Hadrian

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Hadrian (AD 76-138) was a Roman emperor who ruled from AD 117 to 138.

What distinguished Hadrian’s rule were two insights that ensured the empire’s long and prosperous future: He ended Rome’s territorial expansion, which had become strategically and economically untenable, by fortifying her boundaries with numerous "Walls of Hadrian".

Hadrian did much to "Hellenize" Rome and make the Greek-speaking east feel part of the empire. A building program made Athens the empire’s cultural center. Greek learning and art became vastly more prominent in Roman life. Hadrian's relationship with Greek favourite Antinous has attracted much attention, both in ancient and modern times. There are obvious parallels between this relationship and those that various Greek heroes, such as Achilles and Alexander, had with their male lovers. The stories that have survived reflect the needs of imperial propaganda and a desire to present Hadrian as Greek friendly.

Hardian succeed Trajan and was the third of the Five Good Emperors, and built many defensive walls. The most famous of these is known simply as Hadrian's Wall and runs across the center of Great Britain between Bowness-on-Solway in the west and Wallsend in the east.

Early in his reign he abandoned the military conquests of Trajan east of the Euphrates river as being economically draining to hold. Hadrian spent much of his time touring the empire and overseeing his building projects. Lowering the overall tax burden, he still had difficulties with farmlands being abandoned and a shift from slaves to tenants was also causing disruption, in large part due to the policy of Augustus that removed most offensive wars, and therefore the prime source of slaves.

Hadrian made war against the Jews, which planted the seeds of present-day discord in the Middle East. A final Judean revolt near the end of his reign was put down harshly. The third Jewish revolt in less than seventy years, this time the Jews were scattered across the empire, and would not come back to Israel again in any appreciable numbers for almost 1800 years.

Hadrian was succeeded by Antoninus Pius.

Further reading

  • Everitt, Anthony, Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome (2009) 432 pages
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