Acclaimed British historian Anthony Everitt delivers a compelling account of the former orphan who became Roman emperor in A.D. 117 after the death of his guardian Trajan. Hadrian strengthened Rome by ending territorial expansion and fortifying existing borders. And - except for the uprising he triggered in Judea - his strength-based diplomacy brought peace to the realm after a century of warfare.
©2009 Anthony Everitt (P)2009 Recorded Books, LLC
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
Everitt finishes his trilogy/triptych on the Roman Empire with this biography of Hadrian. His biography on Cicero describes the end of the Roman Republic, his biography of Augustus centers on the consolidation and expansion of Roman empirial power. The biography of Hadrian shows the peak, maturity of Roman emperial expansion.
Historically, Hadrian has always been an under-appreciated emperor, so I was glad to see his biography tackled by Everitt. It also makes sense to try and bookend Everitt's trilogy with Hadrian. However, whether it is due to the lack of abundant historical information on Hadrian (as Everitt notes himself) or due to Everitt trying too hard to make Hadrian's reign fit into his neat (1.2.3.) pattern, this biography just sags and disappoints given Everitt's claim that Hadrian "has a good claim to have been the most successful of Rome's leaders."
In the end, it feels like Everitt was trying to do too much (Bio of Hadrian, triptych of the Roman Empire, etc) with too little. It reminded me of the architect Apollodorus' critique of Hadrian's own temple of Venus and Rome, the book was simply "too tall for the height of the cella."
If you like Roman history, this book is another great slice of the big picture. Hadrian himself is not the most interesting emperor; certainly a great one for his peaceful, learned, and benevolent nature. But the book also paints a vivid picture of the time and place - when Rome was at its greatest height. Everitt's book "Augustus" is another winner.
This book is not nearly as good as the author's previous two books on ancient Romans -- "Augustus" and "Cicero" -- likely for two reasons. Hadrian was not as interesting a person as Augustus and Cicero were. But also, there is much less historical information available about the life of Hadrian. The author seems, therefore, to have needed to heavily rely on the "Historia Augusta", which is a notoriously unreliable source. To make up for the deficit of information the author has speculated to fill in the gaps, which is fine. But unfortunately, the author chose to speculate less on subjects of great cultural significance like Hadrian's Wall and the Pantheon -- Hadrian's two most famous architectural achievements -- and more on Hadrian's homosexual relationship with the young boy, Antinous. We learn a lot about the mores of homosexual behavior between men and boys in Greece and Rome, much of which seems only tangential to Hadrian's story. Perhaps this done was to spice the story up a bit, because compared to the bad emperors, like Nero and Caligula, the highly competent Hadrian is a little boring. In any event, the book is worth the read, and I look forward to the author's next work. I just hope he picks a more interesting subject that has more reliable historical sources available. [I would suggest Marcus Aurelius.]
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