Famous Men of Rome - John Haaren



On the death of Titus his brother Domitian became emperor. He was a very bad man and took pleasure only in doing cruel and wicked things. It is said that one of his amusements was catching flies and sticking them with pins. Once when a visitor called and inquired whether there was any one with the emperor, the servant answered, "No, not even a fly."

It is not to be supposed that such an emperor could have been liked by the people. Even his soldiers hated him, and at last they formed a plot against his life and killed him in his own palace.

Nerva, who had been a favorite of Nero, was the next emperor, but he was an old man and died after a reign of two years. He was succeeded by his adopted son Trajan, who became emperor in 98 A.D. and reigned for nineteen years.



Trajan was a good man and a brave soldier. At the time he became emperor he was governor of one of the Roman territories or provinces in Germany along the banks of the Rhine, and he resided at Colonia, now called Cologne.

Not long after his return to Rome Trajan was engaged in a war with the King of Dacia. This was the name of the country lying north of the Danube River. The greater part of it is now [1904] called Hungary [Romania after WWI]. The Dacian king, whose name was Decebalus, had frequently made raids into neighboring countries which belonged to Rome, and robbed and killed many of the people. Trajan resolved to punish Decebalus, and so he set out with a large army and marched into Dacia. The war continued three years, for the Dacians were brave and skillful fighters; but at last Decebalus was defeated in a great battle and he had to come to Trajan and humbly beg for peace. He agreed to be a vassal of Rome; that is, to hold his kingdom subject to the control of the Roman emperors.

But in less than a year Decebalus again attacked his Roman neighbors, and Trajan had again to march against him with an army. The Dacians were once more defeated in a great battle, and Decebalus, after failing in an attempt to escape, put an end to his own life. Dacia was then made a Roman province.

During this year Trajan built a remarkable bridge across the Danube. Before that time bridges were built of wood, but in the bridge over the Danube Trajan used stone for the piers, which were of great size. The bridge had twenty-two arches, and its ruins, which are still to be seen, show what a wonderful work it was.

When Trajan returned to Rome after his victory over Decebalus he had a grand Triumph, and there were games and shows in his honor which lasted a hundred and twenty days. It is told that during these celebrations 10,000 gladiators fought in the amphitheatre and 11,000 wild animals were killed in the arena.

A marble column was erected in honor of Trajan's victories in Dacia. This monument is still standing in Rome. It is called Trajan's Column. Many scenes showing battles and other events in the Dacian war are engraved upon it from the base to the top.


Trajan also had wars in Asia, and he won many victories. He conquered Armenia and Mesopotamia and added them to the empire. But he did not live to return to Rome. He died in a town in Asia Minor, which in honor of him was afterwards called Trajanopolis.

Circus Maximus


The Romans were much grieved at the death of Trajan, for he had been a good emperor and had done much to benefit the people. He built fine roads and canals and bridges in Italy and the provinces. He greatly improved and beautified the Circus Maximus. This was the place in which the Romans had their horse races and chariot races. It was built in the hollow between the Palatine and Aventine hills, and it had seats for 250,000 people.

Chariot Race


Trajan also made a forum in Rome, which was called after his name the Trajan Forum. In the centre of this forum the Trajan Column was built, and around it were temples and libraries established by the good emperor. For a long time after Trajan's death the people of Rome, whenever they got a new emperor, used to wish that he would be "as great as Augustus and as good as Trajan."

Some great writers lived in Rome in the time of Trajan. One of them was Plutarch, who wrote the famous book called "Plutarch's Lives." This book, which you will perhaps some day read, contains an account of the lives of many great men of Greece and Rome. The historian Tacitus, the poet Juvenal, and Pliny the Younger, already mentioned, also lived in the time of Trajan.

Pliny the Younger was so-called to distinguish him from his uncle, Pliny the Elder, who lived in the time of Nero and was the author of a celebrated work on natural history.