THE ROMAN EMPEROR TRAJAN, AD 53-117
Imperator Caesar Nerva Traianus (AD 53-117), or Marcus Ulpius Traianus as he was originally called, was Roman Emperor from AD 98 and, through his conquests, brought the empire to its greatest extent ever. As well as being in his time one of the most admired Roman emperors, he was also the only one who, so far as is recorded, was sexually active only with boys. He had a wife, with whom he enjoyed excellent relations, but they had no children, and unlike the overwhelming majority of emperors, there is no trace of his having involved himself with other women. The following excerpts are all that is recorded of his sexual life.
M. Cornelius Fronto, Letter to Marcus Antoninus
The following passage is from one of the letters sent by the Roman rhetorician Fronto to the new Emperor, his beloved former pupil, in 162, urging him to allow himself some pleasures in life.
It was translated by C. R. Haines in Fronto: Correspondence volume II for the Loeb Classical Library volume CXIII (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1920) p.9.
What of your ancestors who enlarged the state and empire of Rome with huge additions? Your great-grandfather, consummate warrior as he was, yet at times took pleasure in actors and, moreover, drank pretty stoutly. Yet thanks to him the Roman people often drank mead at his triumphs.
|Quid maiores vestri qui rempublicam et imperium Romanum magnis auctibus auxerunt. Proavus vester summus bellator tamen histrionibus interdum se delectavit, et praeterea potavit satis strenue. Tamen eius opera populus Romanus in triumphis mulsum saepe bibit.|
Dio, a Roman consul, wrote his 80 books of Roman history down to the year 229 in the years down to that date and after 22 years of research.
The translation is by Earnest Cary and Herbert B. Foster in the Loeb Classical Library volume CLXXVI (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1925).
The following remark comes at the end of an extremely favourable account of Trajan’s character, introducing him as the new Emperor:
|I know, of course, that he was devoted to boys and to wine, but if he had ever committed or endured any base or wicked deed as the result of this, he would have incurred censure; as it was, however, he drank all the wine he wanted, yet remained sober, and in his relation with boys he harmed no one.||καὶ οἶδα μὲν ὅτι καὶ περὶ μειράκια καὶ περὶ οἶνον ἐσπουδάκει. ἀλλ᾿ εἰ μέν τι ἐκ τούτων ἢ αἰσχρὸν ἢ κακὸν ἢ ἐδεδράκει ἢ ἐπεπόνθει, ἐπηγορίαν ἂν εἶχε, νῦν δὲ τοῦ τε1 οἴνου διακόρως ἔπινε καὶ νήφων ἦν, ἔν τε τοῖς παιδικοῖς οὐδένα ἐλύπησεν.|
In 102, Trajan returned to Rome after conquering Dacia …
|Trajan celebrated a triumph and was given the title of Dacicus; in the theatre he held contests of gladiators, in whom he delighted, and he brought the dancers of pantomimes back into the theatre, being enamoured of Pylades, one of their number.||Τραϊανὸς δὲ τά τε νικητήρια ἤγαγε καὶ Δακικὸς ἐπωνομάσθη, ἔν τε τῷ θεάτρῳ μονομάχους συνέβαλε καὶ γὰρ ἔχαιρεν αὐτοῖς, καὶ τοὺς ὀρχηστὰς ἐς τὸ θέατρον ἐπανήγαγε καὶ γὰρ ἑνὸς αὐτῶν τοῦ Πυλάδου ἤρα|
In 115, Trajan had just conquered Armenia. …
Leaving garrisons at opportune points, Trajan came to Edessa, and there saw Abgarus for the first time. For, although Abgarus had previously sent envoys and gifts to the emperor on numerous occasions, he himself, first on one excuse and then another, had failed to put in an appearance, as was also the case with Mannus, the ruler of the neighbouring portion of Arabia, and Sporaces, the ruler of Anthemusia.
On this occasion, however, induced partly by the persuasions of his son Arbandes, who was handsome and in the prime of youth and therefore in favour with Trajan, and partly by his fear of the latter’s presence, he met him on the road, made his apologies and obtained pardon, for he had a powerful intercessor in the boy. Accordingly he became Trajan’s friend and entertained him at a banquet; and during the dinner he brought in his boy to perform some barbaric dance or other.
Ὅτι ὁ Τραϊανὸς φρουρὰς ἐν τοῖς ἐπικαίροις καταλιπὼν ἦλθεν ἐς Ἔδεσσαν, κἀνταῦθα πρῶτον Αὔγαρον εἶδεν. πρότερον μὲν γὰρ καὶ πρέσβεις καὶ δῶρα τῷ βασιλεῖ πολλάκις ἔπεμψεν, αὐτὸς δὲ ἄλλοτε κατ᾿ ἄλλας προφάσεις οὐ παρεγένετο, ὥσπερ οὐδὲ ὁ Μάννος ὁ τῆς Ἀραβίας τῆς πλησιοχώρου οὐδὲ ὁ Σποράκης ὁ τῆς Ἀνθεμουσίας φύλαρχος.
τότε δὲ τὰ μὲν καὶ ὑπὸ τοῦ υἱέος Ἀρβάνδου καλοῦ καὶ ὡραίου ὄντος καὶ διὰ τοῦτο τῷ Τραϊανῷ ᾠκειωμένου πεισθείς, τὰ δὲ καὶ τὴν παρουσίαν αὐτοῦ φοβηθείς, ἀπήντησέ τε αὐτῷ προσιόντι καὶ ἀπελογήσατο, συγγνώμης τε ἔτυχεν· ὁ γὰρ παῖς λαμπρόν οἱ ἱκέτευμα ἦν, καὶ ὁ μὲν φίλος τε ἐκ τούτου τῷ Τραϊανῷ ἐγένετο καὶ εἱστίασεν αὐτόν, ἔν τε τῷ δείπνῳ παῖδα ἑαυτοῦ ὀρχησόμενον βαρβαρικῶς πως παρήγαγεν.
Aelius Apartianus, Hadrian
This first book of the Augustan Histories is presented as having been written early in the 4th century, but it may have been written up to a century later and the authorship is considered doubtful.
The translation is by David Magie in the Loeb Classical Library volume CXXXIX (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1921) except for three amendments with an explanatory footnote.
Following Trajan's accession as Emperor:
|And now he [Hadrian] was loved by Trajan, and yet, owing to the activity of the tutors of certain boys whom Trajan loved ardently, he was not free from . . . which Gallus fostered.||fuitque in amore Traiani, nec tamen ei per paedagogos puerorum quos Traianus impensius diligebat, . . . Gallo favente defuit.|
During the last years of Trajan's reign:
|That he was bribing Trajan’s freedmen and cultivating his pleasure-boys in order to pedicate them frequently all the while that he was in close attendance at court, was told and generally believed.||corrupisse eum Traiani libertos, curasse delicatos eosdemque saepe inisse per ea tempora quibus in aula familiarior fuit, opinio multa firmavit.|
The Emperor Julian, The Caesars 311 C
Julian, known as “the Apostate”, was the last pagan Roman emperor, reigning 361-3, and tried to restore paganism in the face of recently-triumphant Christianity. His The Caesars is a short comic sketch written on the occasion of the Saturnalia in December 361, in which all the gods and emperors are invited to a banquet. As the emperors arrive in turn, the conversation between the seated gods allows Julian to pass judgement concisely on many of his predecessors.
|Accordingly Trajan entered forthwith, carrying on his shoulders the trophies of his wars with the Getai and the Parthians. Seilenos, when he saw him, said in a whisper which he meant to be heard, “Now is the time for Zeus our master to look out, if he wants to keep Ganymede for himself.”||εὐθέως οὖν ὁ Τραϊανὸς εἰσήρχετο φέρων ἐπὶ τῶν ὤμων τὰ τρόπαια, τό τε Γετικὸν καὶ τὸ Παρθικόν. ἰδὼν δὲ αὐτὸν ὁ Σειληνὸς ἔφη, λανθάνειν τε ἅμα καὶ ἀκούεσθαι βουλόμενος, Ὥρα νῦν τῷ δεσπότῃ Διὶ σκοπεῖν, ὅπως ὁ Γανυμήδης αὐτῷ φρουρήσεται.|
 Trajan was the legal, but not real, great-grandfather of Marcus Aurelius through three successive adoptions.
 Actors in Rome (with the possible exception of some non-speaking roles) were male. The Greek love interest of this passage is merely the corroboration it offers from an early date of Cassius Dio’s statement of Trajan’s fondness for boys (including an actor) and wine.
 Abgar VII was the King of Osrhoene, an Arab kingdom wedged between the Roman province of Syria and the Parthian Empire, and Edessa was its capital.
 Hadrian was the cousin and successor of Trajan. “And was loved by” is a literal translation of “fuitque in amore” and has been use in amendment of Magie’s “became a favourite of”. Taken literally, there is no objection to Magie’s rendering, but it is better avoided in view of the frequent use by translators of the word “favourite” as a euphemism for the various words meaning a loved boy in ancient texts. The Latin amor need not have sexual connotations. Hadrian was already 22 at Trajan’s accession, and if either man was thought to have taken the passive role, this would have been too discreditable to have escaped much wider notice.
 Pedagogos were tutors or men otherwise employed to look after boys, so Magie’s strange translation of them as “guardians” has been amended to “tutors”. It looks as though Trajan’s loved boys here were pages in his household.
 The text is defective. It looks from the context as though Trajan was irritated by Hadrian getting too close to his boys, and that someone called Gallus had intervened to try to restore him to favour.
 Magie’s extremely shoddy translation of “curasse delicates” as “corrupting his favourites” has been amended to “cultivating his pleasure-boys”. Curasse has nothing to do with corrupting. See the website's glossary for the precise meaning of delicatus. Craig Williams, Roman Homosexuality (2nd edition, Oxford, 2010) p. 35 notes that the detail that Trajan had such boys "is dropped in such a way as to suggest that this was a standard feature of the imperial household.
 Presumably out of prudishness, Magie omitted to translate the words “saepe inisse”, of which “saepe” means frequently and “inisse” literally “to enter” but, in a pederastic context, “to pedicate”.
 The loved-boy of Zeus, abducted by him and made cup-bearer of the gods.
If you would like to leave a comment on this webpage, please e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org, mentioning either the title or the url of the page so that the editor can add it.