What does it mean to build an empire? And how can we understand the relationship between the ancient Roman Empire and present-day Europe?
Political, economic, welfare, and military conquests obtained without blows; inclusion of different populations under a single governing state that executed laws still in act today by modern jurisdiction; esteemed administration, influenced by exceptional women such as domineering first ladies; campaigns of communication and capacity of persuasion to obtain the popular consensus through works of public services, “magnificentia publica”, and more discreetly: private luxuries.
This is not the plot of a fictional story, nor a political agenda, but the traces of Trajan. Constructing the Empire, Creating Europe, an exhibition designed to celebrate the 1900th anniversary of the death of an emperor who brought the ancient Roman Empire to its greatest expansion. The show, taking place in Trajan’s Markets of the Imperial Forum from November 29, 2017 to November 18, 2018, is being promoted by the Capital of Rome, the Department of Cultural Growth- Capitoline Superintendence to Roman Cultural Heritage with collaboration from the University of Ferrara. Scientific coordination by Claudio Parisi Presicce, Capitoline Superintendent of Roman Cultural Heritage, Lucrezia Ungaro, archaeological curator and director of the Museum of the Imperial Forum, and Livio Zerbini, director of LAD – Laboratorio di studi e ricerche sulle Antiche province Danubiane di UniFE (Research Laboratory for the province of Ancient Danube, UniFE). Zètema Cultural Project Organization.
The archaeological finds come from the museums of the Capitoline Superintendence (Capitoline Museums; Centrale Montemartini; Museum of Roman Civilization; Museum of Rome at Palazzo Braschi; Celio Antiquarium; Theatre of Marcellus), museums and archaeological spaces in Italy (National Roman Museum near the Baths of Diocletian and Palazzo Massimo; Ostiense Museum and Ostia Antica; Antiquarium of the Villa of the Volusii at Lucus Feroniae; Antiquarium of Villa Adriana in Tivoli; Communal Antiquarium “Villa of Trajan” of Arcinazzo Romano; Ducale Castle of Sessa Aurunca; Correial Museum of Terranova in Sorrento), and a selection of important foreign museums (Vatican Museums, Vatican City; Pergamon Museum, Berlin; Museum het Valkhof, Nijmegen; National Museum of Romanian History, Bucharest; National Museum of Roman Art, Merida; Gliptotecta, Munich).
TRAJAN, Emperor and Constructor
The exhibition will be characterized by the story of the “exceptional” life of an “ordinary” man, significantly enclosing a sacred title for him, optimus princeps, or rather the best among the emperors. The one who brought joy to the Romans!, as the famous historian Pliny the Younger would remember his contemporary,Trajan has ordered us to be happy and we will be.
What different and innovative tactics did Trajan use to deserve such unconditional consensus from the military, senate, and above all diverse populations of the Empire?
The first foreign emperor who was born in Spain, not belonging to any imperial dynasty but to an important family known as Ulpia, Marcus Ulpius Traianus follows the footsteps of his birth father and quickly succeeds through the stages of a military career, demonstrating his talents in strategy and combat on the battleground by his soldiers’ side, in which he earns absolute loyalty and support. Not solely for this reason does the current emperor Nerva “adopt” Trajan as a successor, but also because he notices Trajan’s ability to tackle the thorny issues of social and economic reformations of which the emperor had an urgency for. While Trajan is in Germany, far away from the capital he had never set foot in, Nerva names him as the next emperor of Rome.
The “story” of the exhibition develops through statues, portraits, architectural decorations, casts of the Trajan Column, silver and gold coins, scaled models and three-dimensional demonstrations, and films: a challenge to dive into the grand story of the emperor and the stories of many who made it possible.
The exhibition’s path unfolds in 7 sections beginning with the death of Trajan, which occurred in Asia Minor and, the only instance in ancient Roman history, was celebrated with triumph in the capital along with his notable accomplishments. We continue with the contrast between the bloodthirsty campaigns in Dacia (part of present-day Romania) and the remarkable works executed to obtain peace in the empire, from the roles of the women of the Imperial family (the true “right-hand” of the emperor for social politics) to the private spaces in Villa of Arcinazzo, up to the “fortune”, up until the “fortune” of Trajan’s persona after antiquity due to his reputation as a man of justice, the more “Christian” emperor among the Pagans, characterized as graceful and charitable.
From the global vision, there is a focus on territory. Beginning with the port infrastructure of Lazio with Civitavecchia and the hub of Portus- connected to the capital through the Tiber, a highway on a river- up to the docks in the city where Testaccio rises today, to continue with Trajan’s Rome, revolutionized by the great Baths on Colle Oppio.
The foresight narrows more and more to exalt the engineering competence and technological knowledge of the Romans, known to be phenomenal constructors, with the Markets of Trajan and the Trajan Forum, as well as the sculptures and reliefs that transmit images of the emperor as he would have liked to have been remembered.
A captivating exhibition comes to life through new technology and storytelling, which are also the protagonists of the layout and content. The visitors will find themselves immersed in Trajan’s world. The emperor, (or better said, his ghost) impersonated by an actor, will introduce the life of the optimus princeps. Scents, petals, and noise of crowds give visitors a sensation that the people of Rome have experienced a triumph; steles of soldiers come to life through animation to show the afflictions of living and the death of legionaries engaged in the wars of Trajan’s conquest; they will hear the descriptions of Rome’s nemeses, the barbarians- first known as antagonists and later on as protagonists in the empire’s impending destiny; and the voices of the women from the royal family, engaging in social and entrepreneurial aspects of life. The Trajan monuments and “fire of the flames” from which Trajan’s soul was saved by Gregory the Great’s intercession, will come back to life with the help of enhanced reality and immersive videos.
The exhibition will also use multimedia and interactive installations that were created with collaboration from Duke University, Department of Classical Studies, Dig@Lab, with the scientific coordination of Maurizio Forte.