The First Adventure Strip – A 1,909 Year Old Comic

The story of Emperor Trajan’s victory over a mighty barbarian empire isn’t just one for the books. It’s also told in 155 scenes carved in a spiral frieze on a monumental column.

It’s an adventure comic strip created 1,909 years ago.

The emperor is the story’s hero. He appears 58 times, depicted as a canny commander, accomplished statesman, and pious ruler. Here he is giving a speech to the troops; there he is thoughtfully conferring with his advisers; over there, presiding over a sacrifice to the gods.

Spiraling around the column like a modern-day comic strip [emphasis added] is a narrative of the Dacian campaigns: Thousands of intricately carved Romans and Dacians march, build, fight, sail, sneak, negotiate, plead, and perish in 155 scenes. Completed in 113, the column has stood for more than 1,900 years.



Andrew Curry, at National Geographic, tells the history of the adventure(s) and the column.

The artists of the jam session remain unknown:

[Roman iconography expert Jon] Coulston argues that no single mastermind was behind the carvings. Slight differences in style and obvious mistakes, such as windows that disrupt scenes and scenes of inconsistent heights, convinced him that sculptors created the column on the fly, relying on what they’d heard about the wars. “Instead of having what art historians love, which is a great master and creative mind,” he says, “the composition is being done by grunts at the stone face, not on a drawing board in the studio.”

The National Geographic presents the comic strip in a readable (its pantomime)
interactive format broken down in panels with a key to the players.

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