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Biography of Emperor Trajan

Trajan's Forum
Author: Joseph Kurschner (editor)

Biographies >> Ancient Rome


Trajan is considered one of the greatest emperors in the history of Rome. He ruled for nineteen years from 98 AD to 117 AD. He conquered many lands and grew the Roman Empire to its largest expanse in history. His rule was a time of great prosperity for Rome.

Where did Trajan grow up?

Trajan was born in the Roman province of Hispania (the modern-day country of Spain). His father was a leading Roman politician and general. His mother came from a prominent Roman family. Although we don't know a lot about Trajan's childhood, he likely moved around the Roman Empire while growing up. He spent time in Spain as well as the city of Rome.

Early Career

Trajan followed his father and joined the Roman army. He was a gifted leader and soon rose up the ranks. He served with distinction in various parts of the Roman Empire including Syria. Trajan entered politics and was elected praetor and then consul. He also became a general over a full Roman legion.

Becoming Emperor

While Trajan was serving as governor of Upper Germany, he received a letter from Emperor Nerva. He was being adopted as Nerva's heir and would be next in line for the throne. It was common in Rome for an emperor who didn't have any sons to adopt an adult son as heir. Nerva picked Trajan because he was popular with the army.

In 98 AD, Nerva died and Trajan became emperor. Trajan didn't immediately return to Rome, but visited the Roman legions to make sure he had the support of the army. He finally returned to Rome a year later and was received by the people and the senate as the new emperor.

Expanding the Empire

Because he had spent much of his life in the army, Trajan was often called a "soldier-emperor". He enjoyed battle and wanted to expand the Roman Empire. His first conquest was the kingdom of Dacia (modern-day Romania). Dacia became an important Roman province bringing wealth to Rome through its gold mines. His second major conquest was the kingdom of Parthia in Asia. He added two new Roman provinces in Asia including Armenia and Mesopotamia.


Trajan also had many public works built throughout the Roman Empire. These works included bridges, aqueducts, baths, roads, public buildings, and canals. He also had a new forum built called Trajan's Forum in Rome.


Trajan fell ill while campaigning in the Middle East. He died in Cilicia on his return to Rome. He was succeeded by his adopted son Hadrian.


Trajan was considered one of the best emperors by the Roman Senate. After his death they would honor new emperors with the saying "be luckier than Augustus and better than Trajan."

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