Page 112. " The poet Florus, "

Publius Annius Florus compiled a sketch of Roman history, based on Livy, and also a dialogue on Virgil (of which only the introduction survives). The Latin version, together with an English translation, is available in the Loeb Classical Library, No.231.

Page 112. " To Suetonius I had given the post of curator of archives "

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (69-122 AD) was the author of the biographies of "The Twelve Caesars," rulers of Rome from Julius Caesar to Domitian, one of the most important sources for Roman history of the 1st Century AD. Suetonius was born at Hippo Reggia (in modern Algeria). He became a close friend of Pliny the Younger and, through him, came into favour first with Trajan, and then with Hadrian. In 119 AD, however, Hadrian dismissed him because of an adulterous affair with the Empress Vibia Sabina.

The Latin and English versions of The Twelve Caesars are available at:


Page 112. " A Greek secretariat was held for some time by Favorinus of Arles "

Favorinus of Arelate (Arles) (c80-160 AD) was a philosopher/sophist of Gaulish descent, born at Arles. He may have been born a hermaphrodite. Hadrian ultimately banished him to the island of Chios, but he returned to Rome under Antoninus Pius in 138 AD. Of his many works, only a few fragments survive.

Page 114. " For the Pantheon I turned to the ancient Etruria of augers and soothsayers "
The portico of The Pantheon
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe portico of The Pantheon - Credit: shajwth


The interior of the Pantheon, by Giovanni Paulo Pannini, 1757 (Cleveland Museum of Art)
Creative Commons AttributionThe interior of the Pantheon, by Giovanni Paulo Pannini, 1757 (Cleveland Museum of Art) - Credit: wmpearl

Here, Yourcenar's Hadrian is being self-conciously modest about one of his most significant building projects, for the Pantheon (a temple to all the gods of ancient Rome) is among the most remarkable, influential and innovative buildings of the Roman Empire. The original Pantheon was built by Marcus Agrippa in c31 BC, but the building that stands today is Hadrian's, begun in c126 AD. The portico, with its monolithic columns of grey granite imported from Mons Claudianus in Egypt, leads into an enclosed circular space covered by the most extraordinary feature of the building, a concrete dome with a circular opening or "occulus." The dome itself remains, to this day, the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built, and from it are ultimately derived all of the most significant domed buildings in the world, from Saint Peter's Basilica to Saint Paul's Cathedral to the circular reading room of the old British Library. Probably Yourcenar took the idea for this modesty from the fact that Hadrian allowed Agrippa's name, rather than his own, to appear on the pediment. 

Page 114. " the sunny temple of Venus "

The historical Hadrian dedicated more than one temple to Venus. The largest of these is the Temple of Venus and Roma, in the ceremonial heart of Rome, but the description here makes it clear that the reference is to the temple that he built on his private estate at Tivoli, a copy of the Sanctuary of Aphrodite at Knidos, which included a copy of Praxiteles's famous statue of the goddess.

The Temple of Venus at Tivoli
GNU Free Documentation LicenseThe Temple of Venus at Tivoli - Credit: Lalupa

Page 114. " The Olympieion of Athens, built on the plain, had to be in exact counterpoise to the Parthenon on its hill "

The Olympieion of Athens (or Temple of Olympian Zeus) was completed under Hadrian, but on foundations established under the Athenian Tyrants, Hippias and Hipparchus, in the 6th Century BC. There is an irony about this statement, which can hardly be accidental on Yourcenar's part, in that the Parthenon of the 5th Century BC was placed on the hill in counterpoise to the unfinished temple below, seen as a symbol of the hubris of the Tyrants. Others, including the Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 174 BC, and the Emperor Augustus in the 1st Century AD, had planned to complete the Olympieion, but failed to do so. It was only Hadrian who actually succeeded in doing so, thus redefining what might or might not be seen as hubris.

The Olympieion of Athens
GNU Free Documentation LicenseThe Olympieion of Athens - Credit: Dominique Leuenberger
Page 114. " The chapels of Antinous and his temples "

During the latter part of Hadrian's reign, the cult of his deified male lover, Antinous, came briefly to rival the cults of Mithras, Isis and Christ for importance within the religious life of the Roman Empire. It is known that chapels or temples dedicated to him existed in his native Bithynia (modern Turkey), at Mantineia in Greece, and in Athens, but none of these survived into the modern era. In 2002 a temple complex of Antinous was discovered on the site of Hadrian's estate at Tivoli, and details of this can be found at:


Page 114. " My tomb on the bank of the Tiber "

The Mausoleum of Hadrian, more often referred to as the Castel Sant' Angelo, is a cylindrical stone building on the right bank of the River Tiber, built between 130 and 139 AD. Hadrian's ashes were deposited there, as were those of his wife, Vibia Sabina, and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius. It was converted into a military fortress in 401 AD, and served as a papal castle in the 14th-16th Centuries.


The Castel Sant'Angelo, or Mausoleum of Hadrian
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe Castel Sant'Angelo, or Mausoleum of Hadrian - Credit: Allesandro Paglialunga

Page 114. " The villa was the tomb of my travels "

The reference is to the Villa Adriana at Tivoli, 29 Km from Rome, where Hadrian established his private residence, and from which he governed the Empire in the latter years of his reign. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is in fact a complex of more than 30 buildings, including bath-houses, theatres, temples, libraries, staterooms and quarters for courtiers, praetorians and slaves. Much of it remains unexcavated.

Further information (in Italian) is available at

Pool at the Villa Adriana
GNU Free Documentation LicensePool at the Villa Adriana
The Hospitalia (guesthouse) of the Villa Adriana
Public DomainThe Hospitalia (guesthouse) of the Villa Adriana
Part of the floor of the small bath-house of the Villa Adriana
Public DomainPart of the floor of the small bath-house of the Villa Adriana - Credit: Jastrow


Page 115. " Plotinopolis, Hadrianopolis, Antinoopolis "

Yourcenar's Hadrian here refers to cities which he has either founded or developed. Plotinopolis, named in honour of Trajan's Empress, Pompeia Plotina, is in Greek Thrace; there were several cities named Hadrianopolis, including the modern towns of Edirne, Mersin, Pisidia & Niksar (Turkey) and Dropull (Albania); Antinoopolis, named in honour of Hadrian's male lover, Antinous, is in Egypt (the modern town of Sheikh 'Ibada. 

Page 116. " the Hermaphrodite, the Centaur, the Niobid and the Venus "

Yourcenar's Hadrian is ennumerating some of the significant art-works that he has collected.

The Hermaphrodite is a sculpture, originally in bronze and by the Hellenistic sculptor, Polycles. Whilst this original is lost, copies survive, most notably the "Borghese Hermaphrodite," now in the Louvre.

The Borghese Hermaphrodite
Public DomainThe Borghese Hermaphrodite - Credit: Ferbf1

The Centaur (actually there are two, the "Old Centaur" and the "Young Centaur") refers to the Capitoline Centaurs, discovered by Monsignor Alessandro Furietti at Tivoli in 1736, and now in the Capitoline Museum in Rome.

Public DomainThe "Old Centaur," copy in the Louvre - Credit: Jastrow

The Niobid is the "dying Niobid," found in the Gardens of Sallust in Rome, and now at the Palazzo Massimo.

The Dying Niobid
Public DomainThe Dying Niobid - Credit: Jastrow

The Venus is a copy of Praxiteles's Aphrodite of Cnidos, versions of which are to be found in the Vatican Museum and the National Museum of Rome (Ludovisi Collection).

The Ludovisi Venus
Public DomainThe Ludovisi Venus - Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen

Page 118. " I have forced this image upon the world "

The image referred to is that of Antinous (111-130 AD). Dozens, if not hundreds, of statues were made of him. Following his deification at Hadrian's insistence, he was associated with the Egyptian god, Osiris (an obelisk on Rome's Pincio Hill, dedicated by Hadrian, refers to him as "the god Osiris-Antinous") and the Roman god, Bacchus.

Antinous as Bacchus, Vatican Museum
Public DomainAntinous as Bacchus, Vatican Museum - Credit: Jastrow

Antinous as Osiris, found at the Villa Adriana, now in The Louvre
Creative Commons AttributionAntinous as Osiris, found at the Villa Adriana, now in The Louvre - Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen

Page 120. " In Germany construction or renovation of camps, fortifications, and roads detained me for nearly a year "

Hadrian is referring here to the Limes Germanicus, the line of fortifications and watch-towers which marked the eastern limits of the Roman Empire in Europe, from Katwijk in the Netherlands to Kolheim on the Danube. These defensive works were first put in place by Augustus, following the catastrophic defeat of the legions in the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest in 9 AD, and were augmented by subsequent emperors, including Hadrian and (perhaps more significantly), his successor, Antoninus Pius.

Map of the Limes Germanicus
GNU Free Documentation LicenseMap of the Limes Germanicus - Credit: Sansculotte

Reconstructed watchtower on the Limes Germanicus at Hillscheid, Germany
Public DomainReconstructed watchtower on the Limes Germanicus at Hillscheid, Germany - Credit: Schwing

Page 122. " the erection of a wall cutting the island in two "

Here Yourcenar's Hadrian reflects on the British wall which bears his name to this day, a westward extension, in effect, of the Limes Germanicus. It is 80 Roman miles (120 Km) in length and, in its eastern portion, follows the edge of a natural escarpment, the Great Whin Sill. The 2nd, 6th and 20th Legions were all involved in its construction, beginning in 122 AD. Once built, however, it was manned not by legionaries (Roman citizens) but by auxilliaries (who became citizens only upon completion of their service). Along the length of the wall, there are mile-castles 493 metres apart. There are also around 15 larger forts (although these were built a little later than the wall itself), and a number of logistical outposts set behind the wall, of which Vindolanda is the best known. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there is a footpath that can be followed along its length (  

Map of Hadrian's Wall
GNU Free Documentation LicenseMap of Hadrian's Wall - Credit: Norman Einstein
Mile-castle No.39, near Steel Rigg
Public DomainMile-castle No.39, near Steel Rigg - Credit: Adam Cuerden