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Limites Linguae Latinae

Gregory DiPippo

On this day in 98 AD, Trajan succeeded his adoptive father Nerva as Roman Emperor; his rule would last for 19½ years, and bring the borders of Rome’s domain to their greatest expansion. In the course of two separate campaigns (101-2 and 105-6 AD), he conquered a large portion of the region on the Balkan peninsula north of the Danube known as Dacia, much of which is now within the modern state of Romania. The events of this conquest are immortalized by the famous monument in Rome known as Trajan’s column, located within the imperial forum also named for him. Although the Romans abandoned the province in 275, the region was very much romanized during their control of it. To this day, the Romanian people speak a Romance language, which is, to be sure, in many ways very different from its Western cousins such as French and Italian, but nonetheless recognizable as a daughter language of Latin.

In 113, Trajan launched a new series of military campaigns which aimed to permanently end Rome’s long-standing conflict with the Parthian Empire on its eastern border. These led first to the annexation of the kingdom of Armenian in the Caucasus region, and then to the conquest of the whole of Mesopotamia, all the way down the Fertile Crescent to the Persian Gulf, where a statue of him was erected on the shore. In the letter to the Senate by which he announced the end of the war, he expressed his regret that he was too old carry on the campaign in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, who had reached the borders of India. The Romans retained control of Armenia into the next century, but withdrew from Mesopotamia behind the Euphrates almost as soon as Trajan died in 117 and was succeeded by Hadrian.

Many of the teachers and staff of VSI studied at one point or another in Rome with the great Fr Reginald Foster, who passed away on Christmas Day of 2020 after dedicating decades of his life to the teaching of Latin as a living language. Our Latin programs are very much inspired by the fond memory of his truly extraordinary generosity to all of his students, and his love for every aspect of Latin’s history, from the earliest inscriptions to the most recent Papal encyclical (the Latin text of which, until summer of 2009, would have been likely composed by himself.) I remember (sed memoria saepe fallitur, so I may have these details wrong) Fr Foster saying that he had two pictures next to each other on the wall of his room, sent to him by people who had studied with him. One was of a Roman monument with a Latin inscription on it in Charax, the largest major city near the Persian Gulf, which became the capital of Trajan’s short-lived province of Babylon; the other was of a graffito carved by a Roman soldier onto Hadrian’s wall in northern England. Fr Foster would then say (with just a little bit of characteristic hyperbole), “Everything between the Atlantic Ocean and Iran is what you know if you know Latin, my friends!” (Gregorius Philippius scripsit.)

Below is a map of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent, at the end of Trajan’s rule. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Tataryn, CC BY-SA 3.0).

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