Painting of emperor Trajan with pagans
Painting of emperor Trajan with pagans

'Pagan' Virtues: Emperor Trajan as a Behavioral Model for Wayward Rulers

2024 until 2028
Project member(s)
Z. Cvijanovic (Zorana)
Project type

Traditionally, the classical tradition remembers Emperor Trajan as optimus princeps, a just ruler, and successful in both the political and military campaigns he carried out. As a pious man, he strove to preserve the traditional faith of the Romans by implementing strict rules for those who practiced Christianity. Although he lived and died as a ‘pagan,’ later medieval accounts praise Trajan for his unmistakable Christian virtues, mostly for his act of mercy towards a widow who sought justice for her murdered son. With the rise of specula principum in the twelfth century, Trajan’s character became used as a tool for political, ecclesiastical, and cultural propaganda. 

This project examines how Emperor Trajan was regarded as a behavioral model for rulers in the Middle Ages and Early Modern mirrors for princes. This project will follow the series of changes and reductions of the Christian legend of Emperor Trajan from its first version in the “The Anonymous Life of Gregory the Great” to that in the Latin and vernacular literature in the seventeenth century. By doing so, this project will compare the literary sources in terms of their ideas on rulership, while placing their reading of Trajan in the context of changing ideas on rulership from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern times.


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