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Publius Aelius Hadrianus was one of the greatest emperors of Roman antiquity, remembered for his culture, his love for the arts and for the extraordinary buildings he left, including the Pantheon, Villa Adriana and his Mausoleum (the current Castel Sant'Angelo).

Ancient sources, far from impartial, recall how at the end of his reign he was hated for his cruelty, to the point that his successor Antoninus Pius had to repeatedly insist on the Senate to obtain his deification. But at the beginning of his reign he proved to be a prudent administrator, promoted important reforms and was also tolerant towards Christians.


The relationship with Trajan, with whom he was related, was fundamental in his life. Orphaned by his father in 85 AD. he was entrusted to Trajan and Acilius Attianus and began his political career in Rome.
An excellent commander, he followed Trajan in the two wars in Dacia; he had command of the legions for the wars against the Parthians and harshly repressed the revolts in Judea.

He married Vibia Sabina, Trajan's great-granddaughter, strengthening family ties. After the victory over the Parthians he was appointed Caesar, which was equivalent to an official nomination as successor. Empress Plotina worked to favor his succession to her husband, who adopted him on his deathbed.
Having become emperor, first of all Hadrian asked the Senate to pay Trajan the due  honors, such as the triumph over the Parthians, and to decree his deification; he did the same with Plotina.

However, the relationship with the Senate was controversial and conflictual: it began with the conspiracy of two senators and two generals, who were then sentenced to death. The power fight between the senatorial aristocracy and the emperor dated back to the time of Augustus; the Senate did not like the gradual reduction of its power, carried out by Hadrian with a series of legislative and administrative reforms which centralized command in the hands of the emperor and his Court.

As far as religion was concerned, Hadrian was initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries, but at the same time he proclaimed himself as keeper of ancient Roman traditions; he restored or built new temples throughout the empire, especially in Greece and Athens. The rites of the mystery cults imported to Rome were modified and adjusted to ancient traditions, promoting syncretism with pre-existing Italic or Latin cults.

According to the Historia Augusta, Hadrian mastered astrology and astronomy (which at the time were a single discipline) boasting of having foreseen all the events of his life, even the day when he would die.
Passionate about Greek culture and art, he was nicknamed «graeculus» (little Greek) and was the first emperor to wear a beard. He dedicated himself to writing (but his writings have been lost) and to philosophy. He proclaimed himself an expert in painting, sculpture and architecture, to the point that it is thought that Villa Adriana at Tivoli was designed by him.

His conflictual relationship with Apollodorus of Damascus, the great architect who designed Trajan's Forum and probably also the Pantheon, is famous. According to legend, it seems that he was put to death by Hadrian for ironically calling "pumpkins" the umbrella domes typical of Hadrianic architecture.

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