Portrait: Roman emperor Hadrian

Wednesday, 24 October 2018 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: Portrait
Reading Time:  5 minutes

Emporer Hadrian and Antinous busts in the British Museum in London © SanGavinoEN/cc-by-sa-3.0

Emporer Hadrian and Antinous busts in the British Museum in London © SanGavinoEN/cc-by-sa-3.0

Hadrian was Roman emperor from 117 to 138. He was born Publius Aelius Hadrianus, probably at Italica, near Santiponce (in modern-day Spain), into a Hispano-Roman family. His father was of senatorial rank, and was a first cousin of the emperor Trajan. Early in Hadrian’s career, before Trajan became emperor, he married Trajan’s grand-niece Vibia Sabina, possibly at the behest of Trajan’s wife, Pompeia Plotina. Plotina and Trajan’s close friend and adviser Licinius Sura were well disposed towards Hadrian. When Trajan died, his widow claimed that immediately before his death, he had nominated Hadrian as emperor.

Rome’s military and Senate approved Hadrian’s succession, but soon after, four leading senators who had opposed Hadrian, or seemed to threaten his succession, were unlawfully put to death; the senate held Hadrian responsible for this, and never forgave him. He earned further disapproval among the elite by abandoning Trajan’s expansionist policies and recent territorial gains in Mesopotamia, Assyria and Armenia, and parts of Dacia. Hadrian preferred to invest in the development of stable, defensible borders, and the unification, under his overall leadership, of the empire’s disparate peoples. He is known for building Hadrian’s Wall, which marked the northern limit of Britannia.

It is possible that Hadrian visited Claudiopolis and saw the beautiful Antinous, a young man of humble birth who became Hadrian’s beloved. Literary and epigraphic sources say nothing on when or where they met; depictions of Antinous show him aged 20 or so, shortly before his death in 130. In 123 he would most likely have been a youth of 13 or 14. It is also 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.

Hadrian's Gate in Antalya, Turkey © Cobija Arch of Hadrian in Jerash in Transjordan © Askii/cc-by-3.0 The Pantheon in Rome was rebuilt by Hadrian © Roberta Dragan/cc-by-sa-2.5 Reconstruction of the mausoleum of Hadrian, today known as Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome © flickr.com - Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/cc-by-2.0 Castel Sant'Angelo, the ancient Hadrian Mausoleum in Rome © Radomil/cc-by-sa-3.0 Italica Amphitheatre in Spain © Pufacz In 2010, to commemorate the 1600th anniversary of the end of Roman rule in Britain, a series of 500 beacons were lit along the length of the wall © geograph.org.uk - Gary Dickson/cc-by-sa-2.0 Emporer Hadrian and Antinous busts in the British Museum in London © SanGavinoEN/cc-by-sa-3.0 Model of Villa and Park Hadrianus near Tivoli in Latium © Sorrento585/cc-by-sa-3.0
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In 2010, to commemorate the 1600th anniversary of the end of Roman rule in Britain, a series of 500 beacons were lit along the length of the wall © geograph.org.uk - Gary Dickson/cc-by-sa-2.0
Hadrian energetically pursued his own Imperial ideals and personal interests. He visited almost every province of the Empire, accompanied by a probably vast Imperial retinue of specialists and administrators. He encouraged military preparedness and discipline, and fostered, designed or personally subsidised various civil and religious institutions and building projects. In Rome itself, he rebuilt or completed the Pantheon, and constructed the vast Temple of Venus and Roma. In Egypt, he may have rebuilt the Serapeum of Alexandria. An ardent admirer of Greece, he sought to make Athens the cultural capital of the Empire and ordered the construction of many opulent temples there. His intense relationship with the Greek youth Antinous, and the latter’s untimely death, led to Hadrian’s establishment of an enduring and widespread popular cult. Late in his reign he suppressed the Bar Kokhba revolt in Judaea; with this major exception, Hadrian’s reign was generally peaceful.

Hadrian’s last years were marred by chronic illness. He saw the Bar Kokhba revolt as the failure of his panhellenic ideal. His execution of two more senators for their alleged plots against him provoked further resentment. His marriage to Vibia Sabina had been unhappy and childless; in 138 he adopted Antoninus Pius and nominated him as a successor, on the condition that Antoninus adopt Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus as his own heirs. Hadrian died the same year at Baiae (Hadrian’s Villa), and Antoninus had him deified, despite opposition from the Senate. Edward Gibbon includes him among the Empire’s “Five good emperors“, a “benevolent dictator”; Hadrian’s own senate found him remote and authoritarian. He has been described as enigmatic and contradictory, with a capacity for both great personal generosity and extreme cruelty, and driven by insatiable curiosity, self-conceit, and above all, ambition. Modern interest was revived largely thanks to Marguerite Yourcenar‘s novel Mémoires d’Hadrien (1951).

Read more on Wikipedia Hadrian (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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