Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus (January 24, 76 - July 10, 138), known as Hadrian in English, was a Roman emperor from 117 - 138. He is considered one of the so-called Five Good Emperors.
Hadrian was born in Spain to a well-established settler family. He was a distant relative of his predecessor Trajan. Trajan never officially designated a successor, but, according to his wife, named Hadrian immediately before his death. However, Trajan's wife was well-disposed toward Hadrian, and he may well have owed his succession to her.
Hadrian and the military
Hadrian's reign was marked by a general lack of military conflict. He surrendered Trajan's conquests in Mesopotamia, considering them to be indefensible. The military's inaction was exacerbated by Hadrian's policy of securing the borders with permanent fortifications (limites, singular limes). The most famous of these is the massive Hadrian's Wall in Britain, and the Danube and Rhine borders were strengthened with a series of mostly wooden fortifications, forts, ouposts and watchtowers, the later specifically improving communications and local area security. To maintain morale and keep the troops from getting restive, he established intensive drill routines, and personally inspected the armies.
Hadrian in Judea
At first sympathetic towards the Jews, Hadrian promised to rebuild Jerusalem, still in ruins after its destruction in 70 as a result of the Great Jewish Revolt. Jews felt betrayed when found out that his intentions were to rebuild it as pagan metropolis, and a new temple on the ruins of the Second Temple was dedicated to Jupiter. Tensions grew even more when Hadrian abolished circumcision (which he viewed as mutilation), and the Bar Kokhba's revolt began in 132. Roman losses were so heavy that Hadrian's report to the Senate omitted the customary formula "I and my army are well."
After brutally crushing the revolt in 135 and devastating Judea (according to Cassius Dio, 580,000 Jewish rebels were killed, 50 fortified towns and 985 villages were razed), Hadrian attempted to root out Judaism, which he saw as the cause of continuous rebellions. He prohibited the Torah law, Jewish calendar and executed Judaic scholars. The sacred scroll was ceremoniously burned on the Temple Mount. At the former Temple sanctuary he installed two statues, one of Jupiter, another of himself. In an attempt to erase memory of Judea, he wiped the name off the map and replaced it with Syria Palaestina, as insulting reminder of Jews' ancient enemies the Philistines, long extinct by then. He reestablished Jerusalem as the Roman pagan polis of Aelia Capitolina, and Jews were forbidden from entering it. Later they were allowed to mourn their humiliation once a year on Tisha B'Av. Jews remained scattered and stateless until 1948. (Cassius Dio, Roman History, book 69; Aelius Spartianus, Life of Hadrian in the Augustan History)
Cultural pursuits and patronage
Bust of HadrianAbove all Hadrian patronized the arts: Hadrian's Villa at Tibur (Tivoli) was the greatest Roman example of an Alexandrian garden, recreating a sacred landscape, lost now in large part to the despoliation of the ruins by the Cardinal d'Este who had much of the marble removed to build his gardens. In Rome, the Pantheon built by Agrippa was enriched under Hadrian and took the form in which it remains to this day, with the exception of the bronze frontispice depicting the twelve Greek gods, a work which survived until 1633 when it was melted down by Pope Urban VIII Barberini for use in the Vatican, causing the Romans to mutter that they had more to fear from the Barberinis than from the barbarians.
Hadrian was a humanist, deeply Hellenophile in all his tastes. While visiting Greece in 125 he attempted to create a kind of provincial parliament to beind all the semi-autonomous former city states across all greece and parts of Asia Minor. This parliament, known as the Panhellenion didn't succeed however despite spirtited efforts to instill cooperation among the Hellenes. Hadrian was especially famous for his love affair with a young Greek, Antinous. While touring Egypt, Antinous mysteriously drowned in the Nile (130 CE). Stricken with grief, Hadrian founded the Egyptian city of Antinopolis. Hadrian drew the whole Empire into his mourning, making Antinous the last new god of antiquity. For the rest of his life, Hadrian commissioned many hundreds (or thousands) of sculptures of Antinous in the manner of a Greek youth. The passion and depth of Hadrian's love for the boy was shown in busts and statues to be found all over Europe, featuring the boy's full lips and round cheeks.
A fragment from the Roman History of Dio Cassius as translated by Earnest Cary in 1925:
"After Hadrian's death there was erected to him a huge equestrian statue representing him with a four-horse chariot. It was so large that the bulkiest man could walk through the eye of each horse, yet because of the extreme height of the foundation persons passing along on the ground below believe that the horses themselves as well as Hadrian are very small."
Hadrian's lost authentic autobiography was reimagined in the form of a fictional autobiography, based on a careful study of the authentic sources, by Marguerite Yourcenar, Mémoires d'Hadrien (1951); English translation Memoirs of Hadrian (New York 1954). Another fictionalized account of Hadrian and his court is classics scholar Elizabeth Speller's Following Hadrian: a second-century journey (2003). The book mixes travelogue, fictionalized memoir and authentic biography, as seen through the eyes of the historical Hadrianic poet and epigram-writer Julia Balbilla.