In December of the year 119, Hadrian suffered a heavy personal blow. He said farewell to his beloved mother-in-law, Salonia Matidia, who had died in her early 50s.
Immediately after her death, Hadrian granted her extravagant honours. He arranged for her deification, delivered a speech of praise, turned the commemoration of her death into a public event with a gladiatorial show, issued consecration coins in her name, and even constructed a temple complex in the Campus Martius in Rome to honour her.
Matidia was the only child of Ulpia Marciana (older sister of Trajan) and praetor Caius Salonius Matidius Patriunus. According to the Feriale Duranum, a 3rd-century AD military calendar found in the garrison town of Dura-Europos (PDura 54), her dies natalis (birthday) was on 4 July, but the year of her birth is unknown (presumably c. AD 67/68). Her father died in 78, and she and her mother were admitted to the household of Trajan (her uncle) and his wife, Pompeia Plotina. Matidia was at least married twice. Her first husband was a certain L. Mindius, with whom she bore a daughter, Mindia Matidia, commonly known as Matidia the Younger. After the early death of Mindius, Matidia married former proconsul Lucius Vibius Sabinus. The couple had one daughter, Sabina, who went on to marry her second cousin, the future Emperor Hadrian, in 100.
An entry in the Fasti Ostienses (Fragment 22) records that when her mother Marciana died on 29 August 112, Trajan deified Marciana, and Matidia was awarded the honorary title of Augusta, which she shared with Trajan’s wife Plotina and was honoured at Rome and across the Empire. IIII. K. Septembr. [Marciana Aug]usta excessit divaq(ue) cognominata [eodem die Mati]dia Augusta cognominata III [Non. Sept. Mar]ciana Augusta funere censorio [elata est …]
One aureus struck between 115 and 117 capitalises on her relationship with her mother, Marciana. It depicts a diademed Matidia between the words MATIDIA AUG DIVAE MARCIANAE F (Maditia Augusta, daughter of the deified Marciana). On the reverse, Matidia is assimilated with the goddess Pietas (filial piety), underlying her role within the family and her care for her children, who continued the dynasty of Trajan.
The Historia Augusta is the only literary source that mentions Matidia. She is first mentioned as being along with Plotina and Attianus, who escorted Trajan’s ashes from Antioch to Rome (HA Had. 5.9). Two other passages record “special honours” given to her following her death.
On his mother-in‑law he bestowed special honour by means of gladiatorial games and other ceremonies. HA Had. 9.9
In Rome, in addition to popular entertainments of unbounded extravagance, he gave spices to the people in honour of his mother-in‑law. HA Had. 19.5
The Historia Augusta does not explicitly state that Matidia received divine honours. However, the numismatic record and the Acta of the Arval Brethren proclaim her consecratio and give information about the chronology. A silver denarius stamped with the legend DIVA AUGUSTA MATIDIA—CONSECRATIO was issued in 119-20, while the records of the Arval Brethren, an important Roman collegium, give a date for the consecratio (CIL VI 2080).
The date given by the Arval Brethren is 23 December 119, when Gaius Vitorius Hosidius Geta, the magister of the collegium, offered two pounds (0.9 kg) of perfume and 50 pounds (22.6 kg) of incense to the people in Matidia’s honour.
Transcript: C(aio) Heren[ni]o Apella / L(ucio) [Coe]l[io? R]ufo co(n)s(ulibus) / [m]agi[st]erio / [C(ai) Vit]ori Hosidi Ge[t]ae / X K(alendas) Ianuar(ias) / in consecra[tionem M]atidiae Aug(ustae) socrus Imp(eratoris) Caesaris Traiani Hadriani Aug(usti) unguenti p(ondo) II nomine / collegi(i) fratr[um Arvali]um per C(aium) Vitorium Hosidium Getam mag(istrum) missum turis p(ondo) L item nomine calator[um]
The consecratio referred to the funeral process of deification, and thus Matidia became a diva. An inscription has even preserved the speech that Hadrian delivered for her consecratio. The fragmented text was copied from an inscribed slab in the 16th century and was subsequently lost. Originally known as Hadriani Laudatio Matidiae (CIL XIV 3579), it was found in Tivoli (ancient Tibur), where Matidia may have died (Birley 1997, 107). The inscription was damaged when copied; thus, the speech is incomplete, with missing words and lines.
In his speech, Hadrian honoured Matidia as if she were his own mother and, as A. R. Birley notes, ascribed to her “a remarkable string of qualities”. Hadrian first praises her for her family loyalty (Translation with restored words by Christopher P. Jones, 2004).
She followed her uncle (Trajan) from his obtaining the position of emperor, and right up to that last illness by which he met his death, as his companion and intimate, revering him like a daughter, in her affection doing everything for him, and was never seen without him.
He then says that he is overcome with grief at her death, calls her “most loving mother-in-law”, and speaks of her beauty, modesty, and kindness.
But why should I say more about the character of my mother-in-law? For how could it come about that […] gravity of […] woman at all, and not… approve most highly? I would describe […] and in detail all that I felt if I were not so overcome by my present grief.
She lived as one most dear to her husband, after him most chaste through a very long widowhood (despite being) in the prime of her life and with the greatest physical beauty, most obedient to her mother, herself a most indulgent mother […]. She never asked anything of me, and did not ask for many things which I would rather have wished to be asked for.
Long thought to have been Matidia’s funeral oration, Christopher P. Jones, in his “A Speech of Emperor Hadrian,” argues that the speech was delivered before the senate on the occasion of Hadrian’s seeking her deification and that the text may have been inscribed onto a statue base, possibly set up in Hadrian’s Villa. He restores the last lines of Hadrian’s speech as follows.
As the niece of my deified father by blood, by adoption placed in the relation of cousin to me, […] uncle […] a noble title in accordance with her merits, I ask that you confer upon her the honour of consecration…
Hadrian also commissioned a vast temple devoted to her in the central Campus Martius near the Pantheon, making her the first deified woman to be honoured with her own temple inside the city limits of Rome. The building appears on the reverse of a rare bronze medallion struck by Hadrian with the legend DIVAE MATIDIAE SOCRVI (“to the deified Matidia, his mother-in-law”). It shows a small aedicula with two columns and a triangular pediment in which a female figure sits enthroned. To either side of the aedicula are projecting porticoes, two-storey high, possibly identified as the basilicas of Matidia and Marciana.
The temple is also known from a lead pipe found in 1636 near Sant’Ignazio bearing the inscription Templo Matidiae (CIL XV 7248) and the 4th-century Regionary Catalogues (Reg. IX) where it appears as basilicam Matidies et Marciani and basilicam Neptuni Matidies Marciani (LacusCurtius) and standing between the Pantheon and the Templum Antonini. There was also an altar, mentioned in one inscription (CIL VI 31893), which may have been associated with the temple.
A fragment of the Forma Urbis Romae (Fragment 36b, see here) suggests that the temple was an octastyle peripteral building, with eight columns on the front and back sides and thirteen on the long sides and that its portico covered about the same area as the neighbouring Temple of the Deified Hadrian, about 100 by 65 metres.
A few remains of this temple survive in Vicolo della Spada d’Orlando, northeast of the Pantheon between the Via dei Pastini and the Piazza Capranica. Several cipollini columns used to be seen in Piazza Capranica, two of which are embedded in a house of the square. The columns were roughly 1.70 metres in diameter, suggesting a hypothetical height of about 17 metres (F. Coarelli, Rome and Environs: An Archaeological Guide, 2014), making it taller than the Pantheon.
Giovanni Battista Piranesi drew the remains of an ancient temple in the 18th century, consisting of seven columns, five of which are still crowned by capital in the Corinthian order. Piranesi describes the building as a temple of Juturna, but the temple is otherwise unknown in this part of the Campus Martius. Because Piranesi placed this temple between the Temple of Hadrian and the Pantheon, it is assumed that he recorded the remains of the Temple of Matidia, which was later built over.
The act of deification was an unprecedented honour for a person other than the emperor himself, but from the time of Trajan, the deification of imperial women became standard. Trajan’s sister Marciana, deified in 112, was the first member of the Trajanic family to have been conferred such honours. Two more would follow after Matidia, Trajan’s wife Plotina, in 123 and Sabina, daughter of Matidia and grand-niece of Trajan, in 136. The worship of these Trajanic women seems to have emphasised family lineage and dynastic continuity, but Hadrian’s trend of deification probably also had to do with the need to legitimise his succession to the imperial throne.
Even after Hadrian’s reign, the celebration of these Trajanic divae continued, and the importance they had in Roman daily life is suggested in the Feriale Duranum. Listed in this 3rd-century calendar are religious observances along with a remarkable quantity of days devoted to celebrating Emperors, Empresses, and other members of the imperial family. Both Marciana and Plotina are included, and their entries record the celebration of their birthdays with public prayers (supplicatio).
Kal(endas) Septembr]es ọ[b nata]lẹ[m Div]ạe Maṛ[cianae Divae Marci]ạṇ[ae supplicatio]… before the Kalends of September: for the birthday of the divine Marciana, to the divine Marciana public prayer.
[ -ca.?- N]ọn(as) [I]ụlias oḅ [n]ạtalem Divaẹ Ṃaṭidiae Diva[e] Mati[di]ae supplị[cat]i[o]… 4 days before the Nones of July: for the birthday of the divine Matidia, to the divine Matidia public prayer.
Various scholars have been examining the public roles of the Trajanic women in an attempt to explain the rationale for their deification. We know from the Historia Augusta that they played a very prominent official role, accompanying the emperors all over the Empire and attending official events. They were honoured with numerous statues, coins and inscriptions and even had cities dedicated to them (Marcianopolis in eastern Thrace and Plotinopolis in southern Thrace). The buildings in Rome speak of these women’s public position and esteem and are further evidence of their prominence.
They also acted as role models for other women, not only regarding traditional female virtues as shown in texts and on coins (fidelity, devotion, discretion and modesty) but also in new roles as businesswomen and later on as benefactors (Mindia Matidia’s patronage in Suessa Aurunca and her alimentary foundation for boys and girls). They all owned extensive estates in Italy and North Africa, and some owned brick factories.
However, except for Plotina maybe, none of these women is much remembered for their political power in the historical records. Mary T. Boatwright, for example, argues that the women of the early 2nd century held no positions of influence on politics and were only honoured because of their role as guarantors of the imperial dynasty. She suggests that the Trajanic women were deified because of their virtuous behaviour as modest matrons and their power as symbols.
Whatever political power these women of the early 2nd century had, they seem to have set the example that prompted many elite women across the Empire to become benefactors and actively contribute to efforts that supported the community, particularly for the construction and restoration of public buildings, as well as children’s charities.
Sources & references:
- Birley, Anthony R. Hadrian. The restless emperor, London, New York (1997) pp.107
- James H. Oliver, The Divi of the Hadrianic Period, The Harvard Theological Review 42 (1949), 37.
- Boatwright, Mary T. The Imperial Women of the Early Second-Century A.C., AJPh, Vol. 112, No. 4 (Winter, 1991), 515.
- Bickerman, E. J. Diva Augusta Marciana. The American Journal of Philology, vol. 95, no. 4, 1974, pp. 362–376
- Smallwood, E. Mary. Documents Illustrating the Principates of Nerva, Trajan, and Hadrian. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1966)
- Coarelli, Filippo, et al. Rome and Environs: An Archaeological Guide. 1st ed., University of California Press, 2014.
- Christopher Jones, A Speech of the Emperor Hadrian, Classical Quarterly 54.1 (2004), 272-73.
- Mary T. Boatwright, Hadrian and the City of Rome, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (1987), 59.
- Brennan, T. Corey, Sabina Augusta: An Imperial Journey. Women in antiquity, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press (2018)