Hadrian - History
Hadrian (76-138 A.D.) ruled as Roman Emperor between the years of 117 and his death 21 years later. He is considered one of the so-called Five Good Emperors, and his reign was marked by internal stability and military success. Nevertheless, he abandoned some of his predecessor Trajan’s more remote conquests in order to consolidate Roman hold over the rest of the Empire. Hadrian associated himself strongly with his military, going so far as to spend meal times with his troops.
Hadrian’s birthplace is not certain, with some sources giving his home town as Rome while others – including his personal history – suggest that he was born in Italica, a town near the city now known as Seville, Spain. Whatever the case, his family was part of the Roman establishment. His father was a prominent senator, Publius Aelius Hadrianus Afer. It is considered by some authorities that his later official biography was deliberately written in order to make it look as though he was a native of Rome, giving his birth date as January 24, 76 A.D.
Hadrian’s name comes from the town of Hadria, now known as Atri, a pre-Roman Italian settlement. His mother was from Gades (now Cadiz) and was the daughter of another prominent senatorial family. When Hadrian was ten, both his parents died, and he was then made the ward of Trajan. The young boy’s education followed the usual path set out for young noblemen, and he was particularly interested in Greek literature. He was recalled to Rome by Trajan when he was 14, and never again visited Italica.
Entry into Military Service
The first army role that Hadrian took on was in the Second Legion, the Adiutrix, for which he served as tribune. A few years later, he was moved to the First Legion, known as Minervia, in Germany. In 98, the Emperor Nerva died, and Hadrian went personally to tell Trajan the news. Although he later spent a short amount of time in Greece, being elected as a citizen of Athens, his career at this time mostly centered around Upper Pannonia. Here, he was legate of another legion, the Fifth Macedonica, after which he served as the province’s governor.
While serving in the Fifth legion, Hadrian fought in a series of wars against the Dacians. It is said, although with little surviving evidence, that he was rewarded by Trajan – who was by now Emperor – for his military prowess. Hadrian’s next role was as one of Trajan’s legates on an expeditionary trip to Parthia, although his time there was without significant achievement. Nevertheless, he was soon appointed as governor of Syria when the incumbent had gone to address further problems with the Dacians. This was Hadrian’s first solo command.
By now, Trajan was mortally ill, and attempted to go home to Rome, leaving Hadrian in charge of the Roman rearguard in Syria. The Emperor was dying before he could complete his journey, so he adopted Hadrian as his heir. Once back in Rome, Hadrian efficiently ensured loyalty from his legions, dismissing those who seemed to be potential trouble-makers. Despite some controversy over whether his papers of adoption had been properly written – they were signed by Trajan’s wife, Plotina – the Senate endorsed Hadrian as the new Emperor.
Hadrian as Roman Emperor
Despite his confirmation as the Empire’s supreme ruler, Hadrian delayed before returning to Rome, since the Jewish revolt had to be put down, and the frontier along the River Danube made safe. Hadrian directed that his former guardian, Attianus, carry out day-to-day duties in Rome, and the latter made sure of the new Emperor’s power base by fabricating a conspiracy among several hostile senators. These men were put to death without trial, and Hadrian was able to claim that since he was not in the city at the time, the idea had been Attianus’ rather than his own.
Hadrian developed a reputation for excellence in his military administration, but part of the reason for this was that his reign was relatively peaceful, with the Second Roman-Jewish War being the only really major conflict of his years in power. He proved himself to be a pragmatic Emperor, preferring to make peace with the Parthians in 121 rather than go to war. Hadrian also realized that the Mesopotamian lands conquered by his predecessor, Trajan, were almost impossible to defend in the long term and therefore decided to abandon them.
Instead, Hadrian believed that the Empire as it stood should be strengthened, rather than attempting any further expansions indeed, his reign marked the end of any significant Roman expansion. To this end, he decided to construct fortified defenses on the borders of the Empire. The best known of these was in Britain, where Hadrian’s Wall – which marked the northern limit of Roman control – was to remain of great relevance for almost three centuries. However, there were also substantial fortifications along the Rivers Rhine and Danube.
Later Years and Death
The most serious military challenge to Rome during Hadrian’s time was the Jewish revolt which raged during the 130s. At first, Hadrian had shown some compassion, allowing Jerusalem – which had lain in ruins since the First Roman-Jewish War sixty years earlier – to be rebuilt, but he later adopted harsher measures, building a temple to Jupiter on top of the Temple. This resulted in a large-scale uprising, which may have resulted in the destruction of an entire Roman legion. The rebellion was finally crushed after almost four years, by which time more than half a million Jews lay dead. Hadrian continued to persecute the Jews for the rest of his reign.
A little after his final victory over the Jewish rebellion, Hadrian’s health began to fail. On July 10, 138, he died aged 62 in his country villa at Baiae. From the descriptions given by contemporary sources, it is generally thought that he died of heart failure. Hadrian was buried close to his villa, but a little later, his remains were taken to Rome to be interred in the Domitian Gardens. A year after his death, his successor as Emperor, Antoninus Pius, declared Hadrian to be a god and dedicated a temple in his honor.
What is Hadrian’s Wall?
Built on the orders of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and located in Great Britain, Hadrian’s Wall was a defensive fortification that marked the northwest frontier of the Roman Empire for three centuries. The wall measured 73 miles in length and stretched from coast to coast across present-day northern England, between Wallsend in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in the west. Construction likely started around A.D. 122, after Hadrian visited the Roman province then known as Britannia, and it’s thought to have taken an army of 15,000 men at least six years to complete it. The majority of the wall was made from stone, although some portions were fabricated from turf.
Small forts called milecastles were established at every Roman mile (the equivalent of .91 modern miles) along the wall, and two observation turrets were placed between each milecastle. Additionally, there were more than a dozen larger forts along the wall’s length where soldiers were stationed. An enormous earthwork consisting of a ditch flanked by parallel mounds, and now referred to as the Vallum, was created just south of the wall. Hadrian served as emperor from 117 until his death in 138. Afterward, the new emperor, Antoninus Pius, erected a turf wall to the north of Hadrian’s Wall, in present-day Scotland. However, the so-called Antonine Wall, which also had a number of forts along its length, was deserted in the 160s and the Romans reoccupied Hadrian’s Wall. The forts along the wall likely were occupied until the end of Roman rule in Britain, in the early 5th century.
Hadrian (l. 78-138 CE) was emperor of Rome (r. 117-138 CE) and is recognized as the third of the Five Good Emperors (Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius) who ruled justly. His reign marked the height of the Roman Empire, usually given as c. 117 CE, and provided a firm foundation for his successor.
Born Publius Aelius Hadrianus, in Italica (modern Spain), Hadrian is best known for his literary pursuits, his substantial building projects throughout the Roman Empire, and, especially, Hadrian's Wall in northern Britain. He is also remembered for his love affair with the Bithynian youth Antinous (l. c. 110-130 CE) whom he deified after the young man’s death, resulting in the popular cult of Antinous which, early on, rivaled Christianity.
Hadrian was deeply interested in literature – especially Greek literature – and Egyptian mysticism and magic. He was among the most highly cultured of the Roman emperors – even among the famous best five – wrote his own poetry and other works and insisted on personally supervising as many of the building projects he had commissioned as he possibly could. Under his reign, the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-136 CE) broke out in Judaea, which Hadrian personally put down and, afterwards, erased the name of the region, renamed it Syria Palaestina, and exiled the Jewish population from the area.
The revolt took an enormous toll on the emperor, who had suffered health problems since 127 CE, and his health steadily declined after c. 136 CE. His wife, Vibia Sabina (l. 83 - c. 137 CE), died in c. 136/137 CE, and he had her deified, but theirs had been an unhappy marriage as Hadrian was homosexual and frequently had dalliances with younger men. He adopted Antoninus Pius (r. 138-161 CE) as his successor and died, most likely of heart attack, in 138 CE.
Hadrian was well educated in his hometown of Italica Hispania (modern-day Seville, Spain) either by a private tutor or a school for the sons of upper-class Romans, as his parents were. His father was a senator who died when Hadrian was 10, and, at this time, he was sent to school in Rome and taken under care by Trajan c. 86 CE, prior to the latter’s ascendancy. Trajan’s wife, Plotina, was fond of the young Hadrian and encouraged his literary pursuits, especially his interest in Greek poetry and culture. Scholar Anthony Everitt comments:
Quite suddenly he became infatuated with all things Greek. Soon after the death of his father, he immersed himself in Greek studies so enthusiastically that he was nicknamed Graeculus, “little Greek boy”. (15)
Hadrian’s lifelong admiration for Greece began at this time and would associate him with the country and culture throughout his reign. Even in the present day, Hadrian is often mistakenly identified as a Greek or of Grecian lineage.
Sign up for our free weekly email newsletter!
His first military service was as tribune under Emperor Nerva (r. 96-98 CE), and he was selected to bring Trajan the news that he was Nerva’s successor. When Nerva died, Trajan ascended to the throne. Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 CE) was the first Roman ruler of provincial origin. Later biographers would attempt to place the birth of both Trajan and Hadrian in the city of Rome, but both were of Spanish ethnicity, and this commonality has been assumed by some to be the reason for Trajan's adoption of Hadrian as his successor. Most scholars dispute this, however, as it is possible that Trajan did not name Hadrian at all.
Trajan died on campaign in Cilicia in 117 CE, with Hadrian in command of his rearguard, and is not believed to have named a successor. Trajan's wife, Plotina signed the papers of succession, claiming Trajan had selected Hadrian, and it is thought that she, not the emperor, was responsible for Hadrian's adoption as heir. However that may be, it is known that Trajan respected Hadrian and had considered him as his successor even if he did not officially name him as such. Hadrian's service to Trajan is well documented through the various important positions he held prior to becoming Roman emperor.
At the same time, however, some dispute between the two men seems to have set them at odds sometime in 100 CE. There is no documentation on this but, afterwards, Trajan refused to elevate Hadrian in rank, and, in fact, the positions Hadrian was given removed him from Trajan’s immediate circle. As both men were homosexual, and Trajan surrounded himself with a number of favorite young men, it has been suggested that Hadrian may have seduced, or tried to seduce, one of these around the time of his marriage to Sabina, causing a rift between himself and Trajan, but this is speculation.
Plotina, not Trajan, was clearly the main force behind Hadrian’s advancement from the time he entered her sphere of influence. Plotina and Salonia Matidia (Trajan’s niece, who was also fond of Hadrian) pushed for his marriage to Matidia’s daughter, Vibia Sabina, and Matidia may have also had a hand in making him emperor. He would be a far better ruler than husband. Sabina never seems to have embraced the marriage from the start, and Hadrian preferred the company of men. Although his marriage could not be considered a success on any level, his reign was spectacular.
Hadrian as Emperor
Hadrian’s close relationship with the troops meant he instantly had the army’s support, and even if the Roman Senate had wanted to question his succession, there was nothing they could have done. Hadrian was embraced by the majority of the people of Rome and was greatly admired throughout the time he held office. His popularity as emperor is attested to by the fact that, even though he was absent from Rome for the better part of his reign, no sign of rebuke or criticism for this appears in his early biographies. Earlier Roman rulers, such as Nero (r. 54-68 CE), were harshly criticized for spending far less time away from the city. Professor D. Brendan Nagle writes:
[Hadrian] spent most of his reign (twelve out of twenty-one years) traveling all over the Empire visiting the provinces, overseeing the administration, and checking the discipline of the army. He was a brilliant administrator who concerned himself with all aspects of government and the administration of justice. (278)
His devotion to the Roman army was such that he would sleep and eat among the common soldiers, and he is commonly depicted in military attire even though his reign was marked by relative peace. The empire’s stability, and increasing prosperity, allowed Hadrian the luxury of travel to the provinces where he inspected first-hand the projects he had commissioned from Rome.
Hadrian's building projects are perhaps his most enduring legacy. He visited Britannia in 122 CE shortly after a revolt had been put down and ordered a long, defensive wall built to prevent easy invasion by the northern Picts this structure is the famous Hadrian’s Wall in modern-day England. He established cities, raised monuments, improved roads, and strengthened the infrastructure of provinces throughout the Balkan Peninsula, Egypt, Asia Minor, North Africa, and Greece. He visited Greece at least twice and became an initiate in the Eleusinian Mysteries. The Arch of Hadrian, constructed by the citizens of Athens in 131/132 CE, honor Hadrian as the founder of the city. Inscriptions on the arch name Theseus (the traditional founder) but add Hadrian owing to the latter's substantial contributions to Athens such as the grand Temple of Zeus.
In Rome, he rebuilt the Pantheon (which had been destroyed by fire) and Trajan's Forum as well as funding construction of other buildings, Roman baths, and villas. Many of these structures survived intact for centuries, some as late as the 19th century CE, and the Pantheon, still perfectly preserved, may be visited in the present day. Hadrian had a great interest in architecture and seems to have contributed ideas or even plans to the architects, though scholars no longer believe that he was the lead architect on any single project.
Of all his significant monuments and buildings, Hadrian's Wall in northern Britain is the most famous. Construction of the wall, known in antiquity as Vallum Hadriani, was begun around 122 CE and corresponded to Hadrian's visit to the province. It marked the northern boundary of the Roman Empire in Britain, but the length and breadth of the project (stretching, as it did, from coast to coast) suggests that the more important purpose of the wall was a show of Rome's power. The wall was originally 9.7 feet (3 m) wide and 16-20 feet (c. 6 m) high east of the River Irthing, all built of stone, and 20 feet (6 m) wide by 11 feet (3.5 m) high west of the river, made up of stone and turf, stretching 73 miles (120 km) across uneven terrain.
It was built in six years by the legions stationed in Roman Britain. There were between 14-17 fortifications along the length of the wall and a vallum (a ditch purposefully constructed of earthworks) which ran parallel to the wall. The vallum measured 20 feet (6 m) wide by 10 feet (3 m) deep, flanked by large mounds of tightly packed earth. As Hadrian's foreign policy was 'peace through strength', it is thought that the wall, which was originally plastered and whitewashed, would have clearly represented the might of the Roman Empire.
Following his visit to Britannia, Hadrian went to Asia Minor and traveled to the region of Bithynia to inspect the restoration of Nicomedia he had funded after the city was damaged in an earthquake. It was either in Nicomedia or nearby Claudiopolis that he met the young Antinous in 123 CE who become his almost constant companion for the next seven years. Antinous was possibly 13-15 years old at this time, but same-sex liaisons between older men and young boys were acceptable in Roman culture as long as both parties consented. Some of these love affairs were brief 'flings' but others, like that of Hadrian and Antinous, were serious, committed relationships.
Hadrian arranged for Antinous to be sent to a prestigious boarding school in Rome that trained young men for life at court and then, from 125-130 CE, the young man was Hadrian’s beloved, living with him at his villa outside Rome and traveling with him to the provinces. Their relationship was patterned on that of the Greeks in which an older man would help a younger in moral and intellectual development and social advancement. Everitt comments:
[Hadrian] could well have regarded his Bithynian boy as a plaything – With Hadrian’s reputation as a procurer of every luxury and licentiousness, Antinous was simply another in a long line of conquests…[But] this most Hellenic of emperors cast himself as an erastes (lover) with Antinous as his eromenos (beloved). If he followed the rules, he would have treated the boy with respect, wooed him, and given him the choice whether or not to accept his advances. Any “favors” Hadrian was granted would have been matched by a serious commitment to Antinous’ moral development as he grew into an adult. (243)
This seems to have been precisely the course Hadrian followed. The couple traveled together from 127-130 CE, arriving in Egypt in time to celebrate the Festival of Osiris in October 130 CE. At some point toward the end of the month, just before the festival, Antinous drowned in the Nile River. Hadrian reported it as an accident, but historians such as Cassius Dio (l. c. 155 - c. 235 CE) and Aurelius Victor (l. c. 320 - c. 390 CE) claim that Antinous sacrificed himself in a ritual to cure Hadrian of an illness (precisely what is unknown) he had been suffering from the past few years. This claim is strengthened by the observation that Antinous, as Hadrian’s beloved favorite, would no doubt have been attended by servants who would have rescued him from the river and, further, by a trip the couple took to Heliopolis just before Antinous’ death where they conferred with a priest on mystical rites. Hadrian’s health seems to have improved afterwards, but his grief at the loss of his lover and best friend was overwhelming.
Hadrian had Antinous deified immediately. This was unprecedented as, usually, an emperor would submit the suggestion to the Senate who would approve it. He ordered the city of Antinopolis built in Antinous’ honor on the bank of the Nile where he had drowned and, quite quickly, a cult grew up around the youth which spread quickly through the provinces. Antinous became a dying-and-reviving god figure who, because he was once human, was thought to respond more quickly to supplications than other deities. He was understood as a god of healing and compassion and his adherents raised statues of him in temples and shrines throughout the empire. It is estimated there were once over 2,000 statues of Antinous of which 115 have been recovered. The cult of Antinous became so popular that, over 200 years later, it rivaled the new religion of Christianity and the well-established cult of Isis.
Jerusalem & Revolt
Hadrian dealt with his grief as best he could and continued on with his business of touring the provinces. Although he was a learned and cultivated man, his policy of peaceful relations with others, whether personally or professionally, was not always adhered to. He was known to lose his temper frequently with scholars at court he disagreed with and once accidentally blinded a servant in one eye when he threw a stylus at him in a rage. In Jerusalem, Hadrian would give full rein to his temper on a massive and tragic scale when the Jews revolted against his construction of a temple.
In 132 CE, Hadrian visited Jerusalem, which was still in ruins from the First Roman-Jewish War of 66-73 CE. He rebuilt the city according to his own designs and renamed it Aelia Capitolina Jupiter Capitolinus after himself and the king of the Roman gods. When he built a temple to Jupiter on the ruins of the Temple of Solomon (the Second Temple, considered sacred by the Jews), the populace rose up under the leadership of Simon bar Kochba (also given as Shimon Bar-Cochba, Bar Kokhbah, Ben-Cozba, Cosiba or Coziba) in what has come to be known as the Bar-Kochba Revolt.
Roman losses in this campaign were enormous but Jewish losses were no less significant. By the time the rebellion was put down, 580,000 Jews had been killed and over 1000 towns and villages destroyed. Hadrian then banished the remaining Jews from the region and renamed it Syria Palaestina after the traditional enemies of the Jewish people, the Philistines. He ordered a public burning of the Torah, executed the Jewish scholars, and prohibited the practice and observance of Judaism.
Death & Successor
Hadrian’s handling of the Bar-Kochba Revolt is the one dark stain on his otherwise admirable reign, but he made his choices based on traditional Roman policy in handling revolts: a harsh response followed by restoration. He may have taken his response as far as he did from personal outrage that anyone would have had a problem with his temple or any of his other decisions.
His health now failing, Hadrian returned to Rome and occupied himself in writing poetry and tending to administrative affairs. He named Antoninus Pius his successor on the stipulation that Antoninus would adopt the young Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 CE) as his own. Aurelius would co-rule with Lucius Verus (r. 161-169 CE) whose father was Hadrian’s adopted son. Hadrian died in 138 CE, presumably of a heart attack, at the age of 62.
He was buried first at Puteoli, on the grounds of the former estate of the rhetorician Cicero (as homage to Hadrian's love of learning), but when Antoninus Pius completed the great Tomb of Hadrian in Rome the following year, his body was cremated and the ashes interred there with those of his wife and his adopted son Lucius Aelius Caesar, father of Lucius Verus. Antoninus Pius had Hadrian deified and temples built in his honor. Regarding the legacy of his reign, historian Edward Gibbon notes:
[Hadrian's rule was] the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous…when the vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. (61)
Hadrian’s reign is generally considered in keeping with Gibbon's estimation. Even among the Five Good Emperors of ancient Rome, he stands out as an exceptional statesman. Aurelius, the last of the Five Good Emperors, would reign during far more troubled times than Hadrian knew, and his son, Commodus (r. 176-192 CE), became an unofficial dictator whose uneven reign and assassination led to political and social disturbances which would never have even been imagined under Hadrian.
Interesting Facts About Hadrian
► Hadrian was born on 24 January 76 CE, probably in Italica or Rome. He was from a well-established family of Italian descent, but had lived in Spain. The biography Augustan History mentions that he was born in Rome, but experts believe it could be a plot to make him appear a native of Rome. He was Roman Emperor from 117 CE to 138 CE.
► His mother Domitia Paulina was from Cadiz, which was one of the wealthiest cities back then. His father Publius Aelius Hadrianus Afer was a senator of praetorian rank. His only sibling, elder sister Aelia Domitia Paulina, was married to the Triple Consul Lucius Julius Ursus Servianus.
► When his father passed away in 86 CE, he was put under the guardianship of Emperor Trajan, who was Hadrian’s father’s cousin, and Caelius Attianus who later on became a praetorian prefect. Trajan and his wife Pompeia Plotina bore no children, hence she was very close to Hadrian. It is believed that Plotina used to advice Hadrian, when he became the emperor.
► He had studied in various schools, and had a strong liking of Greek literature, so much so that he was given a nickname Graeculus, meaning ‘Greekling’. At the age of 14, he went back to Italica, or some claim, he was in Italica till he was 14 years old. After he left Italica, he never went back, but the place was later granted the title of Colonia in his honor.
► Trajan tried to draft Hadrian into the military, but Hadrian strongly chastised the military career, because he preferred an easy life and enjoyed hunting. Initially he served as a Tribune in Legio II Adiutrix, later in Germany. In 98 CE, when Nerva passed away, Hadrian went back to inform Trajan about his death. He was later announced as legate of a legion in Upper Pannonia, and later on as Governor of the same province.
► In 100 CE, on the instance of Polina, Hadrian married Trajan’s grandniece Vibia Sabina, who was ten years his junior. The union was not a happy one, although it lasted till her death.
► Because of his marriage and Plotina’s guidance, also his own abilities, he was appointed to various positions such as quaestor in 101 CE, Tribune of the people in 105 CE, and praetor in 106 CE. He had participated in the war against Dacians, and was later appointed as Legatus in the Parthian campaign of 113-17 CE. Hadrian even held the position of Governor of Syria.
► In 117 CE, when Trajan was returning from the Parthian campaign, he fell seriously ill. At Selinus, while taking his last breath on August 8th, he adopted Hadrian as his successor. But sources state that by the time documents were signed, Trajan was already dead, and Plotina signed the documents to confirm the adoption.
► On 11 August 117 CE, he ascended the throne as Hadrianus Augustus, he became the 14th Emperor of Rome. 118-121 CE marked the period of construction of his villa in Tivoli. He did not believe in expansion of his kingdom, rather to take care of the already huge land. He reversed Trajan’s plan, and retreated from Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Assyria. He made amends with Parthia and lower Danube. In 118 CE, he went back to Rome to take care of the situation, which arose due to execution of four consuls.
► He owned his success majorly to Polita and other people. Due to Polita’s guidance, he could win people’s heart and could properly train the military. In fact, he was known to wear plain clothes like his army, eat the same food, drink the same cheap wine as them. This made him all the more popular with the public.
► Hadrian never took any credit for his architecture too, even if it was his idea, he stepped back and let other people take credit. He was fond of writing poetry and reading. He even helped to finish the Temple of Zeus in Athens, which other rulers took five centuries, still could not finish it.
► Unlike other Emperors, Hadrian traveled across his Empire, and even visited small villages, to order changes and developments in the city. He had introduced subjects like finance, administration, and changed many laws.
► Back in Rome, he re-constructed the Pantheon that was built by Agrippa, but was wiped out due to a fire in 80 CE. It still stands today and is considered to be one of the best preserved ancient buildings in Rome.
► Hadrian’s first trip started on 121 CE, and lasted till 125 CE, during this time, he visited various places such as: Dacia, Greece, Asia, Tarraconis, Cappadocia, Gallatia, Bithynia, Pannonia, Mesia, Gaul, Germany, Noricum, Britain.
► The construction of Hadrian’s wall started in 122 CE, in present-day Northern England. It acted as a protective barrier against the Barbarians. It was also served as a territorial boundary. There were 23 large forts covering every mile, the wall was believed to be 20 meters high, and 8 to 10 feet thick. It was fully constructed by 128 CE.
► On his second trip, which began in 128 CE and lasted till 134 CE, he visited Egypt, Arabia, Syria, Greece, Anatolia, and Judea. He finished construction of those buildings which he had begun during his first visit.
Arch of Hadrian
► In 129 and 130 CE, citizens of Jerash (was called Gerasa back then) constructed the Arch of Hadrian to honor him on his visit to the city. When he was in Greece, he met a very handsome youth called Antinous, and fell deeply in love with him. In fact, Hadrian was so head over heels in love with him, that he adopted him to be his companion. The two traveled everywhere together, but destiny had some other plans for them.
► Sources state that their relationship was mostly sexual in nature. In 130 CE, on their travel to Egypt, Antinous mysteriously drowned in the river Nile. There are theories concerning this incident, some historians state that he sacrificed himself for Hadrian. Whatever the interpretations, Hadrian was deeply depressed after this accident. Hadrian founded the Egyptian city of Antinopolis in his memory, he even had Antinous deified to be worshiped as a God.
► In 130 CE, Hadrian visited Jerusalem seeing it in ruins, he decided to reconstruct the whole city, and named it Aelia Capitolina Jupiter Capitolinus. He had a temple constructed to honor Jupiter on the ruins of The Temple of Solomon (sacred to Jews). Due to this construction, many Jews were furious, and they revolted against Hadrian, which is known as Bar Kokhbah’s Revolt.
► This revolt began in 132 CE, on his way back to Europe, and he was called to take care of the war. By the time war ended, approx 5,80,000 Jews were killed. Enraged by the war, Hadrian prohibited the rest of the Jews to enter the city, and renamed it Syria Palestina. He even ordered the burning of the sacred Torah in public, and placed a ban on the practice of Judaism.
► Hadrian returned to Rome in 136 CE with poor health, he had turned 60. His health was failing rapidly, and adopted Lucius Aelius Caesar, who was named his successor, but he passed away on 1 January 138 CE.
► Following his death, Hadrian adopted Titus Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Arrius Antoninus, also known as Antoninus Pius, on the condition that he had to adopt Late Lucius Aelius Caesar’s son Lucius Ceionius Commodus and Marcus Annius Verus (grandson of a powerful senator).
Temple of Hadrian, Ephesus Turkey
► During his last days, he had immersed himself in poetry and writing. Hadrian was brilliant when it came to literature. 62-year-old Hadrian died on 10 July, 138 CE. Historians believe that he died due to a heart attack. A temple dedicated to him was built in Ephesus, present-day Turkey.
Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome, Italy
► At first he was buried in Puteoli, which is near Baiae, later his remains were transferred to Gardens of Domitia. When the Tomb of Hadrian (Rome) was completed, which is now famous as Castel Sant’Angelo, he was cremated, and his ashes were integrated with his wife and adopted son.
► According to Historia Augusta, Hadrian composed a poem shortly before he died:
Animula, vagula, blandula
Hospes comesque corporis
Quae nunc abibis in loca
Pallidula, rigida, nudula,
Nec, ut soles, dabis iocos..
Roving amiable little soul,
Body’s companion and guest,
Now descending for parts
Colorless, unbending, and bare
Your usual distractions no more shall be there…
Many books have been written about the humanist Roman Emperor Hadrian. Anthony Birley, who wrote Hadrian: The Restless Emperor, and Mary Taliaferro Boatwright who wrote the book Hadrian and the Cities of the Roman Empire give us a detailed account of the emperor’s life. He played a very important role in developing the foreign policies of his reign. He abolished many laws pertaining to debts, and that’s how he won people’s heart in his empire.
Publius Aelius Hadrianus was born on 24 January AD 76, probably at Rome, though his family lived in Italica in Baetica. Having originally come from Picenum in north-eastern when this part of Spain was opened up to Roman settlement, Hadrian’s family had lived in Italica for some three centuries. With Trajan also coming from Italica, and Hadrian’s father, Publius Aelius Hadrianus Afer, being his cousin, Hadrian’s obscure provincial family now found itself possessing impressive connections.
In AD 86 Hadrian’s father died in AD 86 and he, at the age of 10, became joint ward of Acilius Attianus, a Roman equestrian, and of Trajan. Trajan’s initial attempt to create a military career for the 15 year old Hadrian was frustrated by Hadrian’s liking the easy life. He preferred going hunting and enjoying other civilian luxuries.
And so Hadrian’s service as a military tribune stationed in Upper Germany ended with little distinction as Trajan angrily called him to Rome in order to keep a close eye on him.
Next the so far disappointing young Hadrian was set on a new career path. This time – though still very young – as a judge in an inheritance court in Rome.
And alas he shortly afterwards succeeded as a military officer in the Second Legion ‘Adiutrix’ and then in the Fifth Legion ‘Macedonia’ on the Danube.
In Ad 97 when Trajan, based in Upper Germany was adopted by Nerva, it was Hadrian who was sent form his base to carry the congratulations of his legion to the new imperial heir.
But in AD 98 Hadrian seized the great opportunity of Nerva’s to carry the news to Trajan. Uttely determined to be the first to carry this news to the new emperor he raced to Germany. With others also seeking to be the bearers of the good news to a no doubt grateful emperor it was quite a race, with many an obstacle being purposely placed in Hadrian’s way. But he succeeded, even traveling the last stages of his journey on foot. Trajan’s gratitude was assured and Hadrian indeed became a very close friend of the new emperor.
In AD 100 Hadrian married Vibia Sabina, the daughter of Trajan’s niece Matidia Augusta, after having accompanied the new emperor to Rome.
Soon after followed the first Dacian war, during which time Hadrian served as quaestor and staff officer.
With the second Dacian war following soon after the first, Hadrian was given command of the First Legion ‘Minervia’, and once he returned to Rome he made praetor in AD 106. A year thereafter he was governor of Lower Pannonia and then consul in AD 108.
When Trajan embarked on his Parthian campaign in AD 114, Hadrian once more held a key position, this time as governor of the important military province of Syria.
There is no doubt that Hadrian was of high status during Trajan’s reign, and yet there were no immediate signs that he was intended as the imperial heir.
The details of Hadrian’s succession are indeed mysterious. Trajan might well have decided on his deathbed to make Hadrian his heir.
But the sequence of events does indeed seem suspicious. Trajan died the 8 August AD 117, on the 9th it was announced at Antioch that he had adopted Hadrian. But only by the 11th was it made public that Trajan was dead.
According to the historian Dio Cassius, Hadrian’s accession was solely due to the actions of empress Plotina, kept Trajan’s death a secret for several days. In this time she sent letters to the senate declaring Hadrian’s the new heir. These letter however carried her own signature, not that of emperor Trajan, probably using the excuse that the emperor’s illness made him to feeble to write.
Yet another rumor asserted that someone had been sneaked into Trajan’s chamber by the empress, in order to impersonate his voice. Once Hadrian’s accession was secure, and only then, did empress Plotina announce Trajan’s death.
Hadrian, already in the east as governor of Syria at the time, was present at Trajan’s cremation at Seleucia (the ashes were thereafter shipped back to Rome). Though now he was there as emperor.
Right from the start Hadrian made it clear that he was his own man. One of his very first decisions was the abandonment of the eastern territories which Trajan had just conquered during his last campaign. Had Augustus a century before spelled out that his successors should keep the empire within the natural boundaries of the rivers Rhine, Danube and Euphrates, then Trajan had broken that rule and had crossed the Euphrates.
On Hadrian’s order once pulled back to behind the Euphrates again.
Such withdrawal, the surrender territory for which the Roman army had just paid in blood, will hardly have been popular.
Hadrian did not travel directly back to Rome, but first set out for the Lower Danube to deal with trouble with the Sarmatians at the border. While he was there he also confirmed Trajan’s annexation of Dacia. The memory of Trajan, the Dacian gold mines and the army’s misgivings about withdrawing from conquered lands clearly convinced Hadrian that it might not be wise always to withdraw behind the natural boundaries advised by Augustus.
If Hadrian set out to rule as honorably as his beloved predecessor, then he got off to a bad start. He had not arrived in Rome yet and four respected senators, all ex-consuls, were dead. Men of the highest standing in Roman society, all had been killed for plotting against Hadrian. Many however saw these executions as a way by which Hadrian was removing any possible pretenders to his throne. All four had been friends of Trajan. Lusius Quietus had been a military commander and Gaius Nigrinus had been a very wealthy and influential politician in fact so influential he had been thought a possible successor to Trajan.
But what makes the ‘affair of the four consulars’ especially unsavory is that Hadrian refused to take any responsibility for this matter. Might other emperors have gritted their teeth and announced that a ruler needed to act ruthlessly in order to grant the empire a stable, unshakable government, then Hadrian denied everything.
He even went as far as swearing a public oath that he was not responsible. More so he said that it had been the senate who had ordered the executions (which is technically true), before placing the blame firmly on Attianus, the praetorian prefect (and his former join-guardian with Trajan).
However, if Attianus had done anything wrong in the eyes of Hadrian, it is hard to understand why the emperor would have made him consul thereafter.
Despite such an odious start to his reign, Hadrian quickly proved to be a highly capable ruler. Army discipline was tightened and the border defenses were strengthened. Trajan’s welfare programme for the poor, the alimenta, was further expanded. Most of all though, Hadrian should become known for his efforts to visit the imperial territories personally, where he could inspect provincial government himself.
These far-ranging journeys would begin with a visit to Gaul in AD 121 and would end ten years later on his return to Rome in AD 133-134. No other emperor would ever see this much of his empire. From as far west as Spain to as far east as the province of Pontus in modern day Turkey, from as far north as Britain to as far south as the Sahara desert in Libya, Hadrian saw it all. Though this was not mere sight-seeing.
Far more Hadrian sought to gather first-hand information about the various problem the provinces faced. His secretaries compiled entire books of such information. Perhaps the most famous result of Hadrian’s conclusions when seeing for himself the problems faced by the territories, was his order to construct the great barrier which still today runs across northern England, Hadrian’s Wall, which once shielded the British Roman province from the wild northern barbarians of the isle.
Since a very young age Hadrian had held a fascination for Greek learning and sophistication. So much so, he was dubbed the ‘Greekling’ by his contemporaries. Once he became emperor his tastes for all things Greek should became a trademark of his. He visited Athens, still the great centre of learning, no fewer than three times during his reign. And his grand building programmes did not limit itself to Rome with a few grand buildings in other cities, but also Athens benefited extensively from its great imperial patron.
Yet even this great love of art should become sullied by Hadrian’s darker side. Had he invited Trajan’s architect Apollodorus of Damascus (the designer of Trajan’s Forum) to comment on his own design for a temple, he then turned on him, once the architect showed himself little impressed. Apollodorus was first banished and later executed. Had great emperors shown themselves able to handle criticism and listen to advice, then Hadrian who at times patently was unable, or unwilling, to do so.
Hadrian appears to have been a man of mixed sexual interests. The Historia Augusta criticizes both his liking of good looking young men as well as his adulteries with married women.
If his relations with his wife was anything but close, then the rumour that he tried to poson her might suggest that it was even much worse than that.
When it comes to Hadrian’s apparent homosexuality, then the accounts remain vague and unclear. Most of the attention centres on the young Antinous, whom Hadrian grew very fond of. Statues of Antinous have survived, showing that imperial patronage of this youth extended to having sculptures made of him. In AD 130 Antinous accompanied Hadrian to Egypt. It was on a trip on the Nile when Antinous met with an early and somewhat mysterious death. Officially, he fell from the boat and drowned. But a perisistent rumour spoke of Antinous having been a sacrifice in some bizarre eastern ritual.
The reasons for the young man’s death might not be clear, but was is known is that Hadrian grieved deeply for Antinous. He even founded a city along the banks of the Nile where Antinous had drowned, Antinoopolis. Touching as this might have seemed to some, it was an act deemed unbefitting an emperor and drew much ridicule.
If the founding of Antinoopolis had caused some eyebrows to be raised then Hadrian’s attempts to re-found Jerusalem were little more than disastrous.
Had Jerusalem been destroyed by Titus in AD 71 then it had never been rebuilt since. At least not officially. And so, Hadrian, seeking to make a great historical gesture, sought to build a new city there, to be called Aelia Capitolina. Hadrian planning a grand imperial Roman city, it was to boast a grand temple to Juliter Capitolinus on the temple mount.
The Jews, however, were hardly to stand by and watch in silence while the emperor desecrated their holiest place, the ancient site of the Temple of Solomon. And so, with Simeon Bar-Kochba as its leader, an embittered Jewish revolt arose in AD 132. Only by the end of AD 135 was the situation back under control, with over half a million Jews having lost their lives in the the fighting.
This might have been Hadrian’s only war, and yet it was a war for which only really one man could be blamed – emperor Hadrian. Though it must be added that the troubles surrounding the Jewish insurrection and its brutal crushing were unusual in Hadrian’s reign. His government was, but for this occasion, moderate and careful.
Hadrian showed a great interest in law and appointed a famous African jurist, Lucius Salvius Julianus, to create a definitive revision of the edicts which had been pronounced every year by the Roman praetors for centuries.
This collection of laws was a milestone in Roman law and provided the poor with at least a chance of gaining some limited knowledge of the legal safeguards to which they were entitled.
In AD 136 Hadrian, whose health began to fail, sought an heir before he would die, leaving the empire without a leader. He was 60 years old now. Perhaps he feared that, being without an heir might make him vulnerable to a challenge to the throne as he grew more frail. Or he simply sought to secure a peaceful transition for the empire. Whichever version is true, Hadrian adopted Lucius Ceionius Commodus as his successor.
Once more the more menacing side of Hadrian showed as he order the suicide of those he suspected opposed to Commodus’ accession, most notably the distinguished senator and Hadrian’s brother-in-law Lucius Julius Ursus Servianus.
Though the chosen heir, though only in his thirties, suffered from bad health and so Commodus was already dead by 1 January AD 138.
A month after Commodus’ death, Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius, a highly respected senator, on the condition that the childless Antoninus in turn would adopt Hadrian’s promising young nephew Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus (the son of Commodus) as heirs.
Hadrian’s final days were a grim affair. He became even more ill and spent extended periods in severe distress. As he sought to end his life with either a blade or poison, his servants grew ever more vigilant to keep such items from his grasp. At one point he even convinced a barbarian servant by name of Mastor to kill him. But at the last moment Mastor failed to obey.
Despairing, Hadrian left government in the hands of Antoninus Pius, and retired, dying soon afterwards at the pleasure resort of Baiae on 10 July AD 138.
Had Hadrian been a brilliant administrator and had he provided the empire with a period of stability and relative peace for 20 years, he died a very unpopular man.
He had been a cultured man, devoted to religion, law, the arts – devoted to civilization. And yet, he also bore that dark side in him which could reveal him similar to a Nero or a Domitian at times. And so he was feared. And feared men are hardly ever popular.
His body was buried twice in different places before finally his ashes were laid to rest in the mausoleum he had built for himself at Rome.
It was only with reluctance that the senate accepted Antoninus Pius’ request to deify Hadrian.
Hadrian arrived in Rome in the summer of AD 118, nearly a year after his actual succession to Trajan. His predecessor's eastern conquests had facilitated a massive Jewish revolt which required an in-kind legionary response. While these revolts were largely quelled while Trajan was still alive, Hadrian was forced to finish the work. As one part of his ultimate resolution of the matter, Hadrian understood the difficulty in controlling the east beyond the Euphrates River and gave up Trajan's recent conquests.
While unpopular, especially to the legions that had brought these territories under Roman control with their blood, the desire to mark natural defensible borders necessitated the policy. In Dacia, however, whether he felt a need to deflect a growing sense of legionary resentment at his eastern withdrawal policy, desired continued economic control of Dacia's important mineral wealth (gold mines) or a combination of both, Hadrian confirmed and upheld Trajan's annexation of the territory.
Hadrian's eventual arrival in Rome was greeted with Senatorial hostility, thanks largely to the executions of four proconsular magistrates. As such, Hadrian focused on measures to increase his popularity with the masses. Numerous honors were voted upon Trajan (though more from the Senate than directly from Hadrian), massive debt was cancelled in an enormously popular public burning of the records, the port at Ostia was expanded to secure additional grain supplies and the alimenta (essentially providing government support to local communities) begun by Nerva and expanded by Trajan was continued. Building and restoration of public works throughout the empire was conducted on an unprecedented scale and Hadrian was an enormous patron of the arts and literature. Perhaps the most important achievement of Hadrian's reign was the reformation of the legal system. Conducted by Salvius Julianus (grandfather to future emperor Didius Julianus), these reforms included regular review of magisterial decrees and edicts ensuring that such measures provided desired and positive effects.
Despite his efforts, some reforms and projects (such as tearing down a theatre built by Trajan on the Campus Martius) were terribly unpopular. His poor relationship and lack of popularity with the senate, coupled with a strong desire to review the Empire's defenses, inspired him to leave the hostile city and explore the provinces first hand. In AD 121, Hadrian left Rome on an extended tour beginning to the north in Gaul. Form there he continued to Germania where the legions were drilled and trained in such a manner as to increase discipline that had grown lax. For centuries Roman armies had been raised only for temporary purposes involving conquest or defense from invaders. It was only during the imperial period that the legions became permanent standing forces that maintained static garrisons. As such, complacency from inactivity was a genuine concern. In addition to personally drilling the men (and performing such training right along with them), defense works were inspected, men of quality promoted and arrangements for military supply and logistics were settled.
From Germania, Hadrian continued north to Britannia where the matter of a defined controllable border was an ultimate concern. Unlike other frontier provinces such as Germania, which used the Danube and Rhine Rivers as natural borders, Britain had no such clearly marked and defensible position. Despite previous efforts to bring the far north under Roman control (under Agricola during the reign of Domitian) the logistical problems of asserting dominance over the scattered highland tribes made such efforts impractical. As northern Britain lacked a naturally defensible position, Hadrian ordered the situation remedied by the building of a massive wall to separate Rome from barbarian. Hadrian's Wall was built by legionaries (contrary to popular opinion, Roman armies rather than slaves had always been responsible for building not only defense works, but roads and sometimes aqueducts) in a massive effort that spanned eight years (AD 122 - 130).
The wall, stretching for 80 miles between modern Carlisle in the west and Newcastle in the east, was between 8 and 10 ft. thick and as high as 15 feet tall. Mile castles were built at 1 mile intervals (hence the name) and were garrisoned by auxilia (numbering approximately 9,000 men at any given time). Though the wall itself was a formidable defensive structure, its ultimate purpose was not truly to serve as a barrier, but as a deterrent to tribal aggression and perhaps more importantly, to act as a funnel forcing trade and civilian traffic through well regulated defensible positions.
From Britain, Hadrian continued south to Hispania and then to Mauretania in Northern Africa, where a revolt of the Moors was suppressed. From the African coastal city of Cyrene, Hadrian continued east (which he preferred due its Hellenistic nature) visiting Crete, Syria, Pontus, Bithynia, Asia Minor and circling back through Thracia, Moesia, Dacia, Pannonia, Greece, Athens and Sicily before finally returning to Rome in AD 125. Spending just a few years in Italy, Hadrian was once again consumed by the 'wanderlust' and returned to Athens by AD 129. Hadrian held a fascination for Greek philosophy and culture and as such would visit Athens at least three times during his reign. The city, too, would benefit greatly from the emperor's patronage in the form of numerous building projects and improvements. The 'Greekling' as Hadrian came to be known, next journeyed from Athens back to Asia, then to Pamphylia, Phrygia, Cilicia, Syria, Cappadocia, Pontus, Antioch and Judaea by AD 130.
Hadrian's journey would continue to Aegyptus, again to Syria, Asia and Athens and eventually back to Rome in AD 132, but it was in Judaea that Hadrian's ambitious plans took a turn for the worse. In most of his provincial visits he was greeted enthusiastically thanks in part to gifts he offered to the populace, coupled with various public works projects. In the home of the Jews, however, there was a natural enmity carried over from the revolts during Trajan's reign and Hadrian paid little heed to the volatility of the region. First, he planned to rebuild Jerusalem (largely razed by Titus in AD 70) in the manner of a Roman city, complete with a temple to Jupiter where the Great Temple of Jerusalem once stood. While this affront to the religious sensibilities of the Jews passed without major incident, it planted the seeds of discontent. Two years later Hadrian, whose Hellenistic sensibilities found several strange Jewish customs to be repulsive, passed a law forbidding the Jewish practice of circumcision. As unrest began to stir, the collapse of the tomb of Solomon in Jerusalem due to Roman construction activity, was the final catalyst to set off wide spread revolt.
The revolt, led by Simon ben Kosiba (or Bar Kochba for 'son of star' indicating that ben Kosiba was considered a messiah), proved to be yet another difficult challenge for the Romans in Judaea. Lasting for three years (forcing Hadrian to return and remain in the east from AD 134 - 136), thanks in large part to the Jew's wise policy of avoiding direct large scale engagements with Roman legions, the destruction of the province and loss of life was devastating. According to Cassius Dio, nearly 1,000 Jewish villages and just fewer than 600,000 people were killed in various engagements. The Roman losses too were considerable. Having used at least three full legions, numerous auxilia and detachments from several other nearby legions it is assumed - because it disappears from historical records after this point - that at least one legion, XXII Deiotariana, was completely destroyed in the uprising and never reconstituted.
When the Romans were eventually victorious in AD 136, Hadrian's punishment was severe. Dead Jews were left unburied and to rot in the streets for years and many others were sold as slaves. Jewish temples were replaced by Pagan equivalents, Rabbis were imprisoned and executed, it was forbidden to teach Mosaic Law or to own religious scrolls and the people were forbidden even from entering Jerusalem. To drive the point home, the city was even renamed to Aelia Capitolina and Judaea itself to Palestinae. Following the brutal suppressions of both Trajan and Hadrian, the Jews had finally settled under Roman control and would never again rise up against them.
Roman emperor (117-138). At the very beginning of his reign he was called upon to suppress the final outbreaks of Jewish rebellion at Cyrene and Alexandria. According to a late but trustworthy source, he is said to have enticed the Jews of Alexandria into the open country, where about 50,000 of them were killed by his soldiers (Eliyahu R. xxx. 3). Afterward he seems to have avoided conflict with the Jews and to have granted them certain privileges. The Jewish sibyl, in fact, praises him (Sibyllines, v. 248) and Jewish legend says that R. Joshua b. Hananiah was on friendly terms with him, and that Hadrian intended to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem (Gen. R. lxiv.). This agrees with the statement of Epiphanius ("De Mensuris et Ponderibus," § 14) that the emperor commissioned the proselyte Akylas (Aquila)—who, according to the rabbinical legend, was related to him—to supervise the building at Jerusalem, this of course referring to the city and not to the Temple. Other Christian sources, as Chrysostom, Cedrenus, and Nicephorus Callistus, say that the Jews had intended to build the Temple themselves but a passagein the Epistle of Barnabas (xvi. 4)—though its interpretation is disputed among scholars—seems to indicate that the Jews expected the pagans to rebuild the Temple.
Scholars also differ as to the cause of the rebellion. According to Gregorovius (comp. Schlatter, "Die Tage Trajans und Hadrians," p. 2), "Palestinians instituted the kingdom of Jerusalem as a protection against the oppressions of Hadrian." Other scholars, however, say that the institution of the Messianic kingdom followed upon the rebuilding of the Temple. Even the ancient sources differ on this point. Thus, Spartianus ("Hadrianus," § 14) reports that the Jews rebelled because circumcision was interdicted while the more reliable Dion Cassius says (lxix. 12) that Hadrian attempted to turn Jerusalem into a pagan city, which the Jews regarded as an abomination, and they therefore rebelled. It is possible that both of these measures were responsible for the rebellion on the other hand, it is also possible that they were merely the consequences of it. Hadrian, who had a gentle disposition, was lauded throughout the great empire as a benefactor he indeed so proved himself on his many journeys. Palestinian cities like Cæsarea, Tiberias, Gaza, and Petra owed much to him and his presence in Judea in 130 is commemorated on coins with the inscription "Adventui Aug[usti] Judææ." He therefore could have had no intention of offending the Jews but as a true Roman he believed only in the Roman "sacra" (Spartianus, l.c. § 22). It may have happened that in his zeal to rebuild destroyed cities he had disregarded the peculiarities of the Jews. The law against circumcision was founded on earlier Roman laws, and did not affect the Jews only. So long as the emperor was in Syria and Egypt the Jews remained quiet but after his departure in 132 the rebellion under Bar Kokba broke out.
It seems that Hadrian himself remained in Judea until the rebellion had been put down (Darmesteter, in "R. E. J." i. 49 et seq.), and he may have mentioned the Jews in his autobiography, a point that Dion Cassius dwells upon but he did not use the customary formula in his report to the Senate, that he and the army were well (Dion Cassius, l.c.), for the Roman army also was suffering. After the dearly bought victory in 135, Hadrian received for the second time the title of "imperator," as inscriptions show. Now only could he resume the building, on the ruins of Jerusalem, of the city Ælia Capitolina, called after him and dedicated to Jupiter Capitolinus. A series of magnificent edifices that Hadrian erected in Jerusalem are enumerated in a source that gathered its information probably from Julianus Africanus ("Chron. Paschale," ed. Dindorf, i. 474 "J. Q. R." xiv. 748). The temple of Jupiter towered on the site of the ancient Temple, with a statue of Hadrian in the interior (Jerome, Comm. on Isaiah ii. 9). The Jews now passed through a period of bitter persecution Sabbaths, festivals, the study of the Torah, and circumcision were interdicted, and it seemed as if Hadrian desired to annihilate the Jewish people. His anger fell upon all the Jews of his empire, for he imposed upon them an oppressive poll-tax (Appian, "Syrian War," § 50). The persecution, however, did not last long, for Antoninus Pius revoked the cruel edicts.
After this the Jews did not hold Hadrian's memory in high honor the Talmud and Midrash follow his name with the curse "Crush his bones." His reign is called the time of persecution and danger, and the blood of many martyrs is charged to his account. He is considered the type of a pagan king (Gen. R. lxiii. 7).
Bronze head from a statue of the Emperor Hadrian
Hadrian (reigned 117-138 C.E.), once a tribune (staff officer) in three different legions of the Roman army and commander of a legion in one of Trajan’s wars, was often shown in military uniform. He was clearly keen to project the image of an ever-ready soldier, but other conclusions have been drawn from his surviving statues.
Fixing the Empire’s borders
When Hadrian inherited the Roman Empire, his predecessor, Trajan’s military campaigns had over-stretched it. Rebellions against Roman rule raged in several provinces and the empire was in serious danger. He ruthlessly put down rebellions and strengthened his borders. He built defensive barriers in Germany and Northern Africa.
Rome’s first emperor, Augustus (reigned 27 B.C.E.– 14 C.E.), had also suffered severe military setbacks, and took the decision to stop expanding the empire. In Hadrian’s early reign Augustus was an important role model. He had a portrait of him on his signet ring and kept a small bronze bust of him among the images of the household gods in his bedroom.
Like Augustus before him, Hadrian began to fix the limits of the territory that Rome could control. He withdrew his army from Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq, where a serious insurgency had broken out, and abandoned the newly conquered provinces of Armenia and Assyria, as well as other parts of the empire.
Hadrian is also famous as the emperor who built the eighty-mile-long wall across Britain, from the Solway Firth to the River Tyne at Wallsend: “to separate the barbarians from the Romans” in the words of his biographer. This head comes from a statue of Hadrian that probably stood in Roman London in a public space such as a forum. It would have been one and a quarter times life-size.
This statue may have been put up to commemorate Hadrian’s visit to Britain in 122 C.E. Hadrian travelled very extensively throughout the Empire, and imperial visits generally gave rise to program of rebuilding and beautification of cities. There are many known marble statues of him, but this example made in bronze is a rare survival.
Born in Rome but of Spanish descent, Hadrian was adopted by the emperor Trajan as his successor. Having served with distinction on the Danube and as governor of Syria, Hadrian never lost his fascination with the empire and its frontiers.
At Tivoli, to the east of Rome, he built an enormous palace, a microcosm of all the different places he had visited. He was an enthusiastic public builder, and perhaps his most celebrated building is the Pantheon, the best preserved Roman building in the world. Hadrian’s Wall is a good example of his devotion to Rome’s frontiers and the boundaries he established were retained for nearly three hundred years.
A lover of culture
Hadrian was the first Roman emperor to wear a full beard. This has usually been seen as a mark of his devotion to Greece and Greek culture.
Hadrian openly displayed his love of Greek culture. Some of the senate scornfully referred to him as Graeculus (“the Greekling”). Beards had been a marker of Greek identity since classical times, whereas a clean-shaven look was considered more Roman. However, in the decades before Hadrian became emperor, beards had come to be worn by wealthy young Romans and seem to have been particularly prevalent in the military. Furthermore, one literary source, the Historia Augusta, claims that Hadrian wore a beard to hide blemishes on his face.
Hadrian fell seriously ill, perhaps with a form of dropsy (swelling caused by excess fluid), and retired to the seaside resort of Baiae on the bay of Naples, where he died in 138 C.E.
The image of the Roman Emperor
Torso of a statue of the emperor Hadrian wearing a cuirass, c. 130-141 C.E., 137 cm high, from Cyrene, northern Africa © Trustees of the British Museum. In this statue we see Hadrian presented as the commander-in-chief. We know from ancient literary sources that Hadrian was particularly keen to project a strong military image.
The cult of the Emperor combined religious and political elements and was a vital factor in Roman military and civil administration. Deceased rulers were often deified, and though the living Emperor, who was the state’s chief priest, was not himself worshipped as a god, his “numen,” the spirit of his power and authority, was.
The image of the ruler and information about his achievements was spread primarily through coinage. In addition, statues and busts, in stone and bronze and occasionally even precious metal, were placed in a variety of official and public settings. They varied in size: colossal, life-size and smaller. Such images symbolized the power of the state and the essential unity of the Empire.
As well as the political importance of representations of the Emperor, his physical appearance and that of his consort and family were familiar to people throughout the Empire. This influenced fashion and such representations can assist the modern archaeologist and art-historian. For example, beards became fashionable after the accession of Hadrian, and the hairstyles of Empresses and other Imperial women may be seen in private portraiture and decorative art, even in remote provinces such as Britain.
Tivoli - Hadrian's Villa - Pecile
Tivoli - Hadrian's Villa - Venus Temple
Tivoli - Hadrian's Villa - Maritime Theatre
Tivoli - Hadrian's Villa - Maritime Theatre
Tivoli - Hadrian's Villa - Detail of a mosaic floor
Tivoli - Hadrian's Villa - Building with three exedras
Tivoli - Hadrian's Villa - Building with fishpond
Tivoli - Hadrian's Villa - Serapeum
Tivoli - Hadrian's Villa - Canopus
Tivoli - Hadrian's Villa - Canopus
Tivoli - Villa Adriana - Complesso del Canopo
Tivoli - Villa Adriana - Canopo, Statua - copyright De Agostini
Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli is one of the Italian UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Built by the request of the Emperor Hadrian, the Villa is a monumental living complex that even today continues to display the lavishness and enormous power of Ancient Rome.
In Tivoli, Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana) was designed to be a home for the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 117 A.D. Construction began on top of the foundation of a pre-existing villa that belonged to his wife Vibia Sabina. The Villa, located 28 km (17.4 mi) from the Capital on the Monti Tiburtini, could be reached via the ancient Roman roads Tiburtina and Prenestina, or else by the River Aniene.
The area was chosen for its abundant waters and availability of four aqueducts that passed through to Rome: Anio Vetus, Anio Nobus, Aqua Marcia and Aqua Claudia.
One can still find here the sulphur water springs (the Acque Albule) that the Emperor enjoyed – today’s Tivoli Baths!
Given archaeological evidence and certain written sources, we know that the Roman villa and the domus were partitioned into different settings with precise functions and according to a scheme that is often repeated for example, the floor-plan of Hadrian’s Villa is comparable to those of the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii and the Villa of Poppaea in Oplontis (near Torre Annunziata). Despite the fact that the Villa utilizes traditional architectonic language and iconography, it was in any case projected in a rather different, original style.
The Villa's Structure
It is shaped by a series of interdependent and inter-locking structures, each one with its own individual purpose: the structure with three exedrae, the Nymph Stadium, a fishing structure, the four-sided portico, the small thermal water baths, and the Praetors’ (Roman bodyguards’) vestibule.
The symmetries and the interdependence of the structures – connected one to another via guarded access points created for both the privacy and security of the Emperor – make it clear that together they composed a monumental compound that mirrored Hadrian's image as a great and sophisticated man.
In fact, to show off his tastes and inclinations, he reproduced inside this residence the places and monuments that had fascinated him during his innumerable travels.
Inside the Villa complex, one can see the Poecile, a huge garden surrounded by an arcade with a swimming pool. This area was built so that one could take walks whether it was winter or summer. Then there is the Canopus, a long water basin embellished with columns and statues that culminate in a temple topped by an umbrella dome, and the remains of two bath areas: the Grandi Terme and the Piccole Terme (the large and small baths or thermae). The former contained a frigidarium or large pool of cold water (open-air) and a round room with a coffered dome these coffers were rather particular in that they opened into five large windows. Covered in valuable and decorative stucco, these structures were purposed for the Imperial Family and their guests.
The Grandi Terme, reserved for the personnel of the Villa, consisted of a heating system located under the floor, and a circular room outfitted as a sudatio or sauna. Noteworthy is the large vaulted-arch ceiling in the central room, still in perfect condition (structurally) today, despite the collapse of one of the four supporting piers. Some of the – relatively – best preserved areas of the villa are the accademia, the stadio or arena, the Imperial Palace, the Philosophers’ Room, the Greek Theatre, and the Piazza d'oro, a majestic square the purpose of which was to be a “representation” it was large enough to allow a vast peristyle decorated in refined stucco. Finally, the splendid Teatro Marittimo (Maritime Theatre) is an island of sorts elaborated with an iconic colonnade and circumscribed by a canal. This is where the Emperor isolated himself when he wanted to think amidst silence and tranquility.
To learn more, explore the history of Hadrian's Villa.
Address: Largo Marguerite Yourcenar, 1 - Villa Adriana - Tivoli (RM)
Tel: +39 0774 530203
Website: Official website
Opening hours of the Archaeological Area
January 2-31: 9 am - 5 pm
February 1-29: 9 am - 6 pm
March 1 – last Saturday of March: 9 am - 6:30 pm
Last Sunday of March – April 30: 9 am - 7 pm
1 May - 31 August: Ore 9 am - 7.30 pm
September 1-30: 9 am - 7 pm
October 1 – last Saturday of October: 9 am – 6:30 pm
Last Sunday of October - December 31: 9 am – 5 pm
Closings: January 1, December 25
- Guided tours and audio guides for individuals, groups and schools (Italian, English, French, German and Spanish).
- Parking and bookshop.