Publius Aelius Hadrianus (b. 24 January 76 in Italica near modern Seville or Rome; † 10 July 138 in Baiae) was the fourteenth Roman emperor. He ruled from 117 until his death.
Hadrian, like his great uncle and imperial predecessor Trajan, was based in Hispania. As a ruler, he strove intensively to consolidate the unity of the Roman Empire, which he traveled extensively in large parts. Through grants and administrative measures at the level of the Roman provinces and cities, he promoted prosperity and strengthened the infrastructure. By fixing the edictum perpetuum, he gave an important impulse to the judicial system. Since he fought only a few wars, especially against the rebellious Jews, his reign was an era of peace for most of the empire. He renounced conquests and relinquished the territories occupied by Trajan in the Parthian War, thus making a sharp and controversial change of course that strained his relationship with the Senate but prevented an overstretching of Rome”s forces. Thereafter, Hadrian concentrated his military efforts on the efficient organization of the empire”s defenses. This purpose was served in particular by border fortifications, including Hadrian”s Wall, which was named after him.
Hadrian had a wide range of interests and was ambitious in testing his talents. He had a special appreciation for Greek culture, especially for the city of Athens, famous as the classical center of Greek learning, which he promoted through intensive building activity, along with many other cities. During his reign, important buildings were erected, such as the library in Athens, the Pantheon and Castel Sant”Angelo in Rome, and Hadrian”s Villa near Tivoli.
In the emperor”s private life, his homoerotic relationship with Antinous, a young man who died at an early age, played a central role. After the death of his lover, Hadrian initiated his cultic worship throughout the empire, which was much appreciated in the East, but also in Italy. Hadrian”s two-generation succession plan set the course for the successful continuation of the consolidation of the empire he had initiated under his two successors, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius.
Iberian roots and ties
Hadrian came from a Roman family that had already settled in Italica in the province of Hispania ulterior (later Baetica) in the south of the Iberian Peninsula in the course of the Roman expansion in Republican times. The unknown author of Hadrian”s biography in the Historia Augusta, who utilized material from Hadrian”s autobiography, now lost, reports that the family originally came from Hadria or Hatria (now Atri) in Picenum in central Italy. According to this, the epithet Hadrianus goes back to the name of this city, which also gave its name to the Adriatic Sea. Baetica was rich in minerals; grain and wine were grown there in large quantities and the province exported, among other things, the food spice garum, essential for Roman cuisine. Some influential families that had become wealthy in Hispania, including the Ulpii with Trajan, the Aelii with Hadrian, and the Annii with Marcus Aurelius, formed a network through marriage alliances and held together in Rome in the pursuit of influential positions.
Nothing is known about Hadrian”s childhood. In view of his early pronounced philhellenism, it is considered that his father, the senator Publius Aelius Hadrianus Afer, as a possible proconsul of the province of Achaea, could have taken him to Greece in childhood. He lost his father, who had reached praetorian rank, at the age of ten. Hadrian then came under the guardianship of Trajan, who was a cousin of his father, as well as that of the knight Publius Acilius Attianus, who also resided in Italica. At the age of fourteen, after donning the toga virilis, Hadrian found himself on the family estates in Italica. There he underwent basic military training and was probably supposed to familiarize himself with the administration of the family estates. However, from the point of view of his guardian Trajan, he developed an excessive enthusiasm for hunting and was ordered by him to return to Rome.
Ascent under Trajan”s guidance
The career of Hadrian between his return from Hispania and his accession to the throne as emperor in 117 occupies the research mainly from the point of view of the unresolved question whether he was actually adopted by Trajan shortly before his death and designated as his successor, which was already doubted in antiquity. Clues for a clarification of Trajan”s intentions can be gained from the available news about the relationship between the two men from the nineties of the first century.
At the age of eighteen, Hadrian was appointed as decemvir stlitibus iudicandis in 94 to a supervisory body at court. He is attested in inscriptions in two other functions on his way to a senatorial career: he served as a military tribune first with Legio II Adiutrix in Aquincum (Budapest), then with Legio V Macedonica in Moesia inferior (Lower Moesia). In the fall of 97, Trajan was adopted by Nerva, who came under pressure from the Praetorian Guard in Rome. Hadrian was commissioned by his legion to convey congratulations on the adoption to the emperor”s designated successor. He set out in late autumn for the Rhine, where Trajan was staying. The latter now appointed him to a third military tribunal with Legio XXII Primigenia stationed in Mogontiacum (Mainz). Here a tension arose with the newly appointed governor for the province of Germania superior, Lucius Iulius Ursus Servianus, the husband of Hadrian”s sister, who was now his superior and rivaled him for Trajan”s favor. When Nerva died in January 98 and Trajan succeeded him as emperor, the rivalry between Hadrian and Servianus continued.
Hadrian”s ties to the imperial house became even closer through his marriage to Vibia Sabina, Trajan”s grandniece, ten years his junior, whom he married when he was twenty-four. In the same year 100 Hadrian reached the quaestorship and thus the Senate, in the privileged position of quaestor Augusti, whose duties included reading the emperor”s speeches. During the campaign against the Dacian king Decebalus in 101, Hadrian served as comes Augusti on the emperor”s staff. For 102 his people”s tribunate is to be set, for 105 the praetorship, in whose people-oriented arrangement by the holding of costly games Trajan generously helped out. Hadrian also took part in Trajan”s second Dacian War, which began in June 105, now as commander (legatus legionis) of Legio I Minervia. For his military achievements he was decorated by Trajan with a diamond, which he had received from Nerva. He was subsequently appointed governor of Lower Pannonia, which had to be secured against the Jazyges. At the age of 32, Hadrian became suffect consul in 108.
Whether it is clear from this career that Hadrian was prepared according to plan for the role as Trajan”s future successor is an ambiguous question. Trajan had not elevated him to the rank of patrician from the outset, which would have allowed him to skip the tribunate of the people and the aedility; nevertheless, Hadrian became consul as quickly as patricians could. He had the advantage over them of significant military experience, which was not common among patricians in this form. Trajan granted Hadrian significant prerogatives and powers, but he always dosed them.
Hadrian showed ambition not only in his rapid rise in the political career and in the military field, but also in various other fields of activity. His good command of the two languages, Latin and Greek, as well as his rhetorical qualities, handed down through literary sources and fragments, indicate an intensive training in grammar and rhetoric. According to the sources, he possessed acumen, a thirst for knowledge, an eagerness to learn, and a quick apprehension. These statements are not only judged in research as common repertoire of praise of rulers, but are considered plausible in view of his actions. The versatility of his interests is evidenced by his surviving fields of activity, including singing, playing a stringed instrument, painting, sculpture and poetry, as well as geometry and arithmetic, medicine and astronomy. However, the assessment of his concrete achievements within this broad spectrum of activities is controversial; according to negative assessments, he was only a dilettante addicted to profiling, who even tried to show off before the respective special experts of a subject.
Hadrian”s marriage remained childless. He is said to have had extramarital affairs, but there are no confirmed offspring. Apparently, he was primarily homoerotically oriented, which was reflected in Erastes-Eromenos relationships. For example, he is said to have had frequent intercourse with the lust boys found in Trajan”s house. Of lasting importance was his relationship with Antinous, a young Bithynian whom Hadrian had probably met in Asia Minor. Antinous belonged to the emperor”s court for some time and accompanied him on his travels until he drowned in the Nile under circumstances that are never explained.
The literary sources paint a varied and sometimes contradictory picture of Hadrian”s character and nature. For example, the Historia Augusta says: “He was at once austere and serene, affable and dignified, frivolous and thoughtful, stingy and munificent, a master in hypocrisy and dissimulation, cruel and kind, in short, always and in every respect changeable.” Cassius Dio attested Hadrian insatiable ambition, curiosity and unrestrained drive. He is also said to have possessed quick-wittedness and wit. However, Jörg Fündling, the leading expert on this source, considers the phenomenal memory powers attributed to Hadrian in the Historia Augusta to be exaggerated and implausible in this form. This includes the claims that Hadrian did not need anyone to help him out with names in everyday life, because he knew how to greet everyone he met by name and even remembered the names of all legionaries he ever had to deal with. He had only been able to recapitulate lists of names read out once and even correct them in individual cases; he had also recited little-known new books after reading them once. Fündling is also skeptical about the Historia Augusta”s statement that Hadrian was able to write, dictate, listen, and chat with his friends at the same time. In Fündling”s opinion, Hadrian”s biographer wanted to outdo the account of Caesar by Pliny the Elder, according to whom the Iulian, while writing, could either dictate or listen at the same time.
The problem of the alleged adoption by Trajan
When Trajan”s speechwriter Sura died soon after Hadrian”s suffect consulship, Hadrian also got into this position of trust close to the ruler. During the Parthian War, which Trajan decided to wage in the fall of 113, Hadrian was also part of the leadership staff. When Trajan”s offensive against the Parthian Empire met with massive resistance in Mesopotamia and uprisings within the Roman Empire, especially in North Africa, in turn required considerable effort to suppress, Trajan retreated, planned to return to Rome, and appointed Hadrian as governor in Syria. This also placed the latter in charge of the army in the east, a position of power that no other possible successor had. Two senior officers, Aulus Cornelius Palma Frontonianus and Tiberius Iulius Celsus Polemaeanus, who might have had their own succession ambitions, had been removed by Trajan himself from his inner circle of power. Thus Hadrian had no serious rivals.
Hadrian had therefore been promoted by Trajan in many ways. However, the question remains open why Trajan carried out the adoption, if he carried it out at all, only immediately before his death. A plausible reason in recent research is that Trajan, in view of his limited ability to act due to illness, feared a premature removal from power; the adoption had to result in a reorientation of the leading circles to the coming man and could in its effect be tantamount to an abdication. It is certain that friends and allies of Hadrian in the immediate vicinity of the dying emperor made their influence strongly felt. Among them were the empress Plotina, Trajan”s niece Matidia, and above all the praetorian prefect Attianus, Hadrian”s former guardian.
Another possibility is that Trajan, when he embarked on the sea voyage to Rome, intended to carry out the adoption there, just as he himself had once been adopted in absentia by Nerva during his military command on the Rhine. A public adoption in Rome would have given Hadrian an unquestionable legitimacy. However, the return journey had to be aborted off the Cilician coast at Selinus because of Trajan”s dramatically declining health – stroke and incipient circulatory failure.
The news of the adoption, which took place after all, is based solely on the testimony of Plotina and the Praetorian prefect Attianus, whose massive partisanship for Hadrian is unquestionable. The only possibly independent witness, Trajan”s valet, died under strange circumstances three days after the emperor. Therefore, early suspicions arose that the adoption had been faked by Hadrian”s patrons. This suspicion is not considered invalidated even in modern research. By missing the right time and framework to appoint a successor, Trajan made it considerably more difficult for Hadrian to take office: there was no clear announcement of the transition for the Roman public and practically no transition period, but instead, in view of the circumstances of the change of rulers, justifiable doubts about the legitimate establishment of Hadrian”s principate. Trajan had had 19 years to designate Hadrian as his successor; the fact that he had either never done so or had done so only at the last minute had to raise doubts as to whether he had really wanted his great-nephew as the new emperor.
Assumption of power and foreign policy turnaround
According to the official reading, Hadrian learned of his adoption by Trajan on August 9, 117, and of Trajan”s demise on August 11. Possibly, however, both announcements were already contained in a letter sent from Selinus on August 7; in any case, however, the temporal staggering of the announcement to the soldiers left room for the orderly proclamation as emperor of Hadrian, who had already been adopted under acceptance of the title of Caesar. Like August 9 as adoption day, the day of the emperor”s elevation (dies imperii), August 11, was henceforth celebrated as a holiday by the Syrian troops. Hadrian immediately sent a letter to the Senate, which had been ignored until then, explaining his elevation by army acclamation without a Senate vote with the fact that the state needed a ruler at any time; therefore it had been necessary to act quickly. This justification was intended to avoid snubbing the Senate as much as possible. In the Senate”s reaction, Hadrian was not only confirmed as the new princeps, but was also offered a number of special honors, including the title pater patriae (“father of the fatherland”), which he initially refused.
Hadrian did not go to Rome in the twelve months following his elevation, but remained concerned with military reorganization in the East and on the Danube. On the one hand, he had to consolidate the legitimacy of his rule before the public of Rome; on the other hand, he made foreign policy and military decisions that were necessary from his point of view, but represented a departure from the expansionist policy of his very popular predecessor, were associated with territorial losses, and were therefore not easy to communicate to the public. A new ruler who sounded the retreat was not very attractive for the Senate and the people of Rome, especially since the Senate had already decided on the triumph and the victorious name Parthicus for this 116 after the initial victory reports of Trajan”s Parthian campaign in the East. Within a short period of time, Hadrian relinquished wide territorial claims of Rome both in the east and on the lower Danube in the area of the province of Dacia. He vacated the provinces of Mesopotamia and Armenia, which had been conquered and re-established by Trajan, and the Euphrates became the imperial border again. This was militarily necessary, as the Romans had largely lost control of these eastern territories in the 24 months prior anyway due to local uprisings and Parthian counterattacks. Large parts of the territories conquered under Trajan were also abandoned north of the lower Danube, for example on the lower Olt and in Muntenia, in the eastern part of the Carpathians, and in southern Moldavia.
While Hadrian made this clear turn in foreign policy, he emphasized continuity with his predecessor – probably also because of the doubts about his adoption – in order to appease his numerous followers. Therefore, he promoted the extensive tribute to Trajan, first took over his entire titulature and, among other things, had coins minted that showed him with Trajan – symbolizing the transfer of power – holding each other”s hands.
With a generally respectful treatment of the Senate and his policy of external pacification, Hadrian was able to place himself in the succession of Augustus and on the ground of a new Pax Augusta. He saw his own role and task specifically in stabilizing the Roman Empire in its cohesion, also by taking an interest in the respective regional peculiarities, allowing them to apply and in many cases promoting them. As a special characteristic of his principate, Hadrian”s extended journeys of several years are emphasized in the research, unique in the Roman imperial age both in their extent and in their conception. On coins he had himself celebrated as “restorer” and “enricher of the terrestrial circle” (restitutor orbis terrarum and locupletor orbis terrarum).
Hadrian combined his far-reaching journeys with measures to fortify the borders and with the thorough inspection and reorganization of the Roman army units, to whose undiminished operational readiness and striking power he vigorously adhered even in times of extensive external peace. The greatest military challenge of his principate, however, was to prove to be an internal uprising well after the halfway point of his reign: the protracted and costly suppression of the Jewish uprising. Hadrian”s special attention and interest, however, had already been directed at the Greek eastern half of the Roman Empire, whose historical and cultural cohesion he sought to revive. One of the centers of his manifold constructional initiatives and design measures, which were distributed throughout the empire, was therefore Athens, to which he felt particularly drawn personally, as his comparatively frequent longer stays showed.
A “Golden Age” – Program and Political Everyday Life
Especially in his first years of rule, Hadrian was anxious to be recognized and acknowledged as Trajan”s heir; by elevating him, he also increased his own prestige. On the other hand, he also wanted to emphasize his own line, in particular to present his drastic change of course in foreign policy in the most favorable light possible and to provide the Roman Empire with a new model to match. Hadrian”s historical models for his policy, which focused on peace and consolidation, were King Numa Pompilius, the peaceable successor to Romulus, and above all Emperor Augustus, the reorganizer of the Roman Empire after the end of the civil wars and founder of the Principate. An emperor who restored the unbalanced order of the empire could thus present himself as the heir of Augustus. With his generally respectful treatment of the Senate and his policy of external pacification, Hadrian was able to place himself on the ground of a new Pax Augusta.
The coinage of the early years of Hadrian”s principate emphasized the goal of stable and pleasant external and internal conditions with prevailing slogans such as concordia, justice (iustitia) and peace (pax). Moreover, ideas of long duration were invoked (the Phoenix symbolized both the regained prosperity and the eternal existence of the empire. Hadrian”s orientation to Augustus was also evident in the construction of the Pantheon, the first major building completed under him as emperor in Rome. There, the reference to Augustus is evident not only in the architrave inscription, which names Agrippa, an important confidant of this emperor, but also through the forecourt and the temple front of the vestibule, which clearly recall the Augustus Forum.
Hadrian paid special attention to jurisprudence not only in Rome, but also during his inspection tours. He systematized the principles of jurisprudence by commissioning the leading jurist of his time, Publius Salvius Iulianus, to put the praetorian legislation, which until then had been revised annually by an edict after the praetors took office, on a permanent basis in the edictum perpetuum (probably from the year 128). Although the edict was not a codification in itself, it had a great influence: the jurist Ulpian wrote more than 80 books of commentaries on it, which later found their way into Justinian”s Digest. The edictum perpetuum contributed to the fact that the emperor was regarded more and more as a source of law. Charles Christ was very positive in his assessment of Hadrian”s efforts in the administration of justice. The relevant measures of the ruler were not characterized by monarchical arbitrariness, but by objectivity, objectivity and also humanity. Especially disadvantaged groups and lower classes of Roman society would have benefited from this. Women were given the right to manage their own property and inheritances. From then on, the marriage of girls required their explicit consent.
As supreme judge, Hadrian evidently proved knowledgeable and managed an impressive workload. In the winter quarters of 129, he is said to have held 130 days of court. According to a widespread anecdote, handed down in different variants, Hadrian was approached by an old woman on a journey and told her in haste that he had no time. “Then stop being emperor!” the woman called after him. Hadrian stopped and listened to her.
Under Hadrian, the knights (ordo equester), who were subordinate to the senatorial rank (ordo senatorius), experienced a further strengthening of their social importance. The princeps placed in their hands all the central administrative departments previously held by freedmen; among them he also selected the two prefects of the guard, one of whom now had to be a lawyer.
At the decentralized level in the provinces, Hadrian promoted urban self-government. This was expressed, among other things, in the granting of coinage rights and demand-oriented city constitutions. In the central financial and fiscal administration of the empire, on the other hand, he again focused on systematizing the previous procedures and appointed special commissioners for the fiscal interests of the state, the advocati fisci.
Italy was more strongly oriented toward the central imperial administration, which Hadrian divided into four regions, each of which was henceforth under the control of an imperial legate. This was at the expense of the Senate”s powers, since the legates were to be selected from the ranks of former consuls, but not by the Senate, but by the emperor.
Relationship with the Senate and the people
Hadrian also placed himself in the Augustan succession in his relationship with the Senate: he demonstrated respect for the institution by attending its meetings when he was in Rome; he cultivated contact with senators and provided the missing funds to those members of the senatorial class who were financially distressed. In matters of political participation, however, he left the Senate little room for decision, consulting instead with people he trusted personally.
The emperor”s relationship with the Senate was severely strained at the beginning and then again at the end of his principate by the execution of four consuls in the first case and at least two in the second. The first removal involved the elimination of a group of four important military commanders of Trajan (Avidius Nigrinus, Aulus Cornelius Palma Frontonianus, Lucius Publilius Celsus, and Lusius Quietus) who were suspected of disapproving of Hadrian”s assumption of power. All of them would have been eligible to be emperors themselves on the basis of their military merits and, for that reason alone, posed a potential threat to the new princeps with his questionable legitimacy. Therefore, while Hadrian himself was not yet back in Italy, his praetorian prefect Attianus organized an execution campaign in four different locations as late as 117 without even putting the victims on trial. This action led to strong tensions with the Senate, where the reason given that the consuls had conspired against the new emperor was seen through as a pretext, so that Hadrian, after his arrival in Rome, demonstratively removed Attianus from office as a scapegoat in order to appease the senators. Moreover, the emperor claimed not to have known about the executions, but this was not believed, and his relationship with the Senate remained difficult even after he promised not to execute any senators in the future.
In the other case, which occurred when Hadrian”s health was already severely impaired and he was dealing with dispositions for his succession, the behavior and ambitions of two of the emperor”s relatives, who felt they had been left out of the succession arrangements, probably gave rise to their execution. They were Hadrian”s brother-in-law Servianus, almost ninety years old, and his grandson Fuscus, Hadrian”s great-nephew. To the two of them, a transfer of the imperial dignity could have seemed attainable only to Servianus and after his demise to Fuscus; in any case, they appeared to Hadrian as potentially threatening, so that they were sentenced to death.
Before the last phase of his life, which was marked by serious illness and during which he withdrew from the public eye, Hadrian had tried to be affable, accommodating and helpful as princeps civilis to both senators and commoners. He could be found, it is said, among commoners in public baths and could be engaged in conversation with them. He made visits to the sick not only to senators, but also to knights important to him and to freedmen, sometimes not only once a day. This behavior made him popular with the knights and freedmen, but not with the Senate, which saw his position threatened. Hadrian”s demonstrative generosity made a lasting impression. Cassius Dio reports that he did not have to be asked for help first, but that he helped out on his own according to the respective need. He invited scholars, philosophers and artists to his evening dinner parties in order to discuss with them. Hadrian”s political and social behavior is described in some sources as moderatio (although exaggerations, stylizations, and typologies are to be expected), but the tenor is considered credible by some scholars.
On the other hand, anecdotes borrowed from the tyrant”s topology circulated about him; and at least once there was almost a scandal when the emperor wanted to order the people gathered in the Circus to be silent; this would have been a serious violation of the ideology of the Principate, which was only prevented by the herald. The ruler”s long absence from Rome, first due to his travels, then by retreating to his villa, was undoubtedly perceived as a disrespect for the people. Only against opposition in the Senate was Antoninus Pius later able to push through the deification of his predecessor.
Travel, troop inspection and border fortifications
Hadrian”s extensive travels, which also served to satisfy his cosmopolitan thirst for knowledge, were intended to support and secure the transition to a reorganization of the empire. The general publicity of this widely distributed ruler”s activity was served, among other things, by minting coins: Adventus coins, which celebrated the emperor”s arrival in a region or province, Restitutor coinage, which praised his activity as restorer of cities, regions and provinces, and exercitus coins on the occasion of inspections of the troop contingents of various provinces.
Especially in the organization of the military field Hadrian had to go new ways under changed conditions in the succession of Trajan. Whereas Trajan had gathered the troops around him during expansion campaigns and thus, as emperor, often found himself in their center, Hadrian was now faced with the situation that the first and most important pillar of his rule was mainly stationed at the outer borders of the empire. The visit of the army units, some of which were far away from Italy, the speeches on the spot, inspections, maneuver support and evaluation could serve to keep the bond of the legions to the emperor alive and to prevent tendencies of independence of military units, which otherwise could hardly be controlled effectively far away from Rome. In this way, however, the princeps showed that he did not shy away from long distances and that one could or had to count on his coming. According to recent calculations, he and his entourage traveled at a speed that, given suitably constructed roads and paths, suggests travel conditions that, with an average speed of 20 to 30 kilometers per day, were not achieved again until the 19th century.
Arriving at the troop locations, he did not limit his inspections to military matters in the narrower sense, but, according to Cassius Dio, also partly investigated private matters. Where camp life had taken on luxurious features from his point of view, Hadrian took precautions against it. He shared the daily hardships with the soldiers and impressed with the fact that he defied every climate bareheaded: the snow in the north as well as the scorching sun of Egypt. The methods and military exercises he used to train discipline outlasted his century.
Already in the run-up to his first great journey from 121 to 125, Hadrian ordered measures to expand the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes, which was to form a clearly visible, fortified outer border of the Roman Empire by means of palisades made of halved oak trunks: a meaningful expression of Hadrian”s decision to put an end to the policy of expansion. With the inspection of troops and border fortifications in the area of the Danube and Rhine, Hadrian”s four-year absence from Rome began in 121. Moving down the Rhine and crossing into Britain, he joined the troops engaged in the construction of Hadrian”s Wall between the Solway Firth and the Tyne in 122. This wall allowed the effective control of all human and goods traffic; a system of fortifications and outposts allowed the control of a considerable area north and south of the wall.Before winter Hadrian left the island again and traveled through Gaul, where a stay in Nîmes is attested. On the Via Domitia he reached Spain, where he wintered in Tarragona and organized a meeting of representatives of all the regions and capitals of Spain. In 123 he crossed over to North Africa and carried out troop inspections before setting off there because of a new conflict with the Parthians threatening in the east and achieved a calming of the situation in negotiations at the Euphrates. The further travel route led over Syria and various Asia Minor cities to Ephesus. From there Hadrian reached Greece by sea, where he spent the whole year 124 before returning to Rome in the summer of 125.
After a visit to North Africa in 128, Hadrian again set out on a journey to the eastern half of the empire via Athens. Places of visit and transit were the Asia Minor regions of Caria, Phrygia, Cappadocia and Cilicia, before he spent the winter in Antioch. In 130 he was traveling in the provinces of Arabia and Judea. In Egypt, visiting the ancient cities, he moved up the Nile. After the death of Antinous, he traveled north from Alexandria by ship along the Syrian and Asia Minor coasts with stops in between. In the summer and fall of 131, he stayed either persistently in the western coastal regions of Asia Minor or further north in Thrace, Moesia, Dacia, and Macedonia. He spent the winter and spring of 132 in Athens for the last time before he either returned to Rome, alarmed by the Jewish uprising, or went to Judea to see the situation for himself.
His travels had an overall positive effect on the welfare of the areas the emperor visited. He initiated many projects after he had convinced himself of their necessity on the spot. He promoted local historical and cultural traditions by ensuring that representative old buildings were restored, local games and cults renewed, and tombs of important personalities repaired. Infrastructural improvements in the road network, port facilities and bridge construction were also linked to Hadrian”s travel activities. Other questions, such as the invigorating economic effects of the emperor”s travels, remain unresolved in research. Coinage in coherent issues from Hadrian”s last years of reign accounted for the yield of the great journeys for the population in a completely novel way, a deed report of its own kind. Of the so-called provincial coins, there are three types: one showing the personification of a part of the empire and giving the name of the emperor, another commemorating the emperor”s arrival in the respective territory, with Hadrian and the respective personification facing each other, and a third dedicated to the emperor as the ”renewer” of a part of the empire and having him raise a female figure kneeling before him.
In addition to Rome as the center of his rule, which he could not neglect, Hadrian”s generosity and lasting devotion was exceptionally directed towards Greece and Athens in particular. His perhaps early pronounced philhellenism, which earned him the epithet Graeculus (“little Greek”), not only determined his aesthetic inclinations, but also showed itself in his appearance, in accents of his life and environment as well as in his political will and work. In this context, the term Graeculus also marks a certain mocking distance of the Roman upper class from the rich and sophisticated Greek educational heritage. Even in republican times, too intensive a preoccupation with Greek philosophy, for example, was considered harmful for a young Roman. On the other hand, the growing Hadrian found in Rome under Domitian, who had written poetry himself and had taken over the office of archon in Athens as emperor, a climate quite open to Greek culture. Since 86 Domitian organized a competition for poets and musicians, athletes and horsemen every four years, which he himself presided over dressed in Greek in a newly built arena for 15,000 spectators.
Hadrian”s hairstyle and beard were conspicuous in his external appearance and clearly contrasting with Trajan. Hadrian”s curly forehead – with elaborately curled hair in contrast to Trajan”s “forked hairstyle” – was one, his beard the other eye-catching difference. With his beard costume, Hadrian changed the fashion of the empire for over a century. He was able to show off his own personality to Trajan and at the same time set cultural accents with the “Greek beard” or “educational beard.
As soon as the opportunity arose for Hadrian after complete completion of the office career and in a break from Trajan”s large-scale military actions, he sought out Athens in 111112, had the civil right conferred on him there and was elected archon, which was granted by his predecessors only Domitian and by his successors only again Gallienus, who, however, in contrast to him, were already acting emperors at the time of their archontate. For the time in the middle of his fourth decade of life Hadrian was released from other tasks and obligations apparently to a large extent and could turn more than otherwise to his inclinations, establish and maintain contacts. Thus, during this time, he may have sought out and spoken to the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. Through the mediation of his friend Quintus Sosius Senecio, who was also a friend of Pliny the Younger, or Favorinus, he may have met Plutarch and been in more frequent contact with the sophist Polemon of Laodicea. Hadrian also apparently had an interest in the Epicureans, as can be demonstrated in 121 at the latest, when he was involved in a reorganization in the appointment of the head of the school. A clear assignment of Hadrian to a certain philosophical school does not result from this. As an eclectic, he probably made a selection of what was significant for him: Epicurean perhaps with regard to his own circle of friends, Stoic elements rather with regard to the state duties.
Hadrian also adopted the far-reaching Athenian tradition for himself in religious terms. He was the second Roman emperor after Augustus to be initiated into the mysteries of Eleusis. His initiation on the first level could already fall into the time of his archontate. A later coinage, probably referring to the second initiation level (Epopteia), which shows Augustus on the obverse, bears the inscription Hadrianus Aug(Hadrian thus operated under the sign of the Eleusinian Mysteries as a reborn) on the reverse in addition to the image of a sheaf of grain. According to this, he might have been accepted among the epopts on the occasion of one of the further Athens stays in 124 or 128.
While Greece was regarded by large parts of the Roman upper class at that time only as a cultural-historical-museum ensemble worth visiting for edification purposes, Hadrian worked to lead the Greeks as the eastern population pole of the Roman Empire to new unity and strength and to more self-confidence. During his inspection tours of the Greek provinces, he triggered a frenzy of celebration by holding games and competitions. No other emperor gave his name to so many games as he did with the Hadrianic Games. He revived Athens as the metropolis of the Greeks with significant constructional innovations and infrastructural improvements. With the construction of the Olympieion, finally completed at his instigation after centuries, which he envisaged as the cultic center of a Panhellenion, a representative assembly of all Greeks in the Roman Empire, Hadrian tied in with the Synhedrion, which had existed for a good half millennium and whose powers had been transferred to Athens during the era of the greatest development of power of the Attic democracy under Pericles. The Athenians thanked Hadrian for his devotion by celebrating the emperor”s first stay as the beginning of a new city era.
Hadrian”s self-image and the way he staged himself in public space obviously corresponded to this to a great extent. At the transition of the city to the Olympieion district, Hadrian”s Gate was erected in his honor in 132. The inscriptions on both sides of the gate referred on the one hand to Theseus as Athens” founding hero and on the other hand to Hadrian as the founder of the new city. By appearing here without the otherwise usual additional titulature, Hadrian did not so much practice modesty, but placed himself recognizably on a par with the cultically venerated city founder Theseus, who was also named without special rank and title. Hadrian, for his part, founded the Athenaeum in Rome as late as 135.
The Athenians also showed demonstrative gratitude to the emperor in other respects, as illustrated by the large number of honorary statues that are attested for Hadrian. There were several hundred portraits of the emperor in marble or bronze in Athens alone. In Miletus, by decision of the council, he received a new one every year, so that at the end of his reign there were 22 statues or busts of Hadrian. The archaeologist Götz Lahusen estimates that there were 15,000 to 30,000 portraits of him in antiquity; today about 250 of them are known.
A power-political component of Hadrian”s commitment to the Greeks was that the Greek-speaking provinces acted as an abutment and resting pole in the hinterland of the Oriental military hotspots and conflict zones. This was the political and strategic side of Hadrian”s philhellenism. However, Hadrian did not strive for a shift of the political center of power to the eastern part of the empire.
The importance of the Panhellenion as a political means of binding and strengthening Greek unity was in any case limited. Both the date of foundation and the seat of the assembly as well as its goal are uncertain. Perhaps the Greek poleis were to be harmonized among themselves and at the same time tied more closely to Rome and the West via Athens. Apart from cultural contacts, not much seems to have remained after Hadrian”s death.
Hadrian”s principate was associated with a sustained upsurge of building activity of various kinds, directed not only at Rome and Athens but at cities and regions throughout the empire. Building activity became one of Hadrian”s priorities. Political and dynastic considerations as well as the emperor”s deep personal interest in architecture contributed to this. Some of the buildings created during Hadrian”s era represent a turning point and a high point in Roman architecture.
Early studies of painting and modeling as well as Hadrian”s interest in architecture are attested by Cassius Dio. Also Hadrian apparently showed no shyness to come up with his own construction ideas and designs even among masters of the trade. Cassius Dio reports about a harsh rebuff, which the famous architect Apollodor of Damascus gave to the perhaps somewhat cheeky young man. Apollodor is said to have rebuked Hadrian, who had interrupted him in his remarks to Trajan: “Get lost and draw your gourds. You know nothing of these things.”
Hadrian began to implement his own building program soon after his accession to power, both in Rome and in Athens and on the family estate near Tibur. The operation on these and numerous other construction sites ran parallel for a long time and partly beyond Hadrian”s death, as in the case of the temple of Venus and Roma and Hadrian”s mausoleum. Thus, especially in Rome, a permanent commitment of the emperor to the metropolis could be demonstrated even during the long periods of his absence.
On his inspection trips to the provinces of the empire, he was accompanied not only by the imperial chancellery responsible for correspondence, which was initially still headed by Suetonius, but also by a selection of building experts of all kinds. As the archaeologist Heiner Knell notes, in hardly any other period of antiquity was the blossoming building culture under such a favorable star as under Hadrian; at that time, buildings were created “that have become fixed points in a history of Roman architecture”.
A striking surviving monument of this architectural heyday is the Pantheon, destroyed by lightning in 110 and redesigned under Hadrian, which was already completed by the mid-120s and used publicly by Hadrian for receptions and court sessions. The Pantheon”s location on an axis with the entrance to the Mausoleum of Augustus opposite, a good seven hundred meters away, again indicates a commitment to the legacy of Augustus, especially since Agrippa probably originally conceived the Pantheon as a sanctuary for Augustus” family and the patron gods associated with them. The building is spectacular with its interior vaulted by the largest non-reinforced concrete dome in the world. The prerequisite for this was a “concrete revolution” that enabled Roman construction technology to create building structures that had never been seen before in human history. Besides bricks (figlinae), concrete (opus caementicium) was or became the basic building material. The ruling class, including the imperial family, invested in this trade, especially brick production.
In another way, the construction of the double temple to Venus and Roma on Velia, one of the original seven hills of Rome, was impressively novel for the Romans. The union of two goddesses was unusual, and there were hardly any precedents for such an important cult of Roma in their own city. With this construction, Hadrian appeared as a new Romulus (city founder). While the cellae of the double temple each corresponded to the Italic temple type, the columned ring hall enclosing both cellae followed the Greek temple type. This was by far the largest temple complex in Rome. In it, the cross-cultural expansion of the Roman Empire could be symbolized as well as a cultural unity and identity gained from it. When Hadrian sent the plans to Apollodor for examination and comment, the latter – again according to the report of Cassius Dios – is said to have drastically criticized them and again incurred Hadrian”s wrath. The tradition, according to which Hadrian first caused the banishment and then also the death of Apollodor in exile, is considered extremely implausible in recent research. Already during the development of the building site for the double temple the Romans were presented with an unforgettable sight: The colossus made under Nero and erected there, a 35-meter-high bronze statue of more than 200 tons estimated minimum weight, which was associated with the sun god Sol, was moved in a technically unexplained way using 24 elephants allegedly standing upright.
Hadrian was able to pursue his ambitions as a builder almost in the open countryside at the country estate near Tibur, the area of which, developed by construction alone, extends today over some 40 hectares. The site is largely destroyed, but Hadrian”s villa is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and is unique, not least because of the eclectic assemblage of different architectural styles (Roman, Greek, Egyptian). The villa, a sprawling palace and alternative seat of government, appeared almost like a small city. Novel experiments were dared in the planning and construction techniques. Due to its richness of form and the splendor of its decoration, the villa subsequently became one of the seedbeds for the development of art and architecture. The new possibilities in concrete construction were also used here in a variety of ways, for example in domes and semi-domes, into which varied openings were cut in the development of new forms of room illumination. In connection with strongly changing room sizes and design forms as well as with a diverse interior decoration, a constant moment of surprise accompanied the visitor on a tour, which also gained validity in the change of perspective from the interior rooms to views of gardens and landscape. Thus, the villa set a new standard for Roman architecture.
Already in the first years of his principate Hadrian took precautions for his own death and burial by starting the construction of the monumental mausoleum on the opposite bank of the Tiber to the Field of Mars at about the same time as the construction of the double temple of Venus and Roma began.There, however, it finally formed above all the optical counterpart to the likewise cylindrical main part of the Augustus mausoleum, which lay a few hundred meters northeast on the other bank of the Tiber. With a total height of the monument of about 50 meters, the 31 meter high drum alone had a diameter of 74 meters at the base. Probably begun in 123 and preserved in its core to this day, the structure rested on a concrete platform about two meters thick. The reconstruction of the superstructure and figural equipment above the basic structure is no longer possible.
A synopsis of the building program realized by Hadrian reveals that he also sought to synthesize the characteristic cultural features of different parts of the Roman Empire – very clearly, for example, in the allusive and quote-rich architectural diversity of Hadrian”s villa at Tibur. But Hadrian also referred Rome and Athens to each other architecturally. The exterior of the Roman double temple of Venus and Roma had a Greek character, while Hadrian”s library donated to Athens, for example, transferred a typical Roman architecture with regard to its column design.
One of the most sensational features of Hadrian”s principate and one of the factors that had a lasting impact on the image of this emperor was his relationship with the Greek youth Antinous. The time of their coming into being is not handed down. Cassius Dio and the author of the Historia Augusta dealt with Antinous only on the occasion of the circumstances of his death and Hadrian”s reactions to it. These reactions were so unusual concerning the emperor”s mourning and the creation of a cult of Antinous that Hadrian”s research was stimulated and challenged to many interpretations.
Since there was undoubtedly an Erastes-Eromenos relationship between the two, Antinous probably stayed close to the emperor from about the age of fifteen until his death when he was about twenty. This assumption is supported by pictorial representations of Antinous. He came from the Bithynian Mantineion near Claudiopolis. Hadrian probably met him during his stay in Asia Minor in 123124.
For the contemporary environment, it was not so much Hadrian”s homoerotic inclination towards the adolescent that was irritating – such relationships also existed with Trajan – but the emperor”s handling of the death of his beloved, which made him deeply sad and which he mourned in the manner of a woman – unlike the death of his sister Paulina, which also fell into this period. Also registered as a striking discrepancy was the highly disparate degree of posthumous honors Hadrian bestowed on Antinous and Paulina. This was perceived as unseemly neglect of the sister. Both the excess of mourning and the fact that the deceased was considered a mere boy toy and therefore not worthy of mourning were offensive.
As little as these forms of mourning of the ruler might fit to Roman way of thinking, as dubious were the circumstances under which Antinous came to death: Apart from the natural death by falling into the Nile and subsequent drowning, as probably depicted by Hadrian himself, alternative interpretations came into consideration, according to which Antinous either sacrificed himself for Hadrian or sought suicide in an untenable situation. The assumption of a sacrificial death is based on magical ideas, according to which the life of the emperor could be prolonged if someone else sacrificed his own for him. Of his own accord, Antinous might have sought death because, now an adult, he could not continue the previous relationship with Hadrian, since he had lost the specific attractiveness of an adolescent and a relationship between two adult men – unlike between a man and an adolescent – was considered unacceptable in Roman society.
The posthumous deification of their lovers had already been practiced by individual Hellenistic rulers. The model for this had been given by Alexander the Great, when he showered his lover Hephaistion with honors after his death, including a hero cult, which also met with criticism. What was new about the cult established by Hadrian for Antinous, however, was the comprehensive extent as well as the inclusion of the katasterismos; Hadrian stated that he had seen the star of Antinous. The specific design of the Antinous cult may have been discussed after the imperial company returned to Alexandria for a stay of several months. Speeches and poems for the consolation of Hadrian might have offered some ideas for the later Antinous iconography.
The cult of Antinous spread enormously in various forms. The young man, present in many places as a statue, was demonstratively closely associated with the imperial house, as underlined by a headband on which Nerva and Hadrian appear. In this context, veneration as a heros outweighed divine honors in the narrower sense; Antinous usually appears as the equivalent of Hermes, as Osiris-Dionysus, or as the patron of seeds. About 100 marble portraits of Antinous have been unearthed by archaeology. Only from Augustus and Hadrian himself more such portraits have survived from classical antiquity. Earlier assumptions that the cult of Antinous was widespread only in the Greek eastern part of the Roman Empire have since been disproved: More statues of Antinous are known from Italy than from Greece and Asia Minor. Not only socially leading circles close to the imperial house promoted the cult of Antinous; it also had a following among the masses, who also associated with it the hope of eternal life. Lamps, bronze vessels, and other objects of daily life testify to the reception of the cult of Antinous by the general population and its impact on everyday iconography. Antinous worship was also promoted with festive games, the antinóeia, not only at Antinoupolis but also at Athens, for example, where such games were still held in the early 3rd century. It is unclear whether the development of the cult was planned this way from the beginning. In any case, the worship of Antinous enabled the Greek population of the empire to celebrate their own identity and at the same time express their loyalty to Rome, which strengthened the cohesion of the empire.
Hadrian maintained his course of pacification and stabilization with regard to the Roman Empire”s external borders and neighbors throughout the duration of his reign. Nevertheless, serious military conflicts eventually took place within the empire, in the province of Judea. There, the Bar Kochba revolt broke out in 132, and its suppression lasted until 136. After the Jewish War of 66-70 and the Diaspora Uprising of 116117, the offshoots of which Hadrian was still dealing with when he took office, this was the third and last campaign of Roman emperors against Jewish aspirations for autonomy and the associated will for armed self-assertion. Hadrian followed the line taken by his predecessors in this matter, which aimed at subordination of Jews and Christians to Roman laws and norms. Instead of the traditional levy for the Jerusalem Temple, which the Romans had destroyed in the Jewish War of 71, a corresponding levy for the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus had been imposed on the Jews thereafter, a continuing stumbling block for all those who refused to conform.
The subject of research controversy is whether Hadrian contributed to the outbreak of the revolt by enacting a ban on circumcision, reversing a permission earlier granted to the Jews to rebuild the destroyed Jerusalem Temple, and deciding to rebuild Jerusalem as a Roman colony with the name Aelia Capitolina (which tied the city name to his family name). These three reasons for the outbreak of the war are mentioned in or have been inferred from Roman and Jewish sources. According to the current state of research, however, a different picture emerges: the thesis of the initially permitted, then forbidden temple construction is considered refuted today, the circumcision ban was probably imposed only after the outbreak of the revolt, and the founding of Aelia Capitolina – if it actually took place before the outbreak of war – was only one of the circumstances that seemed unacceptable to the insurgents. There does not seem to have been any major conflicts between Jews and Romans beforehand, because the Romans were surprised by the uprising. This was not an undertaking of the entire Jewish people, but there was among the Jews a pro-Roman and an anti-Roman tendency. The pro-Roman side agreed with the incorporation of the Jewish people into the Roman and Greek culture, while the opposite side radically opposed the assimilation desired by Hadrian on religious grounds. Initially, the rebellion was set in motion only by what may have been a relatively small anti-Roman, strictly religiously minded group; later, it expanded greatly. According to Cassius Dio”s report, the uprising had been prepared long in advance by collecting weapons and setting up weapons caches and secret retreats distributed spatially.
When the uprising broke out in 132, the two Roman legions stationed there soon proved to be outnumbered, so Hadrian ordered army units and military command personnel from other provinces to Judea, including the commander Sextus Iulius Severus, who was regarded as particularly capable and arrived on the scene from Britain. It is unclear whether Hadrian himself participated in the expeditio Iudaica until 134; some circumstantial evidence suggests that he did. Undoubtedly, the enormous mobilization of troops for the battles in Judea was a reaction to high Roman losses. This is also indicated by the fact that Hadrian, in a message to the Senate, refrained from the usual statement that he himself and the legions were well. The retaliatory campaign of the Romans, when they finally regained the upper hand in Judea, was merciless. In the battles, in which nearly a hundred villages and mountain strongholds had to be taken one by one, over 500,000 Jews met their deaths, and the land was left deserted and destroyed. Iudaea became the province of Syria Palaestina. Hadrian valued the eventual victory so highly that he accepted the second imperial acclamation in December 135; but he renounced triumph.
The Torah and the Jewish calendar were banned, Jewish scholars were executed, and scrolls sacred to Jews were burned on the Temple Mount. Statues of Jupiter and the Emperor were erected at the former temple sanctuary. At first, the Jews were not allowed to enter Aelia Capitolina. Later they were given permission to enter once a year on the 9th of Av to mourn defeat, temple destruction and expulsion.
At the beginning of the year 136, Hadrian, now sixty years old, fell so seriously ill that he had to give up his usual daily routine and from then on remained largely confined to bed. The cause could have been a hypertensive arteriosclerosis of the coronary arteries, which could have caused his death by necrosis of the limbs with insufficient blood supply and by suffocation. Thus, the problem of succession urgently arose. In the second half of 136 Hadrian presented to the public Lucius Ceionius Commodus, who was the incumbent consul, but still a surprise candidate. He was the son-in-law of Avidius Nigrinus, one of the four commanders of Trajan executed after Hadrian”s accession to power. Ceionius had a five-year-old son who was included in the prospective succession to the throne. Hadrian”s motives for this choice are as unclear as the role he intended for his presumed nephew Marcus Aurelius. Mark Aurelius was betrothed to a daughter of Ceionius at the instigation of the emperor in 136 and entrusted with the office of temporary city prefect (praefectus urbi feriarum Latinarum causa) during the Latin Festival when he was fifteen years old.
The adoption of Ceionius, who with the title of Caesar was now officially a candidate for rulership, was celebrated publicly in all forms by games and monetary gifts to the people and soldiers. Afterwards, the presumptive successor, who had been endowed by Hadrian with tribunician power and the imperium proconsulare for Upper and Lower Pannonia, and who was still little versed in military matters, went to the army units stationed on the latently restless Danube border. There, from Hadrian”s point of view, he was likely to gain particularly rewarding military experience and establish important contacts at the command level. In terms of health, however, the man who had presumably been suffering from tuberculosis for some time was not in good hands in the harsh Pannonian climate. After returning to Rome, Ceionius died on January 1, 138, after a severe and persistent loss of blood.
This first, now failed, succession arrangement probably found little understanding in Rome. The removal of Hadrian”s brother-in-law Servianus and his nephew Fuscus, who were suspected of having their own ruling ambitions, caused bitterness. Hadrian, in view of his decrepitude, saw himself forced to a speedy reorganization of his succession. On January 24, 138, his 62nd birthday, he announced his intentions to prominent senators from his sickbed, which resulted in the official act of adoption on February 25: The new Caesar became Antoninus Pius, who had already been a member of Hadrian”s advisory staff for some time, consul as early as 120, he too far less experienced in the military field than in administrative matters, but as 13435 proven proconsul of the province of Asia a man also respected in Senate circles. Hadrian linked the adoption of Antoninus with the condition that the new Caesar in turn carried out the double adoption of Marcus Aurelius and the Ceionius offspring Lucius Verus, which happened on the same day. Whether with it Mark Aurelius, the nine years older of the two adoptive brothers, was already determined by Hadrian as the future successor of Antoninus, is disputed in the research. In any case, Antoninus himself determined this sequence by having Marcus Aurelius break off his engagement to Ceionius” daughter after Hadrian”s death and giving him his own daughter as a wife.
Hadrian”s own physical condition became increasingly unbearable, so that he wished for the end more and more urgently. With his body bloated by water retention and tormented by shortness of breath, he looked for ways to end the agony. He repeatedly asked individuals around him to provide him with poison or a dagger, instructed a slave to thrust a sword into his body at the aforementioned point, and reacted angrily to everyone”s refusal to bring about his death prematurely. Antoninus did not allow this, however, because he, the adopted son, would otherwise have been considered a patricide. But it was also in the legitimizing interest of his own impending reign that Hadrian did not end by suicide, which would have placed him among the “bad emperors” like Otho and Nero, forfeiting deification and thus depriving Antoninus of the status of divi filius (“son of the deified”).
In the last phase of Hadrian”s life, marked by illness and the expectation of death, belongs his animula poem, which is considered authentic:
After his last stay in Rome Hadrian did not go to his villa in Tibur, but to a country estate in Baiae at the Gulf of Naples, where he died on July 10, 138. According to the Historia Augusta, Antoninus did not have the ashes of his predecessor immediately transferred from Baiae to Rome, but because of Hadrian”s hatred by the people and the Senate, he had them buried in private at Cicero”s former country estate in Puteoli. However, this is considered unlikely by scholars. Also a protracted struggle of Antoninus Pius for the deification of Hadrian with a refusing senate seems hardly credible; indeed, the deceased had bitter enemies, but it was advisable for Antoninus to carry out the program of the change of power quickly, and he had all the necessary means for it.
According to tradition, the only narrative source written during Hadrian”s lifetime was his autobiography, of which, however, only a letter addressed to Antoninus Pius has survived as a prelude, in which Hadrian addresses his near end and thanks his successor for his care. The other surviving original testimonies of Hadrian – fragmentary speeches, letters and rescripts preserved on stone or papyrus as well as Latin and Greek poems – however represent a considerable collection of material. The coins preserved from Hadrian”s principate also provide information.
In the 3rd century, Marius Maximus wrote a collection of imperial biographies following that of Sueton, who had ended with Domitian; it also contained a biography of Hadrian. This work has not been preserved and is only fragmentarily accessible. In several late antique breviaries (for example in the Caesares of Aurelius Victor) there is only brief information about Hadrian.
The two main sources are the Historia Augusta and the Roman History by Cassius Dio. The latter work is from the 3rd century and has survived in the 69th book concerning Hadrian only in fragments and excerpts from Byzantine times. However, it is classified as a largely reliable source.
The (Vita Hadriani) in the Historia Augusta (HA), which was probably written only at the end of the 4th century, is considered to be a highly controversial, but for that the most extensive source. Here information from today lost sources such as the work of Marius Maximus has been incorporated, but the unknown late antique author has introduced material for which origin from credible sources cannot be assumed, but which can be attributed primarily to the creative will of the historian. Theodor Mommsen saw in the HA “one of the most miserable sudeleien” among the ancient writing.
Mommsen”s demand, derived from this impression, for a meticulous examination and commentary of every single statement by means of a comprehensive comparison both within the HA-vites and with the available source material outside the HA has been met by Jörg Fündling in his two-volume commentary on the vita Hadriani of the HA. In the biography of Hadrian, which is counted among the relatively most reliable HA-vites in research, Fündling has shown at least a quarter of the total volume to be unreliable, among them 18.6 percent as fictitious with a high degree of certainty and another 11.2 percent whose source value is to be regarded as very doubtful. With this result, Fündling counters a recent tendency to answer the multitude of controversial positions in HA research by “skipping over all source problems,” “as if they were irrelevant to the content because they were unsolvable anyway.”
Hadrian”s versatility and his partly contradictory appearance also determine the spectrum of judgments made about him. In the contemporary context, it is striking that Marcus Aurelius does not deal more closely with Hadrian, to whom he owed his own rise to power through the given adoption arrangement, either in the first book of his self-reflections, in which he thanks his important teachers and patrons extensively, or elsewhere in this collection of thoughts.
The ancient Christians judged Hadrian negatively in two respects in particular: because of his suicidal intentions and preparations for deeds, and because of his homoerotic tendencies, which were unmistakably evident in his relationship with Antinous and in the cult of Antinous. The divine worship of Hadrian”s lover, who was classified as a boy toy, was so provocative for Christians that Antinous was one of the main targets of Christian attacks on “paganism” until the late 4th century. Hadrian”s relationship with Antinous was particularly offended by Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius and Prudentius.
Jörg Fündling thinks that Hadrian”s multifaceted interests and partly contradictory traits make it difficult to form a judgment about his personality – both for the author of the Historia Augusta and for posterity. The encountered “abundance of intellectual claims and burning ambition” had an intimidating effect, the occupation with errors and peculiarities of Hadrian, on the other hand, was relieving for the observer, because it led back to a human measure. Ultimately, the author”s depiction of the Historia Augusta was an expression of his gratitude for the charms of eccentric personalities. Yet Hadrian remained hated by many even after his death; the predominantly positive image of the emperor that still shapes his perception today seems to have emerged only later.
Susanne Mortensen gives an overview of the history of research since the publication of the first large Hadrian monograph by Ferdinand Gregorovius in 1851. She emphasizes Ernst Kornemann with his negative judgment on Hadrian”s foreign policy as well as Wilhelm Weber as particularly important in the history of his work. In a comprehensive discussion of Hadrian”s work, Weber arrived at a more balanced judgment, but then, under the influence of the National Socialist “blood and race doctrine”, he also arrived at “exaggerations and misinterpretations”. Weber saw in Hadrian a typical “Spaniard” “with his contempt for the body, his cultivation of the imperious spirit, his will for the strictest discipline and his urge to surrender to the power of the supersensible in the world, to unite with it, with his power of organization, which never gives itself out, always devises something new and strives to realize what has been devised with ever new means.” In 1923 Bernard W. Henderson presented with The Life and principate of the emperor Hadrian A. D. 76-138 for decades the last extensive Hadrian monograph.
Anthony R. Birley in 1997 presented Hadrian. The restless emperor, the most authoritative account of the results of Hadrian research since then. Hadrian”s admiration for the first princeps Augustus and his efforts to present himself as the second Augustus become clear. His restless travels made Hadrian the most “visible” emperor the Roman Empire ever had.
In 2005, Robin Lane Fox concluded his account of classical antiquity, which begins with the time of Homer, with Hadrian, because this ruler himself had shown many preferences of a classical character, but was also the only emperor to have gained a first-hand overall picture of the Greco-Roman world on his travels. Lane Fox sees Hadrian as more ambitious in his panhellenic mission than Pericles and finds him most clearly comprehensible in his communication with the provinces, from which he had to constantly respond to a wide variety of submissions.
Almost all accounts see Hadrian”s principate as a caesura or epochal turning point because of the change of course in foreign policy. Karl Christ emphasizes that Hadrian had organized and streamlined the military shield of the empire, which had a population of about 60 million, and systematically increased the defensive readiness of the army, which consisted of 30 legions and about 350 auxiliary units. He attests Hadrian a progressive overall conception. The emperor had deliberately brought about the deep caesura. In doing so, he had by no means reacted impulsively to the coincidence of uncalculated catastrophes, but had opted for a coherent, new, long-term policy, which had in fact determined the development of the empire for decades to come.
In 2008, the major exhibition Hadrian: Empire and conflict in London brought the culmination of Hadrian research to date.
Introductions and general
Religious Politics, Bar Kochba Uprising