HADRIAN AS EMPEROR
His popularity as emperor is attested to by the fact that Hadrian was absent from Rome for the better part of his reign. Earlier Roman rulers, such as Nero, were harshly criticized for spending less time away from the city. Professor D. Brendan Nagle writes that Hadrian “spent most of his reign (twelve out of twenty-one years) traveling all over the Empire visiting the provinces, overseeing the administration, and checking the discipline of the army. He was a brilliant administrator who concerned himself with all aspects of government and the administration of justice” (278). His devotion to the army was such that he would sleep and eat among the common soldiers and he is commonly depicted in military attire even though his regime is marked by relative peace.
Hadrian’s building projects are perhaps his most enduring legacy. He established cities throughout the Balkan Peninsula, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece. His love for Greece and Greek literature was such that he was known as `Graeculus’ (Greekling) in his youth and his philhellenism did not dissipate with age. He visited Greece at least twice (probably more) and participated in the Eleusinian Mysteries, of which he was an initiate. The Arch of Hadrian, constructed by the citizens of Athens in 131/132 CE, honor Hadrian as the founder of the city. Inscriptions on the arch name Theseus (the traditional founder) but add Hadrian owing to the latter’s substantial contributions to Athens (such as the Temple of Zeus). He dedicated a number of sites in Greece to his young lover Antinous, who drowned in the Nile River in 130 CE. Hadrian was deeply attached to Antinous and the young man’s death so greatly affected the emperor that he had him deified (from which the mystery cult in honor of Antinous grew). In Egypt he founded the city of Antinopolis in his memory. In Rome he rebuilt the Pantheon (which had been destroyed by fire) and Trajan’s Forum as well as funding construction of other buildings, baths, and villas. Many of these structures survived intact for centuries, some as late as the 19th century CE, and the Pantheon, still perfectly preserved, may be visited in the present day. Hadrian had a great interest in architecture and seems to have contributed ideas, or even plans, to the architects though scholars no longer believe that he was the lead architect on any single project.