Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Italica. Obscure town in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula, where Hadrian was born. Despite his Spanish origins, Hadrian felt that his true homeland was schools and books. Educated in Spain and, after the death of his father, in Rome, he returned to his homeland where, with the Seventh Legion in a wild region of the Pyrenees, he learned, through hunting and rough living, to judge the courage of men.
*Athens. Intellectual center of ancient Greece. Having mastered Greek in Rome, Hadrian continued his education in Athens, which seemed to him “slumbering in a haze of ideas” compared to Rome, where the world’s business was being done and undone. Athens, with its rich intellectual history, appealed to Hadrian’s scholarly side, but his appetite for power drew him back to Rome, where decisions could determine the fate of the world.
Roman Empire. Before and during Trajan’s reign, Hadrian held a succession of administrative and military appointments that prepared him to become emperor. By participating in Rome’s battles with the Germanic tribes, he learned to love this northern region, which contrasted so sharply with the dry and sunny Mediterranean lands he had previously known. Though a kind of umbilical cord attached him to Rome, he liked the harsh Germanic terrain, for he had a passion for privation and discipline.
These early experiences set the pattern of his life: periodic stays in Rome (to advance his career) and extensive travels throughout the empire (to bring order to an increasingly disordered society). For Hadrian, Greece was the place where civilizers had separated themselves from the monstrous by creating rational politics and ennobling art. He thus saw his task as Hellenizing the barbaric lands and Atticizing Rome.
The empire’s eastern lands, which had troubled Rome for centuries, would also trouble Hadrian both before and after he was emperor. He compared the empire that he inherited from Trajan to a man who had survived a serious illness. For Hadrian, Rome was no longer confined to Rome, and he believed that Rome had to identify herself with her conquered countries, or be conquered by them. He restored order in Egypt, Mauretania, and Britain. He saw all these places, even those precariously held, as Romes-to-be. On all these different nations Hadrian wanted to superpose an enduring unity. In contrast, he himself never had a genuinely fixed abode in his twenty years of rule.
The dominating passion in his personal life was for Antinous, a handsome youth he had met at Nicomedia in the province of Bithynia in northwest Asia Minor. Hadrian’s love for Antinous led him to see places as he never had before. Now he delighted in the pine forests of Bithynia, the wine-rose hills of Attica, and the volcanic heights of Mount Aetna. In Phrygia, where Greece melds into Asia, he had, with Antinous, his most complete experience of happiness. However, after trips to Jerusalem and Alexandria, Antinous, in Hadrian’s absence, traveled to Canopus where, in a basin near a bend in the Nile, he killed himself to secure favor from the gods for the man he had loved and the emperor he had worshipped.
Following Antinous’s death, places that Hadrian had formerly loved he now abhorred. He commanded that a city, Antinoöpolis, be built with an encircling wall, a triumphal arch, and a tomb, but he sensed that this ideal city would soon become just another place to shelter commercial fraud, prostitution, and political corruption. He traveled through the eastern empire, but he was everywhere faced with anarchy. For example, the Jews were in rebellion against the Romans, and though Hadrian was able to pacify Judaea, he came to see this war as one of his failures.
On his return to Rome he encountered a criminality that was infecting politicians, lawyers, even ordinary people. He chose to build, away from Rome, a villa as a place of refuge, where the books that he had collected in his travels would be his source of comfort. After arranging for his successor and his mausoleum, he died at Baiae, near the sea, where he found it easier to breathe.