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Monday, 10 July 2017

The death of Hadrian

Legacy of emperor famous for wall across Britain


A bust of Hadrian from the Farnese Collection in Naples
A bust of Hadrian from the Farnese
Collection in Naples
The Roman emperor Hadrian, famous for ordering the construction of a wall to keep barbarians from entering Roman Britain, died on this day in 138 AD.

Aged about 62, he is thought to have been suffering from heart failure and passed away at his villa at Baiae – now Baia – on the northern shore of the Bay of Naples.

Hadrian was regarded as the third of the five so-called "Good Emperors", a term coined by the political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, who noted that while most emperors to succeed to the throne by birth were “bad” in his view, there was a run of five - Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius – who all succeeded by adoption, who enjoyed the reputation as benevolent dictators. They governed by earning the good will of their subjects.

It is accepted that Hadrian came from a family with its roots in Hispania. His birthplace is thought to have been the city of Italica Hispania – on the site of what is now Seville.

His predecessor, Trajan, a maternal cousin of Hadrian's father, did not designate an heir officially and it is thought that his wife, Plotina, signed the papers of succession, claiming that Trajan had named Hadrian emperor immediately before his death.

Hadrian’s rule was just and largely peaceful. Immediately on his succession he withdrew from Trajan's conquests in Mesopotamia, Assyria and Armenia. Paradoxically, he spent a lot of time with his soldiers, usually dressed in military attire and ordered rigorous military training.

Although much of Hadrian's Wall has been dismantled over the years, some sections remain
Although much of Hadrian's Wall has been dismantled
over the years, some sections remain.
During his reign, Hadrian travelled to almost every corner of the empire but was a particular admirer of Greece. He wanted Athens to be the cultural capital of the empire and constructed many opulent temples in the city.

In 138, shortly before his death, Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius and named him as his heir on the condition that he in turn adopt Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus as his own heirs.

Hadrian’s building projects are perhaps his most enduring legacy. He established cities throughout the Balkan Peninsula, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece.  The city of Antinopolis in Egypt was founded in memory of Hadrian’s gay lover, a young Greek man called Antinous, who drowned in the River Nile.

In Rome he rebuilt the Pantheon, which had been destroyed in a fire, and Trajan’s Forum as well as funding the construction of other buildings, baths, and villas. He commissioned the construction of Hadrian’s Wall in 122 AD following a major rebellion against Roman occupation that lasted two years.

The ruins of the imperial complex at Baia, where Hadrian was probably living at the time of his death
The ruins of the imperial complex at Baia, where Hadrian
was probably living at the time of his death
The wall was originally three metres (10 feet) wide and 6m (20 ft) high, stretching 120km (73 miles) from east to west, from Wallsend in Newcastle to Bowness-on-Solway, just west of Carlisle. Linking 14 forts, it formed a barrier between the northern limits of Britannia and the barbarian lands of Scotland. The Roman legions stationed in Britain took six years to build it and it became the most famous Roman defensive fortification in the world.

Hadrian’s foreign policy was “peace through strength” and the wall, alongside which was a ditch 6m wide and 3m deep, symbolised the might of the Roman Empire.

After his death, Hadrian was buried first at Puteoli, near Baiae, on an estate that had once belonged to Cicero. Not long afterwards, his remains were transferred to Rome and buried in the Gardens of Domitia. On completion of the Tomb of Hadrian by his successor Antoninus Pius, his body was cremated, and his ashes were placed there together with those of his wife Vibia Sabina and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, who also died in 138.

A submerged Roman statue at Baia
A submerged Roman statue at Baia 
Travel tip:

For many years, Baiae – now Baia – was something of a party capital for the rich and powerful Roman elite. It was famous for its healing medicinal hot springs and the emperors Nero, Cicero, and Caesar had holiday villas there.  Sacked by the Saracens in the eighth century it fell into disrepair and the abandoned remains were gradually submerged as water rose through the volcanic vents that were the source of its springs. Today, those ancient remains can be visited in one of the world’s few underwater archeological parks. Visitors can view the crumbled structures and statuary of the city through glass-bottomed boats and scuba divers can actually swim among the ruins.

Castel Sant'Angelo - the Mausoleaum of Hadrian - viewed from the Ponte Sant'Angelo at night
Castel Sant'Angelo - the Mausoleaum of Hadrian - viewed
from the Ponte Sant'Angelo at night
Travel tip:

The Mausoleum of Hadrian is better known as Castel Sant'Angelo, the towering cylindrical building in Parco Adriano, on the banks of the Tiber. Commissioned by the Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family, the building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum. It was once the tallest building in Rome.  Hadrian also built the Pons Aelius – now Ponte Sant’Angelo – which provides a scenic approach to the mausoleum from the centre of Rome across the Tiber. Baroque statues of angels were later added, lining each side of the bridge.





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