Giorgio Spagnol
Date de publication: 


On August 8th, A.D. 117 Trajan died, the optimus princeps who brought the Roman Empire to its maximum extent.

Politics, economics, welfare, military conquests; inclusion of different populations under a single State that governs with laws that are still today the basis of modern jurisprudence; good administration, also influenced by capable women, authoritative "first ladies"; communication campaigns and persuasion to obtain popular consensus through public utility works.

Is there a relationship between Trajan's Rome and current Europe?


Trajan is a leading figure in the promotion of the shared values of fairness and justice that underlie the current principles of European integration. He was close to the women of his family that were heavily involved in solving social issues, emerging as a precursor of the values of gender equality. His legendary work as a legislator, administrator and conqueror to achieve justice and grandeur, brought Rome to its maximum development.

Trajan was the first emperor that was not from Rome (as he was born in Italica, Spain). He had the reputation of optimus princeps, bearer of a message of integration and unity, but also of a fair man. Unlike many rulers in history, Trajan's reputation has survived undiminished for nearly nineteen centuries. The Christianization of Rome resulted in further embellishment of his legend.

It was commonly said in medieval times that Pope Gregory I, through divine intercession, resurrected Trajan from the dead and baptized him into the Christian faith. Theologians such as Thomas Aquinas discussed Trajan as an example of a virtuous pagan. In The Divine Comedy, Dante sees the spirit of Trajan in the Heaven of Jupiter with other historical and mythological persons noted for their justice.

The Trajan Baths are the first example of the Roman imperial thermal complexes, incarnating concepts of well-being, aggregation and unification of the different cultures in Europe. The creation of pleasant places with a strong connection between the work of man and nature is still a primary objective of contemporary European societies.

The people could refresh their body and mind in a built space immersed in nature. Moreover, the area of the Trajan Baths in Rome is also within a context with historical-cultural value for the European Union (EU).

Trajan's Rome

Studying a stone sculpture, one can admire the upswept hair of Plotina, Trajan’s wife. Her hairdo, an arrangement of waves coming to a point on her head much like a tiara spurred women to adopt similar hairstyles.

Plotina and Trajan’s close female relatives, including his sister and niece, engaged in charitable work. Their activities included making loans to landowners so farmland could be developed and revenues used to help support children, prompting some to compare their civic engagement to that of First Ladies in the present age.

Trajan was generous to the populace of Rome, to whom he distributed considerable cash gifts, and increased the number of poor citizens who received free grain from the state. He also lessened taxes and was responsible for the institution of public funds alimenta for the support of poor children in the Italian cities.

For the administration of the provinces, Trajan secured competent and honest officials: one of them was Pliny the Younger dispatched to Asia Minor. In a letter sent to Pliny, a model of judiciousness, Trajan advised Pliny not to ferret out Christians nor to accept charges and to punish only those whose behaviour was ostentatiously recalcitrant: official action was based on the need to maintain good order, not on religious hostility.

Trajan undertook extensive public works in the provinces, Italy, and Rome: roads, bridges, aqueducts, the reclamation of wastelands, the construction of harbours and buildings.

Military campaigns of Trajan

Trajan’s military accomplishments were impressive. In A. D. 101 he invaded Dacia. In two campaigns, Trajan captured the Dacian capital of Sarmizegethusa (modern Varhély) and king Decebalus evaded capture by suicide. Trajan created a new province of Dacia north of the Danube. This provided land for Roman settlers, opened for exploitation rich mines of gold and salt.

Trajan’s second major war was against the Parthians, Rome's traditional enemy in the east. In A. D. 115 Trajan annexed upper Mesopotamia and moved down the Tigris River to capture the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon. He reached the Persian Gulf where he is said to have wept because he was too old to repeat Alexander the Great's achievements in India.

The myth of Rome

In 1934, Italy’s fascist regime decided its destiny as the righteous inheritors of a white Roman empire by obtaining control over the entirety of East Africa through Italy’s campaigns in Ethiopia.

But all the major European powers have drawn comparisons of a similar sort that leaned on ancient Rome. Britain, for example, had long appealed to this kind of symbolism to justify its own imperial expansion. In the 19th century, intellectuals across the political spectrum, including Benjamin Disraeli, Arthur Balfour and Rudyard Kipling, all cited Rome as a moral justification for British incursions in India, on the basis that they, the white Europeans, were bringing civilisation to the brown and black natives.

The myth of a white Rome was so embedded in the Western imagination that the founding fathers of the United States held the ancient republic in high esteem. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were great admirers of Cicero, whom they saw as a defender of justice, while Alexander Hamilton and Patrick Henry identified Cato the Younger as the incarnation of liberty.

Thus, Italian fascism, British colonialism and the US imperialism, all have contributed to a fantasy idea about Rome’s whiteness that’s still a feature of Western civilisation.

However, two lesser-known arguments are particularly relevant for postcolonial times: firstly, that the Romans didn’t have a sense of race in the modern sense of that word. Secondly, and just as importantly, that their empire, unlike modern equivalents, was one in which people we’d now consider non-white played a leading role.

Roman Empire's legacy

Under the Roman Empire, hundreds of territories were knitted into a single state. The Romans were proud of their ability to rule, but they acknowledged Greek leadership in the fields of art, architecture, literature, and philosophy. By the second century B.C., Romans had conquered Greece but Horace, a Roman poet, said "Greece, once overcome, overcame her wild conqueror." The mixing of elements of Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman culture produced a new culture, called Greco-Roman culture.

The presence of Rome is still felt daily in the languages, the institutions, and the thought of the Western world. Latin, the language of Rome remained the language of learning in the West long after the fall of Rome. It was the official language of the Roman Catholic Church into the 20th century. Latin was adopted by different peoples and developed into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Romanian. 

As for architecture, engineering, and technology visitors from all over the empire marvelled at the architecture of Rome. The arch, the dome, and concrete were combined to build spectacular structures, such as the Colosseum.

Thomas Jefferson began a Roman revival in the United States in the 18th century. Many large public buildings, such as the U.S. Capitol and numerous state capitols, include Roman features. Roman roads were also technological marvels. The army built a vast network of roads constructed of stone, concrete, and sand that connected Rome to all parts of the empire. Many lasted into the Middle Ages; some are still used.

But Rome's most lasting and widespread contribution was its law. Early Roman law dealt mostly with the rights of Roman citizens. As the empire grew, however, the Romans came to believe that laws should be fair and apply equally to all people, rich and poor. Slowly, judges began to recognize certain standards of justice.

Continuation of the Roman Empire

The continuation, succession and revival of the Roman Empire is a running theme of the History of Europe. Several polities have claimed continuity with the Roman Empire, using its name. The most enduring and significant claimants of continuation of the Roman Empire have been, in the East, the Byzantine Empire followed after 1453 by the Ottoman Empire; and in the West, the Holy Roman Empire from 800 to 1806.

In the context of Orthodox Russia since the 16th century Moscow has been dubbed "Third Rome" (the "First Rome" and "Second Rome" being, respectively, Rome and Constantinople in the Byzantine Empire).

Memories of the Roman Empire have accompanied the EU since its inception with the 1950 Schuman Plan. A few years later, the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community was signed in March 1957 in Rome.

The EU seats are all in places associated with the memory of the Holy Roman Empire. Brussels was viewed by Charles V as "the centre of his Empire". Strasbourg was one of the main Imperial Free Cities, and so was Frankfurt. The most prominent prize awarded for work done in the service of European unification is called the Charlemagne Prize. The comparison of the European Union with the Holy Roman Empire is a common topic of political commentary.

Europe after 2,400 Years

The history of Europe is breathtakingly complex: jurisdiction over portions of the continent’s landmass has changed hands innumerable times. Empires rise and fall, invasions sweep across the continent, and modern countries slowly begin to take shape.

At its height, under Trajan, the Roman Empire was a colossal 1.7 million square miles encompassing the entire Mediterranean region, but also parts of present-day Germany, Britain, Romania, Turkey, Syria and Armenia.

The EU is trying to mirror a similar empire. Roman law played an important role in the expansion of the Roman Empire; and the EU relies on the export of its law, and the extraterritorial effect of the case law of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

It is the EU’s plan to create a new empire around the Mediterranean. There is room in Europe for two structures. Not all states are interested in political integration and not all believe in centralism. The core of the second structure could be EFTA (European Free Trade Association) . The EU would concentrate on political integration, while the second structure would limit itself to economic integration. Both organisations would work closely together, and the law would be basically the same in substance in both.

The promise of EU admission is a major source of policy and governance reform in potential member states, without the need for authoritarian command. The EU ultimately offers its prospective members the choice between membership and oblivion.

Europe doesn't change countries by invading them: its biggest threat is having nothing to do with them at all. Europe after the Cold War is a place where obedience and submission no longer need to be enforced by threat.

Since Roman times, a city's walls have been monuments to its integrity, ordering clear-cut divisions between friend and enemy, relative and stranger, ally and invader. Europe's contemporary city walls are degrees more advanced and sneakier; inside the borderland, the walls repeat at every checkpoint and with every camera's eye. The logo of Frontex (Frontières extérieures for "external borders”) set in square capitals (as found on Trajan's Column in Rome), reads: LIBERTAS SECURITAS JUSTITIA.

Europe is the place where streets and squares are named after writers, scientists, and artists, where proper names are saved from oblivion by people wandering the public spaces of their cities. What strikes in Europe is the great diversity of all the cities, each one with its historical moment of grandeur, its historical past being engraved in stone.

EU peculiarities

All previous empires grew by conquests through force and violence. But now there seems to be a fundamentally new kind of empire: the EU. As already stressed, its peaceful growth has been fuelled not by imposing its will on its neighbours, but by making them want to join, and accepting them only under certain conditions.

The EU has a flag, a directly elected Parliament, a huge budget, a powerful bureaucracy, and central laws that supersede national laws of individual EU states. It is expanding, and in size already comparable to the ancient Roman Empire.

The EU also boasts the most Nobel prizes, the most influential composers and artists and architects, the most influential sports, the most Olympic gold medals, the majority of the most liveable cities,

The EU is a sort of civilian, rather than military, power and it offers economic help to its peripheries, rather than trying to exploit them.

But the EU needs to adopt more flexible and decentralized modes of governance to run its economy and administration. The EU can no longer run European foreign policy in the style of Metternich or Bismarck. And it should find new channels of political representation and participation to make democracy work.


A united Europe sound plausible to the ancient Romans, whose empire provides a model that many Europeans appreciate even today.

However, significant obstacles to European unity remain. There is no single central leader. There are many competing nationalisms. No single spiritual framework binds the diverse peoples of Europe together.

Two thousand years ago, the Roman Empire overcame similar hurdles. Ancient Rome created a cultural and political unity that led to history's most successful and longest-lasting empire. Today, proponents of a unified Europe look back with admiration on what Rome accomplished.

The Romans developed a system of laws, courts and administrative skills to manage their empire. Today, Roman law forms the basis of legal codes in France, Italy, Latin American countries and the EU, as well as much international law. Roman law also undergirds Roman Catholic canon law.

Military power fostered peace in ancient Rome, and had significant economic implications. The Pax Romana (Roman Peace) was responsible for the elimination of tolls and other artificial barriers, the suppression of piracy and brigandage, and the establishment of a reliable coinage. Such factors, in addition to the longest period of peace the West has ever enjoyed, explain in large measure the great expansion of commerce that occurred in the first and second centuries A.D.


Ancient Rome conquered and united Europe by force. Today, the EU is attempting to unite the continent by legislative and regulative stealth.

The idea of a united Europe is more than just a quest for economic stability and prosperity. It is a long-standing vision that has captured the imagination of intellectuals who have wanted something to believe in as they attempt to build a better world. European unification was devised as a way to eliminate war from the continent.

By tying the countries of Europe together with common laws, a common currency, a European Court, a Central Bank and a host of other intertwined institutions, Europe's planners hoped to keep age-old rivalries from resurfacing and tearing Europe apart.

The European Union now covers an area which few empires in history dreamed of dominating. This implies that this entity includes a large number of different peoples. From French to Greek, from Portuguese to Estonians and from Britons to Livonians.

The characteristic of this empire is that it’s an empire without an emperor. Europe is not represented by one single figure; it looks more like the Roman empire in the time of Diocletian in which four governors shared the task of governing.

The EU has made great progress towards democratization, namely through the increased power of the European Parliament. Its co-existence is still under construction.