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Building Trajan's Column

Lynne Lancaster
American Journal of Archaeology
Vol. 103, No. 3 (Jul., 1999), pp. 419-439
DOI: 10.2307/506969
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/506969
Page Count: 21
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Abstract

Trajan's Column is best known for its sculptured spiral frieze celebrating Trajan's victories in the Dacian Wars, but it is also a complex architectural monument representing an impressive feat of engineering. The Column is made up of 29 blocks of Luna marble weighing from 25 to 77 tons, the highest of which had to be raised to 38.4 m above ground. In this paper I discuss the evidence both for the construction of the Column and for the organization of the building site. Excavations earlier in this century revealed an unusual use of brick ribbing in the vaulted substructures of the north portico, which I propose was intended as reinforcement for the vaults over which the individual blocks of the Column were maneuvered before being lifted into place. This implies that the work site for the blocks lay to the north of the Column courtyard (where the later Temple of Divine Trajan is traditionally located), which is the area most easily accessible from any unloading point along the Tiber. Finally, I propose a hypothetical reconstruction of a lifting device for the blocks making up the Column based on comparative evidence from other sites, on ancient literary descriptions of building methods, and on calculations of the bearing capacities of timbers, ropes, and capstans.

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