Roman Emperor Hadrian was a reformer, tireless traveller and great patron of architecture. His relationship with his lover Antinous has been the subject of fascination and speculation for centuries. Although now accepted by historians as being gay, the Emperor's own auto-biography hasn't survived.
As Emperor, Hadrian reformed the Roman world and travelled extensively across the Roman Empire to get to know the people and places he ruled.
Outside Rome, Hadrian built a colossal Villa at Tivoli with pavilions and water features in a landscaped park. In Rome, we can still walk beneath the extraordinary dome of the Pantheon - a Temple rebuilt by Hadrian and dedicated to the Gods.
The northern boundary of the Roman world
As part of his tour of the Empire, Hadrian visited Britain in 122 AD. He journeyed to the north of the province to the site of his third, great architectural monument: Hadrian's Wall. This 73-mile-long fortification (80 Roman miles) marked the northern boundary of the Roman world and of the Province of Britania.
A later biography of the Emperor described this trip:
Their well-preserved architecture and the finds that have been made at these sites, that even include letters, give a very good idea of the life of a Roman legionary at the frontiers of the then known world.
Hadrian is thought to have met Antinous shortly after his tour of Britain in about 123 AD. At the time he was visiting Bythinia, a Greek-speaking province of the Roman Empire in what is now northern Turkey.
Although he was married to the Empress Sabina, Antinous clearly made a deep impression on the Emperor. When they continued their tour to Egypt in 130 AD, Antinous accompanied the Imperial party.
The modern term homosexual didn't exist in the Roman world. It was acceptable in Roman society for an older man, especially of high social status, to have a sexual relationship with a younger man of lower standing. The roles that the partners took were also socially circumscribed.
Hadrian’s loss and grief
In Egypt, on the 24 October 130 AD, tragedy struck and Antinous drowned in circumstances that are still difficult to explain. Hadrian was grief stricken and, in an unprecedented move, he encouraged the belief that his dead lover was now a God.
The Emperor's later biographer explained:
Hadrian founded a new city named Antinoopolis after his deceased lover. It was located on the banks of the Nile, near to the spot where Antinous drowned. Across the Roman Empire beautiful statues of the deified Antinous were erected in temples.
You can see a statue of Antinous at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, which shows him as Osiris, the Egyptian God of the Dead.