Roman Emperor Hadrian (Publius Aelius Hādriānus), whose far-flung adventures inspired the commission of some of the Rome’s most enduring and storied monuments, died on 10 July in 138.

By Jean Marie Carey

Roman Emperor Hadrian (Publius Aelius Hādriānus), whose far-flung adventures inspired the commission of some of the Rome’s most enduring and storied monuments, died on 10 July in 138. Born in 76 in Spain, Hadrian joined the succession to the emperor’s seat in 117 after having been adopted by the heir-less Trajan, and he would go on to preside over a period of relative tranquility until 138. 

Hadrian spent a significant amount of time traveling in the provinces, visiting Britainin 121 or 122, spending several years in Greece, and exploring eastward to Turkey. While he was in Egypt in 130 his companion Antinous drowned in the Nile, and Hadrian had Antinous commemorated in a series of elaborate portraits. Hadrian himself was a much-depicted ruler, his many busts showing him with a beard in affiliation with his philosophical and intellectual pursuits. Hadrian was indeed an intellectual himself, writing poetry and also making architectural drawings.

In addition to his famous wall that marked the northern border of the empire in England (122-128), Hadrian also constructed temples and bridges in Rome, including the Temple of Venus and Roma (121) and the reconstruction of the Pantheon (110), which had been destroyed by fire in 80. He also built a sprawling villa at Tivoliwith an elaborate garden and irrigation system. 

Reference: “Hadrian.” The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, edited by M. C. Howatson, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. .


Apotheosis of Hadrian, probably made for Claudius (c. 50), portrait later reworked to show Hadrian. Antikensammlung, Altes Muesum, Berlin, Nr. 11056.

Porphyry statue of Hadrian, discovered in Caesarea, Israel. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Antinous, 2nd Century, National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona, Nr. 45406.

Portrait bust of Hadrian, c. 120, National Museum of Rome. The Scala Archives.

Villa of Hadrian, basilica, c. 125-138, Tivoli, Italy. Photo by Susan Silberberg-Peirce for Canyonlights World Art Image Bank.

The Pantheon, Rome. Erected in 17 BCE; destroyed by fire in 80 and rebuilt under Hadrian in 110. Photo by Erich Lessing, Art Resource, New York City.

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