Hadrian, the emperor who worshiped Athens

Emperor of Rome, brilliant, active and witty, Publius Aelius Hadrianus reigned over the mighty Roman Empire for 21 years (117-138 A.D.). During those years, he acted on his love for Athens, endowing it with important projects that transformed its urban fabric. His projects are, the Library of Hadrian, the Hadrianic Aqueduct, the completion of the temple of Olympian Zeus, the monumental bridge over Eleusinian Kephissos, Hadrian’s Arch, the Pantheon, which was probably, the highest temple of ancient Greece, and others.

View of the exhibition. On the left we see the head of Hadrian and on the right a statuette of Antinous (2nd c. A.D.), Hadrian’s the most beloved young Greek man from Bithynia in Asia Minor © Ephorate of Antiquities of Athens.

Hadrian’s love for Athens was alive since his adolescent years, during which he was devoted with great passion to Greek education resulting in people calling him Graeculus, which translates to little Greek. Athens, which he projected as the cradle of intellect, reciprocated his love and benefactions. Hadrian’s statues on the Acropolis and in the Agora indicate that he was worshiped together with Athena and Zeus Eleutherios, and he received honor as New Dionysus. On the occasion of 1.900 years since his rise to the throne, modern Athens honors the philhellene emperor with the exhibition “Hadrian, Savior and Founder”. The exhibition was organized by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Athens in the recently restored Fethiye Mosque in the Roman Agora, hosts rich instructional material and will run until the 31st of July, 2018. Eleni Banou, director of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Athens, said: “The purpose of the exhibition is to enlighten the personality of Hadrian, his building program, and how Athens responded to the favour he showed it”.

"Titled “Hadrian, Savior and Founder” the exhibition features the building program of the philhellene Roman emperor in Athens, as well as how he was worshiped and the reciprocation of his benefactions by the city

The Library of Hadrian was the most magnificent new building of the Roman Emperor in Athens. It was completed in 131/132 A.D., was housing the library and perhaps the city archive, and possibly also a place for the emperor’s cult.

Enlightened reign
Hadrian succeeded Trajan, whom he almost always followed in his campaigns away from Rome. From his he accepted the Roman Empire in its largest territorial size in its history. He served it the best way possible: he organized the administration more efficiently, he was keen to promote the diplomatic solution of differences over war, he established feasible borders, he founded cities and worked towards the coherence of the empire. At the same time, he employed innovative technology and established standards in architectural design so as to transform the urban fabric of Rome and other cities. The Greek-speaking cities of the eastern provinces witnessed a new period of prosperity under Hadrian, which revitalized the economy and reinforced the vast cultural revolution of the 2nd c. A.D. Recognizing his enlightened reign, the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire were honoring him as “Olympian” - a title only given to Zeus and Pericles.

Mock-up of the Library of Hadrian, Rome, Museo della Civilita Romana.

The travels to Athens
The philhellene emperor visited Athens three times during his lifetime and stayed here longer than he had stayed in any other city, but Rome. On his first visit, around 112 A.D., we was elected Eponymous Archon. In the year 124 A.D., as emperor now, Hadrian was initiated into the Eleusianian Mysteries, reformed the regime of Athens reinstating the number of members of the Cleisthenes Parliament to 500 and settled tax issues. He traveled the Peloponnese, founded and restored monuments, and the following year, returned to Athens where he inaugurated his ambitious building program. In his next travel (128-129 A.D.) he visited Sparta where he was elected “patronomos” and secured the consent of prominent families of Athens ans Sparta for the creation of the Koinon (League) of the Greek cities, a vision of Pericles since 450 B.C.

"The temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, which is among the largest temples of the ancient world,  was completed by Hadrian and only for its columns, 15.500 tones of Pentelic marble was used, four times the quantity used for the columns of the Parthenon.

The temple of Olympian Zeus. It was one of the largest temples of the ancient world, began constructing in the 6th c. B.C. and was completed by Hadrian who inaugurated it in 131/132 A.D. © Ministry of Culture & Sports.

As an enthusiast of the Greek culture, in 131/132 Hadrian founded the Panhellenion and established the Panhellenia Games. The institution was a federal body in which at least 30 cities from 3 continents who could prove their Greek roots, were part of. The seat of the Panhellenion was Athens, a fact that supported its role as the center of the Greek world. The vision of Hadrian to make Athens, the center of the eastern provinces was materialized as well by the buildings and infrastructures, the Palladian city obtained during his reign.

The Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus on the left of the Athenian Acropolis. In the years of Hadrian, the stage and the alleys of the theatre were embellished with statues. © Ministry of Culture & Sports

The Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Library of Hadrian
We begin from the Temple of Olympian Zeus, a monument point of reference in the heart of modern-day Athens. Its foundations had been set by the Peisistratids in the 6th c. B.C., while the most important attempts for its completion are the ones of Lycurgos in the 4th c. B.C., as well the king of Syria, Antioch IV Epiphanes, in circa 175 B.C. The temple was finally completed by Hadrian, who inaugurated it in 131/132 A.D. The Hadrianic temple was one of the largest of the ancient world and only for its columns, 15.500 tones of Pentelic marble was used, four times the quantity used for the columns of the Parthenon.

Hadrian Aqueduct. Running at a length of 25km, it is considered one of the longest tunnels of the Roman world. Its construction is a testimony of Hadrian’s will to improve the quality of life in Athens.

The Library of Hadrian, a magnificent structure that was completed in 131/132 A.D., testifies to the high esteem in which the emperor held the city of Athens, that he built there and not Rome such a building. The Athenian Pantheon, remnants of which are preserved east of the Library, was probably combining the worship of Gods and the deified Hadrian. Remnants of the Gymnasium that Hadrian founded in Athens are also preserved, and they were discovered in the area of Kynosargos, between the streets of Vouliagmenis and Kallirois.

Great was Hadrian’s interest for the brilliant celebration of the Dionysia in the Sanctuary of Dionysus Eleuthereus, at the south aisle of the Acropolis. Having the desire to associate himself with the radiance of the festival and the intellectual heritage of the city, Hadrian organized the Dionysian Games twice, which means that he covered the expenses of this great festival. The facade of the two-storeyed stage and the alleys of the theatre were embellished with statues, while there were also some changes in the koilon.

The body of an armored statue of Hadrian, in which Athena dominates. Wearing a laurel by two Nike goddesses, Athena press down the she-wolf who breastfeed the twins Romulus and Remus, mythical founders of Rome. Ancient Agora. © Ephorate of Antiquities of Athens.

The Hadrianic Aqueduct, Hadrian’s Arch
The Hadrianic Aqueduct is not only amajor infrastructure project, but also a testimony of the emperor’s will to improve the quality of life in Athens. Running at a length of 25km, it is considered one of the longest tunnels of the Roman world and a technical feat at subterranean mechanics. The construction began in 125 A.D. and was completed in 140 A.D. under the reign of Antoninus Pius, successor of Hadrian, as was written on an inscription on the architrave of the monumental facade of the ancient Reservoir (in its place, the modern structure was built at Dexameni Square at Kolonaki).

Information: Exhibition “Hadrian, Savior and Founder”, Fethiye Mosque, Pelopida & Panos str. (inside the Roman Agora), Athens, Open until the 31st of July, 2018. The Ephorate of Antiquities of Athens offers free tours to the public and to students until the 26th of July, every Thursday 11:00-12:00. Bookings 2109238175 (409 internal).

The restored Fethiye Mosque that hosts the exhibition “Hadrian, Savior and Founder”. It was build during 1456-1500 and is inside the Athenian Roman Agora. © Ephorate of Antiquities of Athens.

 

Hadrian’s Arch. A landmark between the old Athens of Theseus and the new city of Hadrian, the gate was raised by the Athenians to honor the philhellene emperor.

Having been initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries, Hadrian ordered to construct a bridge over the river Kephisos, still visible today, in order to facilitate the path of the Sacred Procession. The bridge was built at a point about one kilometer northeast from the propylon of the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore, in a dangerous area where the river often flooded. As far as the, familiar to us, Hadrian’s Arch goes, it was raised by the Athenians to honor Hadrian. It was completed in 131/132 A.D. and the emperor is supposed to have entered through it to inaugurate the temple of Olympian Zeus. According to two inscriptions above the arch (west and east side), the Gate was a landmark between the old Athens of Theseus and the new city of Hadrian.

The bridge over the river Kephisos is still visible today, a project of Hadrian on the occasion of his initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries, in 125A.D. Built in a dangerous area where the river often flooded, is was facilitating the path of the Sacred Procession. © Ephorate of Antiquities of Athens.

For the exhibition “Hadrian, Savior and Founder”, a meticulous keepsake publication was created, from which, the information of this text was drawn. Sponsors of this exhibition are the Paul & Alexandra Canellopoulos Foundation and the Friends of Acropolis Society.

 

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