University of Kentucky



Rubbing From Trajan’s Column

Trajan’s Column was erected 106-113 C.E. in Trajan’s Forum in Rome to commemorate his victories over Dacia. The 100 foot tall column is made of marble quarried near Cararra and is covered by a continuous low-relief sculpture depicting Trajan’s Dacian campaigns. The column and capital were constructed from 20 separate blocks of marble and the column contains a spiral stair leading to an observation platform at the top. The pedestal supporting the column is about 25 feet tall and served as Trajan’s tomb after his death in 117. Originally the column was topped by a bronze eagle, but that was replaced by a statue of Trajan after his death. The statue of Trajan, now lost, was replaced by a statue of Saint Peter in 1588. The inscription over the door in the pedestal has long been regarded as one of the finest examples of Roman letter forms and has been the model for many type faces.

Photograph of rubbing

The King Library Press collection includes a rubbing of the pedestal inscription made in 1922 by Ernst Detterer. The rubbing is on paper which was mounted on a fabric backing and varnished. It was given by Detterer’s student R. Hunter Middleton in 1968.

Detail of rubbing showing first three letters
A detail of the rubbing showing the first three letters. The size of the lettering is scaled – those highest are the largest. Those on the top row are about 12 cm tall while those on the bottom are about 9.5 cm.

Photograph of the inscription


The inscription is in capital letters without word breaks and uses several abbreviated forms. There is some damage and a few letters are now missing or obscured. Below is a copy of the inscription and an interlinear transliteration.

Senatus populusque Romanus
Imperatori Caesari Divi Nervae Filio Nervae
Traiano Augusto Germanico Dacico Pontifici
Maximo tribunicia potestate XVII Imperatori VI Consuli VI Patri Patriae
ad declarandum quantae altitudinis
mons et locus tantis operibus sit egestus

Ernst Detterer making the rubbing of the inscription
Ernst Detterer making the rubbing of the inscription with two unidentified men.


See the McMaster Trajan Project ( for more information on the column including numerous photographs.