Hadrian. 117-138 AD. AE Dupondius. Struck 125-128
Obverse: HADRIANVS AVGVSTVS, radiate head right, slight
Reverse: COS above, III in exergue, S C below, pegasus
springing or flying right
RIC II 658; BMCRE 1330; Cohen 436. (Scarce)
Hadrian Denarius, Issued 120 AD
Obverse: IMP CAESAR TRAIAN HADRIANVS AVG, laureate
bust right, far shoulder draped
Reverse: P M TR P COS III, Mars advancing right with
spear & trophy
Hadrian (Latin: Publius Aelius Hadrianus Augustus; 24 January 76 10 July
138) was Roman emperor from 117 to 138. Hadrian is known for building
Hadrian's Wall, which marked the northern limit of Britannia. He
also rebuilt the Pantheon and constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma.
Philhellene in most of his tastes, he is considered by some to have been
a humanist, and he is regarded as the third of the Five Good Emperors.
Hadrian was born Publius Aelius Hadrianus into a Hispano-Roman family.
Although Italica near Santiponce (in modern-day Spain) is often considered
his birthplace, his actual place of birth remains uncertain. However,
it is generally accepted that he came from a family with centuries-old
roots in Hispania. His predecessor, Trajan, was a maternal cousin
of Hadrian's father. Trajan did not officially designate an heir,
but according to his wife Pompeia Plotina, Trajan named Hadrian emperor
immediately before his death. Trajan's wife and his friend Licinius Sura
were well-disposed towards Hadrian, and he may well have owed his succession
During his reign, Hadrian travelled to nearly every province of the Empire.
An ardent admirer of Greece, he sought to make Athens the cultural capital
of the Empire and ordered the construction of many opulent temples in the
city. He used his relationship with his Greek lover Antinous to underline
his philhellenism and led to the creation of one of the most popular cults
of ancient times. He spent extensive amounts of time with the military;
he usually wore military attire and even dined and slept amongst the soldiers.
He ordered military training and drilling to be more rigorous and even
made use of false reports of attack to keep the army alert.
Upon his accession to the throne, Hadrian withdrew from Trajan's conquests
in Mesopotamia and Armenia, and even considered abandoning Dacia.
Late in his reign he suppressed the Bar Kokhba revolt in Judaea, renaming
the province Syria Palaestina. In 138 Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius
on the condition that Pius adopt Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus as his
own heirs. They would eventually succeed Antoninus as co-emperors.
Hadrian died the same year at Baiae.
Because of what was, in Hadrian's time, already a well established convention
that one could not write a contemporary Roman imperial history for fear
of competing with the emperors' themselves our information on the political
history of Hadrian's reign comes mostly from later, non-continuous sources.
What we have in the way of a general account of Hadrian's reign is Book
69 of the early 3rd century Roman History by Cassius Dio. Dio's original
Greek text of this particular book is lost; what survives is a brief, much
later, Byzantine-era abridgment by the 11th century monk Xiphilinius, who
selected from Dio's account of Hadrian's reign based on his mostly religious
interests, covering the Bar Kokhba war relatively fully to the exclusion
of much else. In Latin, Hadrian's biography is the first of the (probably
late 4th century) collection of imperial biographies known as Historia
Augusta. As this work is not only late, but notorious for its unreliability
("a mish mash of actual fact, cloak and dagger, sword and sandal, with
a sprinkling of Ubu Roi"), it cannot be used as a source without the utmost
care. However, this particular biography is generally considered
to be relatively free of fictional additions, reflecting the existence
of sound historical sources. As far as Hadrian's contemporaries are
concerned, Greek authors such as Philostratus and Pausanias, who wrote
shortly after Hadrian's reign and therefore did not write about his politics
had something to say about his policies, especially on Hadrian's relations
with the provincial Greek world. A younger contemporary, Fronto,
in his Latin correspondence, sheds some light on the general character
of the reign's internal policies. As in the case of all Antonine
emperors, using epigraphical, numismatic, archaeological, and other non-literary
sources is absolutely necessary in tracing a detailed, chronological account.
Without use, above all, of the epigraphical evidence, a continuous account
of Hadrian's reign is impossible, and Hadrian's first modern historian,
the German Nineteenth Century medievalist Gregorovius, was also the first
to try a serious effort at putting together a chronology of his voyages
by study of the inscriptions then available. Other modern historians,
beginning with the German Ernst Kornemann, attempted to sort fact from
fiction out of the Historia Augusta biography, but such efforts had doubtful
results in the absence of alternative sources.
was born Publius Aelius Hadrianus in either Italica or Rome, from a
well-established Roman family with centuries-old roots in Italica, Hispania
Baetica (the republican Hispania Ulterior), near the present-day location
of Seville, Spain.
Although Hadrian's family background made him "Spanish", it is stated in
his Historia Augusta biography that he was born in Rome on 24 January 76,
of an ethnically Hispanic family with vague paternal links to Italy.
However, this may be a complimentary fiction coined in order to make Hadrian
appear as a natural-born Roman instead of a provincial, since his parents,
grandparents, and great-grandparents were all born and raised in Hispania.
It was general knowledge that Hadrian and his predecessor Trajan were
in the words of Aurelius Victor "aliens", people "from the outside" (advenae).
Hadrian's father was Publius Aelius Hadrianus Afer, who as a senator of
praetorian rank would spend much of his time in Rome, away from his homeland
of Hispania. Hadrian's known paternal ancestry can be partially linked
to a family from Hadria, modern Atri, an ancient town of Picenum in Italy.
This family had settled in Italica in Hispania Baetica soon after its founding
by Scipio Africanus several centuries before Hadrian's birth. His
father, Afer, was a paternal cousin of the future Emperor Trajan. Both
Afer and Trajan were born and raised in Hispania. His mother was
Domitia Paulina, who came from Gades (Cádiz). Paulina was
a daughter of a distinguished Hispano-Roman senatorial family. His
paternal great-grandmother is of unknown origin, which means that the exact
amount of his paternal ancestry that can actually be linked to Italy (outside
of nonspecific claims of forebears from Picenum from centuries earlier)
is ultimately unknown.
Hadrian's elder sister and only sibling was Aelia Domitia Paulina, married
to the triple consul Lucius Julius Ursus Servianus, his niece was Julia
Serviana Paulina, and his great-nephew was Gnaeus Pedanius Fuscus Salinator,
from Barcino (Barcelona). His parents died in 86 when Hadrian was
ten, and the boy then became a ward of both Trajan and Publius Acilius
Attianus (who was later Trajan's Praetorian Prefect). Hadrian was
schooled in various subjects particular to young aristocrats of the day,
and was so fond of learning Greek literature that he was nicknamed Graeculus
Hadrian visited Italica when (or never left it until) he was 14 years old,
when he was recalled by Trajan, who thereafter looked after his development.
He never returned to Italica although it was later made a colonia in his
Career up to the Dacian Wars:
After his start at the vigintivirate (the minor posts whose holding qualified
one for the senatorial career, cursus), Hadrian's first military service
was as a tribune of the Legio II Adiutrix. Exceptionally, he held
a second tribunate when he was afterwards transferred to Legio V Macedonica
and in such a capacity was chosen to inform Trajan of his adoption by Nerva.
He was then retained in Germany presumably on Trajan's orders and was
transferred to hold an even more exceptional third tribunate in Legio XXII
Primigenia. The fact that he had three spells of military service
instead of just one or two, as was customary to the regular senator
points to a thorough military career and gave Hadrian an advantage, in
terms of military expertise, over most scions from older senatorial families.
When Nerva died in 98, Hadrian rushed to inform Trajan personally, coming
in advance of the official envoy sent by the governor, Hadrian's brother-in-law
and rival Lucius Julius Ursus Servianus but this may be a fiction coined
by Hadrian himself.
In 101 Hadrian began his senatorial career by being chosen quaestor, being
charged with the task of reading Trajan's speeches to the Senate and
possibly composing them himself. Next, he was ab actis senatus, charged
with the task of keeping the Senate's record of its proceedings.
Next, he was created Tribune of the Plebs. From then on he began
to be surrounded by stories about omens and portents that supposedly announced
his future imperial condition. According to the Historia Augusta,
Hadrian had a great interest in astrology and divination and had been announced
his future accession to the Empire by a grand-uncle who was himself a skilled
astrologer. It is also noteworthy, however, that Trajan did not make
Hadrian a Patrician, so as to allow him to become consul earlier, without
having to hold the office of tribune.
During the First Dacian War, Hadrian was a member of Trajan's personal
entourage, being excused from his military post in order to take office
in Rome as tribune of the plebs. During the Second Dacian War, he
was relieved early from Trajan's personal attendance, becoming legate of
a legion Legio I Minervia and afterwards governor of Lower Pannonia.
Therefore, during both Dacian wars Hadrian developed a contradictory record
as far as marks of Trajan's favour were concerned, at the same time receiving
the signal honour of assuming the tribunate of the plebs a year earlier
than was customary and being consistently kept away from Trajan's innermost
circle of advisers. Perhaps an apt summary of the entire situation
is an anecdote preserved by the Historia Augusta biography which states
that, at about the same time, Hadrian received from Trajan the gift of
a diamond ring that Trajan himself had received from Nerva, "and by this
gift he [Hadrian] was encouraged in his hopes of succeeding to the throne".
Relationship with Trajan and Trajan's family:
What offered Hadrian a comparative advantage in the race for Trajan's succession
were his connections to Trajan's female relatives. Around the time
of his accession to the quaestorship, he married Trajan's grandniece, Vibia
Sabina, in a move that seems to have been conceived by the empress Plotina,
on whose favour he always counted. Plotina seems to have counted
on Hadrian as a token of her future influence after Trajan's death, a way
to avoid the political oblivion that befell her older contemporary, former
empress Domitia Longina. Also, the fact that Plotina was a very learned
woman with a philosophical upbringing meant that she shared with Hadrian
interests that were political as well as intellectual, such as the idea
of the Roman Empire as a commonwealth sharing a common Hellenic culture.
As the prospects of Hadrian's rise were firstly a way to keep power into
Trajan's family, by marrying Sabina, Hadrian counted also on the support
not only of Plotina, but of his bride's mother, Trajan's niece Salonina
Matidia, daughter of Trajan's sister Ulpia Marciana. However, Trajan
himself seemed to be far less enthusiastic. The subsequent relationship
between Hadrian and Sabina was exceptionally and scandalously poor, even
for a marriage of convenience. Also, Hadrian was at the time involved
in some unexplained quarrel told in Historia Augusta around his relationships
with Trajan's boy favourites, whom he had supposedly tried to groom.
All these circumstances might explain the downturn experienced by Hadrian's
fortunes late during Trajan's reign. Hadrian failed to achieve the
honour of a regular consulate before his own reign, being only suffect
consul for 108. As much as Trajan surely actively promoted Hadrian's
advancement, he did it in a very measured, careful way.
Nevertheless, when Sabina's grandmother Ulpia Marciana died between 112
and 114, she was deified by the Senate and her daughter Salonina Matidia
made a "princess of the blood", an Augusta. This made Hadrian, late during
Trajan's reign, the first senator in history to have an Augusta as his
mother-in-law, something that his contemporaries could not fail to notice.
It was at that time, in his mid-twenties, that Hadrian travelled to Greece,
where he attended the lectures of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, at the
time living in the city of Nicopolis. He was also eponymous archon
in Athens for a brief time, and was elected an Athenian citizen.
The Athenians awarded Hadrian a statue with an inscription in the Theater
of Dionysus offering a detailed account of his cursus honorum, which confirms
and expands the one in Historia Augusta. Hadrian's career before
Trajan's death was a regular one for a high ranking Roman senator, but
without any particular distinction befitting an heir designate. After
the 112 Athenian archontate, we hear no more of Hadrian before Trajan's
Parthian War, and it is possible that he remained in Greece until being
summoned into the imperial retinue.
Hadrian was involved in the wars against the Dacians (as legate of the
V Macedonica) and reputedly won awards from Trajan for his successes.
Hadrian's military skill is not well-attested due to a lack of military
action during his reign; however, his keen interest in, and knowledge of,
the army and his demonstrated skill of leadership show possible strategic
Hadrian joined Trajan's expedition against Parthia as a legate on Trajan's
staff. Neither during the first victorious phase, nor during the
second phase of the war when rebellion swept Mesopotamia did Hadrian do
anything of note. However, when the governor of Syria had to be sent
to sort out renewed troubles in Dacia, Hadrian was appointed as a replacement,
giving him an independent command.
Trajan, seriously ill by that time, decided to return to Rome while Hadrian
remained in Syria to guard the Roman rear. In practical terms, that
meant that Hadrian was de facto general commander of the Eastern Roman
army, something that made his power position as a potential claimant to
the throne unchallengeable. Trajan only got as far as Selinus before
he became too ill to go further. While Hadrian may have been the
obvious choice as successor, he had never been adopted as Trajan's heir.
It is possible that Trajan never wanted to commit himself earlier with
the appointment of a successor, as the great number of potential claimants
made it possible that the definite choice of an heir would be seen as an
abdication and therefore dash the chance for a transmission of power in
an orderly way.
As Trajan lay dying, nursed by his wife, Plotina, and closely watched by
Prefect Attianus, he could at last have adopted Hadrian as heir.
Since the document was signed by Plotina, it has been suggested that Trajan
may have already been dead. In a telltale sign, it has been discovered
that Trajan's young manservant Phaedimus died in his late twenties a few
days after Trajan's passing away, in Selinus, and that his body was interred
in Rome only twelve years later. As Phaedimus was probably very close
to Trajan, perhaps he was killed (or killed himself) for fear of his being
posed awkward questions.Also, the recent discovery of an Aureus minted
by Hadrian and presenting him as Caesar - i.e., heir designate - to Trajan
(HADRIANO TRAIANO CAESARI) proves that Plotina and Hadrian had decided
to make Trajan's bogus adoption to pass as official history.
If Trajan's adoption of Hadrian was genuine, it came too late to disuade
other potential claimants. Hadrian's rivals were Trajan's closest
friends, the most experienced and senior members of the imperial council,
compared to whom Hadrian was only an upstart. Therefore, Hadrian, as far
as fellow senators were concerned, could not count on "inside" support,
and had to find political friends elsewhere to secure his newly won position.
According to the Historia Augusta biography, Hadrian himself, in a letter
to the Senate, simply informed of his accession as a fait accompli , given
that "the unseemly haste of the troops in acclaiming him emperor was due
to the belief that the state could not be without an emperor".
Hadrian quickly secured the support of the legions one potential opponent,
the Moorish prince and outstanding general Lusius Quietus, was promptly
dismissed: by taking from Quietus his personal guard of Moorish auxiliaries,
Hadrian could afterwards safely relieve him from his post as governor of
Judea. The Senate's endorsement followed when possibly falsified
papers of adoption from Trajan were presented. According to these papers,
Hadrian had been adopted in absentia on 9 August 117 (Trajan having died
on 8 August), which was technically irregular, as the two parties concerned
were required to be present at the ceremony. The rumour of a falsified
document of adoption carried little weight, as Hadrian's legitimacy arose
from the endorsement of the Senate and above all from the support of
the Syrian armies. Nevertheless, various public ceremonies were organized
Egyptian papyri tell of one organized between 117 and 118 CE extolling
the fact that Hadrian had been divinely chosen by his deified father and
by the gods themselves.
Hadrian did not at first go to Rome he was busy sorting out the East
and suppressing the Jewish revolt that had broken out under Trajan, then
moving on to sort out the Danube frontier. Instead, Attianus, Hadrian's
former guardian, was put in charge in Rome. There he "discovered"
a conspiracy involving four leading Senators including Lusius Quietus and
demanded of the Senate their deaths.
There was no question of a public trial they were hunted down and killed
out of hand. Because Hadrian was not in Rome at the time, he was
able to claim that Attianus had acted on his own initiative. According
to Elizabeth Speller, the real reason for their deaths was that they were
Trajan's men. Or better, the reason for their elimination is simply
that all four were prominent senators of consular rank and, as such, prospective
candidates for the imperial office (capaces imperii). Also, the four
consulars were the chiefs of a war hawk group of senators that was committed
to Trajan's expansionist policies, which Hadrian intended to change. Besides
Lusius Quietus, the consular Aulus Cornelius Palma was a former conqueror
of Arabia Nabatea and as such had a stake on Trajan's Eastern policy. (The
consistent refusal of Hadrian to expand frontiers was to remain a bone
of contention between him and the Senate throughout his reign). Also,
according to the Historia Augusta, Palma, as well as the third consular
Lucius Publilius Celsus (consul for the second time in 113) were Hadrian's
personal enemies and had spoken in public against him. The fourth
executed consular, Gaius Avidius Nigrinus, was an intellectual, friend
to Pliny the Younger and briefly a Governor of Dacia at the start of Hadrian's
reign. Nigrinus' ambiguous relationship with Hadrian would outlive
him, having consequences late in the reign, when Hadrian had to plot his
Hadrian's instrument for getting rid of the four consulars, Prefect Attianus,
was made a senator and promoted to consular rank, being afterwards discarded
by Hadrian, who suspected his personal ambition. It is probable that
Attianus was executed (or was already dead) by the end of Hadrian's reign.
The four consulars episode, however, was to strain Hadrian's relations
with the Senate for his entire reign. This tense relationship and
Hadrian's authoritarian stance towards the Senate was acknowledged one
generation later by Fronto, himself a senator, who wrote in one of his
letters to Marcus Aurelius that "I praised the deified Hadrian, your grandfather,
in the senate on a number of occasions with great enthusiasm, and I did
this willingly, too [...] But, if it can be said respectfully acknowledging
your devotion towards your grandfather I wanted to appease and assuage
Hadrian as I would Mars Gradivus or Dis Pater, rather than to love him".
The strain in the relationship between Hadrian and the Senate, however,
never took the form of an overt confrontation, as had happened during the
reigns of other previous "bad" emperors: Hadrian knew how to remain aloof
in order to avoid an open clash. The Senate's political role, however,
was effaced behind Hadrian's personal rule (in Ronald Syme's view, Hadrian
"was a Führer, a Duce, a Caudillo"). The fact that Hadrian was
to spend half of his reign away from Rome in constant travel undoubtedly
helped the management of this strained relationship. Hadrian, however,
underscored the autocratic character of his reign by counting the day of
his acclamation by the armies as his dies imperiii and legislating by frequent
use of imperial decrees, to avoid having to seek the approval of the Senate.
According to Ronald Syme, it is a disguised account of Hadrian's authoritarian
Principate that is to be found in Tacitus' account of the rise and accession
Hadrian and the military:
Despite his own great reputation as a military administrator, Hadrian's
reign was marked by a general lack of documented major military conflicts,
apart from the Second RomanJewish War. However, disturbances on
the Danubian frontier early in the reign led to the killing of the governor
of Dacia, Caius Julius Quadratus Bassus. After having briefly the
consular Avidius Nigrinus as governor, Hadrian eventually chose as Nigrinius'
successor the then equestrian governor of Mauretania Caesariensis, Q. Marcius
Turbo. Turbo had a long record of distinguished military service
and, being not a senator, could not act as a potential rival to HadrianTurbo
was made joint governor of Dacia and Pannonia Inferior with the powers
of a Prefect.
Shortly after, it was decided by Hadrian that all the part of Dacia that
had been added to the province of Moesia Inferior that is, present-day
Southern Moldavia and the Wallachian Plain was to be surrendered to the
Roxolani Sarmatians, whose king Rasparaganus received Roman citizenship,
client king status and possibly an increased subsidy. The Roman
partial withdrawal was probably supervised by the governor of Moesia Quintus
Pompeius Falco. The presence of Hadrian on the Dacian front at this
juncture, implied by the always unreliable Historia Augusta, is merely
conjectural. Hadrian did not visit Dacia in the course of his subsequent
travels, but nevertheless included it into his subsequent monetary series
of coins with allegories of the provinces. The notion that he contemplated
the idea of withdrawing from Dacia altogether, as stated by Eutropius,
appears, therefore, as unfounded.
Hadrian had already surrendered Trajan's conquests in Mesopotamia, considering
them to be indefensible. In the East, Hadrian contented himself with
retaining suzerainty over Osroene, which was ruled by the client king Parthamaspates,
once client king of Parthia under Trajan. There was almost a new
war with Parthia around 121, but the threat was averted when Hadrian succeeded
in negotiating a peace. Late in the reign (135), an invasion of the
Alani in Capadocia, covertly supported by the king of Caucasian Iberia
Pharasmanes, was successful repulsed by Hadrian's governor, the historian
Arrian a Greek intellectual and fellow student of Epictetus who had been
appointed to the Senate by Hadrian and ruled Capadocia as imperial legate
between 131 and 137. After defeating the Alans, Arrian subsequently
installed a Roman "adviser" in Iberia. On all questions related to
the Black Sea and the Caucasus, Arrian would act as Hadrian's chief adviser,
sending him between 131 and 132 a lengthy letter (Periplus of the Euxine)
on a maritime trip round the Black Sea, intended to offer relevant information
in case of a Roman intervention.
This abandonment of an aggressive policy was something for which the Senate
and its historians never forgave Hadrian: the fourth century historian
Aurelius Victor charged him with being jealous of Trajan's exploits and
deliberately trying to downplay their worthiness: Traiani gloriae invidens.
It is more probable that Hadrian simply considered that the financial strain
to be incurred in keeping on a policy of conquests was something the Roman
Empire could not afford: proof to it is the disappearance during his reigns
of two entire legions: Legio XXII Deiotariana and the famous "lost legion"
IX Hispania, possibly destroyed during a late Trajanic uprising by the
Brigantes in Britain. Also, the acknowledgement of the indefensible
character of the Mesopotamian conquests had perhaps already been made by
Trajan himself, who had disengaged from them at the time of his death.
The peace policy was strengthened by the erection of permanent fortifications
along the empire's borders (limites, sl. limes). The most famous
of these is the massive Hadrian's Wall in Great Britain, built on stone
and doubled on its rear by a ditch (Vallum Hadriani), which marked the
boundary between a strictly military zone and the province. The Danube
and Rhine borders were strengthened with a series of mostly wooden fortifications,
forts, outposts and watchtowers, the latter specifically improving communications
and local area security. These defensive activities, however, generated
very few literary records: the information that it was Hadrian who built
the Wall in Britain can only be found, in the entire corpus of ancient
authors, in his Historia Augusta biography. But then, Hadrian's military
activities were, in a certain measure, ideological, in that they emphasized
a community of interests between all peoples living within the Roman Empire,
instead a hegemony of conquest centered on the city of Rome and its Senate.
To maintain morale and prevent the troops from becoming restive, Hadrian
established intensive drill routines, and personally inspected the armies.
Although his coins showed military images almost as often as peaceful ones,
Hadrian's policy was peace through strength, even threat, with an emphasis
on disciplina (discipline), which was the subject of two monetary series.
This emphasis on spit and polish was heartily praised by Cassius Dio, who
saw it as a useful deterrent and therefore the cause of the general peaceful
character of Hadrian's reign. Fronto, however, expressed other opinions
on the subject: in his view, Hadrian liked to play war games and enjoyed
"giving eloquent speeches to the armies" like the series of addresses,
inscribed on a column, that he made while on an inspection tour during
128 at the new headquarters of Legio III Augusta in Lambaesis rather
than actual warfare. In general, Fronto was very critical of Hadrian's
pacifist policy, charging it with the decline in military standards of
the Roman army of his own time. It was, however, Hadrian who at least
systematized the employment of the numeri ethnic non-citizen troops with
special weapons, such as Eastern mounted archers in low-intensity defensive
tasks such as dealing with infiltrators and skirmishers. Using the
numeri was an economic way to avoid frequent deployment of the legions,
which suffered from a dearth of recruits from Italy as well as from the
more Romanized provinces. Hadrian is also credited with the introduction
of units of cataphracts into the Roman army. This was the Ala I Gallorum
et Pannoniorum catafracta.
Cultural pursuits and patronage:
Hadrian has been described, firstly in an ancient anonymous source later
echoed by Ronald Syme, among others, as the most versatile of all the Roman
Emperors (varius multiplex multiformis). He also liked to demonstrate
knowledge of all intellectual and artistic fields. Above all, Hadrian
patronized the arts: Hadrian's Villa at Tibur (Tivoli) was the greatest
Roman example of an Alexandrian garden, recreating a sacred landscape,
albeit lost in large part to the despoliation of the ruins by the Cardinal
d'Este, who had much of the marble removed to build Villa d'Este.
In Rome, the Pantheon, originally built by Agrippa but destroyed by fire
in 80, was rebuilt under Hadrian (working on a blueprint left by Trajan:
see below) in the domed form it retains to this day. It is among
the best-preserved of Rome's ancient buildings and was highly influential
to many of the great architects of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque
From well before his reign, Hadrian displayed a keen interest in architecture,
but it seems that his eagerness was not always well received. For example,
Apollodorus of Damascus, famed architect of the Forum of Trajan, dismissed
his designs. When Trajan, predecessor to Hadrian, consulted Apollodorus
about an architectural problem, Hadrian interrupted to give advice, to
which Apollodorus replied, "Go away and draw your pumpkins. You know nothing
about these problems." "Pumpkins" refers to Hadrian's drawings of
domes like the Serapeum in his villa. The historian Cassius Dio wrote
that, once Hadrian succeeded Trajan to become emperor, he had Apollodorus
exiled and later put to death. The story, however, is problematical
archaeological evidence (brickstamps with consular dates) has demonstrated,
e.g., that the Pantheon's dome was already under construction late in Trajan's
reign and probably under Apollodorus's sponsorship.
Hadrian wrote poetry in both Latin and Greek; one of the few surviving
examples is a Latin poem he reportedly composed on his deathbed.
Some of his Greek productions found their way into the Palatine Anthology.
He also wrote an autobiography, which Historia Augusta says was published
under the name of Hadrian's freedman Phlegon of Tralles. It was not,
apparently, a work of great length or revelation, but designed to scotch
various rumours or explain Hadrian's most controversial actions.
It is possible that this autobiography had the form of a series of open
letters to Antoninus Pius.
Hadrian was a passionate hunter from the time of his youth, according to
one source. In northwest Asia, he founded and dedicated a city to
commemorate a she-bear he killed. It is documented that in Egypt
he and his beloved Antinous killed a lion. In Rome, eight reliefs
featuring Hadrian in different stages of hunting decorate a building that
began as a monument celebrating a kill.
Another of Hadrian's contributions to "popular" culture (in fact the generalized
mores of the imperial elites) was the beard, which symbolised his philhellenism:
Dio of Prusa had equated the generalized using of the beard with Hellenic
ethos. Since the time of Scipio Africanus it had been fashionable
among the Romans to be clean-shaven. Also, all Roman emperors before
Hadrian, except for Nero (also a great admirer of Greek culture), were
clean shaven. Most of the emperors after Hadrian would be portrayed
with beards. Their beards, however, were not worn out of an appreciation
for Greek culture but because the beard had, thanks to Hadrian, become
fashionable. This new fashion lasted until the reign of Constantine
the Great and was revived again by Phocas at the start of the 7th century.
Notwithstanding his philhellenism, however, in all other everyday life
matters Hadrian behaved as a Roman civic traditionalist, who demanded the
use of the toga by senators and knights in public and strict separation
between the sexes in the public baths and theaters.
As a cultural Hellenophile Hadrian was familiar with the work of the philosophers
Epictetus, Heliodorus and Favorinus. At home he attended to social
needs. Hadrian mitigated slavery: masters were forbidden from killing
their slaves unless allowed by a court to punish them for a grave offense.
Masters were forbidden to sell slaves to a gladiator trainer (lanista)
or to a procurer, except as justified punishment. Hadrian also had
the legal code humanized and forbade torture of free defendants and witnesses,
legislating against the common practice of condemning free persons in order
to have them tortured as a means of gathering information on their supposed
activities and accomplices. He also abolished ergastula, private
prisons for slaves in which kidnapped free men could also be kept.
However, Hadrian's humanitarian views had a limit, namely, the existence
of slavery itself: confronted with a crowd that demanded the freeing of
a popular slave charioteer, he replied that he could not free a slave belonging
to another person. Also, Hadrian at least once personally engaged
in cruelty toward a slave: in a fit of rage, he stabbed the eye of one
of his secretaries with a pen.
He built libraries, aqueducts, baths and theaters. Hadrian is considered
by many historians to have been wise and just: Schiller called him "the
Empire's first servant", and British historian Edward Gibbon admired his
"vast and active genius", as well as his "equity and moderation".
In 1776, he stated that Hadrian's era was part of the "happiest era of
While visiting Greece in 131132, Hadrian attempted to create a kind of
provincial parliament to bind all the semi-autonomous former city states
across all Greece and Ionia (in Asia Minor). This parliament, known
as the Panhellenion, is generally conceived as a failed, albeit spirited,
effort to foster cooperation among the Hellenes. However, as the
German sociologist Georg Simmel remarked, the aim of the Panhellenion was
probably to render Hellenism inert: to divert the feeling of a common Hellenic
identity towards ideal purposes: "games, commemorations, preservation of
an ideal, an entirely non-political Hellenism".
Hadrian died at his villa in Baiae. He was buried in a mausoleum
on the western bank of the Tiber, in Rome, a building later transformed
into a papal fortress, Castel Sant'Angelo. The dimensions of his
mausoleum, in its original form, were deliberately designed to be slightly
larger than the earlier.
According to Cassius Dio, a gigantic equestrian statue was erected to Hadrian
after his death. "It was so large that the bulkiest man could walk
through the eye of each horse, yet because of the extreme height of the
foundation persons passing along on the ground below believe that the horses
themselves as well as Hadrian are very very small." This may refer
to the huge statuary group placed atop the mausoleum, which disappeared
at some later time, depicting Hadrian driving a four-horse quadriga chariot.
The most distinctive aspect of Hadrian's reign was the fact that the Emperor
was to spend more than half of it outside of Italy and engaged in peaceful
pursuits. Obviously, other emperors had often left Rome for long
periods, but then mostly to go to war, returning soon after conflicts concluded.
A previous emperor, Nero, once travelled through Greece and was condemned
for his self-indulgence. According to modern historians such as Paul
Veyne, what Hadrian intended by his incessant travelling was what Nero
had failed to achieve: to break with the sedentary (casanière) tradition
of previous emperors, who saw the Empire as a purely Roman hegemony; instead,
Hadrian sought to make his subjects feel part of a commonwealth of civilized
peoples, sharing a common Hellenic culture. That is why Hadrian,
in a speech to the Senate preserved by Aulus Gellius, supported the creation
of new municipia, autonomous urban communities with their own customs and
laws, over the creation of new colonies, urban communities with a standard
All this did not go well with Roman traditionalism: as far as the Historia
Augusta portrays traditional ideology, Hadrian was regarded by its author
as "a little too much Greek", far more cosmopolitan than it was thought
fit for a Roman emperor. The significance of Hadrian's travels as
a means of stressing the cosmopolitan, ecumenical character of the Roman
Empire was confirmed late during the reign when Hadrian struck a series
of special issue coins representing allegories of the various provinces.
Hadrian traveled as an integral part of his governing, something he made
clear to the Roman Senate and the people. In order to check the Roman
populace, he made recourse to his chief equestrian adviser, Marcius Turbo,
who was made Pretorian Prefect in 121 while he was still joint-governor
of Dacia and Pannonia Inferior and who had as his task to adjudicate
non-senators. As a procurator, Turbo was already regarded as one of the
leading men of the equestrian order. Nonetheless, he was not qualified
to keep a check on the Senate, as Hadrian forbade equestrians to try cases
against senators. The Senate had ultimate legal authority over its
members, as it remained formally the highest court of appeal, from which
appealing to the Emperor was forbidden. There are hints within certain
sources that Hadrian also employed a secret police force, the frumentarii,
on an ad hoc, occasional basis to snoop primarily on people of high social
standing, such as his close friends.
His visits were marked by handouts that often contained instructions for
the construction of new public buildings. His intention was to strengthen
the Empire from within through improved infrastructure, as opposed to conquering
or annexing perceived enemies. This was often the purpose of his
journeys; commissioning new structures, projects and settlements.
His almost evangelical belief in Greek culture strengthened his views:
like many emperors before him, Hadrian's will was almost always obeyed.
Later, the Greek rhetorician Aelius Aristides was to extol his activities
by writing that he "extended over his subjects a protecting hand, raising
them as one helps fallen men on their feet".
His travelling court was large, including administrators and probably also
architects and builders. The burden on the areas he passed through
was sometimes great. While his arrival usually brought some benefits,
it is possible that those who had to bear the burden were of a different
class from those who reaped the benefits. For example, huge amounts
of provisions were requisitioned during his visit to Egypt; this suggests
that the burden on the mainly subsistence farmers must have been intolerable,
causing some measure of starvation and hardship.
At the same time, as in later times all the way through the European Renaissance,
kings were welcomed into their cities or lands, and the financial burden
was completely on them, and only indirectly on the poorer class. Hadrian's
first tour came just four years after assuming the office of Caesar, when
he sought a cure for a skin disease thought to be leprosy and travelled
to Judea Roman province while en route to Egypt. This time also allowed
him the freedom to concern himself with his general cultural aims. At some
point, he travelled north, towards Germania and inspected the RhineDanube
frontier, allocating funds to improve the defences. However, it was
a voyage to the Empire's very frontiers that represented perhaps his most
significant visit; upon hearing of a recent revolt, he journeyed to Britannia.
Britannia and the West (122):
Prior to Hadrian's arrival in Britain, there had been a major rebellion
in Britannia from 119 to 121. Although operations in Britannia at
the time got no mention worthy of note in the literary sources, inscriptions
tell of an expeditio Britannica involving major troop movements, including
sending a vexillatio (i.e., a detachment) of some 3,000 men taken from
legions stationed on the Rhine and in Spain; Fronto writes about military
losses in Britannia at the time. The Historia Augusta notes that
the Britons could not be kept under Roman control; Pompeius Falco was sent
to Britain to restore order, and coins of 119120 refer to this.
In 122 Hadrian initiated the construction of Hadrian's Wall. The wall was
built "to separate Romans from barbarians", according to the Historia Augusta.
It deterred attacks on Roman territory (at a lower cost than a massed border
army) and controlled cross-border trade and immigration.
Unlike the Germanic limes, built of wood palisades, Hadrian's Wall was
primarily a stone construction. The western third of the wall, from
modern-day Carlisle to the River Irthing, was originally built of turf
for unknown reasons. Possibly to hasten its construction, the wall's
width was narrowed in some sections from the original planned 12 feet to
7. The turf wall was, however, later rebuilt in stone, and a large
ditch with adjoining mounds, known today as the Vallum, was dug to the
south of the wall.
Under Hadrian, a shrine was erected in York to Britain as a goddess, and
coins that introduced a female figure as the personification of Britain,
labelled BRITANNIA, were struck. By the end of 122, Hadrian had concluded
his visit to Britannia, and from there headed south to Mauretania, never
to return. Thus he never saw the finished wall that bears his name.
Hadrian appears to have gone to Mauretania through southern Gaul, and it
is probable that he visited Nemausus, where he may have overseen the building
of a basilica dedicated to Plotina, who had meanwhile died in Rome. Plotina
was in due course deified at Hadrian's prompting. Shortly before
her death, Hadrian had already granted Plotina a signal favour, by stating
that succession to the head of the Epicurean School in Athens could be
granted to a non-Roman citizen a petition that had been made by the incumbent
head of the school seeking Plotina's intercession. Matidia Augusta,
Hadrian's mother-in-law, had died earlier, in December 119, and had also
been deified. Both deifications of these prominent female members
of Trajan's family might be seen as an effort by Hadrian to buttress his
legitimacy. At what appears to have been the same time, Hadrian dismissed
his secretary in charge of his official correspondence (ab epistulis),
the historian Suetonius, for "excessive familiarity" towards the empress.
Also dismissed for the same alleged reason was Marcius Turbo's colleague
as Praetorian Prefect, Gaius Septicius Clarus. Given Clarus' high office,
the alleged reason for his dismissal could have been merely a pretext to
remove him from office.
Hadrian spent the winter of 122/123 at Spain, in Tarraco, where he restored
the Temple of Augustus before crossing the Mediterranean into Mauretania.
Africa, Parthia and Anatolia; Antinous (123124):
In 123, he arrived in Mauretania where he personally led a campaign against
local rebels. However, this visit was to be short, as reports came
through that the Eastern nation of Parthia was again preparing for war;
as a result, Hadrian quickly headed eastwards. On his journey east
it is known that at some point he visited Cyrene, during which time he
personally made available funds for the training of the young men of well-bred
families for the Roman military. Cyrene had already benefited from
his generosity: in 119 he had provided funds for the rebuilding of public
buildings destroyed in the recent Jewish revolt. The rebuilding lasted
until late in the reign, and in 138 a statue of Zeus was erected with a
dedication to Hadrian as "saviour and founder" of Cyrene.
When Hadrian arrived on the Euphrates, he characteristically solved the
problem through a negotiated settlement with the Parthian king Osroes I.
He then proceeded to check the Roman defences before setting off west along
the coast of the Black Sea. He probably spent the winter in Nicomedia,
the main city of Bithynia. As Nicomedia had been hit by an earthquake
only shortly prior to his stay, Hadrian was generous in providing funds
for rebuilding, for which he was acclaimed as the chief restorer of the
province as a whole.
It is possible that Hadrian visited Claudiopolis and there espied the beautiful
Antinous, a young boy who was destined to become the emperor's beloved.
Sources say nothing about when Hadrian met Antinous; however, there are
depictions of Antinous that show him as a young man of 20 or so.
As this was shortly before Antinous's death in 130 (the earliest date for
which we can be sure of Antinous' being together with Hadrian) Antinous
in 123 would most likely have been a youth of 13 or 14. It is possible
that Antinous was sent to Rome to be trained as a page to serve the emperor
and only gradually rose to the status of imperial favourite. The
fact is, however, that the actual history of the Antinous/Hadrian relationship
is mostly unknown.
With or without Antinous, Hadrian travelled through Anatolia. The
route he took is uncertain. Various incidents are described, such
as his founding of a city within Mysia, Hadrianutherae, after a successful
boar hunt. (The building of the city was probably more than a mere
whim sparsely populated wooded areas such as the location of the new
city were already ripe for development). Some historians dispute
whether Hadrian did in fact commission the city's construction at all.
At about this time, plans to complete the Temple of Zeus in Cyzicus, begun
by the kings of Pergamon, were put into practice. The temple, whose
completion had been contemplated by Trajan, received a colossal statue
of Hadrian, and was built with dazzling white marble with gold thread.
Cyzicus received the additional honor of being declared a regional center
for the Imperial cult (neocoros), sharing it with Pergamon, Smyrna, Ephesus
and Sardes something that offered the benefits of Imperial sponsorship
of sacred games, attracting tourism and stimulating private expenditure
as well as channeling intercity rivalry into a common acceptance of Roman
The climax of this tour was the destination that Hadrian must have had
in mind all along, Greece. He arrived in the autumn of 124 in time
to participate in the Eleusinian Mysteries. By tradition, at one
stage in the ceremony the initiates were supposed to carry arms; but, this
was waived to avoid any risk to the emperor. At the Athenians' request,
he conducted a revision of their constitution among other things, a new
phyle (tribe) was added bearing his name. Also, a system of coercive
purchases of oil was imposed on Athenian producers in order to ensure an
adequate supply of the commodity; management of the system was left in
the hands of the local Assembly and Council, appeals to the Emperor notwithstanding.
Athens also became the only provincial city to benefit from a regular supply
of grain. Hadrian also created two foundations that were to provide
for the funding of Athens' public games, whenever there was no citizen
wealthy enough (or willing) to sponsor them as a Gymnasiarch or Agonothetes.
Usually, however, Hadrian preferred that civic expenditure by Greek notables
should concentrate on buildings rather than on spectacles and competitions:
in a letter to Aphrodisias he praised a requirement that high priests of
the imperial cult donate funds to works on an aqueduct rather than to gladiatorial
games. Such aqueducts associated with public fountains nymphaea
were one of Hadrian's additions to the Greek urban landscape: besides
Athens, where two such fountains were built, Argos also received a similar
It was possibly at this time that Hadrian received, according to Eusebius,
an apology (i.e., a defense) of the Christian faith made by two Christians,
Quadratus and Aristides. Apparently, Hadrian simply kept to Trajan's
policy of passive tolerance, by which Christians should not be sought after
but sentenced only after due trial. In a rescript addressed to the
proconsul of Asia Minutius Fundanus and preserved by Justin Martyr, Hadrian
laid down that accusers of Christians had to bear the burden of proof for
their denunciations on pain of being punished for calumnia (defamation).
During the winter he toured the Peloponnese. His exact route is uncertain;
however, Pausanias reports of tell-tale signs, such as temples built by
Hadrian and the statue of the emperor in heroic nudity built by the
grateful citizens of Epidaurus in thanks to their "restorer". He
was especially generous to Mantinea, where he restored the Temple of Poseidon
Hippios; this supports the theory that Antinous was in fact already Hadrian's
lover because of the strong link between Mantinea and Antinous's home in
Bithynia. However, as this kinship between Mantinea and Bythinia
was itself a mythological fiction of the kind used at the time for encouraging
political alliances between polities, a more serious reason might exist
for Hadrian's particular generosity. Hadrian's buildings in Greece
were no mere whims, as they followed a pattern of favoring old religious
centers: besides the temple at Mantinea, Hadrian restored other ancient
shrines in Abae, Argos where he restored the Heraion and Megara.
This was a way of gathering legitimacy to Roman imperial rule by associating
it to the glories of classical Greece something well in line with contemporary
antiquarian taste in cultural matters. Hadrian is credited by Pausanias
with restoring to Mantinea its ancient, classical name: it had been named
Antigoneia since Hellenistic times, in honor of the Macedonian king Antigonus
This same idea of resurrecting the classical past under Roman overlordship
was behind the possibility that, during his tour of the Peloponnese, Hadrian
persuaded the Spartan grandee Eurycles Herculanus the contemporary leader
of the Euryclid family that had ruled Sparta since Augustus' day to enter
the Senate, alongside the Athenian grandee Herodes Atticus the Elder.
The two aristocrats would be the first Greeks from Old Greece to enter
the Roman Senate, as "representatives" of the two "great powers" of the
Classical Age. This was an important step in overcoming Greek notables'
haughty disdain and their reluctance to take part in Roman political life.
By March 125, Hadrian had reached Athens, presiding over the festival of
Dionysia. The building program that Hadrian initiated was substantial.
Various rulers had done work on building the Temple of Olympian Zeus over
a timespan of more than five centuries it was Hadrian and the vast resources
he could command that ensured that the job would be finished. He
also initiated the construction of several public buildings on his own
whim and even organized the building of an aqueduct.
Return to Italy and trip to Africa (126128):
On his return to Italy, Hadrian made a detour to Sicily. Coins celebrate
him as the restorer of the island, though there is no record of what he
did to earn this accolade.
Back in Rome, he was able to see for himself the completed work of rebuilding
the Pantheon. Also completed by then was Hadrian's villa nearby at
Tibur, a pleasant retreat by the Sabine Hills for whenever Rome became
too much for him. At the beginning of March 127 Hadrian set off for
a tour of Italy. Once again, historians are able to reconstruct his
route by evidence of his hand-outs rather than the historical records.
For instance, in that year he restored the Picentine earth goddess Cupra
in the town of Cupra Maritima. At some unspecified time he improved
the drainage of the Fucine lake. Less welcome than such largesse
was his decision in 127 to divide Italy into four regions under imperial
legates with consular rank, who had jurisdiction over all of Italy excluding
Rome itself, therefore shifting cases from the courts of Rome. Actually,
the four consulars acted as governors of the regions assigned to them.
Having Italy effectively reduced to the status of a group of mere provinces
did not go down well with Italian hegemonic feelings (especially with the
Roman Senate), and this innovation did not long outlive Hadrian.
Hadrian fell ill around this time, though the nature of his sickness is
not known. Whatever the illness was, it did not stop him from setting
off in the spring of 128 to visit Africa. His arrival began with
the good omen of rain ending a drought. Along with his usual role
as benefactor and restorer, he found time to inspect the troops; his speech
to the troops survives to this day. Hadrian returned to Italy in
the summer of 128 but his stay was brief, as he set off on another tour
that would last three years.
Greece, Asia, and Egypt (128130); Antinous' death:
In September 128, Hadrian again attended the Eleusinian mysteries.
This time his visit to Greece seems to have concentrated on Athens and
Sparta the two ancient rivals for dominance of Greece. Hadrian
had played with the idea of focusing his Greek revival around the Amphictyonic
League based in Delphi, but by now he had decided on something far grander.
His new Panhellenion was going to be a council that would bring Greek cities
together. The meeting place was to be the new temple to Zeus in Athens.
Having set in motion the preparations deciding whose claim to be a Greek
city was genuine would in itself take time Hadrian set off for Ephesus.
The notion of the "Greek city", however, was mostly political and mythological
rather than historical: it involved fabricated claims to Greek origins
and imperial favour. Most importantly, it linked appreciation of
an idealized cultural Hellenism with loyalty to Rome and her Emperor.
The Panhellenion was devised with a view to associating the Roman Emperor
with protection of Greek culture and of the "liberties" of Greece in
the case, urban self-government. It allowed Hadrian to appear as
the fictive heir to Pericles, who supposedly had convened a previous Panhellenic
Congress such a Congress being is mentioned, by the way, only in Pericles'
biography by Plutarch, whose sympathies to the Imperial order are well-known.
Epigraphical evidence suggests, however, that the prospect of "applying"
to the Panhellenion raised less interest in the wealthier cities from Asia
Minor, which were jealous of Athenian and European Greek preeminence.
Hadrian defined Hellenism in a narrow, archaizing manner: no Hellenistic
foundations were admitted into the Panhellenion, as Hadrian defined "Greekness"
in terms of classical roots alone. The fact, however, was that the
old world of civic honors was long dead, something admitted even by Hadrian
in a later letter to the city of Alexandria Troas deciding that payment
of local prizes and allowances to winners of athletic games should begin
after the announcement of the victory, and not (as had been decided earlier
by Trajan) upon the athlete's return to his hometown - proof that athletes
had become professional and could not afford to break their "international"
touring in order to receive a prize.
From Greece, Hadrian proceeded by way of Asia to Egypt. It is known
from an inscription that he was at the time probably conveyed across the
Aegean with his entourage by one Ephesian, Lucius Erastus, on behalf of
whom he later sent a letter to the Council of Ephesus, stating that Erastus
wanted to become a town councillor, and that he, Hadrian, was willing to
pay the honorary sum required for entrance in the council, if the Ephesians
regarded Erastus (who, as a merchant, was probably snubbed upon as unfit
for civic prominence) worthy to fill such a position.
In Egypt, Hadrian opened his stay by restoring Pompey the Great's tomb
at Pelusium. Hadrian also offered sacrifice to Pompey as a hero and
composed an epigram for the tomb. As Pompey was universally acknowledged
as the conqueror of the Roman East, this restoration was probably linked
to a need to reaffirm Roman Eastern hegemony after the recent disturbances
there during Trajan's late reign. Also in Egypt, a poem about a lion
hunt in the Libyan desert by the Greek Pankrates witnesses for the first
time that Antinous travelled alongside Hadrian.
In October 130, while Hadrian and his entourage were sailing on the Nile,
Antinous drowned for unknown reasons; accident, suicide, murder and religious
sacrifice have all been postulated. Historia Augusta offers the following
account: "During a journey on the Nile he lost Antinous,
his favourite, and for this youth he wept like a woman. Concerning
this incident there are varying rumours; for some claim that he had devoted
himself to death for Hadrian, and others what both his beauty and Hadrian's
sensuality suggest. But however this may be, the Greeks deified him
at Hadrian's request, and declared that oracles were given through his
agency, but these, it is commonly asserted, were composed by Hadrian himself."
It was at that time that Hadrian turned, by his personal initiative, the
persona of Antinous a low-status non-citizen Greek into something far
surpassing the usual imperial boy favourite and sexual interest.
Deeply saddened, Hadrian founded the Egyptian city of Antinopolis in his
memory, and had Antinous deified an unprecedented honour for one not
of the ruling family.
Although Hadrian was criticized for the intensity of his grief to Antinous's
death, his attempt at turning the deceased youth into a cult-figure found
little opposition. The cult of Antinous was to become very popular
in the Greek-speaking world. It has been suggested that Hadrian created
the cult as a political move to reconcile the Greek-speaking East to Roman
rule. The existence of a copy, in Hadrian's villa, of the famous
statue pair of the Tyrannicides, with a bearded Aristogeiton and a clean-shaven
Harmodios, in a certain way linked the imperial favourite to the classical
tradition of Greek love in opposition to usual Roman distrust of Greek
pederasty. In Italy and the West, the cult also found supporters:
in one inscription from Tivoli, Antinous was compared to the Celtic sun-god
Medals were struck with Antinous' effigy, and statues erected to him in
all parts of the empire, in all kinds of garb, including Egyptian dress.
Temples were built for his worship in Bithynia and Mantineia in Arcadia.
In Athens, festivals were celebrated in his honour and oracles delivered
in his name. The site chosen for the city of Antinopolis (or Antinoe)
was on the ruins of Besa, in the vicinity of Antinous's death-place.
The city was a proper Greek polis, which, however, besides benefitting
from an alimentary scheme similar to Trajan's alimenta, also allowed its
citizens the privilege of marrying members of the native population without
disenfranchising themselves proof that Hadrian intended, again, to use
a local religious cult (in this case, an Egyptianized one) as a means of
integrating native populations into the celebration of Roman rule.
Antinous's cult differed from the previous imperial cult in that, instead
of centering on worshipping the Emperor as a ruler, it involved the Emperor
as well as his subjects in a common religious activity, thereby emphasizing
a sense of shared community. Eventually, it was very successful.
As an "international" cult figure, Antinous had an enduring fame, far outlasting
Hadrian's reign: local coins with his effigy were still being struck during
Caracalla's reign, and he was invoked in a poem to celebrate the accession
Greece and the East; return to Rome (130133):
Hadrians movements subsequent to the founding of Antinopolis on 30 October
130 are obscure. Whether or not he returned to Rome, he traveled
in the East during 130/131 (see below) and spent the winter of 13132 in
Athens, where he dedicated the Olympeion, and probably remained in Greece
or went East because of the Jewish rebellion, which broke out in Judaea
in 132 (see below). Inscriptions make it clear that he took the field
in person against the rebels with his army in 133; he then returned to
Rome, probably in that year and almost certainly again, judging from
inscriptions via Illyricum. This third and final trip to the Greek
East produced much religious enthusiasm in the region centered around Hadrian,
who received a personal cult as a deity and numerous monuments and civic
homages, according to the religious syncretism at the time.
Legal reforms and State apparatus:
It was around that time that Hadrian enacted, through the jurist Salvius
Julianus, what was to become the first attempt to codify Roman law: the
Perpetual Edict, according to which the various forms of legal action introduced
yearly by pretors were to remain fixed. The practical meaning of
this measure was that a law could no longer be changed by a magistrate's
personal interpretation of it; the law had become a fixed statute, which
only the Emperor could alter. At the same time, following a procedure
initiated by Domitian, Hadrian professionalized the Emperor's legal advisory
board, the Prince's Counsel or consilia principis, which became a permanent
body staffed by salaried legal aides. By so doing, Hadrian developed
a professional bureaucracy, consisting mainly of equestrians and replacing
the earlier freedmen of the Imperial household, that was to control the
political field instead of the Senate's individual members, an innovation
that marked the superseding of surviving Republican institutions by an
openly autocratic political system. Hadrian's bureaucracy was supposed
to carry out the administrative functions not earlier exercised by the
old magistrates, and therefore objectively it did not detract from the
Senate's position: the new civil servants were free men and as such supposed
to act on behalf of the interests of the "Crown", not of the Emperor as
an individual. However, the Senate never accepted the loss of its
prestige caused by the emergence of a new aristocracy alongside it, placing
additional strain on the already troubled relationship between the Senate
and the Emperor that was to be a hallmark of the end of Hadrian's reign.
Hadrian and Judea; Second RomanJewish War and Jewish
In 130/131, Hadrian toured the East, bestowing honorific titles on many
regional centers. Palmyra received a state visit and was given the
civic name Hadriana Palmyra. Hadrian also bestowed honors on various
Palmyrene magnates, among them one Soados, who lived in the Parthian city
of Vologesias and, as a go-between, had done much to protect Palmyrene
trade between the Roman Empire and Parthia.
It was then that Hadrian visited the ruins of Jerusalem, in Roman Judaea,
left after the First RomanJewish War of 6673. According to a midrashic
tradition, he first showed himself sympathetic to the Jews, allegedly planning
to have the city rebuilt and allowing the rebuilding of the Temple, but
when told by Samaritans that it would be the catalyst for sedition, he
changed his mind. The reliability of this tradition is, however,
doubtful. The account stands in sharp contradiction to an alternate
tradition that has Hadrian deciding to build a temple to the Roman god
Jupiter on the ruins of the Temple Mount and other temples to various Roman
gods throughout Jerusalem, including a large temple to the goddess Venus.
According to modern scholar Giovanni Bazzana, Hadrian's original intention
may have been to rebuild Jerusalem as a Roman colony such as Vespasian
had done earlier to Caesarea Maritima with various honorific and fiscal
privileges, as well as a pagan population. It is accepted that the
usual Roman policy in other colonies involved exempting the Jewish population
from participating in Roman religious rituals. What was demanded
from Jewish communities was political support to the Roman imperial order,
as attested in Caesarea, where epigraphy attests that some of its Jewish
citizens served in the Roman army during both the 66 and 132 rebellions.
It has been speculated that Hadrian intended to assimilate the Jewish Temple
into the civic-religious basis of support to his reign, as he had been
doing with Greek and other traditional places of worship. It has
also been ventured that Hadrian attempted to unify all belief systems in
his empire as a coherent whole that would serve as a basis of support for
his autocratic legitimacy a project that had already been devised earlier
by Hellenized Jewish intellectuals such as Philo. The neighbouring
Samaritans had already undergone such a process of Hellenization and religious
syncretism, integrating their religious rites with Hellenistic ones.
Hadrian probably sanctioned this Hellenized Samaritan worship when, after
the suppression of the Jewish revolt, he built a temple to the Hellenistic
(and probably syncretic) god Zeus Hypsistos ("Highest") on Mount Gerizim.
This attempt at conciliation between Judaism and Hellenism, however, foundered
when faced with strict Jewish monotheism. Therefore, the Romans appear
to have been surprised by the outbreak of the uprising.
The evidence for this failure to integrate Judaism into a unified religious
system lies in the fact that, after the war, Hadrian even renamed Jerusalem
itself, as Aelia Capitolina after himself and Jupiter Capitolinus, the
chief Roman deity. According to Epiphanius, Hadrian appointed Aquila
from Sinope in Pontus as "overseer of the work of building the city", seeing
that Aquila was related to him by marriage. Hadrian is said to have
placed the city's main Forum at the junction of the main Cardo and Decumanus
Maximus, now the location for the (smaller) Muristan.
A tradition based on the Historia Augusta suggests that tensions grew higher
when Hadrian abolished circumcision (brit milah), which he, a Hellenist,
viewed as mutilation. However, one scholar, Peter Schäfer, maintains
that there is no evidence for this claim, given the notoriously problematical
nature of the Historia Augusta as a source, the "tomfoolery" shown by the
writer in this particular relevant passage, and the fact that contemporary
Roman legislation on "genital mutilation" seems to address the general
issue of castration of slaves by their masters. Actually, Hadrian
had issued a rescript with a blanket ban on castration, performed on freeman
or slave, voluntarily or not, on pain of death for both the performer and
the patient. Castration was legally put by Hadrian on a par with
conspiracy to murder and accordingly punished on the terms of the Lex Cornelia
de Sicaris et Veneficis.
The notion of an "antisemitic" legislation by Hadrian is, therefore, possibly
an anachronistic ("midrashic", in the words of a modern scholar) reading
of ancient sources.
It is possible that other issues intervened between Hadrian's intention
to rebuild Jerusalem and the outbreak of the war: the tension between incoming
Roman colonists and supporters who had appropriated land confiscated after
the First Jewish War and the landless poor, as well as the existence of
messianic groups triggered by an interpretation of Jeremiah's prophecy
promising that the Temple would be rebuilt seventy years after its destruction,
repeating the timing of the restoration of the First Temple after the Babylonian
exile something that would put the restoration of the Second Temple to
Hadrian's anti-Jewish policies (or, alternatively, assimilation policies
by means of cultural and political hellenization) triggered in Judaea a
massive anti-Hellenistic and anti-Roman Jewish uprising, led by Simon bar
Kokhba. Based on the delineation of years in Eusebius' Chronicon
(now Chronicle of Jerome), it was only in the 16th year of Hadrian's reign,
or what was equivalent to the 4th year of the 227th Olympiad, that the
Jewish revolt began, under the Roman governor Tineius (Tynius) Rufus who
had asked for an army to crush the resistance. Bar Kokhba, the leader
of the resistance, punished any Jew who refused to join his ranks.
According to Justin Martyr and Eusebius, that had to do mostly with Christian
converts, who opposed bar Kokhba's messianic claims.
It was then that Hadrian called his general Sextus Julius Severus from
Britain, and troops were brought from as far as the Danube. The Fifth
Macedonian Legion and the Eleventh Claudian Legion also took part in war
operations in Judea at the time. Roman losses were very heavy as
they were compared by Fronto to the casualties of the earlier British uprising
and it is believed that an entire legion, the XXII Deiotariana, which
according to epigraphy did not outlast Hadrian's reign, was destroyed in
the rebellion. Indeed, Roman losses were so heavy that Hadrian's
report to the Roman Senate omitted the customary salutation, "If you and
your children are in health, it is well; I and the legions are in health."
Hadrian's army eventually put down the rebellion in 135. According
to Cassius Dio, overall war operations in the land of Judea left some 580,000
Jews killed, and 50 fortified towns and 985 villages razed to the ground.
The most famous battle took place in Beitar, a fortified city 10 km. southwest
of Jerusalem. The city only fell after a lengthy siege of three and
a half years, at which time Hadrian prohibited the Jews from burying their
dead. They were eventually afforded burial when Antoninus Pius succeeded
Hadrian as Roman Emperor. According to the Babylonian Talmud, after
the war Hadrian continued the persecution of Jews.
The rabbinical sources, however, seem more concerned with morals and religion
than with conveying history; therefore, occasionally such writings are
known to contain embellished accounts of the war and its aftermath, according
to whom Hadrian attempted to root out Judaism which he saw as the cause
of continuous rebellions prohibited the Torah law, the Hebrew calendar
and executed Judaic scholars (see Ten Martyrs). The sacred scroll
was ceremonially burned on the Temple Mount. In an attempt to erase
the memory of Judaea, he renamed the province Syria Palaestina (after the
Philistines; the name was found in Herodotus' histories), and Jews were
barred from entering its rededicated capital. When Jewish sources
mention Hadrian it is always with the epitaph "may his bones be crushed",
an expression never used even with respect to Vespasian or Titus, who destroyed
the Second Temple.
Other modern scholars contend that Hadrian's strictures on circumcision
and his no-entry policy for Jews were poorly enforced, falling into abeyance
with his death. Namely, Hadrian's legislation on castration was amended
by Antoninus Pius in order to allow Jews to circumcise their own sons (Jewish
proselytism among male converts remaining forbidden). In spite of
the enslavement of Jewish war prisoners and of their suffering high war
casualties and wanton destruction, it has been proposed that Palestine
remained predominantly Jewish in population, as well as its culture and
religious life, a fact reflected by the completion of the Mishnah in the
early Third Century (220 CE). However, the Jerusalem Talmud, compiled
in the 2nd and 3rd century CE, speaks of areas in Palestine that were at
that time wholly supplanted by non-Jewish peoples, owing to the sparseness
of its Jewish citizens. Jerusalem remained a special case, due to
the fact that it was rebuilt as a purely Roman city a circumstance of
which later Christian authors like Eusebius took advantage in order to
stress its character as a Christian city and worship center. Therefore,
the extent of the punitive measures taken by Hadrian against the Jewish
population remains a matter of continuing debate in present-day historiography.
What Hadrian's bloody repression of the revolt undoubtedly did accomplish
was to put an end to any measure of Jewish political independence alongside
the Roman Imperial order.
In Rabbinic literature:
Rabbinic literature is critical of Hadrian's policy, particularly that
of religious intolerance concerning the Jews. Indeed, his policies
were viewed as an attack on the religious freedom of the practice of Torah
law. Most of the stories related by the Sages of Israel reflect a
two-faced approach to tolerance of the Jewish people. In one story
he punishes a Jew who failed to greet him, and then punishes another Jew
who wished him well. When asked what the logic was for his punishing
both men, he replied: "You wish to give me advice on how to kill my enemies?"
In another story, Hadrian got down from his chariot and bowed to a Jewish
girl afflicted with leprosy. When queried by his soldiers as to why
he did this, Hadrian responded with a dual verse from the book of Isaiah
in praise of the nation of Israel: "So says God the redeemer of Israel
to the downtrodden soul to the (made) repulsive nation, kings will view
The Malbim commentary to the book of Daniel comments how Hadrian erected
a statue of himself at the site of the Bet HaMikdash on a day marking the
anniversary of the Temple's destruction by Titus.
According to Jewish historical records of that time, the famous rabbi and
scholar and a contemporary of Hadrian, Rabbi Yehoshua, the son of Hananiah,
opposed any Jewish military intervention against the occupying Roman army,
in spite of Rome's harsh decrees against the Jewish people. Rabbi
Yehoshua is reported as saying: "A lion once pounced upon its prey and
got a bone stuck in his throat. He then said, 'Whosoever comes and
takes it out, I will give to him a reward.' An Egyptian heron came
along whose bill is long, and reaching down into the lion's throat, extracted
the bone. The bird then said to the lion, 'Give to me my reward.'
The lion replied, 'Just be happy that you can say, I went down into the
lion's mouth and I came out alive and well.' It is the same with
us. It is enough that we have gone into this nation and came out
with our lives."
Hadrian spent the final years of his life at Rome. In 134, he took
an Imperial salutation for the end of the Second Jewish War (which was
not actually concluded until the following year). Commemorations
and achievement awards were kept to a minimum , as Hadrian came to see
the war "as a cruel and sudden disappointment to his aspirations" towards
a cosmopolitan empire. In 136, he dedicated a new Temple of Venus
and Roma on the former site of Nero's Golden House. The temple was
built in an Hellenizing style, more Greek than Roman, and its double nature
associated the worship of the traditional Roman goddess Venus with the
worship of Roma - a goddess until then worshiped only in the provinces
- in order to stress the universal nature of the empire.
About this time, suffering from poor health, Hadrian turned to the problem
of the succession. The Empress Sabina died probably in 136, after
an unhappy marriage with which Hadrian had coped as a political necessity:
the Historia Augusta biography states that Hadrian himself declared that
his wife's "ill-temper and irritability" would be reason enough for a divorce,
were he a private citizen. That gave credence, after Sabina's death, to
the common belief that Hadrian had her poisoned. As befitted Hadrian's
dynastic legitimacy, Sabina - who had been made an Augusta sometime around
128 - was posthumously deified. The marriage was childless, so in
136 Hadrian adopted one of the ordinary consuls of that year, Lucius Ceionius
Commodus, who took the name Lucius Aelius Caesar. He was the son-in-law
of Gaius Avidius Nigrinus, one of the "four consulars" executed in 118,
but was himself in delicate health. Also, his reputation was more
that "of a voluptuous, well educated great lord than that of a leader".
Already at the time, it was ventured that Aelius had as his only commendation
his beauty, a piece of gossip that found its way into the Historia Augusta
biography. Various modern attempts have been made to justify this
apparently unjustified choice, one of them advanced by the French historian
Jerome Carcopino being that Aelius was actually Hadrian's natural son.
It has also been speculated that Hadrian was fully aware that Aelius would
never outlive him, and that the adoption of an aristocrat scion with no
blood ties to the Emperor was a belated attempt to make amends for the
episode of the four consulars, therefore aiming at a reconciliation with
the powerful clan of old Italian families in the Senate. Of the four
consulars, Aelius' father-in-law Avidius Nigrinus had been Hadrian's chief
rival for the throne, as a senator of highest rank, breeding, and connections,
and as a Stoic. According to the Historia Augusta, early in his reign
Hadrian had even considered making Nigrinus his heir apparent, before eventually
deciding to get rid of this worthy opponent.
Granted tribunician power and the joint governorship of Pannonia Superior
and Pannonia Inferior a commission that he discharged honorably, according
to the Historia Augusta Aelius Caesar held a further consulship in 137,
but died on 1 January 138.
Following the death of Aelius Caesar, Hadrian next adopted Titus Aurelius
Fulvus Boionius Arrius Antoninus (the future emperor Antoninus Pius), who
had served as one of the five imperial legates of Italy (a post created
by Hadrian) and as proconsul of Asia. On 25 February 138 Antoninus
received tribunician power and imperium. Moreover, to ensure the
future of the dynasty, Hadrian required Antoninus to adopt both Lucius
Ceionius Commodus (son of the deceased Aelius Caesar) and Marcus Annius
Verus (who was the grandson of an influential senator of the same name
who had been Hadrian's close friend; Annius was already betrothed to Aelius
Caesars daughter Ceionia Fabia). Hadrian's precise intentions in this
arrangement are debatable.
Though the consensus is that he wanted Annius Verus (who would later become
the Emperor Marcus Aurelius) to succeed Antoninus, it has also been argued
that he actually intended Ceionius Commodus, the son of his own adopted
son, to succeed, but was constrained to show favour simultaneously to Annius
Verus because of his strong connections to the Hispano-Narbonensian nexus
of senatorial families of which Hadrian himself was a part. As Annius
Verus was the step-grandson of the then Prefect of Rome Lucius Catilius
Severus, one of the remnants of the all-powerful group of Spanish senators
from Trajan's reign, it was unavoidable that Hadrian should show some favor
to the grandson in order to count on the grandfather's support. It
is possible, according to one prosopography, that Catilius Severus was
the third and last husband of Hadrian's mother, Domitia Lucilla Major.
As Lucilla Major's second husband, Publius Calvisius Ruso, was the father
of Domitia Lucilla Minor, Annius Verus' mother, Lucilla Minor, would actually
be Hadrian's half-sister, and Annius Verus, therefore, his (half)nephew.
In this case, in advancing Annius Verus, Hadrian would promote his own
bloodline's fortunes. Note, however, that this prosopography is not
universally accepted by other scholars, who argue that Hadrian's mother
was known, according to Historia Augusta, as Domitia Paulina.
Alternatively, it may well not have been Hadrian, but rather Antoninus
Pius who was Annius Verus's uncle who advanced the latter to the principal
position. The fact that Annius would divorce Ceionia Fabia and remarry
to Antoninus' daughter Annia Faustina points in the same direction.
When he eventually became Emperor, Marcus Aurelius would co-opt Ceionius
Commodus as his co-Emperor (under the name of Lucius Verus) on his own
initiative. Also, there is the fact that Marcus Aurelius, when already
emperor, behaved coldly towards the memory of his adoptive grandfather,
who is conspicuously absent from the list of people to which Marcus acknowledged
a debt of gratitude in his Meditations. As emperor, Marcus would
be far more attracted to the conservative, "serious", Roman outlook of
Antoninus' reign than to Hadrian's more open, "lewd", "Hellenic" outlook
including Hadrian's almost exclusive homosexuality. It is noteworthy
that Marcus Aurelius's relationship towards Antinous's memory was one of
The ancient sources present Hadrian's last few years as marked by conflict
and unhappiness. The adoption of Aelius Caesar proved unpopular,
not least with Hadrian's brother-in-law Lucius Julius Ursus Servianus and
Servianus's grandson Gnaeus Pedanius Fuscus Salinator. Servianus,
though now far too old, had stood in the line of succession at the beginning
of the reign; Fuscus is said to have had designs on the imperial power
for himself, and in 137 he may have attempted a coup in which his grandfather
was implicated. Whatever the truth, Hadrian ordered that both be
put to death. Servianus is reported to have prayed before his execution
that Hadrian would "long for death but be unable to die". The prayer
was fulfilled; as Hadrian suffered from his final, protracted illness,
he had to be prevented from suicide on several occasions.
Hadrian died in the year 138 on the 10th of July, in his villa at Baiae
at the age of 62. The cause of death is believed to have been heart
failure. Dio Cassius and the Historia Augusta record details of his
He was buried first at Puteoli, near Baiae, on an estate that had once
belonged to Cicero. Soon after, his remains were transferred to Rome
and buried in the Gardens of Domitia, close by the almost-complete mausoleum.
Upon completion of the Tomb of Hadrian in Rome in 139 by his successor
Antoninus Pius, his body was cremated, and his ashes were placed there
together with those of his wife Vibia Sabina and his first adopted son,
Lucius Aelius, who also died in 138. After threatening the Senate
which toyed with refusing Hadrian's divine honors by refusing to assume
power himself, Antoninus eventually succeeded in having his predecessor
deified in 139 and given a temple on the Campus Martius, ornamented with
reliefs representing the provinces. The Senate in consequence agreed
to give Antoninus the title Pius for his filial piety in granting his adoptive
father honors. At the same time, in order to mark the Senate's ill
will, commemorative coinage honoring Hadrian's consecration was kept to
Poem by Hadrian
According to the Historia Augusta, Hadrian composed
shortly before his death the following poem:
Animula, vagula, blandula
Hospes comesque corporis
Quae nunc abibis in loca
Pallidula, rigida, nudula,
Nec, ut soles, dabis iocos...
P. Aelius Hadrianus Imp.
Roving amiable little soul,
Body's companion and guest,
Now descending for parts
Colourless, unbending, and bare
Your usual distractions no more
shall be there...
The poem has enjoyed remarkable popularity, but uneven critical acclaim.
According to Aelius Spartianus, the alleged author of Hadrian's biography
in the Historia Augusta, Hadrian "wrote also similar poems in Greek, not
much better than this one". T.S.Eliot's poem "Animula" may have been
inspired by Hadrian's, though the relationship is not unambiguous.
Legacy and Modern historiography:
After Gregorovius' attempt at freeing himself from Ancient texts, Hadrian's
next modern biographer was the German historian Wilhelm Weber, who made
a thorough account of the sources available in his 1907 study on the subject.
Weber, however, was an extreme German nationalist (and later a Nazi Party
supporter) and his views on Hadrian (as well as on Roman History in general)
were ideologically loaded, such as his account of the Bar Kokhba war.
The 1923 Hadrian English biography by B.W. Henderson is more readable in
the way of a summing-up and interpretation of the written sources, but
Henderson's anti-German bias made him to completely ignore Weber's study
of the non-literary sources.
Only after the development of epigraphical studies in the post-war period
is that one could develop an alternate historiography on Hadrian that leaned
less on the ancient literary tradition. The ancient tradition had
as its leitmotif a comparison between Hadrian and Trajan- mostly to the
former's disadvantage. Opposedly, modern historiography on Hadrian
sought to explore the meaning (as in the title of a recent summing-up work
by the German historian Susanne Mortensen) attached by Hadrian to his policies
on various fields, as well as the particular aspects of these policies.
According to historians such as the Italian M.A. Levi, a summing-up of
Hadrian's policies should stress the ecumenical character of the Empire,
his development of an alternate bureaucracy disconnected from the Senate
and adapted to the needs of an "enlightened" autocracy, as well as his
overall defensive grand strategy. According to Levi, that would be
enough to allow us to consider Hadrian as a grand Roman political reformer,
the creator of an absolute monarchy in the place of a senatorial republic
- even a sham one. British historian Robin Lane Fox, in his book about
the Classical World, credits Hadrian with the creation of a unified Greco-Roman
cultural tradition, but at the same time he considers Hadrian to be the
end of this same tradition, as Hadrian's "restoration" of the Classical
Age into the framework of an undemocratic Empire simply emptied it of substantive
meaning, or, in Fox's words, "kill[ed] it with kindness". The latest
(1997) English biography by Anthony Birley sums up and reflect these developments
in Hadrian historiography.
Information was taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
at this URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadrian