Trajan the Roman Emperor

Close up of a coin minted with Trajan's head

De Agostini / G. Dagli Orti / De Agostini Picture Library/ Getty Images

Born Marcus Ulpius Traianus, Trajan was a soldier who spent most of his life involved in campaigns. When delivered the news that he was adopted by Roman Emperor Nerva, and even after Nerva died, Trajan remained in Germany until he had completed his campaign. His major campaigns as emperor were against the Dacians, in 106, which vastly increased the Roman imperial coffers, and against the Parthians, beginning in 113, which was not a clear and decisive victory. His imperial name was Imperator Caesar Divi Nervae filius Nerva Traianus Optimus Augustus Germanicus Dacicus Parthicus. He reigned as Roman emperor from A.D. 98-117.

Although we don't know the details, Trajan set up cash subsidies to help raise poor children. He is well known for his building projects.

Trajan also built an artificial harbor at Ostia.

Birth and Death

Future Roman emperor, Marcus Ulpius Traianus or Trajan was born at Italica, in Spain, on September 18, A.D. 53. After having appointed Hadrian his successor, Trajan died while returning to Italy from the east. Trajan died on 9 August A.D. 117, after suffering a stroke, in the Cilician town of Selinus.

Family of Origin

His family came from Italica, in Spanish Baetica. His father was Ulpius Trajanaus and his mother was named Marcia. Trajan had a 5 year older sister named Ulpia Marciana. Trajan was adopted by the Roman Emperor Nerva and made his heir, which entitled him to call himself the son of Nerva: CAESARI DIVI NERVAE F, literally, 'the son of the divine Caesar Nerva.'

Titles and Honors

Trajan was officially designated optimus 'best' or optimus princeps 'best chief' in 114. He provided 123 days of public celebration for his Dacian triumph and had his Dacian and Germanic successes recorded in his official title. He was posthumously made divine (divus) as had his predecessor (Caesar Divus Nerva). Tacitus refers to the beginning of Trajan's reign as a 'most blessed age' (beatissimum saeculum). He was also made Pontifex Maximus.


Literary sources on Trajan include Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Cassius Dio, Dio of Prusa, Aurelius Victor and Eutropius. Despite their number, there is little reliable written information about Trajan's reign. Since Trajan sponsored building projects, there is archaeological and epigraphical (from inscriptions) testimony.

Trajan Optimus Princeps - A Life and Times, by Julian Bennett. Indiana University Press, 1997. ISBN 0253332168. 318 Pages.

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Gill, N.S. "Trajan the Roman Emperor." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Gill, N.S. (2021, February 16). Trajan the Roman Emperor. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Trajan the Roman Emperor." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).