Monday, 4 July 2005

Hadrian: The Travelling Emperor

The Roman Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117 - 138) loved to travel. In fact he spent most of his reign travelling through his provinces and has the honour of being the only ruler to have ruled over most of the European mainland, North Africa until the end of the Sahara, the Middle East and Britain and to have actually been to these places.

Wherever Hadrian travelled to, as well as having a huge entourage to go with him (his wife, familly, friends, staff, slaves, etc.), he was followed by a large number of petitioners, hoping to present him with their issue. There is a tale of a woman who comfronted Hardian while he was on horseback and asked him to listen to her plight. When he told her he had no time, she replied that he might as well not be the emperor, at which point Hardian decided to listen to her and got off his horse.
In Cassius Dio's words:

'Once, when a woman made a request of him as he passed by on a journey, he at first said to her, "I haven't time," but afterwards, when she cried out, "Cease, then, being emperor," he turned about and granted her a hearing." (69.6.3)

Dio also tells us of Hadrian's travels and how he liked to live as a soldier and get personally involved with drilling his men.

"Hadrian travelled through one province after another, visiting the various regions and cities and inspecting all the garrisons and forts. Some of these he removed to more desirable places, some he abolished, and he also established some new ones. He personally viewed and investigated absolutely everything, not merely the usual appurtenances of camps, such as weapons, engines, trenches, ramparts and palisades, but also the private affairs of every one, both of the men serving in the ranks and of the officers themselves, - their lives, their quarters and their habits, - and he reformed and corrected in many cases practices and arrangements for living that had become too luxurious. He drilled the men for every kind of battle, honouring some and reproving others, and he taught them all what should be done. And in order that they should be benefited by observing him, he everywhere led a rigorous life and either walked or rode on horseback on all occasions, never once at this period setting foot in either a chariot or a four-wheeled vehicle. He covered his head neither in hot weather nor in cold, but alike amid German snows and under scorching Egyptian suns he went about with his head bare. In fine, both by his example and by his precepts he so trained and disciplined the whole military force throughout the entire empire that even to-day the methods then introduced by him are the soldiers' law of campaigning." (69.9.1-4; both passages in the translation of E. Cary in the Loeb edition)


Larry Lamb said...

get personally involved with drilling his men

I'm trying very hard not to be puerile here, so I'll just point out that as Hadrian was AFAIK the most openly gay Roman emperor this isn't the happiest choice of words ;-)

Alterior said...


Light said...

Thing is about Hadrian, reading between the lines he sounds like a typical Academic; intelligent and occasionally witty, but not as witty as he thought he was. Not to mention the fits of pique if he wasn't given as much praise as he felt due (in that respect, he's EXACTLY like an academic...).

Still, he was lucky enough to be Emperor just before Rome's high point; after Antoninus, it all went gradually downhill IMHO.

Alterior said...

You know many Academics?

Things may have gone downhill in Rome but don't forget about the mighty Byzantium - the continuation of the Roman Empire, Greek Orthodox style.

Light said...

Yeah, I should have made clear; the Western Empire went downhill. Mind you, the Byzantine empire seemed to slowly gradually collapse too...