The Roman emperor Hadrian (76-138), or Publius Aelius Hadrianus, reversed the expansionist policies of Rome in a permanent shift to the defensive.
Hadrian was born in Rome on Jan. 24, 76. A ward of his uncle, Emperor Trajan, he spent the first 30 years of his life as a general and public official under Trajan's tutelage. There was a cloud over Hadrian's accession, for Trajan, though a relation, did not adopt him until on his deathbed, and there was some doubt even of that. The prompt execution of four possible rivals, though done without Hadrian's knowledge, also raised doubt.
Accession to the Throne
At Hadrian's accession the Jewish revolt over much of the East and Trajan's faltering Parthian War were his first concerns. He ended the war by abandoning Armenia and Trajan's Parthian conquests, quelled the Jewish revolt, and returned to Rome (118). His administration was marked throughout by great care for finances—Trajan's wars had proved too costly—and strict governmental supervision of an increasing number of sectors of public and private life. Of great importance was his policy of appointing equestrians (knights), the class below the senators, instead of freedmen to head the imperial bureaus. He thus recognized that these bureaus were organs of state, not household chores to be left to the Emperor's personal servants.
Hadrian's defensive policy posed problems of military discipline and morale, since it is always harder to maintain the efficiency of an army whose training may never be put to use. His answer was endless personal supervision, and he spent approximately half his reign touring the provinces on inspection. The system worked under Hadrian, but in time the efficiency of the armies declined.
Another result of Hadrian's defensive policy was the need for clearly marked frontiers and for border fortresses. He strengthened the defenses, notably in Germany and in Britain, where the most famous of all his frontier works, Hadrian's Wall, crosses Britain approximately along the border between England and Scotland.
Hadrian's last years were darkened by a new revolt of the Jews and the question of succession. He was responsible for the Jewish outbreak, since he decided to rebuild Jerusalem, in ruins since A.D. 70, as a Greek city with all Jews excluded save on one day a year. He also built a temple to Jupiter and the Emperor on the very site of the Jewish temple. This was too much to bear for the Jews of Judea, who had remained quiet during the previous revolt. They rose in 132, and the revolt lasted 3 1/2 years and cost the lives, it is said, of half a million people.
Hadrian became ill about 135, and the quest for a successor was acute. For unknown reasons he executed his nearest relation (136) and adopted Aelius Verus. Hadrian continued to linger, however, and Verus died. He then adopted Aurelius Antoninus, making him in turn adopt Verus's son Lucius Verus and Antoninus's own nephew, the future emperor Marcus Aurelius. Hadrian died unlamented on July 10, 138.
The most many-sided of the emperors, Hadrian was interested in all the arts. In literature his taste ran toward the archaic; in sculpture he preferred the classic. But his favorite discipline was architecture; he built the Pantheon and Castel Sant' Angelo, his own tomb, in Rome; added a whole new quarter to Athens; and made of his palace at Tibur (modern Tivoli) a museum of replicas of buildings he had seen on his travels.
The only surviving ancient biography of Hadrian is in the collection known as the Scriptores Historiae Augustae, vol. 1, translated by David Magie (1921). The best modern treatment is Bernard W. Henderson, The Life and Principate of the Emperor Hadrian (1923). See also Sulamith Ish-Kishor, Magnificent Hadrian (1935). A brief but excellent discussion of Hadrian is in Edward T. Salmon, A History of the Roman World from 30 B.C. to A.D. 138 (1944; 6th ed. 1968). Hadrian's buildings are considered in Paul MacKendrick, The Mute Stones Speak (1960).
Lambert, Royston, Beloved and God:the story of Hadrian and Antinous, New York, NY:Viking, 1984.
Perowne, Stewart, Hadrian, London; Dover, N.H.:Croom Helm, 1986, 1960. □
During his more than 20 years as emperor, Hadrian traveled throughout Rome's vast empire, ensuring the well being of its citizens, building its defenses, and overseeing great public works projects, including construction of the wall in southern Britain that bears his name.
Hadrian, whose full Latin name is Publius Aelius Hadrianus, was believed to have been born in his family's homeland, Italica, which is now in southern Spain. His father died when he was just 10 years old, and he went to live with his cousin, Ulpius Trajanus. Hadrian returned to Italica five years later and received his military training, but he remained there for only a few years before moving to Rome and beginning his ascent to power. He served as military tribune with three Roman legions in the provinces of Upper and Lower Moesia.
In 97 he was summoned to Gaul to convey congratulations to the newly designated emperor Trajan. Hadrian gained the favor of Lucius Licinius Sura, the man responsible for Trajan's power, and earned the trust of Trajan's wife, Plotina. In the year 100, Hadrian married Trajan's grandniece, Vibia Sabina. Two years later, Trajan appointed him to the command of the First Legion, and called on Hadrian to assist him in fighting the Dacian war.
The emperor's young protégé rose to the praetorship in 106, earned the position of governor of Lower Pannonia a year later, then attained the coveted post of consul in 108. Unfortunately, Sura died and powers opposed to Sura, Plotina, and Hadrian took over Trajan's court, stalling Hadrian's rise to power for nearly 10 years. It was not until 117, when he was put in charge of Trajan's army in Syria during the Parthian wars, that he returned to public service. On August 9 of that year, Hadrian learned that Trajan had adopted him. Two days later, Trajan's death was reported, and Hadrian succeeded the elder emperor.
Hadrian set out to return to Italy, but before he could assume his new position, the prefect of the Praetorian Guard, Acilius Attianus, ordered the execution of four dissidents in Rome to assure the safety and stability of Hadrian's regime. This act made the public suspicious of their new emperor, and when he arrived, Hadrian had to regain his people's favor, which he did by committing great acts of generosity and sponsoring elaborate gladiatorial games.
Hadrian remained in Rome for three years before setting out on a lengthy journey throughout the Roman Empire. He began in Gaul, establishing order within his armies there, before continuing on to Britain in 122. Over the course of the next three years, he also visited Spain, the Balkans, and Asia Minor. He returned to Rome in 125, but just three years later set out again, this time venturing to North Africa and traveling as far as Egypt.
Over the course of his rule, Hadrian's artistic and architectural patronage was well renowned. During his visit to Britain in 122, he directed the construction of Hadrian's Wall to mark the boundary of Rome's empire and to protect Roman citizens living there. The 73-mile (117.5-km) long wall took six years to construct, and stretched from Wallsend-on-Tyne in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in the west. In Rome, he oversaw the construction of bridges, roads, aqueducts, and temples. He also built a grand villa for himself in Tivoli, outside Rome, oversaw construction of the Temple of Rome and Venus, and rebuilt the fire-ravaged Parthenon.
Hadrian made his final journey abroad in 134, to quell a Jewish revolt in Judaea. In 138 the aging emperor chose for his successor 18-year-old Annius Versus, who would later become Marcus Aurelius (121-180). Hadrian died after a prolonged illness at the seaside resort of Baiae.
Alan Simon Esmonde Cleary
76 C.E.–138 C.E.
Patron of Monuments.
Publius Aelius Hadrianus (Hadrian) was emperor from 117 to 38 c.e. He became the ward of the emperor Trajan at his father's death. He held a number of important military and civic posts including the governorship of Syria until Trajan's death in 117. Trajan had designated Hadrian as his successor on his deathbed. An important aspect of Hadrian's reign was his extensive travel throughout the Roman Empire, literally from one end (Britain) to the other (Syria). His reasons for years of travel combined the need for inspection tours and a desire to show himself as the ruler to the far-flung provinces. His importance to the architectural history of Rome includes the completion of the Pantheon in Rome, the temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, his imposing tomb in Rome (the Castel San Angelo), and his imperial villa at Tivoli.
Michael Grant, "Hadrian," in The Roman Emperors (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1985).
J. J. Pollitt, The Art of Greece 1400–31 B.C. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965): ix–x.
The building of Hadrian's Wall, a Roman defensive wall across northern England, stretching from the Solway Firth in the west to the mouth of the River Tyne in the east (about 120 km, 74 miles), was begun just after his visit to Britain, to defend the province of Britain against invasions by tribes from the north. The wall was built of stone and was 2.5–3 m thick, with forts and fortified posts at intervals along its length. After Hadrian's death the frontier was advanced to the Antonine Wall, which the Romans proved unable to hold; after being overrun and restored several times Hadrian's Wall was abandoned c.410 ad.