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social sciences

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Hadrian (76-138)  

A Roman emperor of Spanish provincial background, Hadrian (reigned 117-138) was an accomplished military leader and administrator who helped stabilize the Roman Empire. Today, however, he is known primarily for his passionate love and inordinate mourning for a young Bithynian named Antinous.

After Antinous drowned on a journey down the Nile in October 130, the emperor declared his paidika, or beloved, to be a god and founded a city in his honor, Antinoopolis in Middle Egypt. (After surveying the site in 1798-1801, one of Napoleon's engineers calculated that there must have been 1,344 Doric columns supporting the porticos that lined the two main streets.)

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Devotees of the new god propagated cults, with temples, altars, priests, libation and sacrifice, mysteries and initiations, oracles and miracles. Cities organized festivals and games to commemorate him. Between 133 and 137, thirty-one Greek cities possessing minting rights issued coins bearing his portrait (143 issues are known).

To meet an enormous demand, Graeco-Roman craftsmen may have produced as many as 2,000 bronze and marble statues and busts of the youth (some 115 of them survive), as well as uncounted numbers of reliefs, medals (to be worn around the neck as talismans or amulets), cameos, and gems.

The image of Antinous, immediately recognizable, established the last great ancient type of male adolescent perfection. Even Christians, hostile to both his apotheosis and his morals, conceded that Antinous's beauty was unsurpassed: "What Ganymede was more fair," asked the implacable Tertullian, "or dearer to his lover?"

When Antinous died, Hadrian "wept for him like a woman." Apart from this unmanly outburst and the extravagance of his commemorative mourning, deplored by conservative Romans as signs of unseemly erotic excess, the emperor's passion for the beloved youth infringed no rule of Roman masculine behavior or sexual propriety.

Hadrian was a brave, resourceful soldier and an intrepid hunter of bears, boars, and lions. He bore cold and bad weather with stolid endurance. He was bearded and dressed simply. He allowed no ornaments on his sword belt or jewels on the clasp.

His sexual taste, like that of Trajan, a cousin of his father and his predecessor as emperor, was predominantly for teenage boys, though ill-wishers accused him also of affairs with grown men (adultorum amor) and of adulteries with married women. He had no children. He often said that had he been a private citizen he would have sent away his ill-tempered wife Sabina.

His love for Antinous was exceptional not because the lovers were male or because Antinous was a teenager and Hadrian the "grey-haired prince," but for its obsessive intensity. What can still surprise us is turning a favorite into a god and the ease and range of the cult's acceptance, among townsmen and in the countryside alike, in both the Greek-speaking East and the Latin-speaking West--more evidence, were any needed, that in the second century boy-love continued to be a commonplace, non-exclusive alternative to love of women.

Hadrian was a patron of the arts and a lavish builder. A dozen of his epigrams survive. Since the eighteenth century, historians have likened his reign to a golden age. More recently, he has been the subject of a celebrated historical novel, Marguerite Yourcenar's Mémoires d'Hadrien (1951).

Eugene Rice


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arts >> Overview:  Classical Art

Ancient Greek and Roman art represents a variety of homoerotic experience in several different ways.

social sciences >> Overview:  Greece: Ancient

The institution of pederasty (paiderastia) was a conspicuous feature of ancient Greek public and private life, but other forms of male-male sexual relations flourished in the Greco-Roman cosmopolis of the second and third centuries C.E.

literature >> Overview:  Greek Literature: Ancient

Ancient Greece holds a unique place in the heritage of homosexual literature as it was a society that openly celebrated same-sex love in its poetry and prose.

arts >> Overview:  Patronage I: The Western World from Ancient Greece until 1900

Patronage--the sponsorship of artists and the commissioning of artistic projects from them--is of central importance to cultural history.

literature >> Overview:  Roman Literature

Roman writers on homosexual or bisexual themes generally followed Greek models; but unlike the Greeks, Romans condoned sex with slaves.

social sciences >> Overview:  Rome: Ancient

Ancient Rome's attitude toward same-sex sexual activity was remarkably various, with role, age, and status as important as gender in the regulation of sexual relations.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Ganymede

Since antiquity Ganymede, the beautiful Phrygian youth abducted by Jupiter, has served as an artistic expression for homosexuality.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Nude Males

Throughout much of history, the nude male figure was virtually the only subject that could be used to articulate homoerotic desire in publicly displayed works of art, as well as those works of art intended for private "consumption."

literature >> Pessoa, Fernando

Although his sexuality cannot be documented, the Portugese poet Fernando Pessoa wrote homoerotic verse, much of it in English.

literature >> Yourcenar, Marguerite

The prize-winning novelist Marguerite Yourcenar reflected her own homosexuality in her works almost exclusively through male characters, most notably in Memoirs of Hadrian.


Birley, Anthony R. Hadrian, the Restless Emperor. London: Routledge, 1997.

Historia Augusta, Vita de Hadriani. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1921.

Lambert, Royston. Beloved and God. The Story of Hadrian and Antinous. New York: Viking, 1984.

Yourcenar, Marguerite. Mémoires d'Hadrien. Paris: Librairie Plon, 1951; Hadrian's Memoirs. Grace Frick and Marguerite Yourcenar, trans. New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, Inc., 1954.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rice, Eugene  
    Entry Title: Hadrian  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated May 19, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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