Publius Aelius Hadrianus was born on 24 January AD 76, probably at Rome, though his family lived in Italica in Baetica. Having originally come from Picenum in north-eastern when this part of Spain was opened up to Roman settlement, Hadrian's family had lived in Italica for some three centuries. With Trajan also coming from Italica, and Hadrian's father, Publius Aelius Hadrianus Afer, being his cousin, Hadrian's obscure provincial family now found itself possessing impressive connections.
In AD 86 Hadrian's father died in AD 86 and he, at the age of 10, became joint ward of Acilius Attianus, a Roman equestrian, and of Trajan.
Next the so far disappointing young Hadrian was set on a new career path. This time - though still very young - as a judge in an inheritance court in Rome.
In Ad 97 when Trajan, based in Upper Germany was adopted by Nerva, it was Hadrian who was sent form his base to carry the congratulations of his legion to the new imperial heir.
But in AD 98 Hadrian seized the great opportunity of Nerva's to carry the news to Tajan. Uttely determined to be the first to carry this news to the new emepror he raced to Germany. With otehr also seeking to be the bearers of the good news to a no doubt grateful emperor it was quite a race, with many an obstacle being purposely placed in Hadrian's way. But he succeeded, even travelling the last stages of his journey on foot. Trajan's gratitude was assured and Hadrian indeed became a very close friend of the new emperor.
In AD 100 Hadrian married Vibia Sabina, the daughter of Trajan's niece Matidia Augusta, after having accompied the new emperor to Rome.
There is no doubt that Hadrian was of high status during Trajan's reign, and yet there were no immediate signs that he was intended as the imperial heir.
The details of Hadrian's succession are indeed mysterious. Trajan might well have decided on his deathbed to make Hadrian his heir.
But the sequence of events does indeed seem suspicious. Trajan died the 8 August AD 117, on the 9th it was announced at Antioch that he had adopted Hadrian. But only by the 11th was it made public that Trajan was dead.
According to the historian Dio Cassius, Hadrian's accession was solely due to the actions of empress Plotina, kept Trajan's death a secret for several days. In this time she sent letters to the senate declaring Hadrian's the new heir. These letter however carried her own signature, not that of emperor Trajan, porabalbly using the excuse that the emperor's illness made him to feeble to write.
Hadrian, already in the east as governor of Syria at the time, was present at Trajan's cremation at Seleucia (the ashes were therafter shipped back to Rome). Though now he was there as emperor.
Right from the start Hadrian made it clear that he was his own man. One of his very first decisions was the abandonment of the eastern territories which Trajan had just conquered during his last campaign.
Had Augustus a century before spelled out that his successors should keep the empire within the natural boundaries of the rivers Rhine, Danube and Euphrates, then Trajan had broken that rule and had crossed the Euphrates. On Hadrian's order once pulled back to behind the Euphrates again.
If Hadrian set out to rule as honourably as his beloved predecessor, then he got off to a bad start. He had not arrived in Rome yet and four respected senators, all ex-consuls, were dead. Men of the highest standing in Roman society, all had been killed for plotting against Hadrian. Many however saw these executions as a way by which Hadrian was removing any possible pretenders to his throne. All four had been friends of Trajan. Lusius Quietus had been a military commander and Gaius Nigrinus ha dbeen a very wealthy and influential politician; in fact so influential he had been thought a possible successor to Trajan.
But what makes the 'affair of the four consulars' especially unsavoury is that Hadrian refused to take any responsibility for this matter. Might other emperors have gritted their teeth and announced that a ruler needed to act ruthlessly in order to grant the empire a stable, unshakable government, then Hadrian denied everything.
Despite such an odious start to his reign, Hadrian quickly proved to be a highly capable ruler.
Army discipline was tightened and the border defences were strengthened.
Yet even this great love of art should become sullied by Hadrian's darker side. Had he invited Trajan's architect Apollodorus of Damascus (the designer of Trajan's Forum) to comment on his own design for a temple, he then turned on him, once the architect showed himself little impressed. Apollodorus was first banished and later executed. Had great emperors shown themselves able to handle criticism and listen to advice, then Hadrian who at times patently was unable, or unwilling, to do so.
Hadrian appears to have been a man of mixed sexual interests. The Historia Augusta criticizes both his liking of goodlooking young men as well as his adulteries with married women.
When it comes to Hadrian's apaprent homosexuality, then the accounts remain vague and unclear. Most of the attention centres on the young Antinous, whom Hadrian grew very fond of. Statues of Antinous have survived, showing that imperial patronage of this youth extended to having sculptures made of him. In AD 130 Antinous accompanied Hadrian to Egypt. It was on a trip on the Nile when Antinous met with an early and somewhat mysterious death. Officially, he fell from the boat and drowned. But a perisistent rumour spoke of Antinous having been a sacrifice in some bizarre eastern ritual.
If the founding of Antinoopolis had caused some eyebrows to be raised then Hadrian's attempts to re-found Jerusalem were little more than disastrous.
Hadrian showed a great interest in law and appointed a famous African jurist, Lucius Salvius Julianus, to create a definitive revision of the edicts which had been pronounced every year by the Roman praetors for centuries.
In AD 136 Hadrian, whose health began to fail, sought an heir before he would die, leaving the empire without a leader. He was 60 years old now. Perhaps he feared that, being without an heir might make him vulnerable to a challenge to the throne as he grew more frail. Or he simply sought to secure a peaceful transition for the empire. Whichever version is true, Hadrian adopted Lucius Ceionius Commodus as his successor.
A month after Commodus' death, Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius, a highly respected senator, on the condition that the childless Antoninus in turn would adopt Hadrian's promising young nephew Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus (the son of Commodus) as heirs.
Hadrian's final days were a grim affair. He became eve more ill and spent extended periods in severe distress. As he sought to end his life with either a blade or poison, his servants grew ever more vigilant to keep such items from his grasp. At one point he even convinced a barbarian servant by name of Mastor to kill him. But at the last moment Mastor failed to obey.
Had Hadrian been a brilliant administrator and had he provided the empire with a period of stability and relative peace for 20 years, he died a very unpopular man.
His body was buried twice in different places before finally his ashes should be laid to rest in the mausoleum he had built for himself at Rome.