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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.
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[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.]

Fig. 29.

 p79  The bridges over the Danube

Meanwhile, one great bridge over the Danube below the iron gates, had been constructed by Apollodorus at the point at which a bridge of boats had been in use from the opening of the first campaign.

Remains of this bridge still exist, though we cannot accept the measurements of Dion Cassius,​96 or his statement that twenty piers on which the bridge was built were made of squared stone, each pier 150 feet in height, exclusive of the foundation; 60 feet broad; and the arches of 170 feet span, and built of hewn masonry. The bridge was built by Apollodorus, the architect of the forum and column, and an accomplished engineer. It was made however of timber, with the single exception of two arches on the southern, and probably two corresponding on the northern extremity, the two stone arches are uneven in height and width, and both are of much smaller span than the wooden arches.

The measurement of Dion Cassius would be —

20 arches, 170 feet 3,400
And, say, 19 piers, of 60 feet each 1,140

or 4,540 feet. In this calculation the abutments on the two banks are not included. As seen sculptured in the column, from which the accompanying woodcut is taken, it is evident that the bridge was made of timber with arched girders, each series having triple beams of solid timber, of large scantling and held together by cross pieces of equal solidity, material easily cut in the forests that then clothed the banks both of the Save and the Danube. Only two arches on each end were of stone and arched, and they are represented as less in span than the wooden arches. It is curious that Dion Cassius, who held a provincial government at no great distance, should have made the statement he did, but the bridge had been destroyed, and it is probable that he gave his measurements only from hearsay, and that the 60 feet assigned to the widths of the piers were measurements actually taken from those which formed the abutment on the two banks, and were accessible in his time. Count  p80 Marsigli​a estimates the entire length to be 2,758 feet, and considers that the width of the piers must have been exaggerated. The piers only were of stone or concrete.97

If, then, the width of the 20 piers are taken off from the total actual length, it will be evident that whatever be the measurement of the wooden arches, they could not have much exceeded 100 feet in span, and their construction would be by no means an impossibility. The arches consist of three concentric curved beams composed of four lengths each, tied together by four transverse timbers. Each length was perhaps built up of many pieces in the method usual with Roman engineers (and still in use in Rome for constructing the uprights of heavy scaffolding, p42), both on the arches and on the timber abutments constructed for them. The probable construction of the roadway was the same as we show in the accompanying woodcut of the bridge thrown by Caesar over the Rhine.98

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Fig. 30.

 p81  Mr. Paget describes the remains of the bridge as they now are. There are two massive embankments at the beginning of the causeway, and 13 out of the 20 piers can still be seen when the water is low in summer. They are of concrete made up with large stones, and may have been cased with hewn masonry. The spot chosen is about five miles below Skala Gladova, the first place below the rapids at which the Danube is free from a rocky bed. According to Dion, the bed of the river is of mud at this point, but modern travellers agree in stating that it is of gravel. According to Count Marsigli, the depth of the river in summer is not great at this point, nowhere more than 18 feet, and he considers the building of such a bridge by no means a triumph of engineering audacity, far less difficult a feat than the Pont du St. Esprit built by the freemasons over the Rhone. A bridge of wood of 250 feet span crosses the Portsmouth river in North America (Sir H. Douglas, in Tredgold's Bridges, 233). There has, however, been no bridge built since so low down the Danube. On the opposite or southern shore stood Severinum, the modern Sozoreny, a strong rampart or wall of brick and gravel, measuring 420 feet by 162 feet, near which on a conical mound is a mutilated tower.​99 The southern end was also flanked by a fort, and this is seen in the sculpture on the column.

This bridge was on one of the high roads from the southern provinces into Dacia. The road was continued down the side of the river till it reached a point opposite to the junction of the Aluta with the Danube. Here, at a place called Gieli, are still ruins of two forts similar in position and purpose to the two that protected the two ends of the bridge just described. Here also in the summer, when the water is low, the remains of a row of piers of masonry may still be made out, and are traceable indeed at other times by the eddies of the water. A road, of which the remains are still traceable, ran northwards from this point and parallel with the course of the river Aluta.100

 p82  From these three points, Viminacium, the Pons Trajani, and the line of the Aluta, Trajan had constructed and maintained well engineered and well protected roads, so as to be able at any time to pour troops into provinces so vast and important of which he knew the wealth both in soil and minerals; as well as their value as a barrier against the northern barbarians and populations; and from which he foresaw good troops and faithful subjects could be made for the Roman empire.

All his preparations had been carefully planned and systematically carried out from the very outset of the first war. Besides the route along the valley of the Iron gate, in which had been the stronghold to which Decebalus retreated after the capture of his capital in the first war, Trajan had two other routes opened out and now ready for his military operations. They led to two of the passes further eastward, those of the Vulkan, and the Rothenthurm.

The Author's Notes:

96 Dion Cass. LXVIII.13.

97 "Tout le reste n'est qu'une grande et belle charpente." — Crevier, Histoire des Empereurs, Francke, p132. Mr. Paget estimates the width of the river from end to end of the remains of the bridge to be 3,900 feet, or 1,300 yards, but this seems to be only the rough estimate given by guides and guide-books, and he had no means of verifying this computation.

98 The woodcut in the text is from the Architecture of Palladio, Book III.v. It can also be seen in a more picturesque form in the recent representation of the Jules César of the Emperor Napoleon III.

99 Handbook S. Germany, 543.

100 The road from Viminacium, the westernmost and nearest point of contact of Trajan's line of march, and subsequent route into Dacia, ran by Arcidava, Centum Puteae, Bersovia, Azizis, Caput Bubali, Tiviscum (the modern Temesvar).

The next road crossed the bridge of Trajan below the iron gates at Orsova and followed the valley of the Czerna to Mehadia, along the valley of the Temes, crossed the valley of the iron gate. It then crossed the plain of Hâtzeg by Hunyod, Varhely, mounted the hill of Deva, and descended on the valley of the Maros, a tributary of the Theiss. Thence it proceeded to Karlsburg, Thorda, and Maros Vasarheli. The Roman stations were, Tierna, Ad Mediam, Mehadia (the baths of Hercules), Ad Pannonios, Gaganae, Masclianae, Tiviscum, Agnavae, Pons Augusti, Zermizegethusa, Adaquas, Germizera, Blandiana, Apula, Brucla, Salinae, Patavissa, Napoca, Optatiana, Langiana (?), Cersie, Parolissum.

The third route followed the course of the Aluta as far as the pass of the Rothenthurm and Karlsburg, on which road was Apula, the capital of the mining district. The stations were, Drubetis, Amutria, Pelendova, Castra Nova, Romula, Acidava, Rusidava, Pons Aluti, Burridava, Castra Trajana, Arutela, Praetorium, Pons vetus Stenarum, Cedonie, Acidava, Apula.

Thayer's Note:

a Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli, author of the six-volume Danubius Pannonico-Mysicus, observationibus geographicis, astronomicis, hydrographicis, physicis perlustratus (1726).

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