Hadrian (/ˈheɪdriən/; Latin: Publius Aelius Hadrianus Augustus; 24 January, 76 AD – 10 July, 138 AD) was Roman emperor from 117 to 138. He rebuilt the Pantheon and constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma. He is also known for building Hadrian's Wall, which marked the northern limit of Britannia. Hadrian was regarded by some as a humanist and was philhellene in most of his tastes. He is regarded as one 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 place of birth remains uncertain. However, it is generally accepted that he comes of a family with centuries-old roots in Hispania. His predecessor Trajan was a maternal cousin of Hadrian's father. Trajan never officially designated 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 to them.
During his reign, Hadrian traveled 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 his 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 136 an ailing Hadrian adopted Lucius Aelius as his heir, but the latter died suddenly two years later. In 138, Hadrian resolved to adopt Antoninus Pius if he would in turn adopt Marcus Aurelius and Aelius' son Lucius Verus as his own eventual successors. Antoninus agreed, and soon afterward Hadrian died at Baiae.
As is the case with his predecessor, Trajan, we lack a continuous account of the political history of Hadrian's reign. What we have in the way of such an account is, as on Trajan's reign, Book 69 of the Roman History by Cassius Dio. Dio's original text of this particular book is lost: what survives is a brief, much later, Byzantine era abridgment by the Eleventh Century monk Xiphilinius, who made a selection on 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. Hadrian is the first imperial biography of the Historia Augusta, but the notorious unreliability of that work ("a mish mash of actual fact, Cloak and dagger, Sword and Sandal, with a sprinkling of Ubu Roi") does not allow for using it as a source without care. Hadrian's biography is generally considered to be relatively free of fictional additions. Contemporary Greek authors such as Philostratus and Pausanias, who wrote shortly after Hadrian's reign, offer information on Hadrian's relations with the provincial Greek world, and Fronto, in his Latin correspondence, sheds some light on the general character of the reign's internal policies. As in the case of Trajan, using epigraphical, numismatic, archaeological and other non-literary sources is absolutely necessary in tracing a detailed historical account.
Hadrian 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 it was an accepted part of Hadrian's personal history that he was born in Spain, his Historia Augusta biography states that he was born in Rome on 24 January 76, of an ethnically Hispanic 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. His 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 with 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 ("Greekling").
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 honour.
After his start at the vigintivirate (the minor posts whose holding qualified for the senatorial 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's 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 also relieved early from Trajan's personal attendance, becoming legate of a legion - Legio I Minervia - and afterwards governor of Lower Pannonia. Therefore, if Hadrian had received the signal honour of assuming the tribunate of the plebs a year earlier than was customary, at the same time he departed early from both Dacian campaigns - a sign that Trajan wanted to have him out of his way.
It was at this time that 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. Also, he counted on the support of the bride's mother, Trajan's niece Salonina Matidia, daughter of Trajan's sister Ulpia Marciana. However, Trajan 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 honor of a regular consulate before his own reign, being only suffect consul for 108. As much as Trajan surely promoted actively Hadrian's advancment, at the same time 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 attented the lectures of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, at the time living in the city of Nicopolis. He was also 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's possible that he remained in Greece until being summoned into the imperial retinue.
His career before becoming emperor, as attested epigraphically in the Athens inscription, follows:
- decemvir stlitibus iudicandis
- sevir turmae equitum Romanorum
- praefectus Urbi feriarum Latinarum
- tribunus militum legionis II Adiutricis Piae Fidelis (95, in Pannonia Inferior)
- tribunus militum legionis V Macedonicae (96, in Moesia Inferior)
- tribunus militum legionis XXII Primigeniae Piae Fidelis (97, in Germania Superior)
- quaestor (101)
- ab actis senatus
- tribunus plebis (105)
- praetor (106)
- legatus legionis I Minerviae Piae Fidelis (106, in Germania Inferior)
- legatus Augusti pro praetore Pannoniae Inferioris (107)
- consul suffectus (108)
- septemvir epulonum (before 112)
- sodalis Augustalis (before 112)
- archon Athenis (112/13)
- legatus Syriae (117).
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 talent.
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's 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 seem 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 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.
Even if Trajan's adoption of Hadrian was genuine, it came too late to keep other potential claimants from having wrong ideas. Therefore, Hadrian had to act on his own to secure his newly won position.
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 August 8)- which was technically irregular, as the two parties concerned must 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 on the support of the Syrian armies. Nevertheless, various public ceremonies were organized – and 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 war hawk group of senators that was committed to Trajan's expansionist policies, which Hadrian intended to change. The consistent refusal of Hadrian to expand frontiers was to remain a bone of contention between him and the Senate throughout his reign.
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's 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 by enforcing new laws through imperial decree (as constitution) instead of having them approved by the Senate as a formality.
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 Roman-Jewish War. However, disturbances on the Danubian frontier early in the reign led to the killing of the governor of Dacia, Caius Julius Quadratus Bassus, to which Hadrian responded by placing the then equestrian governor of Mauretania Caesariensis Q. Marcius Turbo, who had a long record of distinguished military service, as 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. 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 Epictetus' student 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.
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's 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. On 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 an 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 views on the subject: Hadrian, to him, liked to play war games and "giving eloquent speeches to the armies" – like the series of addresses, inscribed in a column, that he made while on an inspecting 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.
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 periods.
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 (115) and probably under Appollodorus'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 (see below). Some of his Greek productions found their way into the Palatine Anthology. He also wrote an autobiography, which Historia Augusta says to have been 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's 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 philhelenism, 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 towards 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 human history".
While visiting Greece in 131–132, 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 Mausoleum of Augustus.
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 trait of Hadrian's reign was the fact that the Empeor 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 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 to feel part of a commonwealth of civilized peoples, sharing a common Hellenic culture. That's 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 Roman constitution.
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 to a Roman emperor. Therefore, the significance of Hadrian's travels as a means of stressing the cosmopolitan, oecumenical character of the Roman Empire, something confirmed late during the reign when Hadrian struck a series of special issue coins representing allegories of the various provinces.
Hadrian traveled as a fundamental part of his governing, and made this clear to the Roman Senate and the people. In order to check the Roman populace, he had resource 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. Turbo had had a long career as a procurator, and was regarded as one of the leading men of the eqestrian order. Nonetheless, he was not competent to keep 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 as 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 which 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 likely architects and builders. The burden on the areas he passed through were sometimes great. While his arrival usually brought some benefits it is possible that those who had to bear the burden were of different class to 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 himself the freedom to concern himself with his general cultural aims. At some point, he travelled north, towards Germania and inspected the Rhine-Danube frontier, allocating funds to improve the defences. 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 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 119–120 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's 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 through 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 seem as a means to buttress Hadrian's 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.
Africa, Parthia and Anatolia ; Antinous (123-124)
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 revolt. Such rebuilding lasted until late in the reign: only 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. Thanks to his generosity 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 shows 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 may have been sent to Rome to be trained as a page to serve the emperor, and only gradually did he rise to the status of imperial favourite. Fact is, however, that the actual history of the Antinous/Hadrian relationship is mostly unknown.
With of 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 – low-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 tread. 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 simulating private expenditure – as well as channeling intercity rivalry into common acceptance of Roman rule.
The climax of this tour was the destination that the hellenophile Hadrian must all along have had in mind, 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 grant 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 willingly) to sponsor them as a Gymnasiarch or Agonothetes. Usually, however, Hadrian preferred that civic expenditure by Greek notables should concentrate on buildings than on spectacles and competitions: in a letter to Aphrodisias he praised high priests of the imperial cult to be required to donate funds to works on an aqueduct rather than to gladiatorial games. Such aqueducts – associated with public fountains -nymphaea – were one of the Hadrian's additions to the Greek urban landscape: besides Athens, where two such fountains were built, Argos also received a similar project.
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 favoring 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. By the way, Hadrian is credited by Pausanias with restoring Mantinea its ancient, classical name: it had been named Antigoneia since Hellenistic times, in honor of the Macedonian king Antigonus III Doson.
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 for 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 (126-128)
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 4 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 (specially 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 (128–130); 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 he by now 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, in preference to 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 of 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 – which is mentioned, by the way, only in his 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 more wealthy 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.
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 himself 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 of reaffirming 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' 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 Belenos.
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' death-place. The city was a proper Greek polis, which, however, besides from benefitting from an alimentary scheme similar to Trajan's alimenta, also allowed its citizens the privilege of marrying with 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 to integrate native populations into the celebration of Roman rule. Antinous' 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, therefore 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 of Diocletian.
Greece and the East; return to Rome (130-133)
Hadrian’s 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 131–32 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 (judging again 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 the law could no more be changed by a magistrate's personal interpretation of it; it 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 advisory board on legal matters, the Prince's Counsel or consilia principis, which became a permanent body staffed by salaried legal aids. By so doing, Hadrian developed a professional bureaucracy, consisting mainly of equestrians, in place of the earlier freedmen of the Imperial household, that was to control the political field instead of the Senate's individual members. Something that was a sure marker of the superseding of surviving Republican institutions by an openly autocratic political system. Hadrian's bureaucracy was supposed to fill the permanent administrative functions never exercised before by the old magistrates, and therefore it didn't objectively detract from the Senate's position: the new civil servants were free men and as such supposed to act in behalf of the interests of the "Crown", not of the Emperor as an individual. However, the Senate never accepted the loss on its prestige caused by the emergence of a new aristocracy alongside it.Therefore, the extra 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 Roman-Jewish War and Jewish persecution (132–136)
In 130/131, Hadrian toured the East, bestowing honorific titles on many regional centers.Palmyra received a state visit and 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 Roman-Jewish War of 66–73. According to a midrashic tradition, he firstly 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 cause for much sedition, he changed his mind. The reliability of this tradition is, however, doubtful. This 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 been already 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 of conciliation between Judaism and Hellenism, however, foundered when faced with strict Jewish monotheism. Therefore, the fact that the Romans appear to have been surprised by the outbreak of the uprising.
The proof for this failure to integrate Judaism into an 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's 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 around 140
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 had also taken 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 didn't 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" (שחיק עצמות or שחיק טמיא, the Aramaic equivalent), 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 enslaving 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. 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 was 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 Torah law practice. 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 and stand."
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, the son of Hananiah, 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). In 136, he dedicated a new Temple of Venus and Roma on the former site of Nero's Golden House.
About this time, suffering from poor health, he turned to the problem of the succession. In 136 he 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 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 belatedly 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, 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 & 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 Caesar’s 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 with 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's noteworthy that Marcus Aurelius relationship towards Antinous' memory was one of total silence.
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 "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 failing health.
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 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 succeed 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 grant 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 illwill, commemorative coinage honoring Hadrian's consecration was kept to a minimum.
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...
Nerva–Antonine family tree
|Nerva–Antonine family tree|
Except where otherwise noted, the notes below indicate that an individual's parentage is as shown in the above family tree.