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Markets of Trajan

Emperor Trajan, known as "Optimus Princeps," built Rome's grandest Imperial Forum and a vast market featuring over 150 shops. Showcasing advanced Roman engineering, the market used concrete construction and groin vaults, designed by architect Apollodorus of Damascus. The multistory complex allowed natural light to flood in, highlighting Trajan's dedication to public projects. Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris.

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Video transcript

(bouncy piano music) - [Voiceover] Perhaps the most powerful emperor in the history of Rome. - [Voiceover] Well, certainly one of the most popular. - [Voiceover] And one of the most successful in a military sense, was the Emperor Trajan. And he built, not only the largest Imperial Forum in Rome's history. - [Voiceover] That is the biggest, most magnificent public space in addition to temples and libraries, he also built a vast public bathhouse. - [Voiceover] But he also built the markets. This was, what is in essence, what we would recognize in the modern world, a huge shopping complex, a kinda mall with more than 150 offices and storefronts. - [Voiceover] As emperor, you could choose to build public buildings, you could build private dwellings, palaces for yourself. You can build a combination of both. Not long before Trajan, the Emperor Nero had appropriated vast amounts of land, that belonged to the Roman people, to build his palace, The Domus Aurea. So, the emperors that came immediately after him, for the most part, decided to build, instead, projects for the Roman public. The Flavians, for example, built the amphitheater, that we call the Colosseum. And Trajan continues that tradition by building this massive public project, both the Forum and the adjacent market. The market is so interesting to me, because for so long, when I thought of Ancient Rome and architecture, I thought of temples, I thought of Fora, I thought of these large civic spaces. And what I didn't realize, was that the Romans were extremely adept at building dense, multistory structures. That is, basically, apartment buildings, office blocks and that's what we have here. - [Voiceover] They had concrete, which allowed them to really shape space, in a way that you can't do, with spaces that are constructed with post and lintel architecture, essentially, columns and roofs. For example, here in the markets of Trajan when we enter the central hallway, we look up and we see this very high, wide space, constructed with the use of groin vault, made with brick-faced concrete. - [Voiceover] So a groin vault is simply a barrel vault, that has been intercepted by a second barrel vault that is perpendicular to it. So, in this case, we have the main barrel vault of the hallway, which is quite long, intersected by addition barrel vaults at right angles. And, so, you get this kinda X-shaped archway. - [Voiceover] This was done by Trajan's chief architect, Apollodorus of Damascus an amazing engineer and architect, who also built bridges and other military structures for Trajan. Apollodorus of Damascus also built, on either side of this groin vaulted hallway, offices that are supported by barrel vaults and linked to the main hallway by buttresses. - [Voiceover] What I find so phenomenal about this space, is the amount of light that is let in. And this is because the Romans had become so adept at using concrete. The ability to give up weight-bearing wall, for apertures, for windows, to let light in, both in the vaulting and in the walls, speaks to the extraordinary level of confidence of the ancient Romans under Trajan. - [Voiceover] And soon after this, under the Emperor Hadrian, the Romans will build one of the most beautiful, surviving monuments today, and that is the pantheon. An enormous, uninterrupted domed space, created with use of concrete. - [Voiceover] So, here in the Center of Rome we have, intact, one of the most complex urban spaces dating from ancient Rome. It is a spectacular display of Roman engineering and gives us a real window, into what Roman life must have been like. - [Voiceover] The Romans had a nickname for Trajan and that was Optimus Princeps. And that means, best leader. And standing here, overlooking Trajan's Forum, and standing in the market that he commissioned, we can understand why they would call him that. (bouncy piano music)