Emperor Hadrian - British Museum, London, UK
N 51° 31.129 W 000° 07.575
30U E 699373 N 5711437
Quick Description: This bust of the Roman Emperor Hadrian is located just inside the main entrance to the British Museum. Hadrian was famous for building Hadrian's Wall in the north of England.
Location: London, United Kingdom
Date Posted: 1/15/2012 10:48:40 AM
Waymark Code: WMDH1B
The inscription on the base of the bust reads:
"Marble bust of / Emperor Hadrian / (AD 117-138) / From Hadrian's Villa,
The bust stands about 30 inches (84 centimetres) tall and is made from
marble. Hadrian is shown wearing military dress and is also sporting a beard. He
is also shown with curly hair.
"Publius Aelius Hadrianus (Hadrian) was born in
Italica on 24 January, AD 76. Hadrian was a descendent of a Roman soldier who
had been stationed in Baetica in the third century BC. Like many Roman soldiers,
when he retired, he was given land in the country he had helped to conquer.
After marrying a local woman, this former Roman soldier became a successful
The Hadrianus family stayed in Spain and over the centuries they produced
several soldiers who had distinguished military careers. Hadrian's own father
was also a high-ranking soldier and was able to afford a good education for his
When Hadrian was only ten his father died. It was a Roman tradition that a male
guardian should be appointed when a child's father died. A relative named Trajan
agreed to become Hadrian's guardian. Trajan was a prominent Roman general and as
soon as he was old enough Hadrian accompanied Trajan on his military campaigns.
Trajan was a very successful military commander and when Nerva died in AD 98
Trajan's name was put forward as the next emperor. This was a very controversial
suggestion as Trajan came from Baetica, whereas all previous emperors had been
born in Italy. However, as Trajan had the support of the Roman Army, the Senate
was powerless to stop him from becoming emperor.
As Trajan spent most of his time in office fighting in foreign wars, his wife
Pompeia Plotina played an important role in running the empire. Plotina, who had
no children of her own, had grown very fond of Hadrian and he was a great help
to her while her husband was away.
When Trajan died in AD 117 he left a letter nominating Hadrian as Rome's next
emperor. Many senators were against Hadrian holding this position. They claimed
that Pompeia Plotina had forged the letter in an attempt to keep herself in
power. They also objected to a man with a foreign accent ruling the empire.
Hadrian acted quickly. He immediately ordered the distribution of money to the
people of Rome and arranged for all soldiers to be paid an extra bonus. Hadrian
also cancelled the debts of all those people who had borrowed money from the
treasury. Finally, to gain the support of the Senate, he promised he would never
have any of them punished unless they were found guilty of an offence by their
For the first few years of his rule Hadrian relied heavily on the advice of
Pompeia Plotina. When Plotina became empress she is reported to have told the
Roman people as she entered her palace: "I wish to be the same sort of woman
when I leave as I am on entering." Plotina was aware of how the previous
emperors had been corrupted by the tremendous power they held and worked hard to
prevent this happening to Trajan and Hadrian.
Hadrian took Plotina's advice and made every effort not to cut himself off from
ordinary people. For example, when Hadrian took part in military campaigns he
ate the same food as his soldiers and marched with them instead of using a
Hadrian also believed it was important to show modesty. Although he was a
talented poet and musician, he kept quiet about it. Hadrian was also one of the
most creative architects the world has ever seen. However he refused to take
credit for his work. He even put other people's names on the buildings he
designed, and it is only in recent years that historians have discovered that it
was Hadrian who was responsible for the Pantheon, one of the most important
buildings in the development of world architecture.
Although Hadrian agreed with slavery, he believed that in the past Romans had
been too cruel to slaves. He therefore made several changes to the law on
slavery. People who owned slaves no longer had the right to kill them. Nor were
they allowed to force their slaves into becoming gladiators or prostitutes.
Hadrian also abolished slave labour-camps. Finally, he changed the law that
stated that if a man was killed by a slave, all his slaves would be executed.
Hadrian spent most of his period in office travelling all over the empire. He
realised that Rome no longer had the men or financial resources to protect such
a large area, and therefore took the decision to withdraw from some of the
territories in the east.
Once he had decided what the new frontiers should be, Hadrian made arrangements
that they should be well guarded. For example, when Hadrian visited Britain in
AD 121, he gave orders for a 117 km stone wall to be built across northern
Britain. Every four miles along the wall was a fort. As there were also several
signal-turrets between each fort, it was possible to pass a message from one end
of the wall to the other in a matter of minutes. As a good road had been built
along the length of the wall, it did not take the Romans long to direct their
troops to areas under attack.
Throughout most of his time as emperor, Hadrian was considered to be a tolerant
ruler. However, after the death of Pompeia Plotina, Hadrian began to persecute
people who did not agree with him. His main target was the Jews who refused to
worship Roman gods.
In AD 132 the Jews in Palestine rebelled against the Romans. Initially the
Jewish uprising, led by a man called Simon bar Kokhba, was successful. However,
it was not long before Roman reinforcements arrived in Palestine. By AD 134 the
Romans were back in control. It has been estimated that over half a million Jews
were killed during the war, while many others were sold into slavery.
In his later years Hadrian began to lose the support of the Senate. Although
Hadrian had always said that emperors should be obeyed out of love rather than
fear, he now changed his tactics. In an attempt to hold on to power, he ordered
the execution of several senators.
Aware that he was dying, Hadrian decided to make arrangements for the future of
the Roman Empire. By the time he died in AD 138, Hadrian had forced the Senate
to agree to the names of the next two emperors, the elderly Antoninus Pius,
followed by the much younger Marcus Aurelius. It was a wise decision as both men
went on to become successful emperors."