Hadrian was born in Italica , Hispania, to a well-established settler family. He was a distant relative of his predecessor Trajan. Trajan never officially designated a successor, but, according to his wife, named Hadrian immediately before his death. However, Trajan's wife was well-disposed toward Hadrian, and he may well have owed his succession to her.
Hadrian and the military
Hadrian's reign was marked by a general lack of military conflict. He surrendered Trajan's conquests in Mesopotamia, considering them to be indefensible. The military's inaction was exacerbated by Hadrian's policy of securing the borders with permanent fortifications (limites, singular limes). The most famous of these is the massive Hadrian's Wall in Britain, and the Danube and Rhine borders were strengthened with a series of mostly wooden fortifications, forts, ouposts and watchtowers, the latter specifically improving communications and local area security. To maintain morale and keep the troops from getting restive, he established intensive drill routines, and personally inspected the armies.
Cultural pursuits and patronage
Above all Hadrian patronized the arts: Hadrian's Villa at Tibur (Tivoli) was the greatest Roman example of an Alexandrian garden, recreating a sacred landscape, lost now in large part to the despoliation of the ruins by the Cardinal d'Este who had much of the marble removed to build his gardens. In Rome, the Pantheon built by Agrippa was enriched under Hadrian and took the form in which it remains to this day, with the exception of the bronze beams of the portico's roof, which were removed (as structurally unsound by then) in 1633 and melted down by Pope Urban VIII Barberini for use in the Vatican, causing the Romans to mutter that the monuments of ancient Rome had more to fear from the Barberinis than from the barbarians.
Hadrian was a humanist, deeply Hellenophile in all his tastes. While visiting Greece in 125 he attempted to create a kind of provincial parliament to bind all the semi-autonomous former city states across all Greece and parts of Asia Minor. This parliament, known as the Panhellenion didn't succeed however despite spirited efforts to instill cooperation among the Hellenes. Hadrian was especially famous for his love affair with a young Greek, Antinous. While touring Egypt, Antinous mysteriously drowned in the Nile in 130. Stricken with grief, Hadrian founded the Egyptian city of Antinopolis . Hadrian drew the whole Empire into his mourning, making Antinous the last new god of antiquity. For the rest of his life, Hadrian commissioned many hundreds (or thousands) of sculptures of Antinous in the manner of a Greek youth. The passion and depth of Hadrian's love for the boy was shown in busts and statues to be found all over Europe, featuring the boy's full lips and round cheeks.
Hadrian died at his villa in Baiae.
- "After Hadrian's death there was erected to him a huge equestrian statue representing him with a four-horse chariot. It was so large that the bulkiest man could walk through the eye of each horse, yet because of the extreme height of the foundation persons passing along on the ground below believe that the horses themselves as well as Hadrian are very small."
- Biography of Hadrian