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Hadrian was born in Italica, Hispania, to a well-established settler family. He was a distant relative of his predecessor Trajan. Trajan never officially designated a successor, but, according to his wife, named Hadrian immediately before his death. However, Trajan's wife was well-disposed toward Hadrian, and he may well have owed his succession to her.
Hadrian was born in Italica, Hispania, son of the prominent Baetican P. Hadrianus Afer. Afer died when Hadrian was age 14 or so. Hadrian was schooled in various subjects particular to young aristocrats of the day, and was so fond of learning Greek literature that he was nicknamed "Graeculus" ("Little Greek").
Hadrian invested into the army sometime in the reign of Domitian. His first service was as a tribune of the Legio II Adiutrix. Later, he was to be transferred to the I Minerva in Germany. When Nerva died in 98, Hadrian rushed to inform Trajan personally. He later became legate of a legion in Upper Pannonia and eventually governor of said province. He was also archon in Athens for a brief time, and was elected an Athenian citizen.
Hadrian was active in the wars against Dacia (as legate of the V Macedonica) and reputedly won awards from Trajan for his successes. Due to an absence of military action in his reign, Hadrian's military skill is not well attested, however his keen interest and knowledge of the army and his demonstrated skill of administration show possible strategic talent.
Hadrian and his legion remained in Syria to guard the Roman rear when Trajan pulled out of Parthia in 117 and died in Selinus. Hadrian was acclaimed Emperor by the senate when possibly falsified papers of adoption from Trajan were presented. Nevertheless, this rumor of a falsified document of adoption carried little weight. The real source of Hadrian's legitimacy arose from the endorsement of the armies of Syria and the senate ratification. It is speculated that Plotina, Trajan's empress (who favoured Hadrian) forged the papers.
Hadrian and the military
Despite his own excellence as a military administrator (his command ability in combat bears no comment) Hadrian's reign was marked by a general lack of major military conflict. He surrendered Trajan's conquests in Mesopotamia, considering them to be indefensible.
Hadrian's army crushed a massive Jewish uprising in Judea (132-135, see also Jewish-Roman wars) led by Bar Kokhba, as well as the resistance to Roman rule by guerillas in Persia. The military's inaction was exacerbated by Hadrian's policy of securing the borders with permanent fortifications (limites, sl. limes). The most famous of these is the massive Hadrian's Wall in Britain, and the Danube and Rhine borders were strengthened with a series of mostly wooden fortifications, forts, outposts and watchtowers, the latter specifically improving communications and local area security. To maintain morale and keep the troops from getting restive, he established intensive drill routines, and personally inspected the armies.
There was almost a war with Parthia around 121, but the threat was averted when Hadrian succeeded in negotiating a peace.
Cultural pursuits and patronage
Above all Hadrian patronized the arts: Hadrian's Villa at Tibur (Tivoli) was the greatest Roman example of an Alexandrian garden, recreating a sacred landscape, lost now in large part to the despoliation of the ruins by the Cardinal d'Este who had much of the marble removed to build his gardens. In Rome, the Pantheon built by Agrippa was enriched under Hadrian and took the form in which it remains to this day, with the exception of the bronze beams of the portico's roof, which were removed (as structurally unsound by then) in 1633 and melted down by Pope Urban VIII Barberini for use in the Vatican, causing the Romans to mutter that the monuments of ancient Rome had more to fear from the Barberinis than from the barbarians.
Hadrian was a humanist, deeply Hellenophile in all his tastes. While visiting Greece in 125 he attempted to create a kind of provincial parliament to bind all the semi-autonomous former city states across all Greece and parts of Asia Minor. This parliament, known as the Panhellenion didn't succeed however despite spirited efforts to instill cooperation among the Hellenes. Hadrian was especially famous for his love affair with a young Greek, Antinous. While touring Egypt, Antinous mysteriously drowned in the Nile in 130. Stricken with grief, Hadrian founded the Egyptian city of Antinopolis . Hadrian drew the whole Empire into his mourning, making Antinous the last new god of antiquity. For the rest of his life, Hadrian commissioned many hundreds (or thousands) of sculptures of Antinous in the manner of a Greek youth.
Hadrian died at his villa in Baiae.
- "After Hadrian's death there was erected to him a huge equestrian statue representing him with a four-horse chariot. It was so large that the bulkiest man could walk through the eye of each horse, yet because of the extreme height of the foundation persons passing along on the ground below believe that the horses themselves as well as Hadrian are very small."
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