Hadrian - Roman Emperors

Emperor Hadrian

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Hadrian or Publius Aelius Hadrianus Augustus was Roman emperor from 117 AD to 138 AD. He was from a Hispano-Roman family. Moreover, he is known as the third of the Five Good Emperors (Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius, Marcus Aurelius). Hadrian became popular for his building projects on the territory of the Roman Empire, especially, Hadrian’s Wall in Britain.

Early Life

Hadrian was born in 76 AD near modern Seville, in Italica. His father was Publius Aelius Hadrianus Afer, a senator of praetorian rank. Moreover, Hadrian’s mother was Domitia Paulina, daughter of a notable Hispano-Roman senatorial family from Gades. Hadrian had an elder sister, Aelia Domitia Paulina, and a great-nephew, Gnaeus Pedanius Fuscus Salinator, who became Hadrian’s colleague as co-consul in 118 AD. Hadrian’s father spent most of his time out of Rome.

Hadrian was connected to emperor Trajan, who was his father’s first cousin. Also, Trajan adopted Hadrian before his death, since the emperor was childless. Moreover, his parents died in 86 AD, when he was only ten years old. He and his elder sister became under guardianship of Trajan and Publius Acilius Attianus.

Hadrian had passion for Greek literature and culture, which earned him the nickname Graeculus (Greekling)

His wife’s name was Pauline and they had a daughter, Julia Serviana Paulina.


When Hadrian became a new emperor, he rewarded the legions’ loyalty with the customary bonus. He spent some time in the east, suppressing the Jewish revolt that had broken out under emperor Trajan. Hadrian was an excellent administrator and a person, who devoted himself to the army and its discipline. 

Hadrian is known for the fact that he was absent from Rome for the most part of his reign

Interestingly, Hadrian’s main rivals were close friends of emperor Trajan, who were senior members of the imperial council. In 125 AD, Hadrian appointed Marcius Turbo as his Praetorian Prefect. His reign is most importantly marked for his building projects.

Building Projects

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Hadrian made a lot of significant building projects. For instance, he established cities throughout the Balkan Peninsula, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece. Moreover, the Arch of Hadrian, was constructed by the citizens of Athens in 131 AD, in honor to the Emperor as a founder of the city. The emperor dedicated several sites in Greece to his lover Antinous, who drowned in the Nile River in 130 AD. The death of young man affected Hadrian so much, so he had him deified. This is the reason how the cult in honor of Antinous grew.

Another important building project was the city of Antinopolis in Egypt. In Rome, Hadrian rebuilt many villas and buildings. Most of these constructions survived for centuries. The emperor had a passion for the architecture and took part in projects planning.

The Pantheon

Hadrian rebuilt famous Pantheon in Rome, which had been destroyed by fire and Trajan’s Forum


Hadrian was travelling a lot. More than half of his reign was spent outside Italy. If previous emperors left Rome mostly because of wars and then returned back to the Eternal City, Hadrian travelled for various reasons. The emperor supported the implementation of provincial towns (municipia), semi-autonomous urban communities with their own laws in contrast to the creation of new Roman colonies with Roman constitutions.

The Wall of Hadrian

One of the most important projects by Hadrian is Hadrian’s Wall in north Britain. Building of the wall was begun in 122 AD. It marked the northern boundary of the Roman Empire in Britain. Since it was long and massive, the wall was also dedicated to show the power of Rome. Its original width was 9.7 feet (3 m) and height 16-20 feet (6 m) east of the River Irthing, made of stone, and 20 feet wide (6 m) by 11 feet high (3.5 m) west of the river, made of stone and turf. Overall, the Hadrian’s wall length was 73 miles (120 km).

Hadrian’s Wall was built in six years


Despite the fact that Hadrian was highly educated, his policy of peaceful relations was not always followed. In 130 AD, Hadrian visited Jerusalem, which was still in ruins after the First Roman-Jewish War of 66-73 AD. He rebuilt the city following his own plan and renamed it to Aelia Capitolina Jupiter Capitolinus in honor of himself and the king of the Roman gods. When he built a temple to Jupiter on the ruins of the Temple of Solomon, which is the so-called Second Temple, considered sacred to the Jews, the population rebelled under the leadership of Simon Bar-Kokhbah in what became known as the Kokhbah’s Rebellion (132-136 AD). Roman losses in This campaign were huge, but the Jewish losses weren’t less significant. By the time the uprising was crushed, 580,000 Jews had been killed and more than 1,000 cities and villages destroyed. Then Hadrian expelled the remaining Jews from the region and renamed it Syria Palaestina in honor of the traditional enemies of the Jewish people – the Philistines. He ordered the Torah to be publicly burned, executed Jewish scholars, and prohibited the practice and observance of Judaism.


When Hadrian returned to Rome, he started to write a poetry and participate in administrative affairs. He named as his successor Antoninus Pius with aim to make Antoninus adopt the yound Marcus Aurelius to follow him. Hadrian died in 138 AD, when he was 62. The main reason of his death was a heart attack. The emperor was buried first at Puteoli, but then Antnoninus Pius created the great Tomb of Hadrian in Rome and his body was cremated and the ashes placed to the tomb.

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Author: Kate Zusmann

For the last 6 years I live in the Eternal City. Traveling, exploring new things, writing blogs, shooting vlogs are my main hobbies, but the thing that I like even more is to share my experience and thoughts with you! Explore Rome with Us :)

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