Hadrian

Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus (January 24, 76 - July 10, 138), known as Hadrian in English, was a Roman emperor from 117 - 138. He is considered one of the so-called Five Good Emperors.

Hadrian was born in Spain to a well-established settler family. He was a distant relative of his predecessor Trajan. Trajan never officially designated a successor, but, according to his wife, named Hadrian immediately before his death. Trajan's wife, though, was well-disposed toward Hadrian, and he may well have owed his succession to her.

Table of contents
1 Hadrian and the military
2 Hadrian in Judea
3 Cultural pursuits and patronage
4 Historical representation

Hadrian and the military

Hadrian's reign was marked by a general lack of military conflict. He surrendered Trajan's conquests in Mesopotamia, considering them to be indefensible. The military's inaction was exacerbated by Hadrian's policy of securing the borders with permanent fortifications (limites, singular limes). The most famous of these is the massive Hadrian's Wall in Britain, but the Danube border was secured with wooden fortifications. To maintain morale and keep the troops from getting restive, he established intensive drill routines, and personally inspected the armies.

Hadrian in Judea

At first sympathetic towards the Jews, Hadrian promised them to rebuild Jerusalem, still in ruins after its destruction in 70 BC as a result of the Great Jewish Revolt. Jews felt betrayed when found out that his intentions were to rebuild it as pagan metropolis, and new temple on the ruins of the Second Temple was dedicated to Jupiter. Tensions grew even more when Hadrian abolished circumcision (which he viewed as mutilation), and the Bar Kokhba's revolt began in 132. Roman losses were so heavy that Hadrian's report to the Senate omissed customary formula "I and my army are well."

After brutally crushing the revolt in 135 and devastating Judea (580,000 Jews were killed, 50 fortified towns and 985 villages were razed), Hadrian attempted to root out Judaism, which he saw as the cause of continuous rebellions. He prohibited the Torah law, Jewish calendar and executed Judaic scholars. The sacred scroll was ceremoniously burned on the Temple Mount. At the former Temple sanctuary he installed two statues, one of Jupiter, another of himself. In an attempt to erase memory of Judea, he wiped the name off the map and replaced it with Syria Palaestina, as insulting reminder of Jews' ancient enemies the Philistines, long extinct by then. He reestablished Jerusalem as the Roman pagan polis Aelia Capitolina, and Jews were forbidden from entering it, except once a year to mourn their humiliation. Jews remained scattered and stateless until 1948. (Cassius Dio, Roman History; Aelius Spartianus, Life of Hadrian in the Augustan History)

Cultural pursuits and patronage

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. In Rome, the Pantheon built by Agrippa was enriched under Hadrian and took on the form in which it has survived.

Hadrian was a humanist, deeply Hellenophile in all his tastes. Hadrian was especially famous for his love affair with a young Greek, Antinous. While touring Egypt, Antinous mysteriously drowned in the Nile (130 CE). Stricken with grief, Hadrian founded the Egyptian city of Antinopolis. Hadrian drew the whole Empire into his mourning, making Antinous the last new god of antiquity. For the rest of his life, Hadrian commissioned many hundred (thousands) of sculptures of Antinous in the manner of a Greek youth. The passion and depth of Hadrian's love for the boy was shown in busts and statues to be found all over Europe, featuring the boy's full lips and round cheeks.

A fragment from the Roman History of Dio Cassius as translated by Earnest Cary in 1925:

"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."

Historical representation

Hadrian's lost authentic autobiography was reimagined in the form of a fictional autobiography, based on a careful study of the authentic sources, by
Marguerite Yourcenar, Mémoires d'Hadrien (1951); English translation Memoirs of Hadrian (New York 1954). Another fictionalized account of Hadrian and his court is classics scholar Elizabeth Speller's Following Hadrian: a second-century journey (2003). The book mixes travelogue, fictionalized memoir and authentic biography, as seen through the eyes of the historical Hadrianic poet and epigram-writer Julia Balbilla.

Preceded by:
Trajan (98 - 117)
Roman emperors
Followed by:
Antoninus Pius (138 - 161)



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