Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome by Anthony Everitt

Hadrian was the Emperor of Rome during the 2nd century A.D.  He stopped the Empire's expansion and secured the borders against marauding tribes.  His hand-picked successors, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius, kept order and peace in the Empire, and were the last of the so-called Five Good Emperors.

The author has written other books dealing with Ancient Rome:
  • The Rise of Rome, which describes the birth of Rome as a world power (reviewed on this site).
  • Cicero, which traces the fall of the old, flawed Republic of Rome, and describes the life of Cicero.
  • Augustus, which explores the subsequent establishment of rule by one man, Octavian/Augustus.

Rome's Castel Sant'Angelo is the tomb Hadrian had built for himself, on the pattern of the first Emperor Augustus's tomb, which was built following the pattern of Alexander the Great's tombHadrian had the bridge built to reach his tomb.

In Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome the author attempts to show that the Roman monarchy was combined, under Hadrian, with good governance.  The 400+ page book extends the story beyond Hadrian's reign to explain, briefly, how Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius fared as emperors.

As a young man, Hadrian was groomed to take over the throne on the death of Emperor Trajan.  Hadrian was forty years old when he finally inherited the throne.  The author describes Hadrian as:
"An indefatigable traveler, Hadrian spent as much time as possible on the road, inspecting everything and reforming everything."

As he traveled, "he commissioned theaters, temples, aqueducts, arches."

"The frontiers were secured, the army trained, the laws codified, infrastructure improved, the economy fostered."

A modern-day view of what remains of Hadrian's Wall built in England/Scotland to protect the northern boundary of the Roman Empire.

Hadrian was not all sweetness and light. 

He was a battle-hardened warrior who dealt with insurrection with an iron hand.  He expelled rebellious Jews from Judea and renamed the area Palestine.  His forces tracked down the last rebels at Masada, the hilltop that has come down to us today as signifying the horrific consequences that can come from cornering religious fanatics, a lesson many in law enforcement should study.

And Hadrian supported the disgusting displays of sadism in the arenas throughout the Empire.  As the author correctly points out "today we regard the arena as an inexplicable display of mass sadism", a sadism that is still, inexplicably, enjoyed in many parts of Spain.

And Hadrian indulged enthusiastically in the predatory homosexual behavior that his predecessor had enjoyed, to the point of pedophilia.  As an old man he took possession of a boy and kept him as his sex-toy until the boy became a young man, when the young man took his own life, most likely to escape a life of rape by the old Emperor.

And Hadrian's ambition led him to use everything and have sex with everything but the kitchen sink to gain the throne.

Here is a fascinating virtual simulation of Hadrian's villa at Tivoli near Rome.

Part of Hadrian's Tivoli Villa complex outside Rome, where Hadrian's sex-slave-child's body is buried.

The book includes a map of the Roman Empire at the time of Hadrian.  It is only slightly smaller than the widest reaches of the empire, which was under Trajan.  Hadrian gave up some of Trajan's conquered lands because they were too costly to defend.

Hadrian is an excuse for the author to explain much history from that era:
  • Southern Spain, where Hadrian's family home was located
  • Homosexual predation of children and sexual practices
  • Educational system and upbringing
  • Jews and Jerusalem
  • Vespasian, Titus and Domitian's rule
  • Life in Ancient Rome in general
  • Trajan and his household, rule and wars
  • Aristocratic marriage
Because the sources are few, there is much speculation and supposition by the author about Hadrian and his life.  If you are curious to read the original sources in translation, I provide some links below to free e-books of the classic texts.


Hadrian had Agrippa's Pantheon rebuilt.  It was so well rebuilt in concrete that it stands today in Rome, as one of the few Roman structures still intact in the old capital of the Empire.

From the book's description:
Born in A.D. 76, Hadrian lived through and ruled during a tempestuous era, a time when the Colosseum was opened to the public and Pompeii was buried under a mountain of lava and ash.  Acclaimed author Anthony Everitt vividly recounts Hadrian’s thrilling life, in which the emperor brings a century of disorder and costly warfare to a peaceful conclusion while demonstrating how a monarchy can be compatible with good governance.

What distinguished Hadrian’s rule, according to Everitt, were two insights that inevitably ensured the empire’s long and prosperous future:  He ended Rome’s territorial expansion, which had become strategically and economically untenable, by fortifying her boundaries (the many famed Walls of Hadrian), and he effectively “Hellenized” Rome by anointing Athens the empire’s cultural center, thereby making Greek learning and art vastly more prominent in Roman life.

By making splendid use of recently discovered archaeological materials and his own exhaustive research, Everitt sheds new light on one of the most important figures of the ancient world.

The arch of Hadrian and Constantine in Rome, next to the Colosseum

The book is published by Random House.

Here is a direct link to Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome at

Here are links to some of the other books by this author about Ancient Rome, and some other books about Hadrian:

Because the sources are few, there is much speculation and supposition by the author about Hadrian and his life.  If you are curious to read the original sources in translation, here is a link to Cassius Dio's history of Rome, translated into English and arranged in 6 volumes, for free in various e-book formats, from Project Gutenberg, the grand-daddy of free e-book sites on the Internet.

This review is by Candida Martinelli, of Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site, and the author of the cozy-murder-mystery novel AN EXTRA VIRGIN PRESSING MURDER, and the young-adult/adult mystery novel series THE VIOLET STRANGE MYSTERIES the first book of which is VIOLET'S PROBLEM.

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