Baetica, Exhibition, Hadrian, Hadrian1900, Spain

Exhibition: ‘Hadrian Metamorphosis: The birth of a new Rome’ in Seville (#Hadrian1900)

The Archaeological Museum of Seville is currently hosting an exhibition to commemorate the 1900th anniversary of Hadrian’s accession to the imperial throne. In AD 117 Hadrian inherited the control of the Roman Empire from Trajan who had been his guardian and had named him as his successor. The families of both men came from Spain, from the Baetican city of Italica (Santiponce), some eight kilometres up the river Baetis (Guadalquivir) from Hispalis (today Seville). Over the years Hadrian transformed Italica, his patria, into a new city, an act reflecting the metamorphosis and the new cultural identity of the Empire.

The exhibition aims to reveal the transformations that the Roman Empire experienced under the aegis of Hadrian. The show is structured thematically into four sections: the transformation of the province of Baetica (Metamorfosis I), the new process of divination (Metamorfosis II), the emergence of a new civic model (Metamorfosis III) and the renaissance of the city of Rome (Metamorfosis IV). Each section has a display of related objects from the museum’s archaeological collection.

In the centre of the main exhibition room, a series of beautifully designed panels underline Hadrian’s promotion of cultural integration showing that Emperor’s goal was to consolidate a new, ecumenic Imperial culture, able to integrate elements that came from the most different regions of the Empire. Finally, the show brings together, for the first time, four Spanish portraits of the emperor, including the recently discovered bust from Yecla.

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Preludio: The Empire of Hadrian and the known world according to Dionysius Periegetes.

The exhibition opens with a quote from Dionysius of Alexandria, called Periegetes (the Guide), who was a contemporary of Hadrian. He composed a geographical poem for the most widely travelled emperor which offers a description of the known world in just under 1200 elegant hexameters.

Atlas holding the world upon his shoulders.

Beginning to chant the earth and broad sea, and the rivers and cities, and endless tribes of men, I will commemorate the deep-flowing Ocean. For within it the whole land, as an immense island, is crowned, not however completely circular throughout, but separately becoming more pointed towards the sun’s paths, resembling a sling.

Throughout the poem, Dionysus crosses the entire inhabited earth represented as an enormous circle of lands surrounded by the Ocean. This circle of lands was penetrated by the ocean’s gulfs and Mediterranean Sea which the Romans called Mare Nostrum. Graecia, Italia and Hispania were the three peninsulas that bordered the Sea with the cities of Athens, Rome and Italica the homelands of the Emperor. This known world became one of the symbols of Hadrian’s government, a stretch of land where a new conception of Empire was created.

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Metamorfosis I: Hadrian – From Baetica to Empire.

‘Metarmofosis I’ offers a quick overview of Hadrian’s native province and his early military career. Baetia was a region of legendary agricultural wealth and was famous for its production of olive oil exported throughout the empire. Hadrian’s family possessed fertile olive plantations a few kilometres upstream from Italica. The oil trade was highly lucrative and Baetican oil reached as far as the eastern Mediterranean. But oil was not the only great resource of Baetica as vast quantities of grain, wine and garum, a fish sauce that was indispensable for Roman cooking, were also produced. In addition, the presence of rich mines like in Munigua benefited greatly the Baetican elite which became enormously prosperous and used this wealth to gain influence in Rome and to come to power.

Relief depicting warriors. 1st century BC.

Italica had been founded as a settlement for wounded Roman soldiers left behind by the Roman general P. Cornelius Scipio after a campaign against the Carthaginians in 206 BC. Although the nearby town of Hispalis (Seville) would always remain a larger city, Italica became an important centre of Roman culture and was awarded the title of colonia. But Hadrian was born in Rome and it was in the capital that he spent his youthful years with his parents, his older sister and his wet-nurse Germana. Some time after his fourteen birthday, Hadrian was sent to Italica and enrolled in the official paramilitary youth organization, the iuvenes. There he devoted himself to hunting to such an excess that, according to the Historia Augusta, “he incurred criticism for it, and for this reason Trajan recalled him from Italica”.

Back in Rome, Hadrian, aged eighteen, embarked on a political career and served as a junior magistrate. Then he became one of the six squadron leaders in the annual parade of the Roman equites. Then, aged nineteen, he began his military career serving as tribune with the Legio II Adiutrix stationed at Aquincum (modern Budapest). As tribunus laticlavius Hadrian served right under the legionary commander (legatus). At some point in AD 96 Hadrian was sent to Lower Moesia so his time at Aquincum with the II Adiutrix lasted no much more than a year.

Ten years after its first service at Aquincum, the 30 year-old Hadrian became the first governor of the newly-created province of Pannonia Inferior (legatus praetorius). Hadrian entered the Senate in around AD 100 and went with Trajan as a comes Augusti to Dacia on a military expedition against the Dacian king Decebalus. Before the end of the Dacian campaign Hadrian was appointed as governor of the province of Lower Pannonia and took command of Legion II Adiutrix which he had first served as military tribune. Then in 108, at the age of 32, he became consul. In 114 Trajan gathered an army against Parthia and took Hadrian with him to Antioch to be appointed governor of Syria. In August 117, Hadrian was hailed emperor in Antioch (see here).

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Metamorfosis II: From emperor to god.

‘Metarmofosis II’ focuses on the relationship between the emperor and the divine, the magic and the astrology. Throughout his reign, Hadrian was associated with Jupiter, the most powerful god, the head of the Roman state religion. Numerous representations of Hadrian in the guise of a god or reflecting his divine status have survived in Italica and elsewhere.

Exhibited in this section is a marble hand holding the lightning bolts of Jupiter. This fragment was found in Italica and has been attributed to a statue of Hadrian.

Right hand of a statue holding Jupiter’s lightning bolt. From Italia, 117-138 AD.

Also on display are the remains of three fragments of a colossal marble statue, all linked to the great imperial temple that presided over the city of Italica and dated to the 2nd half of the 2nd century AD. The Romans believed that the god Jupiter granted domination to the Emperors over the universe by handing them the lightning bolt.

For every city has dedicated a likeness of the emperor Hadrian, and the Athenians have surpassed them in dedicating, behind the temple, the remarkable colossus. Pausanias 1.18.6

Fragments of a colossal statue from Italica.

Hadrian revived the tradition of consultation at the old oracular centers like in Claros and was initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries at the sanctuary of Demeter and Kore in Eleusis. During the reign of Hadrian, the Eleusinian mysteries and the sanctuary itself gained a new importance and a major programme of building works began with the creation of Hadrian’s Panhellenion.

Hadrian also had an interest in astrology and after the death of Antinous he identified an asterism in the sky with Antinous and named the constellation after him. Antinous was defied and likened to an array of different gods, from Osiris to Silvanus and Dionysus. Hadrian gave encouragement to those who wanted to make Antinous the object of a new cult which became popular among the common people.

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Metamorfosis III: The homelands of the emperor.

‘Metamorfosis III’ explores the three places were Hadrian was the most at home: Rome, Italica and Athens. Hadrian was born in Rome while Italica was the home of his family. The Athenians gave him Athenian citizenship and elected him archon eponymous, their chief official, in AD 112. Each of these cities underwent important transformations under the aegis of Hadrian.

And yet he did not see his native land [Italica], though he showed it great honour and bestowed many splendid gifts upon it. Cassius Dio, 69.10.1

Hadrian rebuilt his ancestral home on the scale of an imperial city. Under his rule, an entire new quarter was laid out and the city enjoyed a period of splendour during which its architectural development flourished. The new amenities included an amphitheatre with a seating capacity of 25,000 as well as vast baths, a temple dedicated to the deified Trajan (Traianeum), luxurious houses with a rich variety of mosaic floors, a new water supply system and a drainage network. Hadrian also granted Italica the elevated status of a Roman colonia under the new name of Colonia Aelia Augusta Italica.


Hadrian was especially fond of Athens and the city received imperial largesse on an unprecedented scale. Among his most ambitious projects were the completion of the Temple of Zeus, the building of a new library as well as a Temple dedicated to Hera and another dedicated to all the Gods (Pantheon).


In Rome, Hadrian’s building program was notable for its innovative architecture. The Pantheon, the Temple of Venus and Roma as well as Hadrian’s Mausoleum all left their mark on the monumental landscape of the city. Hadrian not only transformed the city by erecting new buildings but also renovated and embellished other monumental edifices in the Forum and Campus Martius areas.

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Metamorfosis IV: The birth of a new Rome.

With all these transformations in Rome, the eternal city experienced a renaissance with Hadrian. This renaissance is the theme of ‘Metamorfosis IV’. The ancient Romans celebrated the founding of their city every April 21st in the festival of Parilia and Hadrian promoted renewed interest in themes related to the origins of Rome. In AD 121, Hadrian marked the 874th birthday of the city of Rome with circus games. A new golden age was proclaimed with the transformation of the Parilia into the Romaia, the Natalis Urbis Romae. On this day, Hadrian also dedicated a new temple dedicated to Venus, the divine ancestress of the Roman people, and to Roma herself.

Fountain with the representation of the myth of Romulus and Remus, from Italica.
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The interlude panels, in the centre of the exhibition, present the process of integration of cultural elements to the Empire from all corners of the Mediterranean, from Italica to Egypt, Greece and Asia Minor.

Interludio: The components for the metamorphosis.

One panel is showing how Hadrian celebrated his Hispanic heritage through coinage by associating himself with Hercules Gaditanus. The Iberian peninsula had numerous Hercules sanctuaries and one of the most famous was the shrine of Hercules located in Gades (modern-day Cadíz), a wealthy port city located at the edge of the known world. Gades was also the ancestral home of Hadrian’s mother, Domitia Paulina. Three varieties of this aureus type were struck by Hadrian including one with the inscription HERC GADIT. A second aureus type is showing Hercules in a temple accompanied by two Hesperides, the mythical people to whom Hercules went in fulfillment of his penultimate labor to recover the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. A third type is showing Hercules in temple standing behind the god Oceanus.

Another panel is dedicated to one of Hadrian’s passion, hunting. Hadrian was a passionate and excessive hunter. He spent most of his youth in Italica occupied with this pursuit and he continued hunting wherever he went as Emperor. The tondi reused in the Arch of Constantine testified to his devotion to hunting as well as the creation of the city Hadrianoutherai (Hadrian’s Hunts) in Asia Minor where he had killed a she-bear. In time of peace, the imagery of Hadrian’s hunts was used as an expression of power and as a demonstration of his virtues.

Two statues of Diana, the goddess of hunting, were found in Italica. The most complete one is showing the goddess dressed in her usual iconographic attire. She is wearing high boots, a chiton (tunic), a cloak and a diadem in the form of a half moon. Her quiver for arrows is lost but she does have the strap to hold one across her chest. Both figures date to the time of Hadrian.

Two more panels are dedicated to Hadrian’s concern for the fiscal and economic well-being of the empire. At the beginning of his reign, Hadrian cancelled debts owned to the treasury and burned promissory notes worth 900 million sestertii. He also reformed many laws, like the ones regulating olive oil or the local water supply in the Ebro valley in northern Spain (lex rivi Hiberiensis).

A marble relief, now housed inside the Curia on the Forum Romanum in Rome, depicts the burning of tax records (syngraphae) in the presence of the emperor, probably Hadrian. This act of generosity was also celebrated in the imperial coinage. A coin of Hadrian depicts either Hadrian himself or a lector applying a torch to a pile of records (stipulationes) with the legend RELIQVA VETERA HS NOVIES MILL ABOLITA, literally translating to “old receipts in the amount of nine times a hundred thousand sestertii cancelled.”

Sestertius of Hadrian depicting the burning of public debt, AD 118.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Hadrian also took various measures to improve the fiscal and economic performances of the provinces. The benevolent policy toward the provinces is well recorded on the coinage where Hadrian chose to be portrayed as restitutor (restorer) of many individual provinces. On the coins’ reverse Hadrian is shown extending a hand to a kneeling province (Achaea, Arabia, Africa, Asia, Bithynia, Hispania, Galia, Phrygia…).

Next come two other panels showing how Hadrian championed Greek and Egyptian culture. Hadrian had a lifelong passion for Greece and Greek culture. He was introduced to Greek education at an early age and embraced it with great enthusiasm which inspired his nickmane ‘Graeculus’ (“the Greekling”).

Head of Alexander the Great from Italica.

Hadrian was strongly influenced by Greek culture and, during his time as an Emperor, Greek cities received special care and preferential treatment, especially Athens. He also spent large periods of his reign in the Greek East. In Italica a monument dedicated to Alexander the Great was erected, linking the Hispanic emperors with the Macedonian hero.

Throughout his travels across Egypt, Hadrian intended to strengthen the Hellenistic influences in this far corner of his empire. The emperor visited the country in AD 130 and promoted the cult of the Graeco-Egyptian god Serapis and of the goddess Isis.  He also commissioned buildings and sculptures connected with the worship of Osiris for his villa in Tivoli near Rome.

Head of Isis, from Italica.

After the death of Antinous on the Nile, his identification with Osiris became one of the most striking novelties of the Hadrianic era. The Egyptian motifs reached the most remote corners such as Italica where mosaics with Nilotic scenes decorated the houses and a small shrine devoted to Isis was built behind the theatre.

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Finally, an adjacent room is showing the multiple images of the emperor by displaying four marble portraits from Spain. This section of the exhibition has been named “Varius, Multiplex, Multiformis”, the three Latin adjectives famously employed by ancient writers to describe Hadrian’s complex, many-sided personality.

A bust found in Italica is presented alongside three more busts from Tarragona, Mérida and Yecla. The latter was discovered three years ago and is being exhibited for the first time outside Murcia.

Two other portraits of the imperial family are also exhibited, one of Trajan and another one of Sabina, Hadrian’s wife. The marble head of Trajan was discovered in 2008 in a well in the Roman city of Regina Turdulorum located in the Badajoz province, just outside Casas de Reina. The head of Sabina comes from Italica.

Marble Head of Trajan discovered in 2008 inside a well located in the forum of Regina Turdulorum.
Portrait of empress Vibia Sabina found in Italica.

Hadrian Metamorphosis. The birth of the new Rome” is on show until April 8, 2018.

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