98 - 117 CE
|The popular warrior-emperor Trajan set the high-water-mark for the empire, expanding it to a size beyond what it had ever been before, or would ever be again.|
|About this coin: Found in a "bargain bin", with damage to the rim and a solid layer of what appeared to be glue on the reverse, it nonetheless exhibits a strong portrait, in the distinctive Trajan style.|
Trajan ushered in the era of the "Adoptive Emperors" with style. Apparently loved by the Senate as well as the military and the general populace, he manages to get nothing but good press in the surviving histories of the era. Known for his piety, his soft-spoken wisdom, his manly virtues (hunting, mountain climbing, and such), his charity toward the poor, and his firm but fair leadership, he is painted as a man without flaws -- or at least one whose few vices (a passion for drink, young boys, and warfare) were so minor by comparison that they were easily shrugged off.
His military achievements started by dealing decisively with Decebalus, the Dacian king who had given Domitian such fits. He first proved his military superiority by marching up and camping just outside the Dacian capitol. At that point, Decebalus sued for peace and conceded large chunks of territory. But shortly thereafter the Dacians were on the offensive again, so this time, Trajan took and sacked the Dacian capitol and annexed all of Dacia as a Roman province. Decebalus committed suicide, and Trajan brought his head back to Rome as a souvenir.
Then, Trajan took a few years off from warfare to spend at home. He spent vast sums of money on infrastructure improvement (roads, bridges, aqueducts, public baths, entertainment facilities, a new port, and such), charity, and other popular works. Since his works were funded at the expense of the Dacians, not the Romans, they were very well received by the Roman citizens at all levels.
In 114, Trajan hit the war path again, this time heading eastward to counter instability caused by Parthian political machinations. Initially, he made spectacular progress reminiscent of his Dacian campaigns, but these did not stick. In fighting against the Parthians, he conquered all of Mesopotamia and went on to the Persian Gulf. But then, the momentum was lost. The Mesopotamians rose up in revolt, and an attempt to conquer the desert city of Hatra failed.
Then, Trajan had to hurry back to Rome to deal with trouble on the northern frontier, as well as uprisings in various locations in the middle east. But he never made it. He suffered a stroke and died on the way. Thus passed the man whom many declare to be the best emperor Rome ever had, holding him over even Augustus himself.