March 15, 76 CE
Hadrian, Roman Emperor
H/T to The Independent, UK
The bust is classically Roman, the face imperious. But this is no ordinary emperor. As a major new exhibition at the British Museum makes clear, Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus was not only a peacemaker who pulled his soldiers out of modern-day Iraq. He was also the first leader of Rome to make it clear that he was gay.
Hadrian: Empire and Conflict will see the bust make pilgrimages to both ends of Hadrian's Wall, the first time it has left the British Museum since being found in the Thames 200 years ago. But it is the singular life-story of the gay emperor that is likely to capture the interest of most visitors.
After being made emperor AD117, he inherited a Roman Empire in its prime, which had thrived on a policy of endless expansion and conquest.
His first move, within hours of coronation, was to withdraw his troops from Mesopotamia, now Iraq, and fortify the empire's boundaries by building his eponymous wall in northern England and others in the Danube and the Rhine valleys, ushering in a new era of peace. The reign that followed can be traced through 200 ancient treasures, many of which have never been display in Britain.
Several of the artefacts relate to his male consort, Antinous, who accompanied him on his travels around the empire. These items include a poem written on papyrus, featuring the two men hunting together, and new finds that include memorials to the dead lover at Hadrian's villa in Tivoli.
Although it was not uncommon for his predecessors to have taken gay lovers alongside a female spouse, Hadrian was unique in making his love "official" in a way that no other emperor had before him.
When Antinous drowned in mysterious circumstances, Hadrian was so distraught that he chose to commemorate the young Greek by naming an Egyptian city in his honour. Thorsten Opper, curator of the exhibition, said what was unusual in Hadrian's attitude towards Antinous was the way in which he publicly deified him.
"He had to marry, and he had a politically arranged marriage to Sabina, who was the great-niece of the former emperor Trajan, which in effect, set up his succession. But clearly, it was a loveless marriage with no children. What was unusual is that he had a lot of flings, and then after his lover drowned in the Nile AD130 he made him a god.