18 September 53: The birth of Rome's 'Spanish' emperor

A replica of the statue of Trajan stands in the ruins of Baelo Claudio.
A replica of the statue of Trajan stands in the ruins of Baelo Claudio. / SUR
  • Trajan, the best of ancient Rome's 'Five Good Emperors' was born in what we now call Andalucía

In history he is known as Trajan, though his birth name was Marcus Ulpius Trajanus. Trajan was born in the Roman province of Hispania Baetica on 18 September 53 AD. His birthplace of Italica, north of modern-day Santiponce and northwest of Seville, was founded as a Roman military colony of Italic settlers in 206 BC. According to another version, however, Trajan was from Pedraza in today's Extremadura. In any case he was the first Roman emperor born outside Italy.

Trajan's father, who was also called Marcus Ulpius Trajanus, belonged to the gens Ulpia family, who originally came from the Umbrian city of Tuder.

His mother - Marcia - came from a noble and politically influential family, thought to be descended from the King of Rome, Ancus Marcius. In the north of Italy, Marcia owned clay-bearing estates called the Figlinae Marcianae. She married Trajan's father - a military commander - and they moved to the Iberian Peninsula, living for a time in Italica. There is little documentation of Trajan's early life. It is thought that the future emperor grew up in military headquarters where his father served.

Trajan became an army commander like his father. Before he was emperor, he had been a senator, and even governor of Germania Superior (Upper Germania), an imperial province of the Roman Empire.

This experience helped him gain the support of both the emperor Nerva and generals of the Roman army. Later Nerva named him as his successor. Nerva himself had been declared emperor by the Roman Senate when Domitian was assassinated. This, incidentally, also happened on 18 September, but in the year 96.

Trajan ruled from 98 to 117. He spent most of his life on military campaigns. The Senate officially declared him 'best ruler' - optimus princeps. By the time of his death, the Roman Empire extended over three continents - from Scotland down to Northern Africa and swept east across the Mediterranean as far as Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq.

Trajan is known for implementing the first social welfare programme in history to help thousands of orphans and poor people. Unsurprisingly, he was named as the second of the Five Good Emperors who presided over an era of peace and prosperity in the Mediterranean world.

Back in Andalucía, in the ancient Roman town of Baelo Claudia, located near the beach of Bolonia outside of Tarifa, the courthouse was presided over by a statue of the emperor Trajan more than three metres high.

On his way to Rome, Trajan fell ill or was poisoned upon reaching Selinus in Cilicia, in late 117. He was deified by the Senate. His ashes were laid to rest under Trajan's Column in Rome.