AD 98 - 117 (born AD 53 - died 117)
Born on September 18 in the year AD 52 or 53, in Italica (near modern Seville, Spain) Marcus Ulpius Trajanus was to become the first 'provincial' emperor. This, however, can be a bit misleading. The Ulpians were descended originally from Umbria in northern Italy and transplanted to Hispania in the 3rd century BC, for reasons largely unknown. If Trajan was a direct descendent of these original Ulpii, then despite some certain mixing with local Iberians over the centuries he was for the most part simply a displaced Italian. However, there have been arguments, largely only theory, that the Trajanus line was actually adopted into the Ulpian, thereby making him truly a provincial. Regardless, in the eyes of Rome, Trajan was considered somewhat of an outsider, but his illustrious military career and skillful governing abilities would leave little doubt as to his authority.
Trajan's father, of the same name as his son, was the first in the family line to obtain a Senate seat and rose as high as the consulship in the chaotic period following Nero's death (around AD 70). Having served under Vespasian in Judaea, the Trajanus family rose rapidly along with Vespasian's ultimate accession to the throne. The elder Trajan eventually served governorships in the provinces of Baetica (southern Hispania), Syria and the prestigious post of Asia Minor. Despite the son's future adoption as Nerva's heir, Trajan did not ignore his familial roots. Trajan's father likely lived long enough to see his son's accession and coinage reflects the deification of the natural father in AD 113.
Trajan followed the path set by his father, attaining rank in the customary 'cursus honorum' fashion, but did so with a definite emphasis on the military. By his middle to late 20's (mid 70's AD) he served as a Legionary Legate under his father in Syria and was elected (appointed) to a Quaestorship shortly thereafter. About this time he was married to Pompeia Plotina (one of the highly influential, if little known women in Roman history) and he continued to enjoy the favor of the Flavian emperors attaining the Praetorship around AD 85. Under Domitian he was appointed as Legate of Legio VII Gemina in Hispania Tarraconensis, which he rallied to the support of the beleaguered emperor during the revolt of Saturninus in AD 89. Though Trajan's march was ultimately unnecessary (the revolt was put down long before his arrival), the action cemented his alliance with Domitian. While it provided increased potential for upward mobility, Trajan's loyalty to the despised Domitian may have been at least a mild source of embarrassment after the emperor's assassination. Regardless, after serving Domitian in his wars along the Danube his advancement continued, reaching the Consulship in AD 91, followed by appointments as governor of Moesia inferior and Germania Superior.
With the death of Domitian and accession of Nerva in AD 96, Trajan's ultimate fate began to unfold. Though Nerva was popular with Roman aristocracy, he was not a favored choice of the Legions or the Praetorians. Trajan, a life long soldier of considerable reputation became the catalyst that would secure Nerva's reign and provide for a smooth transition of power between the Flavians and the so-called '5 Good Emperors'. He maintained an air of familiarity with his men and came to be endeared by them. However, his authority was unquestionable and his familiarity with provincial administration thanks to his father's and his own long terms of service abroad, provided a firm foundation for imperial governing.
Under political fire from the Praetorian Guard, Nerva nominated Trajan as his heir in the autumn of AD 97 and mutinous machinations were immediately quelled. News of the decision arrived in Germania along with the future emperor Hadrian, whom Trajan was a guardian of, and with it came full imperial and tribunician power essentially making Trajan co-emperor. Rather than make his way immediately to Rome to assume control, however, the new emperor moved north to Germania Inferior where he assured the loyalty of legions guarding the Rhine. Here he stayed for several months, where he dealt with the mutinous Praetorians that he had summoned to him, and settled various provincial and military affairs. In January of AD 98, word arrived that Nerva had died and Trajan was confirmed as the next Roman Emperor but again Trajan remained away from the capitol city. Instead, Trajan remained in Germania and along the Danubian border provinces to undoubtedly make arrangements for his future invasions. Fortifications (limes) were inspected and expanded, loyalty of legions secured, military roads constructed and by AD 99 the time had come to make his grand entrance at Rome.
Trajan eventually arrived in Rome in AD 99 under circumstances that rivaled a triumphal procession. He entered the city on foot and was greeted by massive crowds. The Senate too was pleased with this new choice in spite of his 'provincial' origin and the manner of his selection as heir without their pre-approval. He re-affirmed the vow by Nerva that no Senator would be harmed and applied the Augustan principals of the principate. Trajan was considerate and mindful to Republican tradition making sure that the position of emperor appeared again like that of a first citizen among peers rather than a despot that ruled at his own whims. He ruled with an outward lack of political ambition and it endeared him to both the masses and the aristocracy. Coupled with his abilities as a general and conqueror, he would come to be loved as a model of Roman virtue and dignity.
Did you know...?
In the late fourth century, when the Roman Empire had dramatically changed in character from what it had been in Trajan's time, each new emperor was hailed with the prayer, felicior Augusto, melior Traiano, "may he be luckier than Augustus and better than Trajan."