Born in Italica, Spain 1,936 years ago today, Publius Aelius Hadrianus became, at 41, the third of the Five Good Roman Emperors, following the death of Trajan who was a cousin of Hadrian's father. Overall, his reign was marked by comparable peace, the exception being the second Roman-Jewish War, after which he remained violent in his Anti-Semitism. Without constant military battles he was able to fortify the empire which stretched from north Africa to northern England and from Portugal to Iraq. Along with the wall that bears his name near the Scottish border, Hadrian oversaw several colossal building projects. Most notable are the Pantheon in its current form (entirely rebuilt after a fire destroyed the original) and what is said to have been the largest temple in the ancient capital, The Temple of Venus and Roma. A great traveler, he rarely saw his wife, vastly preferring the culture of Athens to Rome and the company of young men to women. Of course, his greatest love was Antinous, whom he met at thirteen or fourteen in Turkey. After Antinous drowned in the Nile at nineteen, Hadrian's tributes were unparalleled: He had him deified, founded the city of Antinopolis, commissioned dozens of busts and statues of him, built a temple to him at his villa in Tivoli, and put his likeness on money, the only non-Emperor ever honored with a coin. They were not just friends. The Cult of Antinous was extremely popular with a certain kind of man throughout the empire and flourished until later when it was harshly condemned for being based on an 'immoral relationship' and suppressed by the emerging Catholic church. Hadrian died at 62 without any biological children. In his final year, he adopted for the sake of an heir a 51 year-old named Antoninus Pius.
Regardless of whether or not you think you're interested in the ancient world, read lesbian Marguerite Yourcenar's amazing novel, Memoirs of Hadrian, translated into English by Grace Frick, her partner for forty-two years. The book is so good it made Yourcenar the first woman elected to the Académie Française, founded in 1635.