No other Roman emperors travelled as much as Hadrian. He was famed for his endless journeys around the empire and devoted a full half of his 21-year reign to the inspection of the provinces (he remained in Rome in 119-120, 126-127 and the final years of his reign). My fascination for Hadrian and my passion for travelling have motivated me to follow in his footsteps.
So fond was he of travel, that he wished to inform himself in person about all that he had read concerning all parts of the world.
Historia Augusta – The Life of Hadrian
The year 2017 marked the 1,900th anniversary of Hadrian’s accession to the imperial throne, and I myself was born precisely 1,900 years after Hadrian. Therefore, I took this opportunity to celebrate Hadrian’s legacy in an even more exciting way. The commemoration will last about 21 years, from 2017 to 2038. I usually try to use Hadrian’s journeys as a leading thread for my own adventures, but with this project, I want to go one step further. I aim to trace Hadrian’s journeys in strict chronological order so that I would consistently be present at the same place and the same age as he was, only 1900 years later. The first four years of Hadrian’s reign (AD 117-121) have already been completed.
AD 117–118: Returning to Rome from Syria by way of the north-eastern frontier
Hadrian’s first imperial journey began soon after he had been proclaimed emperor by the army in Syria. At the time, Hadrian had taken up residence in Antioch as governor of Syria while Trajan was campaigning in the East. Trajan died on the 8 August AD 117 (read here); on the 9th, it was announced that he had adopted Hadrian (read here), and on the 11th, the troops hailed Hadrian as emperor (read here).
After receiving the news of Trajan’s death, Hadrian did not travel directly back to Rome. According to the HA, Hadrian set out from Antioch to view the remains of Trajan. Trajan’s ashes were sent to Rome by ship whilst Hadrian returned to Antioch. He finally left Antioch in September 117 and journeyed north-westwards to sort out the Danube frontier. Hadrian’s path took him from Syria to Ancyra (read here) and Byzantium before heading to Dacia, where he conducted negotiations with the king of the Roxolani (read here). Then Hadrian’s remained in the Danube lands for a couple of months (read here) and finally left for Rome, which he reached on 9 July AD 118 (read here).
The journey of Hadrian in Cilicia was recorded on an inscription in Rome (CIL VI 5076) which carries the names of stations on the high road from Tarsus to Andabalis in Cappadocia is equipped with dates from 12 to 19 October. However, the end of his journey from Pannonia to Rome is uncertain, and I decided to use Anthony R. Birley’s suggestion that Hadrian travelled from Pannonia to Rome overland into the plains around the Venetian lagoon and headed south along the coast to Ariminum (Rimini) and down the Via Flaminia.
AD 121–125: Hadrian’s first voyage
After nearly three years in Rome, Hadrian turned his attention to the western provinces. After he had celebrated the birthday of the city and inaugurated the Temple of Venus and Roma in April of the year 121 (read here), Hadrian then set out for Gaul (read here), with time available for inspecting the military installations between the Rhine (read here) and the Danube in Raetia (read here) and Noricum. In 122, Hadrian crossed to Britain from Germania Inferior with Platorius Nepos, the newly appointed governor of Britannia. Hadrian aimed to strengthen the line of separation between Roman and non-Roman territory by constructing a long wall across the country (see here).
Toward the end of 122, Hadrian left Britain for Spain and passed by Nemausus, where he enjoined that a basilica is built in honour of Plotina, Trajan’s wife (read here). Then, Hadrian spent the winter of 122/3 in Tarraco (read here) but failed (?) to return to the province Baetica and Italica, the patria of the Aelii. While in Spain, a rebellion in Mauretania (modern-day Morocco) broke out and was suppressed by Hadrian. Whether he visited Mauretania personally is not known.
By June 123, the Euphrates frontier called the emperor urgently. Problems with Parthia resurfaced, ‘idque Hadriani conloquio repressum‘ (HA Hadr. 12.7). Hadrian was back with his retinue in Antioch, Syria and held a summit meeting with the Parthian king Osroes I (?). From Antioch, he went to inspect the Cappadocian frontier. From Cappadocia, Hadrian went along the coast of the Black Sea and proceeded westwards through Galatia into Bithynia. He then wintered in Nicomedia in 123/4. Early in the next year, Hadrian traversed Mysia, Aeolis, and Ionia, visiting the great cities of Cyzicus, Ilium, Pergamon, Smyrna and Ephesus. He sent a letter from Ephesus to Oenoanda or to Termessus dated 29 August.
In the autumn of 124, Hadrian travelled back to Italy by way of Athens (cf. HA Hadr. 13.1), with winter of 124/5 in Athens (creating an extra tribe after himself). Hadrian embarked on a brief tour of the Peloponnese from Athens, visiting Argos and Sparta, among other cities. He participated in the Eleusinian mysteries in October 124. By March 125, he was back in Athens. He then travelled to Delphi. The route of his return to Rome is not documented. He was recorded at Dyrrhachium on 20 May and may have gone by way of Nicopolis. From Dyrrhachium, Hadrian sailed to Sicily, where he climbed to the top of Mount Etna to witness the sunrise. In the spring of 125, Hadrian was back in Rome. Hadrian sent a letter to Delphi from his villa at Tibur late in August or early September.
The maps have been produced with the help of two online maps; a Roman route planner with all the main roads and cities of the Roman Empire based on the Tabula Peutingeriana (a medieval copy of a Roman roadmap from about the year AD 300) and an archaeological atlas of antiquity, both of which were created by René Voorburg.
The primary sources & references for this project are:
- Birley, Anthony R. (1997). Hadrian. The restless emperor. Routledge, London
- Boatwright, Mary T. (2002). Hadrian and the Cities of the Roman Empire. Princeton University Press.
- Boatwright, Mary T. (1987). Hadrian and the City of Rome. Princeton University Press.
- Opper, T. (2008). Hadrian: Empire and Conflict. The British Museum Press.
- R. Syme, Journeys of Hadrian, ZPE, 73 (1988), 159-170;
- Fraser, Trudie E . (2006). Hadrian as Builder and Benefactor in the Western Provinces. BAR International Series 1484
- Højte, J. (2000). Imperial Visits as Occasion for the Erection of Portrait Statues? Zeitschrift Für Papyrologie Und Epigraphik, 133, 221-235.