Emperor Trajan: 3 Reasons He Was A Successful Leader

Modern statue of Trajan at Tower Hill, London
Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany - Londinium: Roman Wall
Londinium: Roman Wall
Born18th of September, 53 Ad
DiedSeptember 11th, 117 AD
Known ForExpanding the Roman Empire to its largest extent, erected a massive amount of public buildings, implementing several social welfare policies.
Region of WorldRome, Italy, 1st century AD
Further ReadingThe 3 Emperors Of The Flavian Dynasty And Their Importance

Shortly before his death Emperor Nerva made Trajan his heir. This would make Trajan the 13th emperor of Rome. Today he is remembered as being one of the greatest Roman emperors of all time. Trajan today gives us 3 reasons he was a successful leader.

There are 3 reasons that Trajan was a successful leader. First, Trajan took responsibility for his actions and his subordinates. Second, Emperor Trajan demonstrates leadership by giving back to his Roman community through public buildings. Third, Trajan is remembered as a great leader because he implemented several social welfare policies.

Emperor Trajan would reign for nearly 19 years. This would make his reign one of the longest since the Julio-Claudian Dynasty. Because of this long reign Trajan was able to drastically influence the development of the Roman Empire and today stands as one of the best Roman emperors.

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Without further ado, here are the 3 reasons Emperor Trajan was a successful leader.

Reason 1.) Trajan Took Responsibility For His Actions And His Subordinates

(Toulouse) Buste de Trajan type dit 'des Decennalia' - Musée Saint-Raymond, Ra 58 b

One of the main reasons that Trajan was a successful leader was because he took responsibility for his actions and his subordinates.

While other Roman emperors would be a de-facto leader Trajan preferred to lead by example. While serving in the Roman military in Syria and along the Rhine we have reports of Trajan engaging in direct combat with his men. It was uncommon for a Roman commander to engage in direct combat with his men.

However, Trajan was different. He believed that the best place to lead was from the front and set an example.

Because of this Trajan was loved among his soldiers. This became apparent when in 97 Emperor Nerva needed to name an heir. Nerve needed to satisfy the military and he sought out the most loved commander at the time. From this Trajan would be selected as Nerva’s heir.

Our primary source on Trajan comes from Pliny the Younger who depicts Trajan as leading by example. Pliny even goes as far as to say “men learn better from examples” when referring to Trajan’s reign.

While Trajan was an autocrat who wielded absolute power he acted in accordance with people’s wishes. Our primary sources depict Trajan as using absolute power to speed up the bureaucratic process.

Because of this style of leadership the Roman Senate would give Trajan the honorific title of optimus which translates to “the best/wisest/most deserving.”

As such one of the main reasons that Trajan was a successful leader was because he took responsibility for his actions and his subordinates. He chose to lead from the front which was an uncommon characteristic for the time period.

Reason 2.) Trajan Demonstrates Leadership Through His Massive Public Works Campaign

Another reason that Trajan is considered a successful leader is because when he became emperor of Rome he started to give back to the Roman’s on a massive scale.

Trajan was known to be quite reserved. He did not spend much money on himself. Rather he spent a majority of his money on public buildings which created a high water mark in Roman architecture.

Trajan’s major public building in Rome was the Trajan’s Forum. This massive complex took several years to build and caused over 300,000 cubic meters of soil and rock to be excavated from the center of Rome.

Within this massive complex everything was made of polished marble. There were fountains and several open and closed air complexes. At the end of this Forum carved into the hillside was a 3 story market where the Roman people could buy all sorts of goods from over the Empire.

Building this massive Forum was not enough for Trajan however. At the same time as this construction was going on Trajan also paid for a renovation to the traditional Roman Forum and an overhaul to the Temple of Venus Genetrix. Further, at the same time Trajan would complete a massive bathing complex and erected his 100 ft. tall Column.

As such one of the main reasons that Trajan is considered a successful leader was because he gave back to his Roman people by building several large public buildings for their use.

Reason 3.) Trajan Is Considered A Successful Leader Because He Implemented Social Welfare Policies

One of the main reasons that Trajan is considered a successful leader was because he implemented several social welfare policies to aid the Roman people.

Under Nerva an informal social welfare called the Alimenta was put into place. In its early years the Alimenta was simply a way for the Empire to begin to provide food and education to poor or homeless children. However, since it was an informal tax, historians doubt that it was enforced.

Trajan however formalized the Alimenta. This made it so that formally a portion of the Imperial revenue would go to helping children who were either orphans or too poor to afford food or an education.

Historians still are unsure why Trajan would choose to enforce and expand this policy of social welfare. Some debates range around encouraging economic development, others that Trajan wanted more educated soldiers in his military.

Regardless, Trajan did work to have this policy formally implemented. Pliny the Younger is our major source for this policy and he hints that the reason for its development was because Trajan grew tired of the senatorial elite of Rome not giving back.

As such one of the main reasons why Trajan is considered a successful leader is because he implemented social welfare policies that sought to help impoverished Romans. In essence, he gave back to those less fortunate.

Conclusion

There you have it; an entire article going over the 3 reasons that Trajan is considered a successful leader in Roman society.

Trajan would be so influential that for centuries after his time people would wish that an incoming emperor was as loved as Augustus and as great as Trajan. Trajan’s biggest accomplishment was his massive expanse of territory. Under Trajan the Roman Empire would reach its maximum size.

Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you enjoyed this article then consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing around the internet.

Further, you can check out some of the other articles below.

Sincrely,

Nick