Hadrian Hall of Fame or Shame?

Rise to Power

Publius Aelius Hadrianus, commonly known as Hadrian, was born in 76 AD. After the death of his father in 85 AD, Hadrian was left in the care of his father’s cousin, a man named Trajan. Hadrian received military training in Italica shortly after and built up popularity and rank through a career in the military. As Trajan was elected consul, Hadrian began advancing through a series of important positions such as military tribune for three different Roman legions, quaestor, and praetor. When Nerva announced Trajan as the next in line for emperor, Hadrian was promoted to the inner circles along with him. Hadrian served his last important position as the leader of a crucial army in Syria during Trajan’s reign before Trajan adopted him and declared him as his successor. Hadrian ruled from 117 AD until his death caused by sickness in 138 AD and provided the Roman Empire many benefits in the duration of his reign.

Busts of Hadrian and his predecessor, Trajan.


Despite his frequent absences from Rome and constant pursuits of his own passions, Hadrian belongs in the Hall of Fame because he sacrificed territory for stability, inspired unity in his citizens, and promoted infrastructure for the safety of the Roman Empire.
A statue of Hadrian.

Sacrificed Territory to Save Empire

During his time as emperor, Trajan conquered many different territories and expanded the Roman lands exponentially. However, when Trajan died, many of the conquered nations began to rebel. There were uprisings, revolts, and rebellions across much of the empire. Most territories “could not be kept under Roman sovereignty” and “displayed their spirit of rebellion” (“Hadrian - the Rise to Power”). Although it meant losing land, which was viewed as a sign of weakness, Hadrian returned sovereignty back to many of the nations causing trouble. He withdrew Roman troops from Mesopotamia, abandoned newly conquered Armenia and Assyria, and returned independence back to the Parthians. The decision to sacrifice Roman land was one of the earliest in Hadrian’s reign as emperor. It was perceived by many as Rome giving up some of its power, and Hadrian being unable to keep territories under control the same way Trajan had before him, but Hadrian knew it was the best decision for the well-being of the empire. Rebellions were still causing immense trouble in different corners of the empire. It was necessary for Hadrian to cede territory and to give independence to the newly conquered territories in order for the rebellions to subside. An incredible amount of resources and military power were needed to contain these rebellions, and it was a considerable loss for the empire. Hadrian managed to stop the drain of resources and protect Rome from attacks without much loss on the Roman side. By sacrificing the newly conquered lands, Hadrian saved Rome from a downfall caused by military and economic strain, and ensured stability for Rome's borders for years to come.

The territories added to the Roman Empire by the time Hadrian became emperor, which had been proven too difficult to control.

Inspired Unity in Citizens

Hadrian was very interested in architecture. He was involved in many different construction and design projects, but his magnum opus was the Pantheon. The Pantheon had originally been built by Agrippa, and was rebuilt later by Domitian, but was destroyed during Trajan’s reign. It was because of this that Hadrian decided to rebuild the Pantheon in all of its former glory. The Pantheon was “universally acclaimed as an architectural masterpiece and an apt symbol of both imperial and divine power”, and was built to reflect the glory of the Roman Empire (Hutchinson). The Pantheon, unlike all of the other temples at the time, was designed specifically for public use with its focus on interior space. Originally, no one was allowed inside temples because that was where the statues of the gods were. The Pantheon was the first of its kind. The symbol of divine power increased Hadrian’s legitimacy as a leader and also stressed his larger than life image. The prosperity of the gods related directly to that of the emperor, and divine power translated into imperial power. The pride aroused by worshipping in the Pantheon was held with strong conviction by the people of Rome. Under the same conviction, the citizens became closer and united under the glorious image of Rome.

The Pantheon was built and designed by Hadrian from 118-125 AD.

Protected the Empire with Infrastructure

Hadrian visited the province of Britannia in 122 AD after hearing of the many rebellions there. The rebellions posed a great threat to the empire, causing Hadrian to come up with a way to protect Roman territory. Hadrian’s predecessors had already attempted to install military outposts along the border of northern England and Scotland, but these had not worked as planned. Hadrian instead came up with the idea of building a wall. The wall, called Hadrian’s Wall, was approximately 73 miles long, spanned almost the entire width of Britain and marked the northern frontier of the empire for an additional 300 years. There was a fortified gateway after every Roman mile along the wall. The gateways had towers known as a milecastles that had 20-30 soldiers. Hadrian’s wall also allowed the Romans to stop hostile invasions and exercise control on either side more effectively. The wall served as a necessary source of protection for the Romans. By building the wall, Hadrian effectively put an end to the danger caused by the attacks threatening Rome’s border. The wall also served as an example of the power and glory of Rome, and provided it with legitimacy as a strong empire.

The wall built and designed by Hadrian in England, which still stands today.


Emperor Hadrian belongs in the Hall of Fame because of his focus on keeping the empire safe and secure, as well as encouraging solidarity among his people. By focusing on bringing the empire together and its safety, Hadrian emphasized the importance of a lasting Roman legacy. Hadrian’s reign, characterized by peace, marked a strong, stable, and flourishing time for Rome. For empires and countries to carry on with success, it is necessary for the leaders to focus on building them from the inside, and not just on military campaigns. Hadrian’s emphasis on strengthening the security of Rome and bringing together the people helped to usher in another Golden Age and set a precedent for all future emperors.

A monument for Hadrian, showing the emperor being greeted by a goddess, members of the Senate, and the Roman people.

Works Cited

Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. New York, Modern Library, 1983.

“Hadrian.” Britannica School, Encyclopædia Britannica, 6 Apr. 2015. Accessed 17 Feb. 2017.

“Hadrian’s Wall.” World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras, ABC-CLIO, 2017. Accessed 16 Feb. 2017.

“Hadrian - the Rise to Power.” British Museum, Trustees of the British Museum, N/A, www.britishmuseum.org/explore/themes/leaders_and_rulers/hadrian.aspx. Accessed 2 Mar. 2017.

Hutchinson, Jennifer. “Pantheon.” World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras, ABC-CLIO, 2017. Accessed 17 Feb. 2017.

Simkin, John. “Emperor Hadrian.” Spartacus Educational, Spartacus Educational Publishers, Aug. 2014, spartacus-educational.com/ROMhadrian.htm. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

Tucker, Spencer C. “Hadrian.” World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras, ABC-CLIO, 2017. Accessed 15 Feb. 2017.

Image Links:

Title image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadrian#/media/File:Bust_of_Emperor_Hadrian._Roman_117-138_CE._Probably_From_Rome,_Italy._Formerly_in_the_Townley_Collection._Now_housed_in_the_British_Museum,_London.jpg

"Busts of Hadrian and his predecessor, Trajan." https://www.flickr.com/photos/carolemage/9468092982/

"A statue of Hadrian." https://followinghadrian.com/portraits-of-hadrian/#jp-carousel-2792

"The territories added to the Roman Empire by the time Hadrian became emperor, which had been proven too difficult to control." http://www.odysseyadventures.ca/articles/hadrian-wall/01map-empire.jpg

"The Pantheon was built and designed by Hadrian from 118-125 AD." http://antinousgaygod.blogspot.com/2016/04/hadrians-pantheon-becomes-sundial-for.html

"The wall built and designed by Hadrian in England, which still stands today." http://hadrianswallcountry.co.uk/hadrians-wall

"A monument for Hadrian, showing the emperor being greeted by a goddess, members of the Senate, and the Roman people." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadrian#/media/File:0_Monument_honoraire_d’Hadrien_-_L%27empereur_accueilli_par_la_déesse_Rome_(2).JPG

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