Hadrian's Cultural pursuits and patronage
Hadrian's Cultural pursuits and patronage
Hadrian has been described, as the most versatile of all the Roman Emperors. He also liked to display a knowledge of all intellectual and artistic fields. Hadrian patronized the arts: Hadrian's Villa at Tibur (Tivoli) was the greatest Roman example of an Alexandrian garden, recreating a sacred landscape, lost in large part to the despoliation of the ruins by the Cardinal d'Este who had much of the marble removed to build Villa d'Este. In Rome, the Pantheon, originally built by Agrippa but destroyed by fire in 80, was rebuilt under Hadrian in the domed form it retains to this day. It is among the best preserved of Rome's ancient buildings and was highly influential to many of the great architects of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque periods.
Hadrian displayed a keen interest in architecture, but it seems that his eagerness was not always well received. For example, Apollodorus of Damascus, famed architect of the Forum of Trajan, dismissed his designs. When Trajan, predecessor to Hadrian, consulted Apollodorus about an architectural problem, Hadrian interrupted to give advice, to which Apollodorus replied, "Go away and draw your pumpkins. You know nothing about these problems." "Pumpkins" refers to Hadrian's drawings of domes like the Serapeum in his Villa. It is rumored that once Hadrian succeeded Trajan to become emperor, he had Apollodorus exiled and later put to death. It is very possible that this later story was a later attempt to defame his character, as Hadrian, though popular among a great many across the empire, was not universally admired, either in his lifetime or afterward.
Hadrian wrote poetry in both Latin and Greek; one of the few surviving examples is a Latin poem he reportedly composed on his deathbed (see below). He also wrote an autobiography – not, apparently, a work of great length or revelation, but designed to scotch various rumours or explain his various actions. The work is lost but was apparently used by the writer — whether Marius Maximus or someone else – on whom the Historia Augusta principally relied for its vita of Hadrian: at least, a number of statements in the vita have been identified (by Ronald Syme and others) as probably ultimately stemming from the autobiography.
Hadrian was a passionate hunter, already from the time of his youth. In northwest Asia, Hadrian founded and dedicated a city to commemorate a she-bear he killed. It is documented that in Egypt he and his beloved Antinous killed a lion. In Rome, eight reliefs featuring Hadrian in different stages of hunting on a building that began as a monument celebrating a kill.
Hadrian's contributions to "popular" culture was the beard, which symbolised his philhellenism. Except for Nero (also a great lover of Greek culture), all Roman emperors before Hadrian were clean shaven. Most of the emperors after Hadrian would be portrayed with beards. Their beards, however, were not worn out of an appreciation for Greek culture but because the beard had, thanks to Hadrian, become fashionable. Hadrian had a face covered in warts and scars, and this may have partially motivated Hadrian's beard growth.
Hadrian was a humanist and deeply Hellenophile in all his tastes. He favoured the doctrines of the philosophers Epictetus, Heliodorus and Favorinus, but was generally considered an Epicurean, as were some of his friends such as Caius Bruttius Praesens. At home he attended to social needs. Hadrian mitigated but did not abolish slavery, had the legal code humanized and forbade torture. He built libraries, aqueducts, baths and theaters. Hadrian is considered by many historians to have been wise and just: Schiller called him "the Empire's first servant", and British historian Edward Gibbon admired his "vast and active genius", as well as his "equity and moderation". In 1776, he stated that Hadrian's epoch was part of the "happiest era of human history".
While visiting Greece in 126, Hadrian attempted to create a kind of provincial parliament to bind all the semi-autonomous former city states across all Greece and Ionia (in Asia Minor). This parliament, known as the Panhellenion, failed despite spirited efforts to instill cooperation among the Hellenes.
Hadrian had a close relationship, the nature of which is uncertain, with a Greek youth, Antinous, whom he met in Bithynia in 124 when the boy was thirteen or fourteen. While touring Egypt in 130, Antinous mysteriously drowned in the Nile. Deeply saddened, Hadrian founded the Egyptian city of Antinopolis, and had Antinous deified - an unprecedented honour for one not of the ruling family.
Hadrian died at his villa in Baiae. He was buried in a mausoleum on the western bank of the Tiber, in Rome, a building later transformed into a papal fortress, Castel Sant'Angelo. The dimensions of his mausoleum, in its original form, were deliberately designed to be slightly larger than the earlier Mausoleum of Augustus.
According to Cassius Dio a gigantic equestrian statue was erected to Hadrian after his death. "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."