HADRIAN (A.D. 117-138)

Hadrian (born A.D. 76, ruled A.D. 117-138) was the emperor of Rome during the golden age of the Roman Empire. He distinguished himself as a visionary leader, military strategist, poet, artist and architect. He and Trajan oversaw an exceptional period of peace and prosperity. He protected Roman citizens from hostile tribes in Scotland by overseeing the construction of Hadrian's Wall and made peace in Mesopotamia by pulling back from the Euphrates and making peace with the Parthians. Hadrian also designed several monuments in Rome and may have even been the chief architect of the Pantheon.

Hadrian, whose full name was Publius Aelius Hadrianus, was Trajan's adopted heir. He was born in Rome but, like Trajan, grew up in Spain. Hadrian is famous for his stunning accomplishments in Rome and Athens, but his personality is a puzzle. "His nature," wrote Dio Cassius, "was such that he was jealous not only of the living but also the dead." Another wrote he could be "niggardly and generous, deceitful and straight forward, cruel and merciful, and always in all things changeable."

Tom Dyckoff wrote in The Times: “He was both an imperial paper-pusher of the most anally retentive kind – infamous for controversially ditching his predecessors’ policies of war and expansion in favour of a slightly unsexy combination of peace, consolidating territory and increasing administrative efficiency – and an aesthete, perhaps the most erudite, sensitive and sophisticated of all Roman emperors, well versed in poetry and painting, and a virtuoso in his greatest love of all – architecture. Hadrian’s historical detractors claim that so bitter was he at Trajan’s posthumous reputation he had Apollodorus killed after the architect mocked one of Hadrian’s own designs. All myth, alas – indeed, one of the first acts Hadrian undertook as emperor was to honour Trajan and his sister with temples. Under his patronage, vast swaths of the city were restored. [Source: Tom Dyckoff, the Times, July 2008]

Pat Southern wrote for the BBC: “A cultured scholar, fond of all things Greek, Hadrian travelled all over the empire. He was attentive to the army and the provincials, and left behind him spectacular buildings such as the Pantheon in Rome and his villa at Tivoli. But his greatest legacy to the empire was his establishment of its frontiers, marking a halt to imperial expansion. |::| He was truly a pivotal emperor, in that he divided what was Roman from what was not. Apart from minor adjustments, no succeeding emperor reversed his policies. [Source: Pat Southern, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Peace and prosperity reigned in the Roman Empire during the rule of Trajan and Hadrian. Citizenship was granted to millions of people of different ethnic backgrounds from numerous provinces and gods and ideas moved across the Mediterranean and through the empire. The historian William Stearns Davis wrote: “Under Hadrian the Roman Empire reached its acme of prosperity. The Emperor, himself a man of remarkable and varied genius, although not always of just and even temperament, seemed anxious to conceal the real despotism of his government by the enlightened use of his power. No new conquests were made, but many internal reforms were executed. Hadrian also was a great traveler, and spent much of his reign going up and down his vast empire, heaping benefits upon the communities with which he sojourned.” [Source: William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Hadrian’s Early Life and Family Background

Hadrian coin from Spain

Aelius Spartianus wrote: “The original home of the family of the Emperor Hadrian was Picenum, the later, Spain; for Hadrian himself relates in his autobiography that his forefathers came from Hadria, but settled in Italica in the time of the Scipios. The father of Hadrian was Aelius Hadrianus, surnamed Afer, a cousin of the Emperor Trajan; his mother was Domitia Paulina, a native of Cadiz; his sister was Paulina, the wife of Servianus, his wife was Sabina, and his great-grandfather's grandfather was Marullinus, the first of his family to be a Roman senator. [Source: Aelius Spartianus: Life of Hadrian,” (r. 117-138 CE.),William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

“Hadrian was born on the ninth day before the Kalends of February in the seventh consulship of Vespasian and the fifth of Titus. Bereft of his father at the age of ten, he became the ward of Ulpius Trajanus, his cousin, then of praetorian rank, but afterwards emperor, and of Caelius Attianus, a knight. He then grew rather deeply devoted to Greek studies, to which his natural tastes inclined so much that some called him "Greekling."

“He returned to his native city in his fifteenth year and at once entered military service, but was so fond of hunting that he incurred criticism for it, and for this reason Trajan recalled him from Italica. Thenceforth he was treated by Trajan as his own son, and not long afterwards was made one of the ten judges of the inheritance-court, and, later, tribune of the Second Legion, the Adjutrix. After this, when Domitian's principate was drawing to a close, he was transferred to the province of Lower Moesia. There, it is said, he heard from an astrologer the same prediction of his future power which had been made, as he already knew, by his great-uncle, Aelius Hadrianus, a master of astrology. When Trajan was adopted by Nerva, Hadrian was sent to convey to him the army's congratulations and was at once transferred to Upper Germany. When Nerva died, he wished to be the first to bring the news to Trajan, but as he was hastening to meet him he was detained by his brother-in-law, Servianus, the same man who had revealed Hadrian's extravagance and indebtedness and thus stirred Trajan's anger against him. He was further delayed by the fact that his travelling-carriage had been designedly broken, but he nevertheless proceeded on foot and anticipated Servianus' personal messenger. And now he became a favourite of Trajan's, and yet, owing to the activity of the guardians of certain boys whom Trajan loved ardently, he was not free from . . . which Gallus fostered. Indeed, at this time he was even anxious about the Emperor's attitude towards him, and consulted the Vergilian oracle. This was the lot given out: ‘But who is yonder man, by olive wreath / Distinguished, who the sacred vessel bears? / I see a hoary head and beard. Behold / The Roman King whose laws shall establish Rome / Anew, from tiny Cures' humble land / Called to a mighty realm. Then shall arise.,

“Others, however, declare that this prophecy came to him from the Sybilline Verses. Moreover, he received a further intimation of his subsequent power, in a response which issued from the temple of Jupiter at Nicephorium and has been quoted by Apollonius of Syria, the Platonist. Finally, through the good offices of Sura, he was instantly restored to a friendship with Trajan that was closer than ever, and he took to wife the daughter of the Emperor's sister — a marriage advocated by Plotina, but, according to Marius Maximus, little desired by Trajan himself.

Hadrian’s Early Political Career Under Trajan

Aelius Spartianus wrote: “He held the quaestorship in the fourth consulship of Trajan and in the first of Articuleius, and while holding this office he read a speech of the Emperor's to the senate and provoked a laugh by his somewhat provincial accent. He thereupon gave attention to the study of Latin until he attained the utmost proficiency and fluency. After his quaestorship he served as curator of the acts of the senate, and later accompanied Trajan in the Dacian war on terms of considerable intimacy, seeing, indeed, that falling in with Trajan's habits, as he says himself, he partook freely of wine, and for this was very richly rewarded by the Emperor. He was made tribune of the plebs in the second consulship of Candidus and Quadratus, and he claimed that he received an omen of continuous tribunician power during this magistracy, because he lost the heavy cloak which is worn by the tribunes of the plebs in rainy weather, but never by the emperors. And down to this day the emperors do not wear cloaks when they appear in public before civilians. In the second Dacian war, Trajan appointed him to the command of the First Legion, the Minervia, and took him with him to the war; and in this campaign his many remarkable deeds won great renown. Because of this he was presented with a diamond which Trajan himself had received from Nerva, and by this gift he was encouraged in his hopes of succeeding to the throne. [Source: Aelius Spartianus: Life of Hadrian,” (r. 117-138 CE.), William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

Hadrian's family background

“He held the praetorship in the second consulship of Suburanus and Servianus, and again received from Trajan two million sesterces with which to give games. Next he was sent as praetorian legate to Lower Pannonia, where he held the Samartians in check, maintained discipline among the soldiers, and restrained the procurators, who were overstepping too freely the bounds of their power. In return for these services he was made consul. While he was holding this office he learned from Sura that he was to be adopted by Trajan, and thereupon he ceased to be an object of contempt and neglect to Trajan's friends. Indeed, after Sura's death Trajan's friendship for him increased, principally on account of the speeches which he composed for the Emperor.

“He enjoyed, too, the favour of Plotina, and it was due to her interest that later, at the time of the campaign against Parthia, he was appointed legate to the Emperor. At this same time he enjoyed, besides, the friendship of Sosius Papus and Platorius Nepos, both of the senatorial order, and also of Attianus, his former guardian, of Livianus, and of Turbo, all of equestrian rank. And when Palma and Celsus, always his enemies, on whom he later took vengeance, fell under suspicion of aspiring to the throne, his adoption seemed assured; and it was taken wholly for granted when, through Plotina's favour, he was appointed consul for the second time. That he was bribing Trajan's freedmen and courting his favourites all the while that he was in close attendance at court, was told and generally believed.”

Hadrian’s Appearance and Character

Aelius Spartianus wrote: “He was tall of stature and elegant in appearance; his hair was curled on a comb, and he wore a full beard to cover up the natural blemishes on his face; and he was very strongly built. He rode and walked a great deal and always kept himself in training by the use of arms and the javelin. He also hunted, and he used often to kill a lion with his own hand, but once in a hunt he broke his collar-bone and a rib; these hunts of his he always shared with his friends. At his banquets he always furnished, according to the occasion, tragedies, comedies, Atellan farces, players on the sambuca, readers, or poets. His villa at Tibur was marvellously constructed, and he actually gave to parts of it the names of provinces and places of the greatest renown, calling them, for instance, Lyceum, Academia, Prytaneum, Canopus, Poecile and Tempe. And in order not to omit anything, he even made a Hades. [Source: Aelius Spartianus: Life of Hadrian,” (r. 117-138 CE.),William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

“He very often assigned guardians. Discipline in civil life he maintained as rigorously as he did in military. He ordered senators and knights to wear the toga whenever they appeared in public except when they were returning from a banquet, and he himself, when in Italy, always appeared thus clad. At banquets, when senators came, he received them standing, and he always reclined at table dressed either in a Greek cloak or in a toga. The cost of a banquet he determined on each occasion, all with the utmost care, and he reduced the sums that might be expended to the amounts prescribed by the ancient laws. He forbade entry into Rome of heavily laden waggons, and he did not permit riding on horseback in cities. None but invalids were allowed to bathe in the public baths before the eighth hour of the day. He was the first to put knights in charge of the imperial correspondence and of the petitions addressed to the emperor. Those men whom he saw to be poor and innocent he enriched of his own accord, but those who had become rich through sharp practice he actually regarded with hatred. He despised foreign cults, but native Roman ones he observed most scrupulously; moreover, he always performed the duties of pontifex maximus. He tried a great number of lawsuits himself both in Rome and in the provinces, and to his council he called consuls and praetors and the foremost of the senators. He drained the Fucine Lake. He appointed four men of consular rank as judges for all Italy. When he went to Africa it rained on his arrival for the first time in the space of five years, and for this he was beloved by the Africans.

“Hadrian's memory was vast and his ability was unlimited; for instance, he personally dictated his speeches and gave opinions on all questions. He was also very witty, and of his jests many still survive. The following one has even become famous: When he had refused a request to a certain grey-haired man, and the man repeated the request but this time with dyed hair, Hadrian replied, "I have already refused this to your father." Even without the aid of a nomenclator he could call by name a great many people, whose names he had heard but once and then all in a crowd; indeed, he could correct the nomenclators when they made mistakes, as they not infrequently did, and he even knew the names of the veterans whom he had discharged at various times. He could repeat from memory, after a rapid reading, books which to most men were not known at all. He wrote, dictated, listened, and, incredible as it seems, conversed with his friends, all at one and the same time. He had as complete a knowledge of the state-budget in all its details as any careful householder has of his own household. His horses and dogs he loved so much that he provided burial-places for them, and in one locality he founded a town called Hadrianotherae, because once he had hunted successfully there and killed a bear.

Hadrian’s Interests

Aelius Spartianus wrote: “In poetry and in letters Hadrian was greatly interested. In arithmetic, geometry, and painting he was very expert. Of his knowledge of flute-playing and singing he even boasted openly. He ran to excess in the gratification of his desires, and wrote much verse about the subjects of his passion. He composed love-poems too. He was also a connoisseur of arms, had a thorough knowledge of warfare, and knew how to use gladiatorial weapons. He was, in the same person, austere and genial, dignified and playful, dilatory and quick to act, niggardly and generous, deceitful and straightforward, cruel and merciful, and always in all things changeable. [Source: Aelius Spartianus: Life of Hadrian,” (r. 117-138 CE.),William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

Hadrian as Pontifex Maximus

“His friends he enriched greatly, even though they did not ask it, while to those who did ask, he refused nothing. And yet he was always ready to listen to whispers about his friends, and in the end he treated almost all of them as enemies, even the closest and even those whom he had raised to the highest of honours, such as Attianus and Nepos and Septicius Clarus. Eudaemon, for example, who had been his accomplice in obtaining the imperial power, he reduced to poverty; Polaenus and Marcellus he drove to suicide; Heliodorus he assailed in a most slanderous pamphlet; Titianus he allowed to be accused as an accomplice in an attempt to seize the empire and even to be outlawed; Ummidius Quadratus, Catilius Severus, and Turbo he persecuted vigorously; and in order to prevent Servianus, his brother-in-law, from surviving him, he compelled him to commit suicide, although the man was then in his ninetieth year. And he even took vengeance on freedmen and sometimes on soldiers. And although he was very deft at prose and at verse and very accomplished in all the arts, yet he used to subject the teachers of these arts, as though more learned than they, to ridicule, scorn, and humiliation. With these very professors and philosophers he often debated by means of pamphlets or poems issued by both sides in turn. And once Favorinus, when he had yielded to Hadrian's criticism of a word which he had used, raised a merry laugh among his friends. For when they reproached him for having done wrong in yielding to Hadrian in the matter of a word used by reputable authors, he replied: "You are urging a wrong course, my friends, when you do not suffer me to regard as the most learned of men the one who has thirty legions."

“So desirous of a wide-spread reputation was Hadrian that he even wrote his own biography; this he gave to his educated freedmen, with instructions to publish it under their own names. For indeed, Phlegon's writings, it is said, are Hadrian's in reality. He wrote Catachannae, a very obscure work in imitation of Antimachus. And when the poet Florus wrote to him:

“I don't want to be a Caesar,
Stroll about among the Britons,
Lurk about among the . . . .
And endure the Scythian winters,
he wrote back:
I don't want to be a Florus,
Stroll about among the taverns,
Lurk about among the cook-shops,
And endure the round fat insects.

“Furthermore, he loved the archaic style of writing, and he used to take part in debates. He preferred Cato to Cicero, Ennius to Vergil, Caelius to Sallust; and with the same self-assurance he expressed opinions about Homer and Plato. In astrology he considered himself so proficient that on the Kalends of January he would actually write down all that might happen to him in the whole ensuing year, and in the year in which he died, indeed, he wrote down everything that he was going to do, down to the very hour of his death.

“However ready Hadrian might have been to criticize musicians, tragedians, comedians, grammarians, and rhetoricians, he nevertheless bestowed both honours and riches upon all who professed these arts, though he always tormented them with his questions. And although he was himself responsible for the fact that many of them left his presence with their feelings hurt, to see anyone with hurt feelings, he used to say, he could hardly endure. He treated with the greatest friendship the philosophers Epictetus and Heliodorus, and various grammarians, rhetoricians, musicians, geometricians — not to mention all by name — painters and astrologers; and among them Favorinus, many claim, was conspicuous above all the rest. Teachers who seemed unfit for their profession he presented with riches and honours and then dismissed from the practice of their profession.”

Hadrian's Male Lover

20120224-Hadrian Antinous_MGEg_Inv22795.jpg
It is pretty well established that Hadrian was gay. He fell in love with a handsome boy from Asia Minor named of Antinous (Antinoüs, Antinoos), who became the emperor's companion. After of Antinous, drowned in the Nile im A.D. 130 at the age of 20, according to some theories to sacrifice himself to some mysterious cause, the grief-stricken Hadrian drowned his sorrows by placing statues of him all over the Roman Empire. ["The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]

Aelius Spartianus wrote: “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. [Source: Aelius Spartianus: Life of Hadrian,” (r. 117-138 CE.),William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

Cambridge classic professor Mary Beard wrote in New York Review of Books, “Antinous has a colorful history. He was the young Bithynian “favorite," and presumably lover, of the emperor Hadrian, who drowned in mysterious circumstances in the river Nile in AD 130. “Did he jump, was he pushed or did he merely fall? — are questions that have never been resolved. Marguerite Yourcenar's idea in her Memoirs of Hadrian that it was more than simple suicide, but a religious self-sacrifice, is one of many appealing, extravagant, and untestable theories. [Source: Mary Beard, New York Review of Books, March 3, 2010]

A statue of of Antinous depicted as the Egyptian god Orisis, with with a pleated loincloth and pharaoh-style striped cobra headdress, was found at Tivoli," Hadrian built a city called Antinoplis to mark the site where his lover died. Later he tried to of Antinous deified and raised a large colonnaded temple at Tivoli dedicated to him.

Hadrian Becomes Emperor

When Trajan died, Hadrian, his adopted son, was proclaimed Emperor by the praetorian guards. But Hadrian did not regard this as a constitutional act; and he requested to be formally elected by the senate. Pat Southern wrote for the BBC: Hadrian “was related to the emperor Trajan on his father’s side, and was adopted by him. However, this was not announced until the day after Trajan’s death. Though Hadrian had been groomed for succession - he was associated with Trajan in several campaigns and appointed to a succession of military and civil posts - his accession was not universally approved. Within a short time, four senators were executed - accused of plotting treason. [Source: Pat Southern, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Aelius Spartianus wrote: “On the fifth day before the Ides of August, while he was governor of Syria, he learned of his adoption by Trajan, and he later gave orders to celebrate this day as the anniversary of his adoption. On the third day before the Ides of August he received the news of Trajan's death, and this day he appointed as the anniversary of his accession. [Source: Aelius Spartianus: Life of Hadrian,” (r. 117-138 CE.),William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

“There was, to be sure, a widely prevailing belief that Trajan, with the approval of many of his friends, had planned to appoint as his successor not Hadrian but Neratius Priscus, even to the extent of once saying to Priscus: "I entrust the provinces to your care in case anything happens to me." And, indeed, many aver that Trajan had purposed to follow the example of Alexander of Macedonia and die without naming a successor. Again, many others declare that he had meant to send an address to the senate, requesting this body, in case aught befell him, to appoint a ruler for the Roman Empire, and merely appending the names of some from among whom the senate might choose the best. And the statement has even been made that it was not until Trajan's death that Hadrian was declared adopted, and then only by means of a trick of Plotina's; for she smuggled in someone who impersonated the Emperor and spoke in a feeble voice. “After taking these measures he set out from Antioch to view the remains of Trajan, which were being escorted by Attianus, Plotina, and Matidia. He received them formally and sent them on to Rome by ship, and at once returned to Antioch; he then appointed Catilius Severus governor of Syria, and proceeded to Rome by way of Illyricum.

“Despatching to the senate a carefully worded letter, he asked for divine honours for Trajan. This request he obtained by a unanimous vote; indeed, the senate voluntarily voted Trajan many more honours than Hadrian had requested. In this letter to the senate he apologized because he had not left it the right to decide regarding his accession, explaining that the unseemly haste of the troops in acclaiming him emperor was due to the belief that the state could not be left without an emperor. Later, when the senate offered him the triumph which was to have been Trajan's, he refused it for himself, and caused the effigy of the dead Emperor to be carried in a triumphal chariot, in order that the best of emperors might not lose even after death the honour of a triumph. Also he refused for the present the title of Father of his Country, offered to him at the time of his accession and again later on, giving as his reason the fact that Augustus had not won it until late in life. Of the crown-money for his triumph he remitted Italy's contribution, and lessened that of the provinces, all the while setting forth grandiloquently and in great detail the straits of the public treasury.

“Then, on hearing of the incursions of the Sarmatians and Roxolani, he sent the troops ahead and set out for Moesia. He conferred the insignia of a prefect on Marcius Turbo after his Mauretanian campaign and appointed him to the temporary command of Pannonia and Dacia. When the king of the Roxolani complained of the diminution of his subsidy, he investigated his case and made peace with him.

Disasters and Plot to Kill Hadrian

Aelius Spartianus wrote: “A plot to murder him while sacrificing was made by Nigrinus, with Lusius and a number of others as accomplices, even though Hadrian had destined Nigrinus for the succession; but Hadrian successfully evaded this plot. Because of this conspiracy Palma was put to death at Tarracina, Celsus at Baiae, Nigrinus at Faventia, and Lusius on his journey homeward, all by order of the senate, but contrary to the wish of Hadrian, as he says himself in his autobiography. Whereupon Hadrian entrusted the command in Dacia to Turbo, whom he dignified, in order to increase his authority, with a rank analagous to that of the prefect of Egypt. [Source: Aelius Spartianus: Life of Hadrian,” (r. 117-138 CE.),William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

“He then hastened to Rome in order to win over public opinion, which was hostile to him because of the belief that on one single occasion he had suffered four men of consular rank to be put to death. In order to check the rumours about himself, he gave in person a double largess to the people, although in his absence three aurei had already been given to each of the citizens. In the senate, too, he cleared himself of blame for what had happened, and pledged himself never to inflict punishment on a senator until after a vote of the senate.

“During his reign there were famines, pestilence, and earthquakes. The distress caused by all these calamities he relieved to the best of his ability, and also he aided many communities which had been devastated by them. There was also an overflow of the Tiber. To many communities he gave Latin citizenship, and to many others he remitted their tribute.

Hadrian as Emperor

Hadrian's Villa

In some respects Hadrian was similar to Trajan, with the same generous spirit and desire for the welfare of the people, and with the same wish to add to the architectural splendor of Rome. He was, like Trajan, a friend of literature and a patron of the fine arts, But he differed from Trajan in not thinking that the greatness of Rome depended upon military glory. He believed that the army should be maintained; but that foreign conquest was less important than the prosperity of his subjects. In his political ideas and administrative ability he was a type of the true statesman. He is said to have been a man of wider acquirements and greater general capacity than any previous ruler since Julius Caesar. He was in the best sense liberal and cosmopolitan. He was tolerant of the Christians, and put himself in sympathy with the various races and creeds which made up the empire. Against the Jews only, who rose in revolt during his reign, did he show a spirit of unreasonable severity. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

Another evidence of the statesmanship of Hadrian is seen in the fact that he was willing, to take advice. While he is said to have shown on some occasions an exceptional irritability of temper, he is represented as a man distinguished on the whole by “an a ability rarely equaled by the Roman princes” (Merivale). He paid great deference to the senate; and the body of imperial counselors (consilium principis), which had been occasionally consulted by the previous emperors, became from his time a permanent institution. The emperor was not now the victim of unworthy advisers, as in the time of Tiberius, but was surrounded by men noted for their learning and wisdom. These men were often trained lawyers, who were skilled in the rules of justice. \~\

Aelius Spartianus wrote: “On taking possession of the imperial power Hadrian at once resumed the policy of the early emperors, and devoted his attention to maintaining peace throughout the world. For the nations which Trajan had conquered began to revolt; the Moors, moreover, began to make attacks, and the Sarmatians to wage war, the Britons could not be kept under Roman sway, Egypt was thrown into disorder by riots, and finally Libya and Palestine showed the spirit of rebellion. Whereupon he relinquished all the conquests east of the Euphrates and the Tigris, following, as he used to say, the example of Cato, who urged that the Macedonians, because they could not be held as subjects, should be declared free and independent. And Parthamasiris, appointed king of the Parthians by Trajan, he assigned as ruler to the neighbouring tribes, because he saw that the man was held in little esteem by the Parthians. [Source: Aelius Spartianus: Life of Hadrian,” (r. 117-138 CE.),William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

“The foremost members of the senate he admitted to close intimacy with the emperor's majesty. All circus-games decreed in his honour he refused, except those held to celebrate his birthday. Both in meetings of the people and in the senate he used to say that he would so administer the commonwealth that men would know that it was not his own but the people's. Having himself been consul three times, he reappointed many to the consulship for the third time and men without number to a second term; his own third consulship he held for only four months, and during his term he often administered justice. He always attended regular meetings of the senate if he was present in Rome or even in the neighbourhood. In the appointment of senators he showed the utmost caution and thereby greatly increased the dignity of the senate, and when he removed Attianus from the post of prefect of the guard and created him a senator with consular honours, he made it clear that he had no greater honour which he could bestow upon him. Nor did he allow knights to try cases involving senators whether he was present at the trial or not. For at that time it was customary for the emperor, when he tried cases, to call to his council both senators and knights and give a verdict based on their joint decision. Finally, he denounced those emperors who had not shown this deference to the senators. On his brother-in-law Servianus, to whom he showed such respect that he would advance to meet him as he came from his chamber, he bestowed a third consulship, and that without any request or entreaty on Servianus' part; but nevertheless he did not appoint him as his own colleague, since Servianus had been consul twice before Hadrian, and the Emperor did not wish to have second place.

In Etruria he held a praetorship while emperor. In the Latin towns he was dictator and aedile and duumvir, in Naples demarch, in his native city duumvir with the powers of censor. This office he held at Hadria, too, his second native city, as it were, and at Athens he was archon.

Hadrian’s Legal Reforms

Perhaps the most important event in the reign of Hadrian was his compilation of the best part of the Roman law. Since the XII. Tables there had been no collection of legal rules. That ancient code was framed upon the customs of a primitive people. It did not represent the actual law by which justice was now administered. A new and better law had grown up in the courts of the praetors and of the provincial governors. It had been expressed in the edicts of these magistrates; but it had now become voluminous and scattered. Hadrian delegated to one of his jurists, Salvius Julianus, the task of collecting this law into a concise form, so that it could be used for the better a ministration of justice throughout the empire. This collection was called the Perpetual Edict (Edictum Perpetuum). [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

Antinous as Dionysos

Tom Dyckoff wrote in The Times: “Hadrian could lay claim to being the world’s first conservationist – passing laws curbing unnecessary demolition – and urban regenerator, involving himself in the minutiae of neighbourhood politics, and recognising the civilising effects on his populace of a decent, unpotholed pavement, laws banning heavy traffic and a good flood prevention policy.” [Source: Tom Dyckoff, the Times, July 2008]

Aelius Spartianus wrote: “He always inquired into the actions of all his judges, and persisted in his inquiries until he satisfied himself of the truth about them. He would not allow his freedmen to be prominent in public affairs or to have any influence over himself, and he declared that all his predecessors were to blame for the faults of their freedmen; he also punished all his freedmen who boasted of their influence over him. With regard to his treatment of his slaves, the following incident, stern but almost humorous, is still related. Once when he saw one of his slaves walk away from his presence between two senators, he sent someone to give him a box on the ear and say to him: "Do not walk between those whose slave you may some day be." As an article of food he was singularly fond of tetrapharmacum, which consisted of pheasant, sow's udders, ham, and pastry. [Source: Aelius Spartianus: Life of Hadrian,” (r. 117-138 CE.),William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

“He established a regular imperial post, in order to relieve the local officials of such a burden. Moreover, he used every means of gaining popularity. He remitted to private debtors in Rome and in Italy immense sums of money owed to the privy-purse, and in the provinces he remitted large amounts of arrears; and he ordered the promissory notes to be burned in the Forum of the Deified Trajan, in order that the general sense of security might thereby be increased. He gave orders that the property of condemned persons should not accrue to the privy-purse, and in each case deposited the whole amount in the public treasury. He made additional appropriations for the children to whom Trajan had allotted grants of money. He supplemented the property of senators impoverished through no fault of their own, making the allowance in each case proportionate to the number of children, so that it might be enough for a senatorial career; to many, indeed, he paid punctually on the date the amount allotted for their living. Sums of money sufficient to enable men to hold office he bestowed, not on his friends alone, but also on many far and wide, and by his donations he helped a number of women to sustain life. He gave gladiatorial combats for six days in succession, and on his birthday he put into the arena a thousand wild beasts.”

Hadrian’s Leniency and Compassion

Aelius Spartianus wrote: “Moreover, he showed at the outset such a wish to be lenient, that although Attianus advised him by letter in the first few days of his rule to put to death Baebius Macer, the prefect of the city, in case he opposed his elevation to power, also Laberius Maximus, then in exile on an island under suspicion of designs on the throne, and likewise Crassus Frugi, he nevertheless refused to harm them. Later on, however, his procurator, though without an order from Hadrian, had Crassus killed when he tried to leave the island, on the ground that he was planning a revolt. He gave a double donative to the soldiers in order to ensure a favourable beginning to his principate. He deprived Lusius Quietus of the command of the Moorish tribesmen, who were serving under him, and then dismissed him from the army, because he had fallen under the suspicion of having designs on the throne; and he appointed Marcius Turbo, after his reduction of Judaea, to quell the insurrection in Mauretania.

Hadrian dressed a Greek

“Many whom he had regarded as enemies when a private citizen, when emperor he merely ignored; for example, on becoming emperor, he said to one man whom he had regarded as a mortal foe, "You have escaped." When he himself called any to military service, he always supplied them with horses, mules, clothing, cost of maintenance, and indeed their whole equipment. At the Saturnalia and Sigillaria he often surprised his friends with presents, and he gladly received gifts from them and again gave others in return. In order to detect dishonesty in his caterers, when he gave banquets with several tables he gave orders that platters from the other tables, even the lowest, should be set before himself. He surpassed all monarchs in his gifts. He often bathed in the public baths, even with the common crowd. And a jest of his made in the bath became famous. For on a certain occasion, seeing a veteran, whom he had known in the service, rubbing his back and the rest of his body against the wall, he asked him why he had the marble rub him, and when the man replied that it was because he did not own a slave, he presented him with some slaves and the cost of their maintenance. But another time, when he saw a number of old men rubbing themselves against the wall for the purpose of arousing the generosity of the Emperor, he ordered them to be called out and then to rub one another in turn. His love for the common people he loudly expressed. So fond was he of travel, that he wished to inform himself in person about all that he had read concerning all parts of the world. Cold and bad weather he could bear with such endurance that he never covered his head. He showed a multitude of favours to many kings, but from a number he even purchased peace, and by some he was treated with scorn; to many he gave huge gifts, but none greater than to the king of the Hiberi, for to him he gave an elephant and a band of fifty men, in addition to magnificent presents. And having himself received huge gifts from Pharasmanes, including some cloaks embroidered with gold, he sent into the arena three hundred condemned criminals dressed in gold-embroidered cloaks for the purpose of ridiculing the gifts of the king.

“When he tried cases, he had in his council not only his friends and the members of his staff, but also jurists, in particular Juventius Celsus, Salvius Julianus, Neratius Priscus, and others, only those, however, whom the senate had in every instance approved. Among other decisions he ruled that in no community should any house be demolished for the purpose of transporting any building-materials to another city. To the child of an outlawed person he granted a twelfth of the property. Accusations for lese majeste he did not admit. Legacies from persons unknown to him he refused, and even those left to him by acquaintances he would not accept if they had any children. In regard to treasure-trove, he ruled that if anyone made a find on his own property he might keep it, if on another's land, he should turn over half to the proprietor thereof, if on the state's, he should share the find equally with the privy-purse. He forbade masters to kill their slaves, and ordered that any who deserved it should be sentenced by the courts. He forbade anyone to sell a slave or a maid-servant to a procurer or trainer of gladiators without giving a reason therefor. He ordered that those who had wasted their property, if legally responsible, should be flogged in the amphitheatre and then let go. Houses of hard labour for slaves and free he abolished. He provided separate baths for the sexes. He issued an order that, if a slave-owner were murdered in his house, no slaves should be examined save those who were near enough to have had a knowledge of the murder.

Hadrian’s Search for a Successor

Aelius Spartianus wrote: “After traversing, as he did, all parts of the world with bare head and often in severe storms and frosts, he contracted an illness which confined him to his bed. And becoming anxious about a successor he thought first of Servianus. Afterwards, however, as I have said, he forced him to commit suicide; and Fuscus, too, he put to death on the ground that, being spurred on by prophecies and omens, he was hoping for the imperial power. Carried away by suspicion, he held in the greatest abhorrence Platorius Nepos, whom he had formerly so loved that, once, when he went to see him while ill and was refused admission, he nevertheless let him go unpunished. Also he hated Terentius Gentianus, but even more vehemently, because he saw that he was then beloved by the senate. At last, he came to hate all those of whom he had thought in connection with the imperial power, as though they were really about to be emperors. However, he controlled all the force of his innate cruelty down to the time when in his Tiburtine Villa he almost met his death through a hemorrhage. Then he threw aside all restraint and compelled Servianus to kill himself, on the ground that he aspired to the empire, merely because he gave a feast to the royal slaves, sat in a royal chair placed close to his bed, and, though an old man of ninety, used to arise and go forward to meet the guard of soldiers. He put many others to death, either openly or by treachery, and indeed, when his wife Sabina died, the rumour arose that the Emperor had given her poison. [Source: Aelius Spartianus: Life of Hadrian,” (r. 117-138 CE.),William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

Aelius Verus Caesar

“Hadrian then determined to adopt Ceionius Commodus, son-in-law of Nigrinus, the former conspirator, and this in spite of the fact that his sole recommendation was his beauty. Accordingly, despite the opposition of all, he adopted Ceionius Commodus Verus and called him Aelius Verus Caesar. On the occasion of the adoption he gave games in the Circus and bestowed largess upon the populace and the soldiers. He dignified Commodus with the office of praetor and immediately placed him in command of the Pannonian provinces, and also conferred on him the consulship together with money enough to meet the expenses of the office. He also appointed Commodus to a second consulship. And when he saw that the man was diseased, he used often to say: "We have leaned against a tottering wall and have wasted the four hundred million sesterces which we gave to the populace and the soldiers on the adoption of Commodus." Moreover, because of his ill-health, Commodus could not even make a speech in the senate thanking Hadrian for his adoption. Finally, too large a quantity of medicine was administered to him, and thereupon his illness increased, and he died in his sleep on the very Kalends of January. Because of the date Hadrian forbade public mourning for him, in order that the vows for the state might be assumed as usual.

“After the death of Aelius Verus Caesar, Hadrian was attacked by a very severe illness, and thereupon he adopted Arrius Antoninus (who was afterwards called Pius), imposing on him the condition that he adopt two sons, Annius Verus and Marcus Antoninus. These were the two who afterwards ruled the empire together, the first joint Augusti. And as for Antoninus, he was called Pius, it is said, because he used to give his arm to his father-in-law when weakened by old age. However, others assert that this surname was given to him because, as Hadrian grew more cruel, he rescued many senators from the Emperor; others, again, that it was because he bestowed great honours upon Hadrian after his death. The adoption of Antoninus was lamented by many at that time, particularly by Catilius Severus, the prefect of the city, who was making plans to secure the throne for himself. When this fact became known, a successor was appointed for him and he was deprived of his office.

Hadrian’s Death

Aelius Spartianus wrote: “Hadrian was now seized with the utmost disgust of life and ordered a servant to stab him with a sword. When this was disclosed and reached the ears of Antoninus, he came to the Emperor, together with the prefects, and begged him to endure with fortitude the hard necessity of illness, declaring furthermore that he himself would be no better than a parricide, were he, an adopted son, to permit Hadrian to be killed. The Emperor then became angry and ordered the betrayer of the secret to be put to death; however, the man was saved by Antoninus. Then Hadrian immediately drew up his will, though he did not lay aside the administration of the empire. Once more, however, after making his will, he attempted to kill himself, but the dagger was taken from him. He then became more violent, and he even demanded poison from his physician, who thereupon killed himself in order that he might not have to administer it. [Source: Aelius Spartianus: Life of Hadrian,” (r. 117-138 CE.),William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

“About this time there came a certain woman, who said that she had been warned in a dream to coax Hadrian to refrain from killing himself, for he was destined to recover entirely, but that she had failed to do this and had become blind; she had nevertheless been ordered a second time to give the same message to Hadrian and to kiss his knees, and was assured of the recovery of her sight if she did so. The woman then carried out the command of the dream, and reeived her sight after she had bathed her eyes with the water in the temple from which she had come. Also a blind old man from Pannonia came to Hadrian when he was ill with fever, and touched him; whereupon the man received his sight, and the fever left Hadrian. All these things, however, Marius Maximus declares were done as a hoax.

“After this Hadrian departed for Baiae, leaving Antoninus at Rome to carry on the government. But he received no benefit there, and he thereupon sent for Antoninus, and in his presence he died there at Baiae on the sixth day before the Ides of July. Hated by all, he was buried at Puteoli on an estate that had belonged to Cicero.

“Just before his death, he compelled Servianus, then ninety years old, to kill himself, as has been said before, in order that Servianus might not outlive him, and, as he thought, become emperor. He likewise gave orders that very many others who were guilty of slight offences should be put to death; these, however, were spared by Antoninus. And he is said, as he lay dying, to have composed the following lines:
“O blithe little soul, thou, flitting away,
Guest and comrade of this my clay,
Whither now goest thou, to what place
Bare and ghastly and without grace?
Nor, as thy wont was, joke and play.
Such verses as these did he compose, and not many that were better, and also some in Greek.

“He lived 62 years, 5 months, 17 days. He ruled 20 years, 11 months. The premonitions of his death were as follows: On his last birthday, when he was commending Antoninus to the gods, his bordered toga fell down without apparent cause and bared his head. His ring, on which his portrait was carved, slipped of its own accord from his finger. On the day before his birthday some one came into the senate wailing; by his presence Hadrian was as disturbed as if he were speaking about his own death, for no one could understand what he was saying. Again, in the senate, when he meant to say, "after my son's death," he said, "after mine." Besides, he dreamed that he had asked his father for a soporific; he also dreamed that he had been overcome by a lion.

“Much was said against him after his death, and by many persons. The senate wished to annul his acts, and would have refrained from naming him "the Deified" had not Antoninus requested it. Antoninus, moreover, finally built a temple for him at Puteoli to take the place of a tomb, and he also established a quinquennial contest and flamens and sodales and many other institutions which appertain to the honour of one regarded as a god. It is for this reason, as has been said before, that many think that Antoninus received the surname Pius.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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