Trajan, Marcus Ulpius Nerva
Trajan, Marcus Ulpius Nerva
emperor of Rome from A.D. 98 to 117, is a noteworthy personage in the history of ancient times by reason of his personal qualities, and also as a general and ruler. He is important to the history of the Church through his connection with the persecution of the adherents of Christianity in his time. At first tolerated by the policy of the Roman rulers as a comparatively feeble though despicable excrescence on the loathsome superstition of Judaism, Christianity was forced upon the notice of the emperors by the tumults excited among the populace by heathen priests, who observed the remarkable progress of that faith With alarm, and Trajan was accordingly led to issue edicts for the gradual suppression of the new teaching which transformed men into haters of the gods. The administration of the younger Pliny as governor of Bithynia was complicated with matters growing out of the rapid extension of Christianity and the consequent rage of the heathen population within his province. He therefore endeavored to enforce against Christians the laws for the suppression of the really dangerous Hetaeries (see Pliny, Epist. 10:43), but found the complaints to be so numerous and the result of the judicial investigations so unsatisfactory that he referred the whole matter to the emperor for instructions. Of the accused, many denied that they were in any way implicated in Christianity; others declared that they had returned to the old faith, and offered incense and libations before the image of the emperor and blasphemed the name of Christ.
Those who avowed themselves Christians confessed to nothing of a damaging character. Their offence consisted merely in meeting before sunrise of a specified day to sing a common hymn in honor of Christ as a god, and in the assumption of a voluntary obligation, under oath, to commit no theft, robbery, nor adultery, but to keep a promise and acknowledge the possession of goods committed to their trust. The torture applied to two maids disclosed nothing more criminal than these statements. Trajan commended the governor's action, and observed that no general and definite prescriptions could be given for such matters. He added that search should not: be made for suspected persons, though, if accused and convicted, they should be punished unless they interposed a denial of the charge of being Christians, and authenticated it by calling on the gods. Anonymous accusations of any sort should not be received. The execution of several Christians, among them the aged Symeon, who was the son of Clopas, and successor of James at Jerusalem, must be explained in view of the fact that the emperor was at the same time regent of the State and chief priest (pontifex maximus), and would consider it necessary to protect and preserve the religion which was so closely interwoven with the interests of the State. The same idea will apply to the case of Ignatius.
Literature. The principal sources for the history of Trajan are Pliny the younger, Epistolce, especially lib. 10 and Panegynricus (ed. Gierig); Dion Cass. Hist. Rom. lib. 68 (unfortunately extant only in the extract by Xiphilinus); Aurel. Victor, Caes..13, 1 sq. and Epitome 13; Eutrop. 8:2; Orosius, 7:2 sq.; Tertull. Apologet. c. 1; Eüseb. Hist. Eccl. 3, 12 sq.; Justin. Apologet. 1, 68; Rufinus, Hist. Eccl. 4:9. See Ritterhusii Trajanus in Lucem Reproductus (1608); Mannert, Res Traj. Imp. ad . anu. Gestca (Norimb. 1793); Engel, Coment. de Expedit. Traj. ad Danub. et Origine Valachoarum (Vindeb. 1794); Wolf, Einermilde Stiftung Trajan's (Berl. 1808, 4to); Francke, Zür Gesch. Traj. u. seiner Zeifgenossen (Gustrow, 1837); Baldwin, Comment. et Edict. Vett. Princc. Rom. de Christianis (Hal. 1727, 4to); Bohmer, XII Dissertt. Juris Eccl. Ant. ad Plin. Sec. et Tertull. (2d ed. ibid. 1729), Martini, Persecutt. Christianorum sub Imp. Rom. (Onost. 1802, 4to); Kopke, De Statu et Condit. Christi sub Imp. Rom. Alterius post Christ. Scec. (Berol. 1828); Schröckh, Kirchengesch. 2, 320 sq.; Gieseler, Kirchengesch. 1, 134 sq.; and the monographs cited by Volbeding, Index Programmatum, p. 95, 98.Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v.; Smith, Dict. of Gr. and Rom. Biog. s.v. SEE PLINY.