The Life and Legacy of Hadrian, Roman Emperor
Hadrian was one of the most effective and well-known rulers of Rome. Under his rule, the Roman Empire reached its greatest extent. He also initiated many public works and reformed Roman law. Although he was a very capable administrator, he is best known for his building projects, such as the construction of Hadrian’s Wall in Britain.
2. The Early Life of Hadrian
Hadrian was born in Italica in Hispania Baetica (modern Spain) on January 24, 76 AD. His father was a Roman senator and his mother was of Spanish nobility. As a child, he was educated in Rome and Greece. He later served in the army, first as a tribune and then as a legate. In 100 AD, he was elected to the consulate, the highest office in the government.
3. Ascent to the throne
When the Emperor Trajan died in 117 AD, Hadrian succeeded him as emperor. Although he was not related to Trajan, he was adopted by him according to Roman law. This made him the legal heir to the throne.
4. Foreign Policy
Under Hadrian’s rule, the Roman Empire reached its greatest extent. He expanded the empire into new territories such as Britain, Dacia (modern Romania), and Syria. He also built roads and fortifications throughout the empire. To defend against barbarian invasions, he constructed a massive wall across Britain (now known as Hadrian’s Wall).
In Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), he renounced Trajan’s aggressive plans and instead established a defensive border along the Euphrates River. This became known as the Limes Arabicus. To further secure the empire’s eastern frontier, he built a new city at Antioch in Syria (now Antakya in Turkey). This city served as a base for the Roman army and became an important center of trade and culture.
In Africa, Hadrian continued Trajan’s war against the kingdom of Mauretania (modern Morocco). After defeating them in battle, he divided their kingdom into two provinces: Mauretania Tingitana (in Morocco) and Mauretania Caesariensis (in Algeria). To pacify these provinces, he built many public works such as baths and temples. He also sent Roman troops to quell rebellions and build roads across Africa. By the end of his reign, Africa had become one of the most peaceful and prosperous regions of the empire.
5. The Construction of Hadrian’s Wall
One of Hadrian’s most famous building projects was the construction of Hadrian’s Wall across Britain (122-128 AD). This massive fortification ran for 80 miles from coast to coast across northern England, from the North Sea to the Irish Sea. It was built to protect Roman Britain from barbarian invasions from Scotland. The wall was 20 feet high and 8 feet thick, with forts every mile along its length manned by 2000 soldiers each. It is considered one of the greatest engineering feats of ancient times.
To govern such a large empire, Hadrian needed an effective administration system. He divided the empire into provinces each ruled by a governor appointed by him. These governors were responsible for maintaining order and collecting taxes. They were also required to send reports back to Rome on their activities each year. To help them govern, Hadrian also established a corps of bureaucrats called the Imperial Court. This group helped the governors with their administrative duties and acted as advisers to the emperor.
7. Internal Policy
In addition to his foreign policy achievements, Hadrian also reformed Roman law and initiated many public works projects. He codified Roman law into the Twelve Tables, which were carved on stone and displayed in the Forum for all to see. This helped to ensure that everyone knew the law and that it was applied equally. He also built many public works such as roads, bridges, aqueducts, baths, and temples. These projects improved the infrastructure of the empire and enhanced the quality of life of its citizens.
8. Decline and Death
Toward the end of his life, Hadrian became increasingly depressed and reclusive. In 138 AD, he adopted Antoninus Pius as his heir, making him the next emperor of Rome. On July 10, 138 AD, Hadrian died at his villa in Baiae at the age of 62. He was buried in Rome near the site of his mausoleum, which is now known as the Castel Sant’Angelo.
Hadrian was one of Rome’s most effective and well-known rulers. He expanded the empire into new territories and initiated many public works projects. He also reformed Roman law and administration. Although he ruled for only 21 years, his legacy has lasted for centuries.
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