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Saturday, 16 May 2015



Hadrian was born Publius Aelius Hadrianus on January 24, 76 AD. Although it was an accepted part of Hadrian's personal history that he was born in Italica, Spain, his biography in Augustan History states that he was born in Rome, of an ethnically Hispanic family with partial Italian origins.

The family of Hadrian came from southern Spain. They were not, however, of native Spanish origin but rather of settler stock. Hadrian's forebears left Picenum in Italy for Spain about 250 years before his birth.

Hadrian's father, Publius Aelius Hadrianus Afer was a distinct and wealthy Roman Senator and soldier, who had reached the praetorship by the time of his death in 86.

Hadrian's mother, Domitia Paulina, came from a distinguished family of Gades, one of the wealthiest cities in the empire.

Both Hadrian's parents died in his early teenage years. He was entrusted to the care of two men: one, a cousin of his father, later became the emperor Trajan, and the other, Acilius Attianus, later served as prefect of the emperor's Praetorian Guard early in Hadrian's own reign.

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" ("Little Greek").


From 91 Hadrian began to follow the traditional career of a Roman senator, advancing through a conventional series of posts. Toward the end of 97, Hadrian was chosen to go west to Gaul to convey congratulations to Trajan, whom the aged emperor Nerva had just adopted and thereby designated his successor.

For the following few years, Hadrian was employed as a soldier by emperor Trajan on various fronts. In 102 he served as Trajan's companion in the emperor's first war in Dacia on the Danube.

Hadrian was appointed tribune of the plebs in 105 and, advanced to the praetorship the following year. No less exceptional than the speed of promotion was Hadrian's service as praetor while in the field with the emperor during his second war in Dacia.

Hadrian reached the coveted pinnacle of a senator's career, the consulate, the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic in 108.


By 117 the Emperor Trajan was seriously ill. While Hadrian may have been the obvious choice as successor, he had never actually been adopted as Trajan's heir. As Trajan lay dying, nursed by his wife, Plotina (a supporter of Hadrian), he at last adopted Hadrian as heir.

In order to secure popularity Hadrian introduced a massive remission of taxes thereby accidentally reflating the Roman economy and greatly enhancing the standard of living.

As emperor, Hadrian  traveled broadly, inspecting and correcting the legions in the field. During his reign, he traveled to just about every province of the Empire.

This famous statue was revealed in 2008 to have been forged in the Victorian era by cobbling together a head of Hadrian and an unknown body

Hadrian built many gymnasiums for the young to use. He initially disliked the public games and gladiatorial combats. "At first" he wrote "I was disgusted by the combats between the gladiators but then I started to understand to appreciate their ritual value.

Hadrian arrived in Britain in 122 after the British Romans had suffered a bad defeat at the hands of Brigantes from the north.

Hadrian initiated the construction of Hadrian's Wall, which marked the northern limit of Britannia to keep out the Picts and the Scots.

Hadrian introduced bath houses to Britain and encouraged the locals to dip their toes. However, on seeing the behaviour of those using the Huggin Hill baths in Londinium he banned mixed bathing throughout the Roman empire.


Hadrian shocked the empire by introducing beards into Roman society at a time when the Romans had been mainly clean shaven. He grew a beard because he wanted to hide his poor complexion.

Marble bust of Hadrian at the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums.

In 100, largely at the instance of Plotina, Hadrian married Trajan's grand-niece Vibia Sabina, ten years his junior.

Sabina was cold and formal and their marriage was not a happy one, in part because she was annoyed by Hadrian's long absences from home. Their union did endure until her death in 136 or 137

In spite of marital unhappiness, the union was crucial for Hadrian, because it linked him even more closely with the emperor's family. He got along very well with his mother-in-law Matidia and with the empress, whose favor enhanced his career.

Hadrian and Sabina had no children, and it was reported that she performed an abortion upon herself .

In Bithynium-Claudiopolis (modern Bolu) in northwestern Asia Minor, Hadrian encountered an attractive Greek youth by the name of Antinoüs. Captivated by him, Hadrian made Antinoüs his companion.

When, Hadrian and Antinoüs journeyed together along the River Nile in 130, the boy fell into the river and drowned, Hadrian was desolate and wept openly.

Stricken with grief, Hadrian founded the Egyptian city of Antinopolis and drew the whole empire into his mourning. He caused the fallen youth to be worshiped as the last god of antiquity.

For the rest of his life, Hadrian commissioned many hundreds of sculptures of Antinoüs in the manner of a Greek youth, many of which have survived to this day.


A fine architect, Hadrian organised the rebuilding of the Pantheon in Rome which had been destroyed by fire, reconstructing the accustomed temple facade, with columns and pediment, but attaching it to a drum which was surmounted by a coffered dome.

Hadrian's palatial villa at Tibur, was actually an entire town, with magnificent buildings recalling the best he had seen in his travels, and including some of the finest statuary of ancient times. The remains of his villa 15 miles east of Rome still remain including that of his canopus pool.

A fine public speaker and a highly cultivated man, Hadrian surrounded himself with poets, philosophers, and scholars.

Hadrian wrote poetry in both Latin and Greek. The few that survive ; one of the few surviving examples is a Latin poem he reportedly composed on his deathbed illustrate an exceptional technical mastery of versification, but the manner of expression is often artificial.


Hadrian was not as fervent a persecutor of Christians as previous emperors had been. Christianity was illegal during his reign, but Christians were not specifically hunted out. He believed in proper investigative procedures.

However, Hadrian was anti-semitic. During his reign an estimated 600,000 Jews were slaughtered and many more enslaved.

In 132 Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem naming it, Aelia Capitolina and putting up temples to Roman gods. The Jews were upset by this and started to rebel.

For three years, the Jews led by Simon Bar-Kochba, warred against the Romans. By 135 that had been suppressed by a former Governor of Britain, Julius Severus and Hadrian expelled them from Jerusalem, scattering the Jews all over the Roman Empire. They were replaced by Greek peasants and it was 1800 years before they returned to their holy city, as prophesied in the scriptures.


In his last years Hadrian suffered from dropsy of the heart and was tubercular. During his last months he was mentally unstable and his successor, his adopted son Antonius took control.

Hadrian died on July 10, 138 in his villa at the seaside resort of Baiae. Death came to the emperor slowly and painfully. He wrote a letter in which he said how terrible it was to long for one's passing and yet be unable to find it.
Hadrian's ashes were placed in a mausoleum that he had built at the Castle of St Angelo at Rome on the banks of the River Tiber. It was inspired by an Augustan precedent, the Julio-Claudian mausoleum, at Rome

Source Encyclopedia Britannica 

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