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Publius Aelius Hadrianus
by Wayne Blank
Hadrian was born in Spain as Publius Aelius Hadrianus. When orphaned at age ten, he was placed under the joint custody of the future emperor Trajan (a cousin of Hadrian's father, Aelius Hadrianus Afer), and a Roman commander, Acilius Attianus.
Despite a reportedly misbehaved youth, Hadrian eventually distinguished himself as a commander of the First Legion during the Second Dacian War, and later as a praetor and governor. Upon Trajan's death on August 17 117, it was announced that Hadrian was the emperor's choice as successor.
Hadrian's reign was both assertive and prudent. While proving his military skill in Moesia, in southeastern Europe, he also discontinued Trajan's advancement policy in Asia, and set the boundary at the Euphrates River.
Toward Israel however, Hadrian showed himself as typically ruthless as his predecessors. His policy of Romanization went so far as to ban many Jews from Jerusalem, which was renamed Aelia Capitolina. After he built a pagan temple of Jupiter Capitolinus on the site of the destroyed Temple (see Temples), he put down the resulting Jewish insurrection of Bar Kochba in 132 with great brutality. The war that followed from 132 to 135 was the most challenging of his reign.
Hadrian's cultural and military endeavors were evident throughout Europe. He built great defensive walls against the Germans (see Hermann), and in Britain he had the famous 73½ mile Hadrian's Wall constructed (parts of which still exist today). In Athens, he built the Arch of Hadrian, and in Rome he rebuilt the Pantheon and expanded the Forum.
Though very Roman, Hadrian had a love of Greek ways, which may be the reason that he was the first Roman emperor to be shown with a beard, as pictured on the actual Roman coin of Hadrian above. Other historians suggest that the beard was to conceal natural blemishes or scars on his face.
Hadrian died of an illness on July 10, 138 at age 62.