down the front of the body. This is the method by which the plate cuirasses of the heavily armed ranks of the Roman legion were fastened together, but the cuirass here shown differs from those worn by the legionaries. Bow and arrow cases similar to those seen attached to the chariots of ancient Egyptian warriors are seen on this front. A Dacian dragon is seen on this front, the body made of linen with spikes or claws at intervals, a head with erect ears, an open mouth, down which the air passed, and inflated the body. The  p105 total length is about 6 feet, but there is part of the tail or body rolled up, and the length cannot be ascertained exactly. The head is about 8 inches deep.

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Page updated: 27 Nov 01