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Apollodorus of Damascus (50/60 – 130)

Apollodorus of Damascus was probably the most famous Roman architect. Started as an efficient military engineer, he then became the official imperial architect of Emperor Trajan and then, for a short period, of the successor Hadrian. Apollodorus is also believed to be the architect of the last “re-make” of the Pantheon of Rome.

Apollodorus of Damascus, bust from 130/140 AD in the Glyptothek

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About his life.

Apollodorus of Damascus had Nabateen origins and should have been born around the year 60 AC in Damascus (Syria), and perhaps was introduced to Rome by Trajan at 91, when he was an ordinary consul, to be employed in the Domitian programs of building renovation in Rome. The architect’s father probably entered Trajan’s father’s clientele while he was in Syria. He was the only great Roman architect whose name and complete works are known, this is due to the fact that in Rome architects never signed their work for not obscure the merit of the emperor who ordered it.

About his masterpieces.

Apollodorus had a significant influence on the Roman Imperial Style, despite some debates on this, it is recognized as an organic synthesis between the Italic-Roman tradition and the Hellenistic-oriental modules. In his projects he used the latest advanced inventions and made a significant contribution to the development of building structures and technologies. Among his main works are: the Trajan’s Forum, Column, and Markets, the Hadrianic Pantheon, the port of Trajan in Fiumicino, the Arch of Trajan in Ancona, the Arch of Trajan in Benevento, the Bridge of Trajan over the Danube made during the conquest of Dacia, present-day Romania, etc.

Trajan’s Column.

This monument was inaugurated in 113 to celebrate the conquest of Dacia by emperor Trajan. It has a long spiral-shaped frieze that winds along the torso of the column and describe the Dacian war. In this monument, the artistic tradition of Hellenistic (and therefore classical) art and the all-Roman solemnity of the exaltation of the Empire came together organically.

Trajan’s Column, Rome.

Image source: by roy.luck

Trajan’s Bridge.

Trajan’s Bridge also known Bridge of Apollodorus over the Danube is a fixed bridge between Drobeta and Pontes. Built by Apollodorus in 103-105 over the Danube, on the order of Trajan after a long battle that ended with the Roman victory and armistice in 102 AD. This monument is mentioned by Procopio, a bridge which has remained famous for the ingeniousness of its technical solutions. One of his representations can be found in one of the reliefs of the Trajan’s Column.

Trajan’s Bridge Across the Danube.
Modern Reconstruction by the engineer E. Duperrex in 1907.
Foto: U. Rapsak .

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The bridge of 1135 m in length, 15 m in width, 19 m in height, was made totally in wood, and supported by the pillars which were built of bricks, stone, and pozzolan, coming from Italy. Numerous researchers assume that, to fix the pillars, Apollodorus had deviated the course of the Danube thus, causing a decrease in the level of the river. The bridge could only be accessed by security towers in Drobeta and Pontes and no enemy would have crossed it with impunity. Some leftovers of the bridge remain near Drobeta in Romania.

Trajan’s Forum.

Trajan’s Forum also called Forum Ulpium was built by the emperor Trajan with the money obtained from the conquest of Dacia. The project of the structure which is attributed to Apollodorus of Damascus, was inaugurated in 112, and the Forum was arranged parallel to the Forum of Caesar and perpendicularly to that of Augustus. The complex measured 300 m in length and 185 in width. The buildings of the Trajan’s Forum as well as being adorned with sculptures and murals, were all covered with marble and stucco. The complex included, in order:

  • an entrance formed by a square hall with a central four-sided portico;
  • the real forensic square (116 x 95 m), with the convex side of the entrance, decorated with the large equestrian statue of the emperor;
  • two semicircular exedras on the sides of the square;
  • the Basilica Ulpia, an arcaded courtyard with the famous Trajan’s Column and the two libraries, Greek and Latin
Rome – Trajan’s Forum.

Image source: by David Paul Ohmer

Trajan’s Markets.

Trajan’s Markets were built to occupy and support the cutting of the slopes of the Quirinale hill, at the beginning of the second century. The Markets were articulated on six levels, and are based on the Trajan’s forum’s semicircular shape of the exedra. The dates of the brick stamps date back to the reign of Trajan, confirming the construction of the Trajan’ Markets by the architect Apollodorus of Damascus.

Apollodorus exploited every space obtained by cutting the slopes of the hill and inserting different rooms at the different levels of the monument. He used the common brick construction technique: cement structure covered with external brick layers. On the facade of the “Great Hemicycle” the decoration is made with custom shaped bricks. This kind of decoration was also used in later Renaissance architecture and Neo-Classic.

Arch of Trajan of Ancona.

The arch of Trajan of Ancona was released in Proconnesian murble by Apollodorus of Damascus. It was erected in 100-116 AD by the Senate and the people of Rome, in honor of the emperor who, at his own expense, had the port of the city expanded. In origin the equestrian statue of Trajan was placed on the attic, on which there were the statue of the emperor, of Plotina and of Ulpia Marciana, respectively the emperor’s wife and sister. The inscriptions, had gilt bronze letters, friezes and statues which were seized by Saracens in 848. The Arch still maintains the momentum and elegance of the past.

Arch of Trajan. Ancona, Italy.

Image source: Author:Mario Micucci

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