Trajan – Rome’s Last Conqueror, Nicholas Jackson

Trajan – Rome’s Last Conqueror, Nicholas Jackson


The Emperor Trajan was the last great conquerer of the united Roman Emperor, successfully conquering Dacia in two wars and inflicting a serious defeat on the Parthians in a war that was ended by his own death. He was also the first Roman emperor born outside Italy, although to a respectably Senatorial family with an Italian background that also had large estates in Spain.

Some parts of Trajan’s earlier life are poorly documented, so the author has decided to try and fill the gaps. In most cases this is fine – looking at the nature of a Roman education or the early steps in a military career doesn’t cause any problems as they are fairly well documented for other people and probably didn’t vary that much (although Trajan’s early life was probably split between Rome and the family estates in Spain).

However later on one problem does develop, when the author suggests posts that Trajan may have held, but that we have no evidence for, then goes on to use that post to explain why he was given a different post later on. After his first term as consul Trajan was probably given a provincial governorship, but we don’t actually know where. The author suggests Germania Superior, which is certainly a possibility and would fill a gap, but we don’t have any real evidence to support that idea. However later on this possible but undocumented post is used to explain why Trajan was chosen for later service on this frontier, which for me is a leap too far. One interesting feature of Trajan’s career is that he rose to prominence under Domitian, normally considered to have been one of the worse emperors, but given a rather more positive write-up here.

As is almost always the case, Trajan’s career becomes much better documented as he rose to power. We are able to follow his conquest of Dacia in some detail, so the author is able to recreate his senior command teams and a reasonable order of battle, as well as provide a detailed account of the two wars. Inevitably there has to be some guesswork here, as we don’t have Dacian sources to give the other side of the picture, but the suggestions all seem credible.

One interesting theme is the relationship between Trajan and his successor Hadrian. Tradiationally they were seen as two of the ‘Five Good Emperors’, a series of emperors who passed the throne on through adoption rather than to a direct heir. However there is plenty of evidence here to suggest that Trajan hadn’t seen Hadrian as his heir, and he certainly didn’t adopt him until he was on his deathbed, if at all!

Although I’ve plenty of work on the Dacian wars, and on the details shown on Trajan’s Column, this is the first full length biography of the Emperor himself that I’ve read, and it provides an excellent account of how a capable man could rise even in troubled times, and demonstrates that the Roman Empire of Trajan’s time was still a very major military power.

1 – Impressionable Years
2 – Young Adulthood in a new era
3 – The Making of a Military Officer
4 – The Making of a General
5 – Adoption and Accession
6 – The Dawning Trajanic Age
7 – Trajan’s First Dacian War
8 – Trajan’s Second Dacian War
9 – Biding Time between Great Wars
10 – The Parthian War
11 – Conspiracy, Death and Deificiation

Author: Nicholas Jackson
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Publisher: Greenhill
Year: 2022

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