Hadrian
117 - 138 CE
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Known as the peace-maker, Hadrian was in some ways the opposite of his distinguished expansion-minded predecessor. Hadrian pulled back on the more troublesome fronts, building walls to keep the "barbarians" out, then focused his attentions inside the empire. His legacy is mixed, in some ways among the best and in some among the worst of emperors.

Hadrian Denarius
About this coin: This is a "Victory" or "Nemesis" denarius, believed by some to refer to the Roman defeat of Jewish rebels in the Bar Kochba war. We know it was minted between 128 and 138, since the obverse legend ends in "PP", for the title of "Pater Patriae" (Father of the People") granted to him by the Senate in 128. He used that legend through his death in 138, and the only major victory in that decade was Bar Kochba.

That association is not proven, however, as Hadrian minted many coins featuring traditional Roman deities and personifications throughout his reign. Many experts remain unconvinced.

It is not clear whether Trajan intended for Hadrian to be his heir. It is clear, though, that Trajan's wife, Plotina, was very fond of him, and that she was largely responsible for his accession. Two versions of the story exist. In the first official version, with Trajan near death, Plotina successfully prevailed upon him to name Hadrian as his heir. In the second popular version, Trajan died without naming an heir, and Plotina hid his death, arranging for someone to impersonate his voice long enough to forge the documents that named Hadrian as his chosen successor. In any case, Hadrian's accession was not contested.

The governor of Syria at the time of Trajan's death, Hadrian went to rome via Dacia, settling a military crisis there and also setting the pattern of "peacemaker" that he would live by for the rest of his reign. In order to secure the frontier, he abandoned territory that had been annexed by Trajan. He later followed this pattern both in the east, pulling back to the Euphrates, and in Britain, where he built the still-famous landmark known as Hadrian's Wall, an 80-mile long stone wall intended to keep out the marauding "barbarian" Scots.

Hadrian's reign is counted as the beginning of the "Pax Romana" (Roman Peace), in which the Empire was for the most part not threatened by external enemies. He traveled the Empire widely, and attempted in his travels to improve each area that he passed through. For instance, he came upon the idea for Hadrian's Wall while traveling in Britain. Also during his travels, he decided to build a new city on the site of Jerusalem, including a temple to Jupiter on the site formerly occupied by the Jewish temple. His one big war (the "Bar Kochba" rebellion in Judaea) was not with an external enemy, but against the Jewish rebellion that arose when he revealed his plans for Jerusalem.

One source of endless speculation about Hadrian is his sexuality. It is clear that he enjoyed illicit pleasure with both males and females. His enjoyment of affairs with other men's wives is well documented, as is at least one of his relations with young men. He was especially fond of a beautiful young man named Antinous, and when the young man drowned (some say he intentionally sacrificed himself), Hadrian was distraught. He shocked the sensibilities of the Roman populace by dedicating a city to Antinous, and minting a series of coins honoring his young lover.

Hadrian had some difficulty in selecting an heir. He was growing ill, and it was with some urgency that he selected Lucius Ceionius Commodus. Unfortunately, his heir suffered from tuberculosis, and died shortly after the adoption. Hadrian's next choices, 16 year old Marcus Annius Verus (Marcus Aurelius) and the young Lucius Ceionius Commodus (Lucius Verus), son of Hadrian's original heir of the same name, were too young. So Hadrian arranged to adopt the relatively old Antoninus Pius in exchange for his promise to elevate the two boys on his own death.

One thing Hadrian did not inherit from Trajan was the esteem in which the Senate had held his predecessor. The executions of four Senators before Hadrian ever arrived in Rome was blamed on him, though he strenuously denied it. Later in his reign, growing paranoia led him to commit harsh actions against some supporters and relatives. For instance, he forced his brother in law and the man's grandson to commit suicide because he believed they opposed the heir that he had named. After Hadrian's death, the Senate broke with traditional practice and refused to deify Hadrian.

But Hadrian had chosen well in Antoninus Pius, a man respected by the Senate. Pius threatened to abdicate if the Senate would not confer divine honors on Hadrian. Faced with this, the Senate relented, and Hadrian was granted his godhood after all.


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