Happy Birthday Hadrian

Busts of Hadrianus in Venice cropped.jpg

Roman Emperor Hadrian is probably best known for his walls and his beard.  He sits right in the middle of the good times as the 3rd of the five “good” emperors: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius.

One of the reasons the emperors were considered good is because they chose good successors, not family.  On this measure Aurelius failed and the lot is reduced to four.

Hadrian was the second Spanish emperor after Trajan, he was born 24th January, 76 AD   in Italica, which is just outside modern day Seville in Spain.  I visted in the summer of 1978.  It was hot.  There was no shade and I am no daywalker.  Bring water – wear sunscreen and a hat!

After the expanision of the empire to its greatest extent by Trajan there was a period of consolidation by Hadrian – hence the walls.  The most famous of which spans northern England.  Less famous but equally impressive are the walls erected in Africa.

Hadrian is responsible for naming Palestine.  His reputation amongst the Jews is not very nice and his name in Jewish texts is often followed by “may his bones be crushed”.  This is because Hadrian put down the final Jewish uprising in the Province of Judea – the Bar Kokhba revolt.

If you look at it from Hadrian’s point of view it is clear that the Jews were a major problem and the empire had been fighting revolt after revolt since 66AD and the reign of Nero.

After the Bar Kokhba revolt was put down the Romans pulled down the fortifications from 50 Jewish cities, leaving their populations exposed to danger.  The Roman provinces of Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were reformed and renamed as “Syria Palestina”.  This is seen as a calculated insult, to rename Jewish lands for their ancient enemies; the Philistines.

The Jews date the Diaspora from the end of the war with Hadrian, and it was the spread of the Jewish people accross the Roman Empire that led indirectly to the flowering of Christianity in the Empire.

Hadrian was also openly gay in the modern sense.  He loved all things Greek, earning him the nickname “The Greekling”.  This love extended to his boyfriend Antinous, a Bythinian Greek Youth who was deified by Hadrian when he drowned in the Nile on an Egyptian holiday (not joking).

The poem below is said to have been inspired by a poem of Emperor Hadrian: Animula, vagula, blandula.

Animula; by T.S. Eliot

‘Issues from the hand of God, the simple soul’
To a flat world of changing lights and noise,
to light, dark, dry or damp, chilly or warm;
moving between the legs of tables and of chairs,
rising or falling, grasping at kisses and toys,
advancing boldly, sudden to take alarm,
retreating to the corner of arm and knee,
eager to be reassured, taking pleasure
in the fragrant brilliance of the Christmas tree,
pleasure in the wind, the sunlight and the sea;
studies the sunlit pattern on the floor
and running stags around a silver tray;
confounds the actual and the fanciful,
content with playing-cards and kings and queens,
what the fairies do and what the servants say.
The heavy burden of the growing soul
perplexes and offends more, day by day;
week by week, offends and perplexes more
with the imperatives of ‘is and seems’
and may and may not, desire and control.
The pain of living and the drug of dreams
curl up the small soul in the window seat
behind the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Issues from the hand of time the simple soul
irresolute and selfish, misshapen, lame,
unable to fare forward or retreat,
fearing the warm reality, the offered good,
denying the importunity of the blood,
shadow of its own shadows, spectre in its own gloom,
leaving disordered papers in a dusty room;
living first in the silence after the viaticum.

Pray for Guiterriez, avid of speed and power,
for Boudin, blown to pieces,
for this one who made a great fortune,
and that one who went his own way.
Pray for Floret, by the boarhound slain between the yew trees,
pray for us now and at the hour of our birth.

 

 

High water mark

Severus210AD

Septimus Severus died on this day, in Eboracum, Britannia, (modern York, England), in 211 AD.  Under his reign the Roman Empire attained its high water mark as he extended borders in Asia, Africa and in Britain.

Had he survived for just one more year the History of Britain could have been quite different.  In 210 AD Severus laid the foundations for the complete conquest of Caledonia. He repaired Hadrian’s Wall.  Then he moved north and carried out extensive repair work on the Antonine Wall and secured the Scottish Lowlands between Hadrian’s Wall and the central belt from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth.

He then advanced up the east coast of Scotland, constructing forts along the way.  He advanced through modern Dundee, Aberdeen and around the Firth of Moray near Inverness.  The local clans refused to meet the legions and engaged in guerrilla tactics.  Even so it became clear by the winter of 210 that the Clans would have to make peace with these invaders, who seemed relentless.

How different would the history of Britain have been had Caledonia been romanised?  Clan structures, which endured to the rebellion of Bonny Prince Charles would have been replaced with a Roman administrative structure.

But Severus fell ill and withdrew south to Eboracum where he died.  The momentum of the campaign was lost.  His son, Caracalla, re-initiated the campaign, but within a short time sued for peace with the Caledonian tribes.  The Romans withdrew south of Hadrian’s wall and never again ranged north in conquest.

It would be nice, from a Celtic perspective, to depict this as a victory of Celtic passion over Roman organisation.  The truth though is that the Celts had the sense to steer clear of the legions.  They saw what happened in Britain.  So they withdrew to the mountains, woods and bogs.  They left the Romans to fight the cold, the wet, the relentless damp, the plagues of midges that rise on any sunny day.  Against these enemies the Romans had no defence.