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Hadrian's Rome
Hadrian's Rome

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Primary Source 2 Dio Cassius 69, 2.5; 69.4–5.2; 69.7, 1–4; 69.23

Source: Dio Cassius, Roman History, Volume VIII: Books 61–70, trans. E. Cary and H.B. Foster (1925) Loeb Classical Library 176, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, pp. 427, 431, 433, 435, 437, 439, 465. © 2015 President and Fellows of Harvard College.


69, 2.5

[p. 427] HadrianFootnote 1, though he ruled with the greatest mildness, was nevertheless severely criticized for slaying several of the best men in the beginning of his reign and again near the end of his life, and for this reason he came near failing to be enrolled among the demigods.



[p. 431] Now Hadrian spared these men, displeased as he was with them, for he could find no plausible pretext to use against them for their destruction. But he first banished and later put to death Apollodorus, the architect, who had built the various creations of Trajan in Rome – the forum, the odeum and the gymnasium. The reason assigned was that he had been guilty of some misdemeanor; but the true reason was that once when Trajan was consulting him on some point about the buildings he had said to Hadrian, who had interrupted with some remark: “Be off, and draw your gourds. You don’t understand any of these matters.” (It chanced that Hadrian at the time was pluming himself upon some such drawing.) When he became emperor, therefore, he remembered this slight and would not endure the man’s freedom of speech. He sent him the plan of the temple of Venus and Roma by way of showing him that a great work could be accomplished without his aid, and asked Apollodorus whether the proposed structure was satisfactory. The architect in his reply stated, first, in regard to the temple, that it ought to have been built on [p. 433] high ground and that the earth should have been excavated beneath it, so that it might have stood out more conspicuously on the Sacred Way from its higher position, and might also have accommodated the machines in its basement, so that they could be put together unobserved and brought into the theatre without anyone’s being aware of them beforehand. Secondly, in regard to the statues, he said that they had been made too tall for the height of the cella. “For now,” he said, “if the goddesses wish to get up and go out, they will be unable to do so.” When he wrote this so bluntly to Hadrian, the emperor was both vexed and exceedingly grieved because he had fallen into a mistake that could not be righted, and he restrained neither his anger nor his grief, but slew the man. Indeed, his nature was such that he was jealous not only of the living, but also of the dead; at any rate he abolished Homer and introduced in his stead Antimachus,Footnote 2 whose very name had previously been unknown to many.

Other traits for which people found fault with him were his great strictness, his curiosity and his meddlesomeness. Yet he balanced and atoned for these defects by his careful oversight, his prudence, his munificence and his skill; furthermore, he did not stir up any war, and he terminated those already in progress; and he deprived no one of money unjustly, while upon many – communities and private citizens, [p. 435] senators and knights – he bestowed large sums. Indeed, he did not even wait to be asked, but acted in absolutely every case according to the individual needs. He subjected the legions to the strictest discipline, so that, though strong, they were neither insubordinate nor insolent; and he aided the allied and subject cities most munificently.


69.7, 1–4

[p. 437] He transacted with the aid of the senate all the important and most urgent business and he held court with the assistance of the foremost men, now in the palace, now in the Forum or the Pantheon or various other places, always being seated on a tribunal, so that whatever was done was made public. Sometimes he would join the consuls when they were trying cases and he showed them honour at the horse-races. When he returned home he was wont to be carried in a litter, in order not to trouble anyone to accompany him. On the days that were neither sacred nor suitable for public businessFootnote 3 he remained at home, and admitted no one, even so much as just to greet him, unless it were on some urgent matter; this was in order to spare people a troublesome duty. Both in Rome and abroad he always kept the noblest men about him, and he used to join them at banquets and for this reason often took three others into his carriage. He went hunting as often as possible, and he breakfasted without wine; he used to eat a good deal, and often in the midst of trying a case he would partake of food; later he would dine in the company of all the foremost and best men, and their meal together was the occasion for all kinds of discussions. When his friends were very ill, he would visit them, and he would attend their festivals, and was glad to stay at their country seats and their town houses. Hence he also placed in the Forum images of many when they were dead and of many while they were still alive. No one of [p. 439] his associates, moreover, displayed insolence or took money for divulging anything that Hadrian either said or did, as the freedmen and other attendants in the suite of emperors are accustomed to do.



[p. 465] He had lived sixty-two years, five months and nineteenFootnote 4 days, and had been emperor twenty years and eleven months. He was buried near the river itself, close to the Aelian bridge; for it was there that he had prepared his tomb, since the tomb of Augustus was full, and from this time no body was deposited in it.

Hadrian was hated by the people, in spite of his generally excellent reign, on account of the murders committed by him at the beginning and end of his reign, since they had been unjustly and impiously brought about. Yet he was so far from being of a bloodthirsty disposition that even in the case of some who clashed with him he thought it sufficient to write to their native places the bare statement that they did not please him. And if it was absolutely necessary to punish any man who had children, yet in proportion to the number of his children he would lighten the penalty imposed. Nevertheless, the senate persisted for a long time in its refusal to vote him the usual honoursFootnote 5 and in its strictures upon some of those who had committed excesses during his reign and had been honoured therefor, when they ought to have been punished.


  1. 1 Trajan is given in the translation, however, Hadrian is correct according to the original Greek and has therefore been amended here accordingly.Back to main text
  2. 2 Antimachus of Colophon, an epic poet who flourished about 400 B.C. He wrote an epic, the Thebais, and an elegy, Lyde, both characterized by extreme length and a wealth of mythological lore. By the Alexandrian grammarians he was ranked next to Homer among the epic poets. For Hadrian’s preferences in the field of Roman literature see the Vita Hadriani (in the Historia Augusta), chap. 16.Back to main text
  3. 3 In other words, on the dies religiosi, the unlucky days of the Roman calendar.Back to main text
  4. 4 Seventeen, according to the common tradition.Back to main text
  5. 5 i.e. deification.Back to main text