Hadrian1900, Rome

9 July AD 118 – Hadrian enters Rome (#Hadrian1900)

After a long journey travelling from Antioch, through Asia Minor and the Danube provinces, Hadrian finally arrived in Rome on 9 July AD 118, almost a year after his accession to the throne following the death of Trajan in Cilicia. His arrival (adventus) in the capital was celebrated by the Arval Brethren with solemn sacrifices at the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill, to which the inscriptions containing the Acts of their college bear record (CIL VI 32374).

VII I[d(us) Iul(ias)] / in C[apitol]io ob adventum I[mp(eratoris) Caes(aris) Traiani Had]riani Aug(usti) fratres / [Arvales] convenerunt ib[i]que [Trebicius Decia]nus mag(ister) ob adven/[tum faustum eiusdem n]omine colle[gi(i) fratr]um Arvalium Iovi O(ptimo) M(aximo)

In the presence of the Emperor, seven beasts were sacrificed in the name of the college, one each to Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, Salus Publica, Mars Ultor, Victoria and Vesta, in thanks for his safe return and to mark his assumption of the purple.

[bovem marem Iuno]ni Reginae v[ac]cam Minervae vaccam Saluti / [publicae p(opuli) R(omani) Q(uiritium)] vaccam Mar[ti] ultori ta[urum] Victoriae vaccam / [Genio ipsius taurum i]mmola[vit adf]uer[unt in collegio Imp(erator) Caesar]

View of the foundation wall of the Capitoline Temple of Jupiter located inside the Capitoline Museum.

Hadrian’s arrival in the capital had been anticipated for many months and was marked with newly minted silver denarii that expressed the wish of the emperor’s happy return. They invoked FORTUNA REDUX (“home-bringing fortune”), the goddess who brings the Emperor safe home again.

Denarius commemorating Hadrian’s safe return to Rome from the East (RIC 41). 118 AD.
Coin from my personal collection.

The Emperor had probably completed his journey to Rome overland from Pannonia to Northern Italy and headed south along the coast to Ariminum (Rimini) and then over the Apennine Mountains on the Via Flaminia (see previous post here). Inaugurated in 220 BC by Gaius Flaminius to connect the Tyrrhenian area to the Adriatic, this long-distance road of Italy left Rome from the imposing Porta Flaminia (today Porta del Popolo) and then crossed the Tiber into Umbria to meet the sea at Fanum Fortunae where it was linked to Ariminum.

The Via Flaminia entering Sabine territory (Umbria) at Ocriculum, 44 miles from Rome, after crossing the Tiber near Pons Minucius.
The Mallio Bridge (Ponte Mallio) in the town of Cagli was part of the Via Flaminia. This is the oldest bridge on the Via Flaminia in Le Marche and is thought to have been built in the Republican age.
The western branch of Via Flaminia entering the ancient city of Carsulae in the north-south direction and coinciding with its Cardo Maximus.

The emperor entered Rome over the Milvian Bridge, a symbol of military might dedicated to the triumphant victory of Rome over Carthage and later made famous by Constantine’s military victory and his vision of the Cross.

18th-century engraving of the Milvian Bridge by Piranesi.

Extensive preparations to welcome the Princeps to the city might have begun months in advance, despite the scandal of the killings of the four consuls (see end of previous post here). As he approached the capital with his army, a welcoming committee probably consisting of magistrates, senators, equestrians and other imperial officials went out to greet their arriving ruler outside the city walls. They escorted him in a long procession down the Via Lata (the urban prolongation of the Via Flaminia and today’s Via del Corso on the east side of which Hadrian was to build insulae), riding past the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Ara Pacis and the Saepta Julia in the Campus Martius, then into the Forum through the Porta Fontinalis before proceeding along the Clivus Capitolinus, the road leading up to the Capitol with the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus at its summit.

The Clivus Capitolinus, the main road that connected the Forum Romanum to the Capitol. This was traditionally the last and culminating portion of all Triumphus.

Perhaps, as the Emperor passed, the crowds lining the roadside shouted acclamation and maybe even threw flowers in his path. Indeed, there were good reasons to be thankful. A generous donation of three gold pieces a head (worth seventy-five sesterces) had already been distributed to the plebs before the emperor’s return. A second congiarium of six aurei was now to be distributed by Hadrian in person.

He hastened to Rome in order to win over public opinion, which was hostile to him because of the belief that on one single occasion he had suffered four men of consular rank to be put to death. In order to check the rumours about himself, he gave in person a double largess to the people, although in his absence three aurei had already been given to each of the citizens. HA Hadr. 7.3

No literary source gives a description of his adventus but the Historia Augusta informs us that Hadrian showed great moderation in the use of his power. Although a proper triumph was offered to him by the Senate, he declined the offer and instead requested divine honours for his adoptive father. He also refused the title of father of his country until he had earned it by his own personal actions, just as Augustus had only accepted it late in his reign.

When the senate offered him the triumph which was to have been Trajan’s, he refused it for himself, and caused the effigy of the dead Emperor to be carried in a triumphal chariot, in order that the best of emperors might not lose even after death the honour of a triumph. HA Hadr. 6.3

Shortly afterwards, a new coin bearing the legend ADVENTVS AVG(VSTI) -“the arrival of Augustus”- was issuedThe reverse of this imperial mint shows Hadrian in civilian garb, clasping hands with the goddess Roma seated on a heap of arms.

Dupondius commemorating Hadrian’s arrival in Rome (RIC 554). AD 118.
Coin from my personal collection.

Upon his return to Rome, Hadrian’s first task was to regain his people’s favour after the mysterious deaths of four distinguished senators who were accused of plotting. This event had damaged his relationship with the Senate and the new Emperor was going to do everything he could to win back the Senate’s trust and establish his reputation as a peaceful man. This echoed with the beginning of Tiberius’ reign and the murder of Agrippa Postumus (Tac. Ann. 1.6) and nobody wanted to return to an age of tyranny when emperors murdered their enemies.

According to Dio, Hadrian was so sensitive to what people were saying about him that, within days of his arrival, he declared upon oath that he had not ordered the deaths of the four former consuls (Cassius, 69, 2.6) and distanced himself from Attianus who he shifted the blame onto. He also swore before the Senate that no senator of Rome should be put to death by his command during his reign (HA Hadr 7.4), as Nerva (Dio, 69.2) and Trajan (Dio, 69.5) had done before him. Whether Hadrian was indeed opposed to the deaths of the ex-consuls and that the murders were carried out by Attianus will never be known.

When at Rome, he frequently attended the official functions of the praetors and consuls, appeared at the banquets of his friends, visited them twice or thrice a day when they were sick, even those who were merely knights and freedmen, cheered them by words of comfort, encouraged them by words of advice, and very often invited them to his own banquets. In short, everything that he did was in the manner of a private citizen. HA Hadr. 9.7-8

Hadrian was to introduce a number of important reforms designed to gain popularity and would embark on an ambitious building programme. One of his first actions would be to cancel people’s debts to the state treasury, a very popular policy which was to have a positive economic effect. He would then initiate many construction projects. The new princeps was determined to put his mark on the capital by erecting monumental edifices but also by renovating and restoring existing buildings. His architectural accomplishments were to transform both the urban fabric and the spiritual landscape of Rome and to have a profound impact on the socio-economic life of the people of Rome.

Mary T. Boatwright, who explores in her book “Hadrian and the City of Rome” how Hadrian’s buildings changed the physical nature of the city, notes that, based on the brick stamp evidence, most of Hadrian’s building activity was to take place in the first decade of his principate. Some of his earliest building projects were going to be his Temples dedicated to the Deified Trajan and Plotina and to the Deified Matidia, his mother-in-law, as well as the Basilicas of Matidia and Marciana (Trajan’s sister). All these monuments were designed to emphasize his legitimacy as Trajan’s rightful heir, giving the appearance of continuous dynastic rule.

Map of Rome highlighting some of the buildings of Hadrian.
Mausoleum of Hadrian, Basilica of Neptune, Pantheon, Baths of Agrippa, Temple f the Deified Trajan, Temple of Venus and Roma.

At Rome he restored the Pantheon, the Voting-enclosure, the Basilica of Neptune, very many temples, the Forum of Augustus, the Baths of Agrippa, and dedicated all of them in the names of their original builders. Also he constructed the bridge named after himself, a tomb on the banks of the Tiber, and the temple of the Bona Dea. With the aid of the architect Decrianus he raised the Colossus and, keeping it in an upright position, moved it away from the place in which the Temple of Rome is now. HA Hadr. 19.10-12

Except for a trip to Campania (attested by inscriptions found in various towns) to “aid all the towns of the region with benefactions and gifts” (HA Hadr. 9.6), Hadrian was to remain in the capital until late spring AD 121. His actions while in the city would be focused on civil, senatorial and financial matters. Important reforms would include nothing less than a cancellation of all unpaid debts owed by individual citizens. In addition, games and spectacles would be provided to the masses.

Sources & references:

  • Birley, Anthony R. (1997). Hadrian. The restless emperor (pp. 93-100)
  • Everitt, A. (2009). Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome. Random House Publishing Group.
  • Opper, T. (2008). Hadrian: Empire and Conflict. The British Museum Press.
  • A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, London: Oxford University Press, 1929. (link)
  • Boatwright, M.T. (1987). Hadrian and the City of Rome. Princeton University Press.
  • Claridge, A. (2010) Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Coarelli, F. (2007), Rome and environs – an archaeological guide, Berkeley.


4 thoughts on “9 July AD 118 – Hadrian enters Rome (#Hadrian1900)”

  1. Thanks Carole, You have kept the Emperor’s name alive and inspired many like myself to explore ancient history. I have visited Rome several times and your post revives the memory of this most famous City. Thank you.
    Anthony Pulle

  2. Hello again! I checked my calendar this morning and saw today is the anniversary of Hadrian’s return to Rome and thought, “I need to post about this!” I browsed at Wikimedia Commons for an image to use, and found your “The emperor Hadrian on horseback, Turma! Hadrian’s Cavalry Charge in Carlisle.” Then, I looked around online for details about Hadrian’s return, and ended up at your translation of “The Acts of the Arval Brethren of AD 118.”

    I rediscovered *this* post after creating mine (which owes such a large debt to you). Your text, quotes and illustrations in this post are perfectly interspersed to make the information easy to read and interesting to view.

    Of course, I linked to the source material I referenced from you. Thank you for sharing your expertise! Di te incolumem custodiant!


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