Under Hadrian (r. 117-138 CE.) the Roman Empire reached its acme of prosperity. The
Emperor, himself a man of remarkable and varied genius, although not always of just and
even temperament, seemed anxious to conceal the real despotism of his government by the
enlightened use of his power. No new conquests were made, but many internal reforms were
executed. Hadrian also was a great traveler, and spent much of his reign going up and down
his vast empire, heaping benefits upon the communities with which he sojourned.
Aelius Spartianus: Life of Hadrian
In many places where he visited the frontiers, which were not separated from the
Barbarians by rivers, Hadrian raised a kind of wall, by driving into the ground great
piles. He set up a king over the Germans, and he quenched the seditious movements of the
Moors, for which deed the Senate ordered thanksgivings to the Gods. A single interview was
sufficient for Hadrian to stop a war with the Parthians that seemed to threaten. Then he
sailed by way of Asia and the Islands to Achaia; and after the example of Hercules and
Philip he was admitted to the Eleusinian mysteries. He bestowed many benefits upon the
Athenians and presided at their games. It was noticed in Achaia, that though many persons
with swords assisted at the religious ceremonies, nevertheless none of the suite of
Hadrian came armed. He passed next into Sicily, where he ascended Mt. Aetna to see the sun
rise, which seems there to form a bow of variegated colors. Next he went to Rome, and
thence to Africa, where he heaped benefactions upon the province. Never did a Prince
traverse over the Empire with such celerity!
After that, returning from Africa to Rome, he went quickly again to the East, and
passing by way of Athens, he dedicated the public works which he had formerly commenced
there; such as a temple to Jupiter the Olympian, and an altar upon which he bestowed his
own name. In Cappadocia he took some slaves which he intended for camp service. He
proffered his friendship to the princes and kings of the region, and he did the same to
Chosroes, king of Parthia, to whom he returned the latter's daughter, who had been made
captive by Trajan.
While traversing the provinces he punished according to their crimes the various
governors and procurators; and did so with such severity that he seemed to actually
stimulate their accusers. After having crossed Arabia, the Emperor came to Pelusium, where
he erected a splendid monument to Pompey. While sailing on the Nile he lost his beloved
favorite Antinoüs, whom he mourned as over a woman. There are various stories about this
young man. Some say he sacrificed himself to save Hadrian's life; others give widely
differing accounts as to the Emperor's liking for him. The Greeks, with their sovereign's
consent accorded the memory of Antinoüs divine honors.
This ruler loved poetry, and cultivated carefully all branches of literature. He
understood likewise arithmetic, geometry, and painting. He danced and sang extremely well,
his bent for sensuous pleasure being extreme. He made many verses for his favorites, and
wrote love poems. He handled weapons with much skill, and was a master of the military
art. He also devoted some little time to the exercises of gladiators. Now severe, now
merry, now voluptuous, now self-contained, now cruel, now merciful, this Emperor seemed
never the same. He enriched his friends liberally, but finally growing suspicious of some
put them to death or ruined them.
He enjoyed literary and philosophical discussions, but it was not safe to defeat him in
them. Favorinus (a famous philosopher and orator), when his friends blamed him for
surrendering to Hadrian's criticism as to his use of a word when he had good authority on
his side, laughed and replied, "You can never persuade me, good friends, that the
commander of thirty legions is not the best-qualified critic in the world!"
When he sat as judge he was aided not merely by his friends and his courtiers, but by
many famous Jurisconsulti, all approved by the Senate. He enacted among other
things that no one should destroy houses in one city to transport the materials to another
city. He awarded to children of proscribed persons, a twelfth part of their father's
estate. He did not admit accusations tor the crime of lese-majesté. He refused the
bequests of persons whom he had not known, and did not accept those of personal
acquaintances, if they had children. He enacted that whoever found a treasure on his own
land should keep it. If one found treasure on the property of some one else, he could keep
half---the rest went to the proprietor.
He took away the right of masters to kill their slaves, requiring that if the slaves
deserved it, they should be condemned to death by the regular judges. He abolished the
special dungeons for slaves and freedmen. Also, hereafter, not all the slaves of a master
who was murdered in his home by a slave were to suffer death as formerly, but only those
within reach of his outcries.
Hadrian had also a most agreeable style of conversation, even towards persons of
decidedly humble rank. He hated those who seemed to envy him this natural pleasure, under
pretext of causing "the Majesty of the Throne" to be respected. At the Museum of
Alexandria he proposed many questions to the professors there, and satisfied himself as to
the facts. He had a remarkable memory, and great talents (for oratory), preparing his own
orations and responses without aid of a secretary. He had a great faculty for remembering
names without prompting; it was enough to have met persons once, he could then even aid
the nomenclators if they made a mistake. He remembered all the old veterans whom he had
pensioned off. He wrote, dictated, heard others, and conversed with his friends; and all
at the same time!