A fine Roman Intaglio of the Emperor Hadrian, ca 117 - 138 AD

A Laureate heroic bust of Hadrian, the bearded emperor shown in left profile, with slight drapery on left shoulder.  

Background:  Hadrian (76-138 CE) was the fourteenth Emperor of Rome (10 August 117 to 10 July 138 CE) and is known as the third of the Five Good Emperors (Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius) who ruled justly. Born Publius Aelius Hadrianus, probably in Hispania, Hadrian is best known for his substantial building projects throughout the Roman Empire and, especially, Hadrian’s Wall in northern Britain.

His popularity as emperor is attested to by his absence from Rome for the better part of his reign. Professor D. Brendan Nagle writes that Hadrian “spent most of his reign (twelve out of twenty-one years) traveling all over the Empire visiting the provinces, overseeing the administration, and checking the discipline of the army. He was a brilliant administrator who concerned himself with all aspects of government and the administration of justice” (278). 

Hadrian’s building projects are perhaps his most enduring legacy. He established cities throughout the Balkan Peninsula, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece. His love for Greece and Greek literature was such that he was known as `Graeculus’ (Greekling) in his youth and his philhellenism did not dissipate with age. The Arch of Hadrian, constructed by the citizens of Athens in 131/132 CE, honor Hadrian as the founder of the city. In Rome he rebuilt the Pantheon (which had been destroyed by fire) and Trajan’s Forum as well as funding construction of other buildings, baths, and villas.  Of all his significant monuments and buildings, Hadrian’s Wall in north Britain is the most famous. Construction of the wall, known in antiquity as Vallum Hadriani, was begun around 122 CE and corresponded to Hadrian’s visit to the province. It marked the northern boundary of the Roman Empire in Britain but the length and breadth of the project (stretching, as it did, from coast to coast) suggests that the more important purpose of the wall was a show of Rome’s power. It was built in six years by the legions stationed in Britain.

In 130 CE, Hadrian visited Jerusalem, which was still in ruins from the First Roman-Jewish War of 66-73 CE. He rebuilt the city according to his own designs and renamed it Aelia Capitolina Jupiter Capitolinus after himself and the king of the Roman gods. When he built a temple to Jupiter on the ruins of the Temple of Solomon (the so-called Second Temple, considered sacred by the Jews), the populace rose up under the leadership of Simon bar Kokhbah in what has come to be known as bar Kokhbah’s Revolt (132-136 CE). Roman losses in this campaign were enormous but Jewish losses were no less significant. By the time the rebellion was put down, 580,000 Jews had been killed and over 1000 towns and villages destroyed. Hadrian then banished the remaining Jews from the region and renamed it Syria Palaestina after the traditional enemies of the Jewish people, the Philistines. He ordered a public burning of the Torah, executed the Jewish scholars, and prohibited the practice and observance of Judaism.

His health now failing, Hadrian returned to Rome and occupied himself by writing poetry and tending to administrative affairs. He named as his successor Antoninus Pius on the stipulation that Antoninus would adopt the young Marcus Aurelius to follow. Hadrian died in 138 CE, presumably of a heart attack, at the age of 62. He was buried first at Puteoli, but when Antoninus Pius completed the great Tomb of Hadrian in Rome the following year, his body was cremated and the ashes interred there with his wife and son. Antoninus Pius had Hadrian deified and temples built in his honor. The historian Gibbon writes that Hadrian’s rule was, “the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous…when the vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power under the guidance of virtue and wisdom” (61). 

Condition: Intact with some minor losses to the intaglio edge that does not impact the fine carving, so in very good to excellent condition overall.  The intaglio was set as a ring in 18K gold during the neo-classical period.  A very fine example.

Dimensions: US Ring Size: 6 1/2

Provenance:  Private English collection, acquired in the 1960's.

All photos copyright Kornbluth Photography, Maryland


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