Sunday, August 28, 2011


A review of Anthony Everitt's Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome (2009)

(Rating 5 of 5)

Antony Everitt's biography of the Emperor Hadrian is very different from his earlier biographies on the Emperor Augustus and the orator Cicero. The reason is the difference of subjects' time periods. In the two earlier books, one system, the Republic, is coming to an end, while a new system, the Principate of the Roman Empire, is established. Cicero tries to save the Republic and dies in the attempt, while Augustus creates the Principate and rules until his seventies. When Hadrian was born the Principate had been established for over a hundred years. Rome was now in the reign of Emperor Vespasian, who took over at the brief interruption of the Pax Romana, the Year of the Four Emperors. Hadrian would be born a citizen of Rome, living under the rule of emperors until ultimately becoming the Emperor himself.

(Emperor Hadrian)

Hadrian's family came from the province of Spain, his ancestors having settled there after the Second Punic War. Through political connections his father would rise to become a senator of Rome. Because of his family and the fact that his father died when he was rather young he received a guardian named Trajan. Trajan was a soldier who would also rise to the height of Roman society by wearing the imperial purple.

(Hadrian's guardian, adopted father, and predcessor: Emperor Trajan)

Everitt's biography of Hadrian is actually a history of Rome during the mid-imperial period. While Hadrian rises through the ranks of the military and Roman upper-class senatorial society, Everitt also tells the story of the Flavian dynasty of Emperor Vespasian and his two sons, Emperors Titus and Domitian. The three emperors do battle not only in the field but at home in the Senate. The Stoic opposition, senators who resisted these three emperors with civil disobedience, to use a modern term, are quite a handful for the three rulers.

When Emperor Domitian is assassinated he is replaced by a senior senator named Emperor Nerva. Nerva has a short but important reign, he is known as the first of the five good emperors, who guide Rome in what is regarded as its Golden Age. Emperor Nerva adopts Trajan as his son and successor. This puts Hadrian in direct contact with the imperial throne. He works his way up during Trajan's reign, fighting in the army and assisting in the administration of the Empire. He is adopted by Emperor Trajan and succeeds him upon his death.

The book then goes in to the reign of the middle emperor of Rome's five good ones. Hadrian as an emperor was active, liked to travel though his empire, and was generally a good ruler. Emperor Hadrian stops Rome's conquests, wishing to change the Empire's mission from unlimited expansion to defense and internal improvement. Hadrian is a great builder who improves the city and the provinces. Everitt tells of his love affair with Antinous, his trials in the Senate, and his undying love of Greek culture.

The only one complaint I have about this book is the capitalization. I realize I should not care that much but I really cannot stand it. ‘Emperor Hadrian succeeds emperor Trajan as ruler of the Roman empire.’ Seriously, it drives both me and my grammar check nuts. Everitt has retained this practice from his book Augustus, but he did not in Cicero.

Nevertheless this is a great book and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the Roman Empire and its rulers.

{Video posted from YouTube}

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