Hadrian Reference


(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Roman emperor (r. 117-138){$I[g]Roman Empire;Hadrian} Hadrian succeeded in bringing a relatively peaceful period to the Roman Empire, in realizing much-needed domestic and civil reforms, and in leaving, through his architectural and artistic gifts, his stamp on Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem.

Early Life

Hadrian (HAY-dree-uhn) was born in Italica, Spain, a Roman settlement, to Publius Aelius Hadrianus Afer, a distinguished Roman officer and civil administrator, and Domitia Paulina. Hadrian’s parents, however, were not as influential in his development as Hadrian’s cousin Trajan, the future Roman emperor who served as his coguardian after his father died when Hadrian was ten years old. Soon after his father’s death, Hadrian was sent to Rome to further his education; during his stay in Rome, his study of Greek language, literature, and culture made him so much a Hellenist that he became known as the “Greekling.” When he was fifteen, he returned to Italica, where he supposedly entered military service but actually spent his time hunting, a lifelong passion of his. As a result of the jealousy of his brother-in-law Servianus, who complained to Trajan of Hadrian’s “dissipation,” he was recalled to Rome in 93 and probably never saw Italica again.

In Rome, Hadrian continued his studies, laying the groundwork for a lifelong commitment not only to literature and art but also to music, architecture, astronomy, mathematics, law, and military science. In fact, few rulers have received such appropriate education and been so fortunate in their political connections. He had the support of Trajan and of Trajan’s wife, Plotina, who helped to further his advancement. As Hadrian also began his public career in 93, he added practical experience in public service and in military affairs to his extensive educational background. Through Trajan’s influence with Emperor Domitian, Hadrian became a decemvir, a minor magistrate in probate court, as well as a military tribune serving at a Roman outpost on the Danube River.

When Domitian was assassinated in 96, the Roman senate chose Nerva to succeed him. Nerva, in turn, adopted Trajan in 97, and when Nerva died in 98, Trajan became emperor. With his coguardian as emperor, Hadrian rose rapidly within the civil and military ranks, despite Servianus’s interference. In 101 Hadrian was appointed quaestor and communicated Trajan’s messages to the senate; in 107 he became praetor and governor of a province on the Danube; and in 108 he was elected consul and soon began writing Trajan’s speeches.

As a provincial governor and as legatus of Syria during Trajan’s Parthian campaign, Hadrian had military as well as civil responsibilities and he had already demonstrated his military talents during the second Dacian War. Moreover, because Trajan’s ambitions had greatly, and precariously, extended Roman rule, Hadrian benefited from firsthand observations of a military conqueror.

On his return from the Parthian campaign in 117, Trajan died. On his deathbed, he apparently adopted Hadrian (there is considerable controversy about the “adoption”). The adoption practically guaranteed Hadrian’s accession, and after the Syrian troops acclaimed him emperor, the senate quickly confirmed their action. At the age of forty-two, Hadrian became emperor, and his twenty-one-year rule was to be marked by policies and actions almost antithetical to those of his guardian, cousin, and mentor.

Life’s Work

Hadrian commanded the largest Roman army at the time of Trajan’s death, and his ties to the emperor had been close, but his position was far from secure. He had many enemies among the Roman senators, some of whom considered him a provincial upstart opposed to militaristic expansion and enamored of Greek culture. In fact, Hadrian’s policy of peace, retrenchment, and reform was diametrically opposed to Trajan’s expansionist policy.

Domestically, moderation was the order of the day as Hadrian attempted to convert his enemies by exercising restraint even in suppressing rebellious factions. In fact, when his coguardian Attianus became too zealous in his emperor’s cause—he had four traitors executed—Hadrian eased him out of power. To gain the support of the Roman populace, Hadrian canceled all debts to the Imperial treasury, renounced the emperor’s traditional claim to the estates of executed criminals, extended the children’s welfare centers, and staged spectacular entertainments for the masses. In addition to these public relations measures, Hadrian accomplished a major overhaul of the administrative system—he created opportunities for the talented as well as the wealthy—and a thorough reform of the army. His domestic achievements culminated in the codification, under Julian’s supervision, of Roman statutory law in 121.

Such reforms were necessary because Hadrian, who never felt at home in Rome, was intent on establishing his rule before leaving to tour the provinces, a task that occupied him, for the most...

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(Comprehensive Guide to Military History)

Article abstract: Military significance: As emperor, Hadrian had a long defensive wall built at the edge of the empire in Britain and very forcefully ended the Jewish Revolts.

Hadrian began his army career as a teenager and was tribune of three legions (95-97 c.e.), in Lower Pannonia, Lower Moesia, and Upper Germany. He married Sabina, the grandniece of the emperor Trajan, whom he accompanied on his military expeditions. As a member of Trajan’s staff, Hadrian fought with such distinction in the First and Second Dacian Wars (101-102, 105-106) that he was appointed praetor (106) and governor (107) of Lower Pannonia.

Hadrian took part in the Parthian War (113-117) as the emperor’s chief of staff. When Trajan became ill and returned to Rome, he left Hadrian behind as governor of Syria in command of the troops. When Trajan died (117), Hadrian became emperor. After concluding a speedy peace treaty with the Parthians, Hadrian returned to Rome (118), where he remained for one year before setting out to fight the Sarmatians and the Dacians. Hadrian later traveled to Gaul (120) and, from there, to Britain (121), where he ordered that a frontier-wall, Hadrian’s Wall, eighty Roman miles long, be built from the mouth of the Tyne to Bowness-on-Solway to protect the Romans from the attacks of the Caledonians and to mark a clear boundary between the civilized Roman empire and the barbarian world.

Hadrian waged his most...

(The entire section is 444 words.)