Trajan, Roman emperor (AD 98-117): the statesman

Trajan's military victory in Dacia (modern Romania) provided booty that paid for a massive building programme in the centre of Rome. Despite the ostentatious nature of Trajan's public building, he was renowned for his personal modesty and frugality. He and his wife Plotina had few servants and Trajan preferred hunting and solitary pursuits to the excesses and expenses of some of his predecessors. He was famed above all for his fairness and good government. Indeed, on the accession of all subsequent emperors the senate prayed (usually in vain) that the new emperor would be 'more fortunate than Augustus and a better ruler than Trajan'.

A famous example of Trajan's statesmanship is his correspondence with the Younger Pliny, a governor in the eastern empire. These letters outline a broadly tolerant policy towards the Christians. It was perhaps this compassion that earned Trajan the accolade of being the only Roman emperor to be included in paradise by Dante Aligheri. Trajan also carefully maintained and expanded the annona (the system by which corn was brought from Africa and Egypt to Rome) and the alimenta (the food dole for the urban poor of Italy). He died suddenly in the imperial palace after a stroke.

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