Hadrian and Antinous

Catherine Knight, Collections Assistant Archaeology

Hadrian became emperor in AD117, following the death of his adoptive father Trajan. He is perhaps best remembered for Hadrian’s Wall, which runs for 73 miles across northern England. Unlike many of his predecessors, Hadrian chose not to expand the borders of his empire. Instead Hadrian concentrated on stabilising the provinces already under Rome’s control.

Hadrian's Wall.
The Emperor Hadrian.

Hadrian’s wife was Vibia Sabina, Trajan’s great niece. The marriage was childless and rumoured to be an unhappy one. Hadrian had a number of male lovers. Most famously a young man called Antinous who was from Bithynia, in modern day Turkey. Antinous accompanied Hadrian in touring the empire and the two travelled widely together. During a visit to Egypt, Antinous fell into the Nile and was drowned.

Hadrian appears to have been deeply affected by Antinous’ death. He mourned him both extravagantly and publicly. He founded a city near the spot where Antinous died and named it Antinoopolis in his honour. Hadrian erected statues to him throughout the empire and even had his lover made into a god. This was an honour usually reserved for members of the imperial family.

Hadrian issued coins throughout his long reign as emperor. His coins are common finds throughout the empire, including in North Lincolnshire. You can find coins depicting Hadrian, and his wife Sabina, within the Bottesford Hoard on display in the Archaeology Gallery.

Silver denarii of Sabina, issued by Hadrian, from the Bottesford Hoard.
The Bottesford Hoard on display.
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