In about 86, Trajan’s cousin Aelius Afer died and left behind two orphaned children Hadrian (Future emperor) and Paulina. Trajan and a colleague of his, Publius Acilius Attianus, became co-guardians of the two children.
Cautions & Vigilant
During Emperor Nerva’s reign, Trajan was governor of Upper Germany. He skillfully managed and ruled this volatile Imperial province. For his skillful management he received the title of Germanicus.
Nerva died in January 98 AD. Trajan was his nominated successor. Instead of going to Rome to lay his claim to the throne, Trajan made a lengthy tour of inspection on the Rhine and Danube frontiers.
He did this to make sure that he had complete loyalty of the army. Once assured of this loyalty he moved to Rome to claim the throne of emperor.
Shrewd and Ruthless
He did not trust Praetorian Prefect Aelianus, who had previously served Emperor Domitian and Nerva. Just before his coronation, while he was in Germany, he asked Prefect Aelianus to meet him in Germany.
As soon as he arrived in Germany, Trajan murdered him. He also made his loyalist Attius Suburanus as new Prefect of Praetorian Guard.
On his entry to Rome, Trajan gave the ordinary people a direct gift of money. The traditional gifts to the troops, however, were reduced by half.
To appease the senate, he feigned reluctance to become emperor. When consensus was built around him in the Senate he finally agreed to become emperor. Trajan gave importance to the Senate which made the Senate stand behind him.
Though Trajan was an autocrat, he exercised his power in moderation. The Roman Empire was divided into 2 separate administrative units, one governed by the emperor and second governed by emperor.
Trajan brought two senatorial provinces of Achaea and Bithynia into imperial ones in order to deal with general mismanagement of provincial affairs by various proconsuls appointed by the Senate.
However, he also returned the confiscated property of various senators. This led to the Senate bestowing upon Trajan the honorific of optimus, meaning “the best”.
Lack of good Economic Policy
Trajan incurred lots of expense in two wars and construction projects. By 107 AD, Trajan decided to devalue the Roman currency.
He decreased the content of silver in the denarius from 93.5% to 89.0% – the actual silver weight dropping from 3.04 grams to 2.88 grams.
Favored Welfare program
Trajan formally instituted Alimenta, a Welfare Program that helped orphans and poor children throughout Italy. This program provided the poor with free food and subsidized education.
He funded this welfare program through war booty, estate taxes and philanthropy.
Aggressive Foreign Policy
Trajan took the Roman Empire to its greatest expanse. He fought two wars with Dacia. In the First war which was fought in 102AD, he reduced Dacia to a client kingdom.
In the second war, which was fought in 105 AD, he ended up incorporating the trans-Danube border group of Dacia into his empire.
In 113 AD, Trajan decided that the moment was ripe for a final resolution of the “eastern question”. So, he decided to defeat Parthia and the annexation of Armenia.
In 114, Trajan invaded Armenia; annexed it as a Roman province. In 115, the Roman emperor overran Parthian province of northern Mesopotamia and annexed it as well.
Not only that, he captured Parthian capital, Ctesiphon and sailed downriver to the Persian Gulf with his army.
However, revolts erupted that year in the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and northern Mesopotamia, which stretched his resources. Due to a lack of proper resources, Trajan failed to take Hatra, which prevented a total Parthian defeat.
He was the first emperor to carry out a successful invasion of Mesopotamia.