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Trajan, 25 January 98 - 8 or 9 August 117 A.D.

Ancient Roman coins of Trajan for sale in the Forum Ancient Coins consignment shop.

Marcus Ulpius Traianus, a brilliant general and administrator was adopted and proclaimed emperor by the aging Nerva in 98 A.D. Regarded as one of Rome's greatest emperors, Trajan was responsible for the annexation of Dacia, the invasion of Arabia and an extensive and lavish building program across the empire. Under Trajan, Rome reached its greatest extent. Shortly after the annexation of Mesopotamia and Armenia, Trajan was forced to withdraw from most of the new Arabian provinces. While returning to Rome to direct operations against the new threats, Trajan died at Selinus in Cilicia. Average well preserved denarius weight 3.37 grams.

Also see ERIC - Trajan.


Besombes, P-A. Bibliothque Nationale, Catalogue des Monnaies de lEmpire Romain, IV Trajan (98-117 aprs J.-C.). (Paris, 2008).
Banti, A. and L. Simonetti. Corpus Nummorum Romanorum. (Florence, 1972-1979).
Calic, E.X. The Roman Avrei, Vol. I: From the Republic to Pertinax, 196 BC - 193 AD. (Barcelona, 2003).
Cohen, H. Description historique des monnaies frappes sous lEmpire Romain, Vol. 2: Nerva to Antoninus Pius. (Paris, 1883).
Hill, P.V. The Dating and Arrangement of the Undated Coins of Rome, A.D. 98-148. (London, 1970).
Mattingly, H. & R.A.G. Carson. Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum, Vol. 3: Nerva to Hadrian. (London, 1936).
Mattingly H. & E. Sydenham. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol. II: Vespasian to Hadrian. (London, 1926).
McAlee, R.  The Coins of Roman Antioch. (Lancaster, PA, 2007).
Robinson, A.S. Roman Imperial Coins in the Hunter Coin Cabinet. II. Trajan to Commodus (London, 1971).
Seaby, H.A. & R. Loosley. Roman Silver Coins, Vol. II: Tiberius to Commodus. (London, 1979).
Sear, D.R. Roman Coins and Their Values, Vol. II: The Accession of Nerva to the Overthrow of the Severan Dynasty AD 96 - AD 235. (London, 2002).
Strack, P.L. Untersuchungen zur rmischen Reichsprgung des zweiten Jahrhunderts, Teil 1: Die Reichsprgung zur Zeit des Traian. (Stuttgart, 1931).
Toynbee, J.M.C. Roman medallions. ANSNS 5. (New York, 1944).
Vagi, D. Coinage and History of the Roman Empire. (Sidney, 1999).
Woytek, B. Die Reichsprgung des kaisers Traianus (98-117). MIR 14. (Vienna, 2010).

Obverse Legends


Wars of Trajan: Dacia 

by Daniel Best

In late 97CE the aging Emperor Nerva appointed the governor of Germany, Marcus Ulpius Trajanus his heir. When Nerva died on the 25th of January 98CE Trajan smoothly succeeded him. Coming after the tyranny of the last years of the Emperor Domitian's rule, the rule of Trajan proved to be a breath of fresh air for the Roman Empire. There was economic prosperity and people were no longer in fear for the lives. Against this background of happiness and prosperity occurred two of the most ambitious Roman military endeavors since the invasion of Britain in 43CE. The first of these, the invasion and annexation of Dacia in 101-106CE, is the subject of this article. The second, the successful catastrophe of the invasion of Mesopotamia and Arabia will be covered in a future article.

In 101CE Trajan advanced into Dacia (Modern Romania). In order to cross the Danube river Trajan ordered one, possibly two, bridges built. Crossing into Dacia, Trajan advanced into enemy territory slowly and carefully, building roads and fortifications along the way. The Dacians conducted a scorched earth policy, burning anything the Romans might use and generally avoiding combat. Trajan attempted to enter the heart of Dacia through a mountain pass known as the Iron Gates. A battle was fought at a place called Tapae, and although the Romans were victorious they delayed the invasion of the heartlands until after winter.

However, in the winter of 101/102CE the king of the Dacians, Decebalus, launched a fierce counter attack. Crossing the frozen Danube River, Decebalus invaded the neighboring Roman province of Moesia Inferior. Although the Dacians were initially successful, the Romans beat them off in a fierce battle at Adamclisi (Romans lost around 5000 men), without any significant damage to the province.

In spring 102CE Trajan resumed the invasion of Dacia, this time taking a different route along the river Alutus (modern Olt). Trajan marched into the central plains of Dacia, refusing offers of peace by Decebalus. Trajan split his army into two at this point; one part sent to take control of the Carpathian foothills, the rest of the army marched to the Dacian capital, Sarmizegetusa. At this point, Decebalus surrendered. Total defeat was inevitable, and it is believed that Trajan had captured Decebalus sister. Trajan demanded that the Dacians de-fortify their cities and dismantle their siege equipment. Trajan also made Decebalus submit to Rome, making him a client-king. Trajan was named Dacicus or Conqueror of Dacia, and returned to Roman territory with his army.

p>This fragile peace lasted only 3 years. In 105CE Decebalus invaded Roman Moesia, taking control of the Roman fortifications along the River Danube, which he believed (probably correctly) were being strengthened to facilitate the total conquest of Dacia in the future. The replacement of the old pontoon bridge over the Danube river at Drobeta with a massive stone one would have been particularly disturbing for the insecure king.

Trajan spent the rest of 105 repairing the damage done in Moesia by the Dacians, and beating off Dacian attacks, in particular a massive strike at Drobeta, which probably had the aim of destroying the unfinished stone bridge.

In 106CE Trajan again entered the central Dacian plains. Again he split his forces into two, but this time both armies advanced on the capital Sarmizegetusa. The city was stormed, and captured. Decebalus fled the carnage, hotly pursued by Roman cavalry.

Decebalus committed suicide when it was apparent capture was inevitable. The great kingdom of Dacia was gone. In its place was a new Roman province. Three of the eleven Roman Legions that took part in the massive invasion were left behind as a garrison, Roman settlers were brought in and Roman cities founded. The new Roman Dacia proved to be a mixed blessing however. The province was fabulously rich, but strategically very vulnerable. It is probably that Trajan intended to annex the areas around Dacia as well, but Trajan left Dacia in late 106, and turned his attention to the East, where the Parthian Empire was encroaching on the eastern Roman provinces.

Sixty years after Trajans conquest of Dacia, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius drew up plans to consolidate Dacia and Germania, both under constant threat by Barbarians. Had these plans gone ahead, chances are that Dacia would have remained a prosperous Roman province for a long time. It may even have prolonged the life of the Roman Empire itself. However these plans did not go ahead, abandoned my Marcus Aurelius incompetent and insane son, Commodus. Dacia was officially abandoned in the late 3rd century CE, as the disproportionately large garrison needed for the defense of Dacia was stretching Roman forces too thin and draining the treasury of much needed funds.

Dictionary of Roman Coins

Please add updates or make corrections to the NumisWiki text version as appropriate.

TRAIANVS (M. Ulpius) was born at Italica (now "Sevilla la vieja", or Old Seville), in Spain, in the year of Rome 806, 18th of September, A.D.52.

His family was more distinguished for its antiquity than its rank; his father being a soldier of high reputation ( whose portrait was afterwards placed on his son coinage), was the first of his race who enjoyed the honor of the consulate. Whilst yet a boy in age, Trajan commenced his practical study of the art of war under the parental auspices, in campaigns against the Parthians, and with so much success that he become one of the most celebrated generals, whose victories are enrolled in the annals of Rome. He was made praetor v.c. 839 (A.D. 86), and consul 844 (A.D. 91). After which he was sent by Domitian into Spain, whence by command of the same emperor he proceed to quell an insurrection in Germany. It was in the autumn of the year v.c. 850 (A.D. 97), whilst residing Colonia Agrippina (now Cologne), as prefect of the Lower Germany, and entertaining no views of such elevation, that he was adopted by Nerva, being, as Pliny the consul expresses it- Simul FILIVS, simul CAESAR, mox IMPERATOR, et censors TRIB. POTESTATIS, et omnia pariter, et statim, factus es. Nerva also shared with him the title of Germanicus - Those two princes, indeed, seemed as men destined by their union to secure the prosperity and happiness of the empire. The reign of Nerva was too brief; but that of Trajan was extended long enough to exhibit him as the approved friend of the Roman people, and the firm protector of all the Roman families.At the death of Nerva (v.c. 851, A.D. 98), Trajan took the title of Augustus, being still at Cologne employed in suppressing the outbreaks of certain barbarous tribes in that vicinity.The following year he returned to Rome, entering the city on foot, amidst the applause of the citizens. Not only the panegyric of Pliny who spoils the praise of truth itself by the extravagance of flattery; but also the more calm and sober evidences of coins, unite in attesting that his largesses (congiaria) were distributed to the people on a scale of most munificent liberality. This year (v.c.882,{852 ed.} A.D. 99) not only the title of Pater Patriae was assigned to him, but also the novel and to him peculiarly acceptable appellation of Optimus was conferred on him by the senate, although it does not appear so early on his medals. Having refused to pay the annual tribute which Decebalus, king of the Dacians, had extracted from the pusillanimous Domitian, Trajan followed up his determination to wipe away this ignominy from the Roman name, by entering Dacia at the head of his armies, v.c. 854, A.D. 101.

The war continued till V.C. 856, A.D. 103, when having lost his capital Sarmizegethusa, and the greater part of his kingdom, Decebalus sought an audience of Trajan and humbly sued for peace, which he obtained on very hard conditions. Returning shortly after these successes to Rome, Trajan enjoyed ex invicta gente primum trumphum, and received from the senate his surname of Dacicus.In the year V.C. 847 A.D. 104, Decebalus, being openly charged with having violated the terms of his treaty with the empire, and with having been guilty of renewed acts of aggression, was again denounced by the senate as the enemy of the Roman people.Accordingly, the following year, Trajan having completed his stupendous work of constructing a stone bridge over the Danube, entered Dacia, for the second time, and again totally defeated its brave but rash and unfortunate monarch, who killed himself in despair. The royal treasures of Decebalus were found either sunk in the river Sargetia, or buried in caves. The emperor made a province of this kingdom, and returning to Rome (V.C. 859 A.D 106), received the fullest honors of a triumph for his conquest. Meanwhile, an expedition was undertaken by one of Trajan's generals against that part of Arabia which borders on Judaea. It was crowned with success, and is recorded to the emperor's honour, on coins by the legend ARABia ADQVISita, struck in the name and by authority of S.P.Q.R.In the same year he began to construct a road through the Pontine Marshes, besides repairing the old paved road from Beneventum to Brundusium, which great works he finished V.C. 863 A.D. 110, at his own expense. [See VIA TRAIANA.]From the last-mentioned period he employed an interval of nearly five years in embellishing Rome and Italy with numbers of useful as well as magnificent works, and in return (V.C. 866 A.D. 113) had the sculpted pillar of the Forum dedicated to his name and honora monument still existing to perpetuate the memory of his Dacian victories. In V.C. 867 A.D. 114, hearing that Chosroes, king of Parthia, had disposed of the crown of Armenia, Trajan from a professed regard for the rights of the Roman empire which he deemed violated by this procedure, but in reality from a too great love of conquest and military glory, carried the terror of his arms into the east, when he placed a Roman governor over the Parthians, whom he had conquered, and afterwards (V.C. 868 A.D. 115) compelled Armenia and Mesopotamia to acknowledge his government.For these brilliant achievements he was called Parthicus by the soldiers, a title soon afterwards confirmed by the senate and inscribed on his coins : nor was it an empty name ; for Dion narrates the admission of the Parthian king to the presence of Trajan as a suppliant for the Parthian throne.

In V.C. 869 A.D. 116, he entered Assyria, and having first made a treaty of occupation with the city of Ctesiphon, on the Tigris, he penetrated to the shores of the Persian Gulf.  On his return to Ctesiphon he appointed Parthamaspates, king of Parthia, in the room of Chosroes, whom he had deposed.[See REX PARTHIS DATVS.]And he explored that part of Arabia, situated between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates (called from that circumstance Mesopotamia).Nor was it to the Parthians only that this great emperor assigned a sovereign ; but, according to Dion, Eutropius, and other writers, he also appointed rulers to other nations, and bestowed scepters on other princes[See REGNA ADSIGNATA.]at the same time receiving some into alliance with him ; forming treaties of peace and amity with others ; and adjusting quarrels which had subsisted between different states that owned his influence or felt his power.

But the days of his great prince were numbered, and his career of existence, as well as of glory, was fast verging to its close.  In returning from his oriental expedition, Trajan became a prey to disease.  He hastened to embark for Rome, but the disorder, which was dropsical, made such rapid progress that he was obligated to halt at Selinuntum, in Cilicia, where, having adopted Hadrian, he expired, on the 10th August, V.C. 870, A.D. 117, at the age of 61, according to some, of 65 as others assert.  He had reigned nineteen years and a half.  His body was burnt at Selinuntum ; and his ashes, enclosed in a golden urn, were carried to Rome by Plotina and Matidia (his wife and sister), and there deposited within, or upon, the celebrated column which the senate and people had raised to his imperishable renown.Of portly stature, robust in frame, and hardly in constitution yet exhibiting in his countenance an air of grandeur that commanded reverence, Trajan was a man not less intellectually than physically qualified by nature to govern such an empire as that of Rome.

After all the atrocities which had characterized most of his predecessors, he was regarded as a blessing specially sent by Providence to comfort and restore an afflicted world.  His great and beneficent actions, emanated from a noble mind and a amiable dispositionsimple and modest in his manners, benevolent, sincere, indulgent, generous, patient, yet just, firm, and decisive, he comported himself towards the senate with that respect, and towards the people with that benign affability, which made all feel that under him the ancient freedom was restored, and that the surname of Optimus, bestowed on him by universal concurrence, was a title well deserved.

A hero in valor, Trajan re-established the discipline of the armies, by being himself an example equally of the civil and the military virtues.  As in private life moderate and unostentatious, so whenever state policy or the majesty of the Roman name, whether in peace or in war, required it, he was most liberal in expenditure, and conspicuous for the highest display of imperial magnificence.  His coins hear inscriptive testimony to the realization of many of his great projects for the benefit of his subjects and advantage of his vast territories, in the founding of cities, the formation of roads, the construction of ports and bridges, and the building of edifices at once superb and useful.  Great and good in general character and conduct, he was not without vices.  A proneness to excess in wine is mentioned as one, and that not the worst of two degrading propensities laid to his charge.  But the fault which comes most prominently into view, as affecting his character for princely wisdom and prudence, was his extreme fondness for military glorya passion which led him into continual warfare, thus endangering the safety of his empire by too great an extension of its boundaries, and consequently absenting himself too often and too long from the proper seat of administrative powerthe metropolitan center of his dominions.  Nevertheless so dearly, and indeed so justly upon the whole, was the memory of this illustrious emperor prized by the Romans, that for ages afterwards in congratulating each succeeding prince on his accession to the throne of the Caesars, the senate expressed its wish that he might be "happier than Augustus, and better than Trajan:"felicior AugustoTrajano melior.

We have the evidence of coins, as well as of numerous inscriptions, together with not a few passages from historians to show that Trajan was placed after his death, according to the superstitious system of the Greek apotheosis, in the number of the celestial divinities.  Spartianus affirms that even a temple was dedicated to the worship of DIVVS TRAIANVS.


Optimus.Pliny, in whose Panegyrie the titles conferred by the senate on Trajan are enumerated, attests the fact that that of Optimus was given to him soon after his arrival at Rome from Germanynamely, about the year V.C. 853 (A.D. 100); but neither on coins, marbles, nor public monuments, does this title appear to have been used in conjunction with his own name, before the year 858, A.D. 105, and then, as regards his medals, it never appears on the obverse, but always on the reverse, and almost always this, S.P.Q.R. OPTIMO PRINCIPI.It is also to be observed, that at the same period in which this form begins to obtain, the custom also began of inscribing the names and titles of Trajan always in the dative; in other words, in the dedicatory style.  Hence, it is sufficiently evident, that about the same time, by a new senatus consultum, it was decreed that the title Optimus Princeps should be inscribed on public monuments.  At length, however, in the year V.C. 867, A.D. 114, it became the practice to omit Optimus Princeps on the reverse of his coins, and to transfer the word Optimus by itself to the obverse, in such way, as that it always is found to occupy the intermediate space between TRAIANO and AVG.From this date, therefore, it appears that the title in question began to be applied to Trajan as a real cognomen, and its use as such extended to the coins of his successor Hadrian, to whom, because it was become a true surname, it passed by adoption.See Eckhel's observations on the titles of Trajan, vol. vi., p. 458.

   Germanicus.The title of Germanicus was not assigned to Trajan on account of any victory gained by him in Germany, but devolved to him as the adopted son of Nervathe law of adoption causing the son to succeed to all the titles of the father.  An instance of the operation of this same legal right was exhibited in the case of Hadrian, who when first recognized by the Roman Senate and people as Trajan's adopted son, was called Optimus, Dacicus, Parthicus the cognomina of his predecessor.  Pliny, therefore, asserts what is quite in accordance with truth, when he says of Trajancum Germaniae praesideret, GERMANICI nomen hinc (Roma) missum.  Indeed the title was communicated to him by adoption.  In like manner, and on the same principle, the titles Filius, Caesar, and Imperator were also sent to him from Rome.  Accordingly, the first coins of Trajan exhibit the title of Germanicus, as belonging to him by adoption, nor are they omitted even in the latest product of his mint.

   Dacicus.This title was conferred on Trajan, for his glorious victories over the Dacians, and began to be used on coins and other public monuments in the year V.C. 356-57, A.D. 104.

    Parthicus.It has been observed, in the biographical notice of this emperor, that the epithet Parthicus (the Parthian) began to be included amongst the titles of Trajan, V.C. 869 (A.D. 116), in which year the tribunitian power is numbered XIX. and XX.  In a copious note fo explanation on this point, the learned Eckhel shews on the authority of Dion that, V.C. 868 (A.D. 115), after or on the taking of Nisibis (now Nisbin), an important town in Mesopotamia (and for nearly two centuries and a half afterwards a frontier of the empire), Trajan was called Parthicus by his soldiers.  But, not choosing the rest his pretensions to that honour on their acclaims alone, he waited for the confirmatory act of the senate before he assumed it.

That confirmation appears to have been awarded on the occasion of his taking Ctesiphon, which happened about the year V.C. 369 (A.D. 116), from which time the title began to be ascribed to him on public monuments.  There is extant an extremely rare consecration medal of Trajan, struck in gold, which proves that, on account of his great successes against the Parthians, not only was the name of Parthicus decreed to him, but permanent games (ludi) or spectacles of triumph (spectacula triumphalia) called "Parthian" were instituted to the honor of his name and memory by the senate and people of Rome.See TRIVMPHVS PARTHICVS.

    The coins of Trajan are very numerous.On these, amongst other inscriptions, he is styledIMP. CAES. NERVA TRAIAN. AVG.IMP. CAES. TRAIAN. AVG. GERM. DACICVS. P.P.IMP. CAES. NER. TRAIANVS. OPTIMVS. AVG. GER. DAC. PARTHICVS. P. P.After his death and consecration, DIVVS TRAIANVS PARTHICVS.DIVVS TRAIANVS PARTH. AVG. PATER.

    Of Roman die.Gold C.  Some reverses RR.: that with the head of Trajan's father RRR.Silver C. There are a few rare reverses in this metal.Silver medallions RR.First, second, and third brass C. Some reverses RR. and RRR.Brass medallions RRR.

    Of Foreign fabric.Silver medallions RR.Brass Latin Colonial RR. RRR.

    Several pieces represent Trajan with Nerva, with his father, with his Empress Plotina, and with Hadrian.  These are of great rarity.  Trajan restored many coins of Roman families, and several of his imperial predecessors.  For a list of these see Akerman's Descriptive Catalogue.  Amongst the coinage of this emperor have been found some very remarkable pieces, to which Eckhel and other erudite medalists give the appellation of numi metallorum, as having been struck in the metal of different provinces of the empire, such as Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum, &c.See METAL. DELM. etc.

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Trajan - Optimo Principi

By Jim Phelps

Trajan was a popular general before being adopted as the emperor Nerva's heir. He also has the distinction of being the first emperor born outside of Italy. He was born in Spain, of a notable Roman family who had relocated from northern Italy. During his career he brought the Roman Empire to it's largest size, and also remained on good terms with the senate, reversing some of the damage certain previous emperors had done to this relationship. He served as a tribune under his father (see below) before rising to command the 7th legion, based in northern Spain. He was appointed as the governor of Upper Germany under Nerva. After Nerva's death he traveled to a couple of potential trouble spots around the empire to prevent any rebellions, and finally arrived in Rome in the last half of 99. Notable accomplishments include conquering all of Mesopotamia, though this was brief. He also made an extensive building program with public works, religious buildings, roads, and bridges. The most famous remainder from this program is Trajan's Column.

  Silver Denarius minted 103-111
Obv:IMP TRAIANO AVG GER DAC PM TRP - Bust right wearing a laurel wreath.
Rev:COS V PP SPQR OPTIMO PRINC - Pax standing half-left, holding a cornucopia and a torch with which she sets fire to a pile of arms.
A recent addition (12/03) and one of my current favorites for the imagery. Pax, the personification of peace, setting fire to a pile of arms. The COS V identifies this coin as having been minted between 103 and 111.
Van Meter 11, SRCV -, RIC II 102

  Bronze quadrans
Obv:IMP CAES NERVA TRAIAN AVG GERM - Head right wearing a laurel wreath.
Rev:DARDANICI - Female standing left holding a branch.
A rare coin, representing one of the mines in Illyria. It is unknown why these coins were struck, though many feel that they were made for use at the mines themselves, as payment for the workers. Dardania was in the province of Moesia Superior.
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