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Roman Emperor - Hadrian

Updated on December 4, 2016
Photo by Jastrow
Photo by Jastrow

AD 76 - 138

Hadrian, Emperor of Rome from 117 AD. to 138 AD. Born Publius Aelius Hadrianus, at Italica (modern Santiponce), Hisania Baetica (modern Spain), 24th January 76 AD where his family, originally from Atria in Picenum, had resided for nearly 200 years.

On his father's death (in 85 or 86) he was placed under the guardianship of M. Ulpius Traianus (afterwards the emperor Trajan) who was his cousin, and of Caelius Attianus, a future praetorian prefect.

Hadrian was a poet, an amateur architect, and a student of Greek culture.

Hadrian spent the next six years at Rome, but at the age of 15 returned to Spain and joined the army.

Hadrian held military and civilian government posts and travelled to the northern and eastern frontiers of the empire.

He was summoned to Rome by Trajan in 93 and held various civil posts; for several years, he was tribune to the Second Legion at Aquincum on the Danube. In 99, he returned to Rome, where the empress Plotina arranged his marriage to Trajan's grand-niece, Vibia Sabina.

By virtue of this astute marriage and the favour of Plotina, no less than his own abilities, Hadrian rapidly advanced his career. He held various public positions: quaestor in 101, tribune of the people in 105 and praetor in 106. He distinguished himself in the Dacian campaigns of 101-02 and 105-07, eventually becoming legatus in the Parthian campaign of 113-17.

During this last campaign, Trajan fell sick and returned to Rome, leaving Hadrian as commander of the army and governor of Syria. It was at Antioch in 117 that he learned of his adoption by the emperor and, two days later, of Trajan's death. Hadrian's succession was supported by the army and confirmed by the Senate.

Hadrian's Reign

The empire was beset on all sides and, in his determination to avert the danger, Hadrian reversed the expansionist policies of Trajan. He abandoned Assyria, Mesopotamia and Armenia, made peace with Parthia (Persia) and pacified the lower Danube. And then in 118 he hurried to Rome to remove the unfavourable impression created by the execution of four consulars who were alleged to have conspired against him.

Hadrian was a very capable ruler. He introduced administrative, financial, and legal reforms, while his magnificent buildings, particularly at Athens and Rome, were among the glories of the empire.

He made government more efficient and he stabilized Roman law into a single, uniform code. The ensuing law code later served as a basis for the Justinian Code, established in the 500's by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I.

Hadrian started an empire wide communications system similar to the pony express. He founded two cities - Antinoopolis in Egypt and Hadrianople in Thrace (now Edirne, Turkey). He also completed the huge temple of Zeus in Athens, which had been begun in the 500's BC.

The only major conflict occurred in 132, when Jews in Palestine revolted. Hadrian crushed the revolt in 135. He made Jerusalem a Roman city and forbade Jews to worship there.

Hadrian also began public works programs that restored old cities and built new towns, roads, aqueducts, harbors, and public buildings. Among his outstanding achievements were the construction of Hadrian's Wall in Britain and the rebuilding of the Parthenon in Rome and the Temple of the Olympian Zeus in Athens.

He initiated many reforms, establishing a more efficient administration, reorganizing the imperial army, regulating finance, and revising the postal system.

Unlike many emperors, Hadrian travelled widely during his reign, acquainting himself with his empire and fixing its boundaries.

The first of his two great tours of the empire (121-26) included Gaul, Germany. Britain, Spain, Mauretania. Greece, and Sicily. Among its principal events were the beginning of Hadrian's Wall in 122 and the emperor's initiation into the Eleusinian mysteries, 125.

The second tour (128-34) took in Athens (where he completed and dedicated the buildings begun during his first visit), Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine (where he ordered the rebuilding of Jerusalem), Arabia, and Egypt.

On his second journey, he took in Athens, where he completed and dedicated the buildings that he had begun during his first visit, notably the Olympium; Asia Minor and Syria; Palestine, where he ordered the rebuilding of Jerusalem; and Egypt.

On his way back to Europe he was recalled (133) to deal with the Jewish revolt, which had broken out in the previous year; but in 134 he entrusted the command to Julius Severus, returned to Rome and passed the remainder of his life between the capital and his villa at Tibur (Tivoli).

In 136, Hadrian picked Titus Aurelius Antonius (Antoninus Pius) to succeed him. He died in Baiae, Italy, July 10, 138 and was succeeded by Antoninus Pius.

Hadrian was a devoted servant of the empire. His vigorous leadership and thorough reforms built an effective state that permitted Rome to flourish for more than a century after his death.

Hadrian's Wall, showing fortresses along the Wall and the Roman roads in the area.
Hadrian's Wall, showing fortresses along the Wall and the Roman roads in the area.

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall was an ancient Roman fortification extending across northern England between Solway Firth and the mouth of the Tyne. Intended as an operational base and as a defence against barbarian infiltration from the north it was constructed on the orders of Roman Emperor Hadrian from 122 to 126 AD.

It was built to mark and guard the northern boundary of Roman Britain, and to prevent attacks and smuggling by the Picts and Scots. The wall was built partly of stone and partly as a rampart of turf.

There was a small fort, called a milecastle, every mile (hence the name), and there were 23 large forts. A flat-bottomed ditch running parallel to the wall was on the northern side of the wall, to slow down attacks. It was called the Vallum.

The stone wall was about 20 feet (6 meters) high and roughly 8 to 10 feet (2.4 - 3 meters) thick.

The wall was planned by the Emperor Hadrian as part of his consolidation of the Empire, during his visit to Britain in 122, and the work was largely executed by the legate Aulus Platonus Nepos, 122-26.

It replaced the earlier Stonegate, a road to the south of the wall, with forts at regular intervals along it, on a line which takes every possible advantage of natural strength; its highest point, Winshields, is 375 m above sea-level.

At first the intention was to use the wall as a screen for offensive operations; later modifications under Severus made it a series of strong points.

Although the whole work, with outlying forts and service roads, was an impressive undertaking, it could only serve its purpose of excluding the barbarians when properly manned. The wall was twice overrun and seriously damaged by northern tribes, in 197 and 296 when its garrison was temporarily withdrawn and was finally abandoned by 400.


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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      is all of this true and what were his inventions, ideas created, and what is he most known for in history? answer sooooooooon

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I need to now what his fularisers were

    • darkside profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Australia

      Freddy, please do.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      i gotta do a report on this guy and this page helped me a lot, once it's graded ill tell you guys what i got :)

    • profile image

      mal rules  

      9 years ago

      this really helped me with my assignment

    • birdlover profile image


      9 years ago from Cincinnati, OH

      Thanks for posting your hubs on the Roman Emperor. I enjoyed Latin and history in high school, so this brought back some fond memories.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      hadrian is a awesum emperor

    • darkside profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Australia

      In the field he would have worn a tunic. In Rome he would have worn a toga.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      wut does he wear

    • Clark Kent profile image

      Clark Kent 

      10 years ago from Europe

      Indeed a well-done biography about a "Devoted servant of the Empire", as you have said.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 

      11 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Hadrian's accomplishments are significant. Very impressive.

    • KCC Big Country profile image


      11 years ago from Central Texas

      When I visited England in 2006, I was fortunate to be able to visit Hadrian's Wall and the Roman Museum. It was fantastic. My daughter has pictures of her and the wall and was able to share them with her class at school here in Texas this year as they learned about Hadrian in school. Thanks for the informative hub.

    • The Bard profile image

      The Bard 

      11 years ago from London, England & San Pablo City, Philippines

      I was born near Hadrian's Wall and used to visit it often when I was a kid. One of the most famous forts is Vindolanda where finds have been discovered such as clothing, utensils and even letters for the soldiers from their families. The boggy conditions were responsible for their preservation. To the Romans, this was the limit of their domain, and regarded as the ends of the earth. It wasn't a popular posting and those marauding barbarians (the Scots) on the other side of the wall really put the fear of God up them!

    • shamelabboush profile image


      11 years ago

      A very nice and informatiove biography. Actually, leaders of our times should learn from those great leaders like Hadrian.


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