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Trajans Column › Antique Origins

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 08 June 2013
Trajan's Column (Jehosua)

Trajan ’s column, erected in 113 CE, stands in Trajan's Forum in Rome and is a commemorative monument decorated with reliefs illustrating Roman emperor Trajan's two military campaigns in Dacia (modern Romania). The column was the first of many such monuments and it is also an invaluable source of information on the Roman Army and a lasting testimony to the Roman love of monumental architecture constructed to celebrate military victories and Roman leaders.
The column stands 38 m tall (125 ft) and consists of 19 drums of Italian white marble. It stands on an 8-block base and is topped by a two-block pedestal. Originally, a 4.8 m (16 ft) bronze statue of Trajan stood on the top pedestal but this was replaced by a statue of St. Peter in 1588 CE. The column was in all likelihood conceived by Trajan's architect Apollodoros of Damascus as a commemoration of the emperor's victorious Dacian campaigns of c. 101-2 and 105-6 CE. On the Emperor's death in 117 CE his ashes were buried within the foundations of the column.


The irregular perspective and presence of over 2,600 figures carved in low relief spiralling around the column create a lively 200 m long narrative of 155 key scenes from the campaigns in Dacia with Trajan himself present in many diverse situations such as leading the army, judging prisoners, and holding councils of war. The two campaigns, starting from the base, are presented in an approximate chronology of major events and each campaign is separated by a scene with a shield and victory trophies.
Most individual scenes on the column run into each other but sometimes scenes are separated by a feature of landscape such as rocks, trees and even buildings which indicate a change of narrative scene. Figures are generally two-thirds life-size and perspective is achieved by representing scenes as though they have been tilted towards the viewer resulting in the background figures being shown above the figures in the foreground. The reliefs were originally painted in colour and traces of this survived up to the 18th century CE. Erected in the Forum of Trajan, the column's sculpture would have been much more visible from the two libraries - one Greek and the other Latin - which originally stood either side of the column.
Trajan's Column Detail

Trajan's Column Detail

The column stands on a pedestal which also carries relief sculpture, this time showing captured Dacian weapons and armour and four Imperial eagles carrying victory garlands. The base also has a lengthy inscription on the southeast side which uses 10cm high capital letters to indicate that the monument is dedicated in honour of Trajan by the Senate and People of Rome (SPQR) in 113 CE. The inscription also indicates that the monument was designed to show how the surrounding site had been cleared for such great works as the column itself and Trajan's Forum in general. This was achieved through the column actually serving as a viewing platform. A door in the pedestal gives access to an interior spiral staircase which climbs within the column to allow access to the top platform pedestal. The staircase is entirely carved out of the solid stone and is lit by 40 small windows set within the column at regular intervals. The viewing platform originally had a metal rail and could accommodate up to 15 people who would have admired the magnificent buildings of Rome spread out below in all directions.
The column and its spiral narrative sculpture is an invaluable source of information concerning the Roman army and reveals unique details of weapons, armour, ships, equipment, troop formations, medical treatment and logistics. The column is a tour de force of propaganda art and the artists were not necessarily concerned with accurately portraying details, nevertheless, many scenes are corroborated by other sources and much basic information must surely have conformed to the viewers' knowledge and expectations of the contemporary Roman military. In addition, the column, famous even in Roman times and also appearing on Trajan's coins, inspired similar commemorative monuments in later Roman times, the Middle Ages and even as recently as Napoleon's Vendôme column in Paris, erected in 1806 CE, which also commemorates the Emperor's military campaigns.

Draco's Law Code › Antique Origins

Definition and Origins

by Antonios Loizides
published on 12 June 2015
Athens Acropolis (Jehosua)

Draco was an aristocrat who in 7th century BCE Athens was handed the task of composing a new body of laws. We have no particular clues concerning his life and general biography and the only certainty is that, as an aristocrat and an educated man, he was in the right place at the right time in order to take his opportunity and legislate. During the infancy of the Athenian legal system Draco composed the city 's first written law code with the aim of reducing arbitrary decisions of punishment and blood feuds between parties. Ultimately, though, the laws aided and legitimized the political power of the aristocracy and allowed them to consolidate their control of the land and poor. Famously harsh, the laws were ultimately replaced by Solon in 594 BCE.


Αfter the creation of city- states (πόλις - κράτος, polis - kratos) in Greece, around the 8th Century BCE, sovereigns in major cities like Athens started losing power. The king, in order to maintain power and safety in his city started sharing the land with various noblemen, that in the first place, had been members of his council of war. Later, these noblemen created the hoplitephalanx (οπλιτική φάλαγγα, oplitiki falagga). The phalanx was not only a military group of men but gradually shaped into a political body and eventually gained power from the King. Thus, an aristocracy was born. In Athens, the aristocrats controlled the land and they had most of the privileges, the political rights, and, of course, the money in the polis. The law was held by them and was only written for their own purposes and from their own perspective. Most Athenians had to live in relative poverty and under this regime simple workmen and farmers had no choice but to be ruled by the aristocrats. Gradually the Athenians found themselves in a city where very few held political power, money, land and, most importantly, control of the (unwritten) law.


Justice has not always been dispensed by judges operating under a written or common law equally applicable to all. In early Athens, justice was not a matter of applying a written standard to any situation or dispute. There were no explicitly written sentencing guides or judicial precedents on which to call. Rather, the victims themselves were responsible for exacting retribution or compensation for any crime. If the victim was dead, the family was left to take revenge or seek compensation.These blood feuds could last for generations as families sought to avenge a loss, rarely admitting fault and always seeking absolution. (Salowey & Northen Magill).


As time wore on, groups of citizens came together to consider how to prevent transgressions or punish criminals from other areas and thus avoid protracted wars based on blood feuds. Popular assemblies were called for this purpose in instances where the action affected the community as a whole. Over the years, leaders within the aristocracy of Athens began issuing their rulings. This system was not without its problems, as these “chiefs” were often the recipients of bribes.
In addition, according to Aristotle, borrowing in ancient Athens was allowed and as a warranty, or as a security deposit, it was “allowed that one can borrow from another with a warranty his property and his personal freedom”. ( The Athenian Constitution, 1306b 22-25, 1307a 7). So, the basic problem was not only who had the land or the political power but that a lot of small land owners gradually got into debt and started losing their land, ending up servants to the rich. The major problem was that no laws for the above were written down and the poor were not able to stand in a court where only aristocrats were judging and no written law was there to protect them.
Around 632 BCE, an aristocrat and former winner at the Olympic games, called Kylon (Κύλων), tried to overcome the aristocratic party that ruled Athens and become a sole tyrant. Kylon, actually, was trying to use the Athenian's will for a change: that is a change against the aristocrats that held the land and the political power in Athens at that particular time. The attempt to make himself tyrant, in the end, did not succeed and his followers were slaughtered by the aristocrats and Kylon fled to his father-in-law, Theageni (Θεαγένη), the Tyrant of Megara (Mέγαρα). If we look a bit more deeply into the affair, Kylon was really trying to grab the momentum of the poor people (mostly farmers and small land owners) that had lost their land to the wealthy landlords mostly due to debts and the fact that no law was ever written in Athens by that time and thus, the land was held by few aristocrats and justice was nowhere to be found.
If we sum up the two above facts, the Kylon rebellion and the farmers/small land owners reaction to all this, we come to the conclusion that laws had at last had to be written. Indeed, the aristocrats summoned Draco (Δράκων) to write down the First Law Code of Athens. This happened in 621/620 BCE. The actual text of the laws was preserved only by Aristotle in his book The Athenian Constitution.


Draco's laws were known for their cruelty and their bias towards the rich landowners as opposed to those who found themselves owing money. His series of drastic punishments (the origin of the term 'draconian') for a variety of crimes were not actually in force for long and certainly did not succeed in their aim. This rudimentary law-code of which we know only the provisions regarding homicide were written, according to tradition and myth in blood because of their perceived cruelty. Below are some examples quoted in The Athenian Contitution (translated by the author according to Inscriptiones Greacae 1 115):
…political rights (in Athens) can only belong to those that carry weapons. These rights are especially for lower rank lords whereas in order for someone to be elected as a general or head of cavalry (ίππαρχος, ipparxos) he should have a fortune of over 100 mnes and have a legitimate Athenian wife and children over 10 years old.
He who kills another Athenian, without a purpose or by accident should be banished from Athens for ever. If the killer apologizes to the family of the murdered man and the family accepts the apology, then the murderer may stay in Athens.
A relative of a murder victim, can hunt and take into custody the murderer and thus hand him to the authorities where he will be judged. If a relative kills the murderer he will not be allowed to enter the Athenian Forum («αγορά», agora ), or participate in competitions or set foot into sacred places...


Draco's law code was later regarded as intolerably harsh, especially in regards to punishing trivial crimes with death; it was probably unsatisfactory to contemporary rulers too, since Solon, who was the archon in 594 BCE, later repealed Draco's code and published new laws, retaining only Draco's homicide statutes. The cruelty behind the laws may have been the only a way to sustain power within the aristocratic party as well as preventing blood feuds that could last for generations. In addition, the aristocrats found a way to secure land by legitimately taking it from the poor according to written laws besides their real political power. Under Draco's law code the rulers were in power in accordance with the law and, as they saw it, justice.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
Content is available under License Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. CC-BY-NC-SA License

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