Publius Aelius Hadrianus, known as Hadrian, was the emperor of Rome from A.D. 117 to A.D. 138. It was during Hadrian’s reign, some historians believe, that the empire reached its height. A scholar who promoted Greek culture, Hadrian is remembered for his peaceful rule, governmental reforms, and building projects.
Hadrian was born in Spain to a prominent family. Still a child when his father died, Hadrian became the dependent of his nearest male relative, the emperor Trajan. As a boy, Hadrian devoted himself to Greek studies, an interest he maintained throughout his life. He held a series of government positions as a young man, eventually becoming governor of Syria.
When Trajan died in A.D. 117, his widow, Plotina, announced that Trajan had adopted Hadrian and had named him his successor. Although many people doubted the story and disliked Hadrian, he was supported by the army and was accepted as emperor. He became even more unpopular the next year after four senators, suspected of plotting against him, were executed. To bolster his popularity, Hadrian cut taxes, increased grants to senators, and distributed money to the poor. He also sponsored extravagant gladiatorial* games.
Hadrian ended Trajan’s policy of expanding the territory of the empire, preferring to secure peace and stability within Rome’s borders. He traveled throughout the empire, personally supervising the construction of walls along the frontier, such as the massive Hadrian’s Wall in Britain. These frontier walls served as a symbol of peace as well as a barrier to the barbarian* people on the other side. Hadrian carried out many reforms in the government, including codifying* the laws. He also devised rules and regulations that made operating the government and collecting taxes more efficient.
Hadrian’s governmental reforms, along with his policy of peace, provided him with the resources needed for monumental construction projects. In A.D. 121, he began the huge Temple of Venus and Roma, a structure he had designed himself. Other well-known buildings constructed during Hadrian’s reign include his mausoleum*, the Castel Sant’Angelo, the massive temple of Trajan and Plotina, and the Pantheon. Along with architecture, Hadrian’s other talents were in poetry, music, and mathematics.
As Hadrian grew older, he became increasingly ill. Since he had no children of his own, Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius, a relative of his adoptive mother Plotina, as his successor. After his death, Hadrian was buried in his mausoleum and proclaimed a god by the Senate. (See also Architecture, Roman; Games, Roman; Rome, History of.)
* gladiatorial referring to the public entertainments in ancient Rome in which slaves or captives fought
* barbarian referring to people from outside the cultures of Greece and Rome, who were viewed as uncivilized
* codify to arrange according to a system; to set down in writing
* mausoleum large stone tomb