Arch of Trajan

On the way back to Matera from Florence I recently stopped at the town of Benevento.  Originally called Maleventum(bad winds) it was one of the chief Samnite cities before the eventual Roman control. It was an important crossroads of Southern Italy and a series of important battles were fought there throughout the ages.  Common legend has that the name was changed to Beneventum(good winds) after a the greek king Pyrrhus was defeated in a major battle nearby in 274BC.

The town is full of wonderful archeological remains, one of the most important being the Triumphal arch of Trajan.  It was erected in honor of his many accomplishments, including the conquest of Dacia(the former Yugoslavia), by the senate in 114AD.

Triumphal arch of Trajan, erected 114AD

It is nearly intact.  Only several of the reliefs have been removed and are apparently in the British Museum.

East side of triumphal arch

The main inscription is a dedication to the emperor.  The numerous reliefs show is various civic and military successes.  Flanking the inscription on the west facade are 2 scenes Trajan in accepted by the gods.  There are some very beautiful sculptures on the arch, like the figure of the Danube below:

Allegorical figure representing the Danube

In addition to extending the empire to its greatest limits, Trajan was a admirable administrator as well. He created the ‘Institutio Alimentaria’ from his personal wealth to feed and care for poor children.  It was instituted in the same year that the arch was constructed, 114AD.  Below is a relief representing that:

Detail of the 'Institutio Alimentaria'

The following detail represents the submission of Dacia.  It has one of the better preserved portraits of Trajan on the Arch.

Submission of Dacia

Apart from the antique remains, Benevento is a lovely town to visit.  The historic center is well preserved despite the heavy damage it sustained during the bombardment of WWII.  Post-war Italian architecture is pretty dreadful.  One only has to look a contemporary church that one passes on the way to the center to see how easily a culture’s aesthetic soul can be lost.

Ugly church

A culinary tip:  Pasta with asparagus tips and pancetta is a local speciality and definitely worth trying.

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