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Trajan's Column

This elegant marble column was inaugurated by Trajan in AD 113, and celebrates his two campaigns in Dacia (Romania) in AD 101-3 and AD 107-8. The column, base and pedestal are 40 m (131 ft.) tall - precisely the same height as the spur of the Quirinal hill which was excavated to make room for Trajan's Forum.

Spiralling up the column are minutely detailed scenes from the campaigns, beginning whit the Romans preparing for war and ending with the Dacians being ousted from their homeland. The column is pierced with small windows to illuminate its internal spiral staircase (closed to the public). If you wish to see the reliefs in detail there is a complete set of casts in the Museo della Civiltà Romana at EUR. When Trajan died in AD 117 his ashes, along with those of his wife Plotina, were placed in a golden urn in the column's hollow base.

The column's survival was largely thanks to the intervention of Pope Gregory the Great (reigned 590-604). He was so moved by a relief showing Trajan helping a woman whose son had been killed that he begged God to release the emperor's soul from hell. God duly appeared to the pope to say that Trajan had been rescued, but asked him not to pray for the souls of any more pagans. According to legend, when Trajan's ashes were exhumed his skull and tongue were not only intact, but his tongue told of his release from hell.

The land around the column was then declared sacred and the column itself was spared. The statue of Trajan remained on top of the column until 1587, when it was replaced with one of St Peter.