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Friday, 12 May 2017

Trajan (EIE): Personality Type Analysis

Marcus Ulpius Traianus, later Imperator Caesar Nerva Traianus Augustus, best known as Trajan, was the 13th Roman Emperor from 98 to 117. His reign is usually regarded as the zenith of the classical Roman civilisation, in terms of territorial expansion and political and military self-confidence. Trajan himself was associated with and largely credited for that zenith.  He was born in 53 in Spain, the first emperor not born in Italy. His father was closely associated with the Flavian emperors and so Trajan climbed easily the steps of the typical aristocratic Roman public career. He had already reached the highest levels of public office as the Emperor Domitian, a gloomy ruler of authoritarian inclinations, was assassinated in his own bedroom and succeeded by the elderly senator Nerva (IEI) as emperor. Nerva’s brief reign was marked by politico-military meltdown, until he abruptly appointed Trajan as his successor, who at the time was serving as a military governor on the Danube border. Nerva died shortly afterwards leading to Trajan’s smooth ascension.

In terms of major events, Trajan’s reign can be summarised as: a few years of consolidation and military build-up followed by two brief, successive campaigns against the Dacians across the Danube, following up previous conflicts under Domitian (ILI).  Those campaigns led to the annexation of what is roughly Romania today. Then, some ten years of civil administration and the low-profile annexation of what is today Jordan. In his final years, Trajan launched a major war against the Parthian Empire, leading to the (short-lived) annexation of today’s Iraq and the South Caucasus, with Trajan dying of natural causes immediately afterwards while still in the region . At this point the Roman Empire reached the largest territorial expansion it would ever reach.

Trajan spent much time of his early career, and later as emperor, as a military commander, and clearly felt comfortable in that role.  At war, he made a point of taking personal command, so that at the end of his Parthian campaign he became the only Roman Emperor ever to reach the Persian Gulf personally. He was seen by his contemporaries as a “soldier-emperor” and that was a very important part of the public image he consciously promoted. Historically, although it can be argued that his Dacian Wars were inherited from Domitian, in the case of Parthia he went for an all-out war as reaction to a treaty breach when there were probably other options – in fact the historian and senator Cassius Dio, and the later Emperor Julian the Apostate (LIE), took for granted in their writings that Trajan had been driven by a desire for conquest and glory as goals in themselves. All of the above points strongly to Trajan having F as a valued function, and so being a type of the Beta or Gamma quadras. Having said that, how strong Trajan’s F was is less clear. Although an obviously competent general, it is also true that both his Dacian and Parthian campaigns were based on the use of overwhelming military force, mobilizing in each case over one third of the entire Roman army in cautious, strategically planned campaigns. This is in clear contrast to Julius Caesar (SEE), Sulla (ESI) or Scipio Africanus (ESI), F ego types who relied more on on-the-fly tactical improvisation and very efficient and quick, aggressive use of the existing resources even when in numerical disadvantage. Surely Trajan had more options than they, but that already hints at F being not quite as strong as F1, and more like F6.

Arguably Trajan’s greatest achievement as emperor was not military, though, but political. All his predecessors, after Augustus (LIE), had had difficulty with the fundamental political problem of balancing their three main “constituencies”, that is, the armies, the Senate, and Rome’s civilian population, with often conflicting priorities. Trajan’s predecessors had often ended up hated by the Senate and/or people while relying on support from the military - or toppled by military force if they lost support in that area. Trajan however managed the political feat of gaining support from all those 'factions'. To the army he was a competent, victorious commander-in-chief who looked after their concerns as “one of them”; to the Senate he was an accessible leader who interacted with his former peers in terms of social near-equality; to the general population he was an approachable ruler who spent lavishly on public works and spectacles, and improved the supply of water and grain. That was accomplished by a combination of three factors: Trajan’s personality; real, tangible achievements; and the 'ideology' of his rule, supported by what can be called PR or propaganda. He has been called the first emperor to have governed with anything like a consistent official ideology, or perhaps narrative.

That ideology, or narrative, was simple: Trajan was the emperor because he was the best man for the job, due to his personal qualities, 'CV', connections, and the manner of his ascension, which gave him a sort of “legitimacy” or “mandate” that most of his predecessors had lacked. To back that up, he had to act the role.  He had a politician’s gift for remembering the names of individual citizens and soldiers; “his association with the people was marked by affability and his intercourse with the Senate by dignity” according to Cassius Dio; he would attend private social events unguarded (no 'secret service'). The overall impression, by all accounts, is of a man who does not put a foot wrong and seems at ease in any social situation. In private, though, among his intimates and cronies, he indulged a bit in hedonism with bisexual debauchery and drunken parties, yet avoiding really bad crapulence or harming anyone. Halfway through his reign the Senate created for him the honorific title of Optimus Princeps, “the best emperor”. There may be a seeming contradiction in that the regime’s official ideology was necessarily based on a cult of personality ,and yet Trajan managed the balancing act of minimising that - by proving himself worthy of it, apparently without seeming ridiculous or a hypocrite.  Never mind the occasional theatrical gestures such as telling his Praetorian Prefect, in public, to “use your sword to protect me if I govern well, or against, me, if I govern badly”.  This is all the more impressive as in terms of actual power and centralised decision-making, he was as autocratic as the “tyrant” Domitian had been. The usually sceptical historian and senator Tacitus (LSI), a contemporary and generally harsh critic of the autocratic imperial regime, was charmed, writing that Trajan had accomplished what had seemed impossible, reconciling the rule by emperors with freedom of thought and expression.  I argue that the above strongly hints at a man with very high confidence in E, possibly at the level of a modern master politician, like Jacques Chirac (SEE), John F. Kennedy (EIE), Ronald Reagan (EIE), Bill Clinton (EIE) or Barack Obama (IEI). That his perfectly fine-tuned image was held together by a consistent ideology, however simple, suggests some valuing of L even if not very strong.

There is direct evidence on Trajan as a person as his correspondence with Pliny the Younger (IEI) has survived, from the period when Pliny was Trajan’s governor of what is today northern Turkey. Some of the letters are trivial (like Pliny congratulating Trajan on his birthday and Trajan thanking him, etc.), or matter-of-fact questions and answers on precise legal matters; others, though, give a glimpse into Trajan’s mind and personality. First, when writing to Pliny, a younger man now serving as his direct subordinate, Trajan mostly goes out of his way to write in a friendly and polite manner, carefully explaining the reasons for his decisions rather than just handing down instructions, especially when he has to turn down a request of Pliny’s. He writes to Pliny more like a mentor than as a ruler or boss. A couple of exceptions are when Trajan reacts a bit impatiently, in a “why are you even asking me this” way.  Nevertheless the easily accessible ruler who spoke to senators in terms of social equality, described by Dio, is consistently seen in those letters.  In terms of Trajan’s reasoning  for his decisions, it is interesting that when restraining Pliny’s occasional authoritarian inclinations (as when he suggested compulsory loans in his province), Trajan argues that such things are not “in accordance with the spirit of our times” – the ancient equivalent of today’s argumentation based on “it’s 2017!” – rather than argue their intrinsic unfairness or inefficiency. This points to a mind arguing rather from a E and T perspective rather than L or P. Most famously, and of historical significance, is Trajan’s reply to Pliny on how to deal with Christians in his province. Being a Christian had technically been illegal since Nero’s persecution, some 50 years before, but in practice the Roman State usually did not concern itself with the issue, so that Pliny was baffled when, as governor, he had to deal with people accused of being Christians. He had no idea of what that meant or what their precise legal status was, and upon interrogation Pliny, in his words, “found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths”, and some people were being denounced as Christians anonymously, so he wrote Trajan for guidance. The reply, in full, was:
“You have followed the right course of procedure, my dear Pliny, in your examination of the cases of persons charged with being Christians, for it is impossible to lay down a general rule to a fixed formula. These people must not be hunted out; if they are brought before you and the charge against them is proved, they must be punished, but in the case of anyone who denies that he is a Christian, and makes it clear that he is not by offering prayers to our gods, he is to be pardoned as a result of his repentance however suspect his past conduct may be. But pamphlets circulated anonymously must play no part in any accusation. They create the worst sort of precedent and are quite out of keeping with the spirit of our age.”


This letter became generally the legal precedent for subsequent reigns until the more active persecutions of the 3rd century, and was often praised for its relative tolerance;  however, also criticised, already in ancient times, for its inconsistency and opportunism:  being a Christian continued to be against the law, but not something as bad as deserving active concern by the state. This pragmatism, even opportunism, yet combined with a sense of justice, is present in most of Trajan’s letters, and at least in day-to-day matters of governing points to P as having a higher focus than L.

Elaborating on P. Trajan’s civilian administration was very concerned with practical matters such as building roads, bridges, aqueducts, public spaces, and ports, not only in Rome and Italy but across the empire. Yet, revealingly, rather than merely practical endeavours (such as the extensive but 'low-key' road-building program of Antonius Pius (SLI)), Trajan’s reign was a time of 'the biggest': the largest forum, the largest public baths, the longest bridge, the largest harbour, etc. Although of practical utility, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Trajan was at least as concerned, if not more, with the propaganda or feel-good effect of such grandiose building as he was with their practical benefits. That is, it shows a concern with E+T as at least equal to P, but it also points to P as not being a truly weak function.

Trajan’s approach to P can be solved by his final years. As mentioned above, in 114 he launched a major war against the Parthian Empire which resulted in quick early victories, with him announcing the annexation to the Roman Empire of today’s Iraq and the South Caucasus and then starting to return to Rome. This military success was however undermined by practical realities: first, the  invasion of Mesopotamia greatly disturbed the vast Jewish population living in the Parthian Empire, with the Exilarch calling for a Jewish uprising in the Roman Empire, which quickly ignited in Egypt and Cyprus in particular; second, the Roman Empire’s hold on those newly-annexed provinces was tenuous, with rebellions taking place even as Trajan had barely left the region. He died while still in today’s Turkey, leading to the succession of his close kinsman and associate Hadrian (ILE), then the governor of Syria. Hadrian’s first major decision was the immediate withdrawal from Trajan’s newly annexed provinces – a very controversial decision for any Roman Emperor, and which suggests that the impracticality of those annexations must have seemed obvious (although not to Trajan). Also, one of the enduring mysteries of Trajan’s reign is precisely that he died, of natural causes in his sixties, without clearly announcing Hadrian as his successor, which could have led to a succession crisis. Yet it was clear to everyone that Hadrian would succeed him as he was Trajan’s closest male relative as well as the commander of the largest military forces when Trajan died. I suggest that the explanation points to Trajan being ultimately more concerned with L: having based his rule on an L ideology of the emperor being “the best man for the job” as per general consensus, he could not decide to flatly overrule that for P purposes in single-handedly appointing Hadrian (or anyone else) as his successor.

What we have, then, as a man of very strong confidence and focus on E who also very obviously values F without it seeming to be an ego function; who values L over P but at the same time had P as seemingly stronger, with his P actions seemingly helping his E motivations. That is, a Beta of very strong E and visible P and F with weak but valued L. The type that fits Trajan best is EIE.

Trajan’s reputation as “the best emperor” remained undiminished through the centuries. To the end of the Empire the Senate acclaimed a new emperor with the wishes that he would be “better than Trajan”;  Dante Alighieri, who in his Divine Comedy had placed many popes in Hell, saw fit, exceptionally, to place the pagan Trajan in Heaven.

To learn more about EIE, please click here.

If you are confused by our Socionics shorthand, click here.


Sources: besides Wikipedia, the scholarly biography is Julian Bennett’s Trajan: Optimus Princeps. Cassius Dio’s history and Pliny’s correspondence with Trajan are available online.

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