According to the Historia Augusta, no other Roman emperor 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 in the final years of his reign). My fascination for Hadrian and my passion for travelling has motivated me to follow him 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 try to trace Hadrian’s journeys in strict chronological order, so that I would consistently be present at the same place and at 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 (see here), on the 9th it was announced that he had adopted Hadrian (see here), on the 11th the troops hailed Hadrian as emperor (see 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 on 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 (see here) and Byzantium before heading to Dacia where he conducted negotiations with the king of the Roxolani (see here). Then Hadrian’s remained in the Danube lands for a couple of months (see here) and finally left for Rome which he reached on the 9 July AD 118 (see 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 and 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.
View this map on Google Map
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 (see here), Hadrian then set out for Gaul (see here), with time available for inspecting the military installations between the Rhine (see here) and Danube in Raetia and Noricum. In 122 Hadrian crossed to Britain from Germania Inferior with Platorius Nepos, the newly appointed governor of Britannia. Hadrian’s aim was to strengthen the line of separation between Roman and non-Roman territory by constructing a long wall across the country. Toward the end of 122, Hadrian left Britain for Spain and passed by Nemausus where he enjoined that a basilica be built in honour of Plotina, Trajan’s wife. Then, Hadrian spent the winter of 122/3 in Tarraco but failed to return to the province Baetica and to 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 Chosroe. From Antioch, he went to inspect the Cappadocian frontier. From Cappadocia, Hadrian went along the coast of the Black Sea proceeded westwards through Galatia into Bithynia. He then wintered in Nicomedia in 123/4. Early in the next year, Hadrian traversed Mysia, Aeolis, Ionia, visiting the great cities of Cyzicus, Ilium, Pergamon, Smyrna and Ephesus. From Ephesus, he sent a letter addressed to Oenoanda or to Termessus and dated August 29.
In the autumn of 124, Hadrian travelled back to Italy by way of Athens (cf. SA Hadr. 13.1), with winter of 124/5 in Athens (creation of an extra tribe after himself). From Athens Hadrian embarked in a brief tour of the Peloponnese, 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 is recorded at Dyrrhachium on May 20th 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 spring 125, Hadrian was back in Rome. From his villa at Tibur, Hadrian sent a letter to Delphi late in August or early in September.
View this map on Google Map
The Google 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 main 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.