The second century in Ancient Rome saw a period of prosperity. After the disasters of the early Roman Emperors Tiberius, Caligula and Nero, Rome had some sorting out to do. Eventually, a new line of Emperors came to rule. They would be called much later in a term coined my Machivelli, “The Good Emperors”. One of the greatest of all Emperors was Trajan, who ruled from 98 to his death from a stroke in 117. Trajan was a wise ruler and military commander who extended the boundaries of Rome to their furthest regions (into modern-day Iraq and eastern Turkey).

Trajan’s enduring legacy is his construction of much of ancient Rome. He was an ambitious builder who altered much of the city for the better. He worked with his chief architect Apollodorus to design Trajan’s Forum, a huge temple complex made of gleaming marble in the center of Rome. It housed libraries, fountains, an enormous piazza with a marble floor and a 125 ft. tall column commemorating Trajan’s military victories. Many of the Emperors created Forums as part of the greater Roman forum, and Trajan’s was probably the most impressive. Today, the main road crossing the ancient Roman ruins covers half of what was Trajan’s forum, built by Mussolini in the years before WWII. The rest of the forum is in ruin, with the floor long since removed and relocated and only partial columns and sections of foundation remaining.

Directly behind Trajan’s Forum was Trajan’s Market, still in pretty good shape. Built into the hillside, this enormous complex was the world’s first shopping mall. It contains many shops that sold pretty much anything that you wanted to find in ancient Rome. Here’s a picture of the rounded market portico and what’s left of the forum in the foreground:

Trajan’s other big project was a partial renovation of the Circus Maximus, the enormous chariot racing track just south of the Palatine Hill. THe Romans loved chariot racing, and a racetrack had been on the site for hundreds of years. The Circus Maximus for a longtime was made of wood and was the starting point of the great Roman fire under Nero that destroyed most of the city. Later emperors has it rebuilt, and Trajan added lots of extra seats and gave it a facelift in marble. At 3 stories high, it held hundred of thousands of people who came to watch gladiators do battle and chariot races, which often ended in death for the racers. To the Romans, humans battling to the death was a sport. Today, the Circus Maximus is no more, but it’s imprint is still clearly visible. The site is a large park, and the center of the track is still clearly visible and a huge tree stands where an Egyptian obelisk did. The banks of seats were long ago stripped of marble, but the embankment is still there on wither size. It’s an absolutely enormous site. It must have been awe-inspiring with all of Rome in attendance. Here’s a view of what it looked like then and looks like now-

Here’s a great youtube video from a Discovery Chanel show that covers the Circus Maximus and Trajan’s building projects:

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