quot;During a happy period of more than fourscore years, the public administration was
conducted by the virtue and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines.
Hadrian was the central figure of these quot;five good emperors,quot; the one most responsible
for changing the character and nature of the empire. He was also one of the most
remarkable and talented individuals Rome ever produced.
Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus (January 24, 76 –– July 10, 138), known as
Hadrian in English, was emperor of Rome from 117 A.D. to 138 A. quot; His reign had a
faltering beginning, a glorious middle, and a tragic conclusion.
Hadrian was born in Italica to a well-established family which had originated in
Picenum in Italy and had subsequently settled in Italica, Hispania Baetica (originally
Hispania Ulterior). He was a first cousin once removed of his predecessor Trajan (a
grandson of Hadrian's father's sister). Trajan never officially designated a successor,
but, according to his wife, Pompeia Plotina, Trajan named Hadrian emperor
immediately before his death. However, Trajan's wife was well-disposed toward
Hadrian, and he may well have owed his succession to her.
Hadrian and the military
Extent of the Roman Empire under Hadrian.
Despite his own great stature as a military administrator, Hadrian's reign was marked by
a general lack of major military conflicts, apart from the Second Roman-Jewish War.
He surrendered Trajan's conquests in Mesopotamia, considering them to be
indefensible. There was almost a war with Parthia around 121, but the threat was
averted when Hadrian succeeded in negotiating a peace.
The peace policy was strengthened by the erection of permanent fortifications along the
empire's borders. The most famous of these is the massive Hadrian's Wall in Great
Britain, and 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. To maintain morale and keep the troops from
getting 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.
The Second Roman-Jewish War
In 130, Hadrian visited the ruins of Jerusalem left after the First Roman-Jewish War of
66-73. He promised to rebuild the city, but planning it as a pagan metropolis to be
called Aelia Capitolina. A new pagan temple on the ruins of the Second Temple was to
be dedicated to Jupiter. In addition, Hadrian abolished circumcision, which he, as an
avid Hellenist, viewed as mutilation. Hadrian's policies triggered the massive Jewish
uprising (132–135), led by Bar Kokhba and Akiba ben Joseph. Following the outbreak
of the revolt, Hadrian called his general Sextus Julius Severus from Britain, and troops
were brought from as far as the Danube. Roman losses were very heavy, and it is
believed that an entire legion was destroyed. Roman losses were so heavy that
Hadrian's report to the Roman Senate omitted the customary salutation quot;I and the
legions are wellquot;. Hadrian's army eventually defeated the revolt. After the end of the
war, Hadrian continued the religious persecution of Jews. He 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. The sacred scroll was
ceremoniously burned on the Temple Mount. In an attempt to erase any memory of
Judea, he removed the name off the map and replaced it with Syria Palaestina, after the
Philistines, the ancient enemies of the Jews. He reestablished Jerusalem as the Roman
pagan polis of Aelia Capitolina, and Jews were forbidden from entering it.
Cultural pursuits and patronage
Castel Sant'Angelo, the ancient Hadrian Mausoleum.
Hadrian has been described, as the most versatile of all the Roman Emperors. He also
liked to display a 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, 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.
Hadrian, wreathed and in Greek dress offers a sprig of laurel to Apollo; marble, from
the temple of Apollo at Cyrene, ca. 117-125.
Hadrian wrote poetry in both Latin and Greek; one of the few surviving examples is a
Latin poem he reportedly composed on his deathbed. He also wrote an autobiography –
not, apparently, a work of great length or revelation, but designed to scotch various
rumours or explain his various actions. The work is lost.
Another of Hadrian's contributions to the arts was the beard. The portraits of emperors
up to this point were all clean shaven, idealized images of Greek athletes. Hadrian wore
a beard as evidenced by all his portraits. Subsequent emperors would be portrayed with
beards for more than a century and a half.
Hadrian was a humanist and deeply Hellenophile in all his tastes. He favoured the
doctrines of the philosophers Epictetus. Hadrian mitigated but did not abolish slavery,
had the legal code humanized and forbade torture. He built libraries, aqueducts, baths
and theaters. Hadrian is considered by many historians to have been wise and just.
While visiting Greece in 125, he 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, failed despite spirited efforts to
instill cooperation among the Hellenes. Hadrian was especially famous for his romance
with a Greek youth, Antinous. While touring Egypt, Antinous mysteriously drowned in
the Nile in 130. Deeply saddened, Hadrian founded the Egyptian city of Antinopolis.
Hadrian drew the whole Empire into his mourning, making Antinous the last new god
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
quot;After Hadrian's death there was erected to him a huge equestrian statue
representing him with a four-horse chariot. 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 small.quot;
This aureus by Hadrian celebrates the games held in honor of the 874th birthday of
The Stoic-Epicurean Emperor traveled broadly, inspecting and correcting the legions in
the field. Hadrian, by contrast, traveled as a fundamental part of his governing, and
made this clear to the Roman senate and the people. He was able to do this because at
Rome he possessed a loyal supporter within the upper echelons of Roman society. His
traveling court was large, including administrators and likely architects and builders.
The burden on the areas he passed through were sometimes great.
Hadrian's first tour came in 121 and was initially aimed at covering his back to allow
himself the freedom to concern himself with his general cultural aims. He traveled
north, towards Germania and inspected the Rhine-Danube frontier, allocating funds to
improve the defenses. However it was a voyage to the Empire's very frontiers that
represented his perhaps most significant visit; upon hearing of a recent revolt, he
journeyed across the sea to Britannia.
Hadrian's Wall, a fortification in Northern England.
Prior to Hadrian's arrival on Great Britain there had been a major rebellion in Britannia,
spanning roughly two years (119–121). It was here he initiated the building of Hadrian's
Wall during 122. The wall was built chiefly to safeguard the frontier province of
Britannia, by preventing future possible invasions from the northern country of
Caledonia (now modern day Scotland). Caledonia was inhabited by tribes known to the
Romans as Caledonians.
Under him, a shrine was erected in York to Britain as a Goddess, and coins were struck
which introduced a female figure as the personification of Britain, labeled BRITANNIA
By the end of 122 he had concluded his visit to Britannia, and from there headed south
by sea to Mauretania.
Parthia and Anatolia
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 he personally made available funds for the training of the young men of well
bred families for the Roman military. This might well have been a stop off during his
journey East. Cyrene had already benefited from his generosity when he in 119 had
provided funds for the rebuilding of public buildings destroyed in the recent Jewish
Hadrian's Gate, in Antalya, southern Turkey was built to honour Hadrian who visited
the city in 130 AD.
When Hadrian arrived on the Euphrates, he characteristically solved the problem
through a negotiated settlement with the Parthian king. Hadrian traveled 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. Some
historians dispute whether Hadrian did in fact commission the city's construction at all.
At about this time, plans to build a temple in Asia minor were written up. The new
temple would be dedicated to Trajan and Hadrian and built with dazzling white marble.
Temple of Zeus in Athens.
He arrived in Greece 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 among them. At the
Athenians' request he conducted a revision of their constitution — among other things a
new phyle (tribe) was added bearing his name.
During the winter he toured the Peloponnese. His exact route is uncertain. By March of
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 a temple to Olympian Zeus — it was Hadrian who 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
The Pantheon was rebuilt by Hadrian.
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. 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
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 and his
speech to the troops survives to this day. Hadrian returned to Italy in the summer of 128
but his stay was brief before setting off on another tour that would last three years.
Greece and Asia
In September of 128 his visit to Greece seems to have concentrated on Athens and
Sparta — the two ancient rivals for dominance of Greece.
In October 130, while Hadrian and his entourage were sailing on the Nile, Antinous
drowned, for unknown reasons, though accident, suicide, murder or religious sacrifice
have all been postulated. The emperor was grief struck. and cities were named after the
boy, medals struck with his effigy, and statues erected to him in all parts of the empire.
Greece, Palestine, Illyricum
Hadrian’s movements subsequent to the founding of Antinoöpolis on October 30, 130
are obscure. Whether or not he returned to Rome, he spent the winter of 131-2 in
Athens and probably remained in Greece or further East because of the Jewish rebellion
which broke out in 132. Inscriptions make it clear that he took the field in person
against the rebels with his army in 133; he then returned to Rome.
Bust of Hadrian, National Archaeological Museum of Athens
Hadrian spent the final years of his life at Rome. In 134, he took an Imperial salutation
for the end of the Jewish War (which was not actually concluded until the following
year). In 136, he dedicated a new Temple of 'Venus and Rome' on the former site of
Nero's Golden House.
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' grandson Gnaeus Pedanius
Fuscus Salinator. Servianus, though now far too old, had stood in 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 quot;long for death but
be unable to diequot;. 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 138 on the tenth day of July, in his villa at Baiae at age 62. However,
the man who had spent so much of his life traveling had not yet reached his journey's
end. He was buried first at Puteoli, near Baiae, on an estate which 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 the 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. Antoninus also had him deified
in 139 and given a temple on the Campus Martius.
Bust of Hadrian
Reign August 10, 117-
July 10, 138
Full name Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus
Born 24 January 76
Died July 10, 138 (aged 62)
Buried 1) Puteoli
2) Gardens of Domitia (Rome)
3) Hadrian's Mausoleum (Rome)
Successor Antoninus Pius
Consort to Vibia Sabina
Issue Lucius Aelius,
Roman imperial dynasties
Father Publius Aelius Hadrianus Afer
Children Domitia Paulina
Natural - (none)
Adoptive - Trajan
Natural - (none)
Adoptive - Hadrian
Natural - (none)
Adoptive - Lucius Aelius
Adoptive - Antoninus Pius