Epigraphy, Hadrian1900, Turkey

13 October AD 117 – Hadrian travels back to Rome and reaches Mopsucrene (#Hadrian1900)

At the beginning of October AD 117, the moment came for Hadrian to depart from Antioch, leaving the command of the province of Syria to Catilius Severus, who had just been installed as legate. However, the Emperor could not return directly to Rome. He had received news of the uprising of the Sarmatian tribes who lived beyond the lower and middle Danube. The Iazyges were mounting an offensive against the frontier of Pannonia while the Roxolani, who lived on the Eastern Ukrainian steppe, were attacking the limes of Moesia Inferior. Hadrian dispatched the armies from the east ahead of him and departed Syria as soon as possible.

Then, on hearing of the incursions of the Sarmatians and Roxolani, he sent the troops ahead and set out for Moesia. HA Hadr. 6.6

Voyage of Hadrian 117-118.
Map created by Simeon Netchev for World History Encyclopedia and Following Hadrian (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

The first stage of Hadrian’s journey towards Dacia was to take him to Ancyra (modern Ankara) in central Asia Minor. On 13 October 117, the new Emperor arrived in Mopsucrene, a city located north of Tarsus in the eastern part of the province of Cilicia.

What routes did Hadrian take from Antioch to Rome via the Balkans? Most of the literary sources from the 2nd century AD have been lost, and the Historia Augusta, one among several later sources, summarises it in just a few words.

…he [Hadrian] then appointed Catilius Severus governor of Syria, and proceeded to Rome by way of Illyricum. HA Hadr. 5.10

Fortunately, we can reconstruct Hadrian’s journey between Antioch and Illyria today thanks to several epigraphical sources. The document concerning Hadrian’s presence at Mopsucrene is a fragmentary inscription found in Rome that carries the names of the stations along the road from Mopsucrene to Andabalis (CIL VI 5076). The inscription is of unknown date but, as suggested by W. Weber in 1907 and acknowledged by A. von Domaszewski, seems to refer to Hadrian’s march in AD 117 and indicates that Hadrian had reached the city of Mopsucrene in Cilicia by 13 October (III Id. Oct.).

CIL VI 5076

Hadrian’s journey back to Rome 117-118 (part 1).
Map created by Simeon Netchev for Following Hadrian (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). Click to enlarge.

Mopsucrene was a road station on the river Cydnus between Tarsus and the Cilician Gates (the Taurus mountain pass). Its site was located on the southern slope of Mount Taurus, and the ancient itineraries placed it XII miles from Tarsus. Mopsucrene’s foundations lie in the legend of the soothsayer Mopsus, who lived there before the Trojan War (Mopsukrene means “the fountain of Mopsus” in Greek). Mopsus appears in ancient sources as the son of Apollo (or, according to Paus. 7.3.2, of Rhacius) and Manto, the Theban prophetess and daughter of Teiresias. Mopsus was worshipped as a god by the Cilicians and appeared to be the incarnation of Apollo of Claros. His name also survives in the town of Mopsu(h)estia (Mopsus’ hearth in Greek), which was named Hadriana under Hadrian. Mopsuestia was probably on Hadrian’s route, as were Tarsus and Adana, before reaching Mopsucrene on 13 October. The ancient city of Mopsucrene seems to have been completely destroyed, as no remains have been found. Only some traces of ancient life were observed by the French historian and archaeologist Victor Langlois in 1852.

The route followed by Hadrian, which led from Antioch to Ancyra, appears on the Itinerarium Burdigalense, an account of a journey to the Holy Land made in AD 333 by an anonymous pilgrim from Bordeaux. It lists over three hundred stops and cities (listed as mutatio, mansion or civitas) between Burdigale (modern Bordeaux) and Jerusalem with the distances between them. The itinerary also lists each boundary crossing from one Roman province to the next. In addition to the Itinerarium Burdigalense, Hadrian’s route appears on two other ancient documents; it is described in the Itinerarium Antonini (Antonine Itinerary) and depicted on the road map known as the Tabula Peutingeriana (Peutinger map) which includes features such as staging posts, spas, distances between stages, large rivers, and forests.

The road from Antioch to Adana is depicted on the Tabula Peutingeriana.

The distances between stops are generally counted in Roman miles. As recorded on the Itinerarium Burdigalense, Mopsucrene was located 12 miles from Tarsus and 27 miles from Adana. However, on the inscription found in Rome, the distances travelled by Hadrian are not counted in miles but days of journeys; i.e. it took Hadrian one day to travel from Mopsucrene to Panhormos and two days to travel from Aquae Calidae to Tyana. Since the Itin. Burdig. records that Mopsucrene was located 26 miles from Panhormos and Aquae Calidae 25 miles from Tyana, Hadrian appears to have travelled at an approximate speed of 25 Roman miles a day (37 km).

The total length of Hadrian’s journey from Antioch in Syria to Mopsucrene in Cilicia appears to have been around 154 Roman miles (228 km). It would, therefore, be reasonable to say that Hadrian left Antioch around 6 October.

The fragmented inscription is missing Hadrian’s journey from Antioch to Mopsucrene, but based on the ancient itineraries and data from the Digital Atlas of ORBIS and The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, a hypothetical itinerary reconstruction using Google Maps is proposed here.

On leaving Antioch, Hadrian headed north through the plain of Antioch and towards the Syrian Gates (today’s Belen Pass) near the city of Pagrae. The narrow pass through the Amanus Mountains (Nur Mountains), said to be 300 paces across, was the most important route from the coastal region of Cilicia to inland Syria. The pass is perhaps best known as the point through which Alexander the Great pursued the forces of Darius III of Persia after the Battle of Issus.

A nineteenth-century view of the Belen Pass or Syrian Gates in the Nur Mountains (ancient Amanus Mountains).

Continuing north along the coast and passing through the cities of Pictanus and Alexandria ad Issum, Hadrian crossed the Pinarus River near Baiae (modern Payas). After travelling along the Issicus Sinus (now the Gulf of Alexandretta) and crossing the frontier between the provinces of Syria and Cilicia near Issus, he probably reached the vicus of Catavolo the following day.

The stone bridge over the ancient Pinarus River at Payas, Hatay, Turkey.

From Catavolo, the route led west towards the Cilician plain and three cities that would later call themselves “Hadriane“; Mopsuestia, Adana and Tarsus. Mopsuestia (also known as Misis) was an important city of eastern Cilicia, located on both banks of the river Pyramus (modern Ceyhan River). It was a civitas libera (a free city) under the Romans, and the two parts of the city were connected by a handsome bridge built by Constantius in the 4th century AD. This bridge is today the most impressive remains of the ancient city and is still in use.

There is in Cilicia a certain city called Mopsuestia, said to be the work of that ancient seer. Alongside this flows the Pyramus River, which, while it adds beauty to the city, can be crossed only by a bridge. But as much time passed it came about that the greater part of the bridge had suffered; indeed it seemed to be on the point of falling at any moment and for this reason death faced those who crossed it. Procopius De Aedificiis [Buildings of Justinian, Book V]

The Roman bridge of Mopsuestia over the river Pyramus with the Acropolis is about 50 m high to the west.

From Mopsuestia, Hadrian continued to travel west and reached the city of Adana, located 18 miles away. A great bridge over the Sarus River (modern Seyhan River) would be built under his reign. It is the only classical monument of Adana that survived the centuries.

The Roman bridge at Adana (Taşköprü) was built during the reign of Hadrian and later restored by Justinian. Crossing the Sarus River, the bridge is 300m long with 14 arches. Today, it is a prominent symbol of Adana.

Adana first appeared in the literature during the time of Alexander the Great and was known as Antiochia ad Sarum when Cilicia was under the suzerainty of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the 2nd century BC. After Pompey’s victory at Korakesion in 67 BC, Adana was settled by Cilician pirates whom Pompey had conquered. The city’s economic prosperity throughout its history was achieved due to the fertile area and its vital position in the communications network. During the reign of Hadrian, the Cilician city minted imperial coins carrying the word ΑΔΑΝΕΩΝ (of Adana), the god Adanos, the eponymous founder of the city, and the goddess Tyche. Adanos was the son of Uranos and Gaia and the brother of Kronos and Rhea.

CILICIA, Adana. Time of Hadrian, or later. Circa 2nd century AD. Head of the hero Adanos right / Turreted, veiled and draped bust of Tyche right. SNG Levante 1224.

Probably the following day, on 12 October, Hadrian reached Tarsus, the capital of the province of Cilicia. The ancient city was located on the western part of the Cilician plain along the Cydnus River, where the Taurus Mountains make a broad curve towards the west. Like Adana, Tarsus still preserves its ancient name.

Hadrian AR Tetradrachm of Tarsus, Cilicia. On the reverse turreted bust of Tyche of Tarsus holding palm and river-god Cydnus swimming below.
© The Trustees of the British Museum (link)

With a history going back over 6,000 years, Tarsus has long been an important stop for traders and a focal point of many civilisations. In 41 BC, the city was the scene of the first meeting between Mark Antony and Cleopatra. It is said that Cleopatra was able to sail in her richly decorated barge into the very heart of the city.

…she came sailing up the river Cydnus in a barge with gilded stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the music of flutes and fifes and harps. She herself lay all along, under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful young boys, like painted Cupids, stood on each side to fan her. Her maids were dressed like Sea Nymphs and Graces, some steering at the rudder, some working at the ropes. Plutarch, Life of Marcus Antonius (XXVI)

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, ‘The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra: 41 BC’ (1883).

Following Hadrian’s visit, Tarsus took the name Hadriane, and the Hadrianeia festival was established. Temples for the provincial imperial cult would be built under his reign and under Commodus, whose city’s link with Heracles attracted his attention. Foundations of a massive temple podium (ca. 106,80 m long and 50,70 m wide), today called “Donuktaş, have been identified to the east of Tarsus.

Classical Tarsus lies deep beneath the modern city, and recent excavations have revealed its ancient urban plan. A paved collonaded street running in an east-west direction with shops and other buildings was unearthed in the heart of modern Tarsus in 1993. The road is about 6.5 m wide and paved with polygonal black basalt blocks, some 2 m in width. The street appears to have been built in the middle of the 2nd century BC during the Seleucid period, but the collonaded portico that flanked the street was built between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD.

Paved colonnaded street unearthed in Tarsus in 1993.

Tarsus’s route to Mopsucrene turned north, leading across the Taurus Mountains. This mountain range divided Cilicia to the south from Cappadocia and Lycaonia to the north. A road named Via Tauri (“Taurus road”) provided the means of crossing the mountain chain. The northern terminus was in the ancient city of Tyana, while the southern terminus was in Tarsus. The chief passes over the Taurus range were the Cilician Gates, known to the ancients as the Pylae Ciciliae, through which the main road led to the Anatolian plateau in the north and Cilicia in the south.

Map showing the approximate course of the Via Tauri, probably from the Scottish historian William Mitchel Ramsay.

A long stretch of the Via Tauri between Tarsus and the Cilician Gates (known locally as Roma Yolu) can still be seen today 12 miles north of the city near the village of Saglikli. The road was paved with polygonal limestone slabs and bordered with curbs. Caracalla repaired the Via Tauri in AD 217 by widening the tracks after the road had collapsed over time. The repairs were done during Caracalla’s eastern expedition against the Parthians.

The Via Tauri between Tarsus and Mopsucrene.

As recorded in the inscription found in Rome, Hadrian would continue to travel northward to reach Panhormos the following day (14 October).

Sources & references:

  • A. Birley, Hadrian, the Restless Emperor, Londres-New York 1997. p. 83
  • W. Weber, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des Kaisers Hadrianus, Leipzig 1907, 59
  • R. Syme, Journeys of Hadrian, ZPE, 73 (1988), 159-170
  • J. Turchetto, The Via Tauri and the Ancient Road Network of Southern, Proceedings of the 8th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East (Icaane), Warsaw, 30th April – 4th May 2012
  • H. Halfmann, Itinera prin-cipum.Geschichte und Tipologie der Kaiserreisen im römischen Reich, Stuttgart 1986.
  • D. Magie, Roman Rule in Asia Minor, Volume 1 (Text): To the End of the Third Century, Princeton University Press, 1950.
  • French, D. H., Roman Roads and Milestones of Asia Minor. Vol. 4 The Roads. Fasc. 4.1 Notes on the Itineraria [British Institute at Ankara Electronic Monograph, n. 10], 2016.
  • De Giorgi, A. (2016). Ancient Antioch.From the Seleucid Era to the Islamic Conquest (pp. I-Ii). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



5 thoughts on “13 October AD 117 – Hadrian travels back to Rome and reaches Mopsucrene (#Hadrian1900)”

  1. If a wall ran north south instead of east west it might be easier to find a head on it . Cheers . Love this blog .

  2. Hi Carole
    Thank you again for this blog, its the 3rd time i read it, always registering more of the fascinating data you manage to ‘unearth’!.
    A very happy belated Saturnalia to you and Hadrian, your Altar was a delightful tribute to this special of Emperors.
    Sincere Wishes to you for the New Year.
    Anthony Pulle
    Freiburg / Nerja

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