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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.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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A few words as to the later history of the column

Alexander Severus is said to ornamented the forum with statues of illustrious men. The forum was still entire in the time of Constantine, who made merciless use of the old sculptures for his own triumphal arch. Ammianus Marcellinus, in his account of the entry of the Emperor Constans into Rome, A.D. 356, says that when "he came to the forum of Trajan, a structure which I conceive to be unique in the world, and deserving the admiration even of celestial beings; he was struck with astonishment, casting his thoughts over its gigantic edifices, which it is impossible to describe, or for any mortals to imitate. Giving up, therefore, all hopes of attempting anything similar, he said that the only thing he could or would imitate was the horse on which the Emperor sat. Upon which Hormisdas of the royal family of Persia, who was near him, said, 'First order a stable to be built similar to this, if you have the means: may the horse to which you purpose forming have as extensive success as that which we are looking at!' " The forum escaped the ravages of Alaric and Genseric, "For Cassiodorus, who wrote about the year 500 or a little after it, says, 'The forum of Trajan is a perfect miracle, if we inspect it even with the utmost minuteness.' "14

At a later period the column of Trajan was buried to the spring of the shaft, and so remained till the time of Sixtus the Fifth. That pontiff first excavated the ground round it, and these works have been at subsequent times enlarged to the extent of the area of the great Basilica.15

A legend of the middle ages commemorating the justice of Trajan is given in the Purgatorio of Dante, and alluded to in the Paradise. Gregory the Great, on a time, passing through the forum of Trajan noticed a bas-relief that represented that emperor leaving Rome at the head of his army and stopped by a poor widow, who cried to him for justice against the murderer of her son. The emperor was fain to put her off, but when she reproached him with neglect of duty he yielded to her importunity. After hearing this account of the scene represented, St. Gregory prayed for his soul, and was told by an angel in a vision that he must fulfil the debt of justice still due from Trajan for his sins. In this way the emperor was delivered and  p93 is found by Dante in Paradise.16 Dr. Burton is careful to inform his readers that this story has never been put forward as having claims on any of the orthodox belief.17

The Author's Notes:

14 Burton, Description of Rome, I.192.

15 Burton, Antiq. of Rome.

16 Purg. X.73,

"Quivi era storiata l' alta gloria

Del Roman prince, lo cui gran valore

Mosse Gregorio alla sua gran vittoria."

and Par. XXI.13.

The story is mentioned by Paul the deacon in his life of Gregory the Great. Dio Cassius relates a similar story of Hadrian, which is said to have been transferred to the account of Trajan. Lombardi, notes to Dante, l.c.

17 The subject is represented round a picture of the death of the B. Virgin by Simone in the Pinacotheca of Bologna. Lindsay, III.209.

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Page updated: 1 Sep 20