No, I am not an expert in ancient Roman culture. Still, in my childhood I spent some time in North Africa, which in the ancient past was an important part of the Roman Empire. On weekends, we often visited ruins of Leptis Magna, a great ancient spot which was an important city of the Roman Empire. It may sound a bit weird, but running all around the ancient Roman ruins was that time one of my favorite childhood games.
Leptis Magna is located in present-day Libya, about 80 miles east of Tripoli. It was originally founded by the Phoenicians in the 7th century BCE, but it later became part of the Roman Empire. Leptis Magna was known for its impressive architecture and urban planning. It had a well-preserved theater, a large basilica, and several public baths, as well as a forum, a triumphal arch, and a circus. The city was also surrounded by walls and had a harbor that was used for trade with other parts of the Roman Empire.
One of the places I spent much time playing childhood games was ruins of Hadrian’s Baths. Hadrian’s Baths of Leptis Magna were one of the largest and most impressive public baths complexes in the Roman Empire. The construction of the baths was initiated during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, who visited Leptis Magna in 129 CE, and completed during the reign of his successor Antoninus Pius in the 2nd century CE. The complex covered an area of more than 12 acres. It consisted of several different sections, including a caldarium (hot room), a tepidarium (warm room), and a frigidarium (cold room), as well as an outdoor swimming pool and a large exercise area. The complex also included various other rooms and spaces, such as dressing rooms, saunas, and massage rooms. The baths were decorated with intricate mosaics, marble statues, and frescoes, and were considered one of the most luxurious public spaces in the city. They were designed to accommodate up to 1,600 people at a time, and were used by both men and women, though at different times of day. Maybe someday I will be able to digitize analog photos I did with my first camera in ruins of this magnificent city.
Me, 10 years old, in Leptis Magna with my first camera, many but many years ago
Still, one of the Roman names that I remember from those times was Hadrian. In the photos of the Roman busts photographed in Altes Museum in Berlin that I posted last week, there are not only portraits of Emperor Hadrian, but also three other individuals associated with him – his young friend and supposedly lover as well as his successor and second line successor. The latter you can remember from the Hollywood film ‘Gladiator’.
Let us meet them.
Emperor Hadrian of Rome
Hadrian was born on January 24th, AD 76, in Italica, Spain. He was the third of four children born to a well-connected family. His father was a cousin of the future emperor Trajan, and his mother came from a prominent Roman family. Hadrian was educated in Rome and pursued a career in politics and the military. He served as governor of several Roman provinces before becoming Emperor in AD 117, following the death of Trajan.As Emperor, Hadrian is known for his travels throughout the Roman Empire and his efforts to consolidate and secure its borders. He is credited with commissioning many notable building projects, including the Pantheon in Rome and Hadrian’s Wall in northern Britain. He also founded several new cities, including Antinopolis in Egypt, and was a patron of the arts and sciences. Despite these achievements, Hadrian’s reign was marked by controversy and conflict. He was known for his authoritarian rule and harsh treatment of political opponents. He also faced several rebellions and wars, including the Second Jewish War and the Bar Kokhba revolt in Judea. Hadrian died on July 10th, AD 138, and was succeeded by Antoninus Pius. His legacy has been mixed, with some historians praising his accomplishments as a builder and statesman, while others criticize his policies and actions as emperor.
Antinous, Hadrian’s young and beloved friend
Antinous was a young Bithynian boy who was brought into Hadrian’s court when he was just 13 years old. The two quickly formed a bond, and Antinous became Hadrian’s constant companion, accompanying him on his travels throughout the Empire. There is much debate over whether their relationship was purely platonic or whether it was romantic in nature. Some scholars believe that Hadrian and Antinous were lovers, while others argue that their relationship was more of a mentor-mentee or father-son dynamic. What is known for certain is that Antinous had a profound impact on Hadrian’s life. When Antinous drowned in the Nile River at the age of 20, Hadrian was devastated. He declared Antinous a god, founded a city in his honor (Antinopolis), and commissioned numerous statues and busts of his beloved companion.
Emperor Antoninus Pius, the Hadrian’s successor
Antoninus Pius was a Roman emperor who ruled from 138 AD to 161 AD, succeeding Hadrian. He was born on September 19, 86 AD in Lanuvium, Italy. Antoninus was a successful lawyer before becoming emperor, and he was adopted by Hadrian as his successor shortly before Hadrian’s death. During his reign, Antoninus Pius focused on maintaining peace and stability within the Roman Empire. He avoided expanding the empire through military conquest, instead choosing to negotiate with neighboring tribes and maintain friendly relations. He also implemented various domestic policies to improve the lives of Roman citizens, including the construction of new buildings and public works. Antoninus Pius was known for his piety and dedication to the Roman religion. He funded the construction of several temples and supported the Roman priesthood. He was also a patron of the arts, commissioning many sculptures and other works of art during his reign. Antoninus Pius died on March 7, 161 AD in Lorium, Italy, at the age of 74. He was succeeded by his adopted sons, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus (two emperors shared power as co-rulers!).
Emperor Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius was co-emperor with Lucius Verus from 161 to 169 AD. The two men were adopted brothers and ruled together as joint emperors following the death of Antoninus Pius. During their reign, they faced significant military challenges, including a war against the Parthian Empire and the Antonine Plague, which devastated the Roman Empire. Lucius Verus died in 169 AD, leaving Marcus Aurelius as the sole emperor.
During his reign, Marcus Aurelius was known for his administrative reforms, which helped stabilize the empire economically and politically. He also expanded the empire’s borders through successful military campaigns in Germany and Parthia. Despite his many accomplishments, Marcus Aurelius faced several challenges during his reign. He had to deal with frequent outbreaks of the Antonine Plague, which killed thousands of people across the empire. He also had to confront the Marcomanni, a Germanic tribe that frequently raided Roman territory.
While Marcus Aurelius is often praised for his philosophical writings and his efforts to reform the Roman Empire, his reign was not without criticism. One of the main criticisms of his reign was his reluctance to name a successor, which ultimately led to a succession crisis after his death (compare Commodus you could have seen in Gladiator, fiction but true in character). Another criticism of Aurelius was his tendency to prioritize military affairs over domestic matters. While he is credited with leading several successful military campaigns, his neglect of domestic issues such as inflation and corruption contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire. Additionally, Aurelius was not always successful in his attempts to promote Stoicism as a guiding philosophy for the Roman Empire. While he personally practiced Stoicism and wrote extensively on the topic, his efforts to implement it as the official philosophy of the empire were met with resistance from other factions, including the Senate. Finally, despite his reputation as a philosopher king, Aurelius was not immune to the corrupting influence of power. He was known to have engaged in political intrigue and used his position to punish political enemies, which contradicted his Stoic ideals of justice and fairness. Overall, while Aurelius is often held up as a model of Roman virtue and leadership, his reign was marked by both successes and failures, and his legacy is complex and multifaceted.
Roman Empress Annia Galeria Faustina Minor
Annia Galeria Faustina Minor (or Faustina II) was a Roman Empress, born in 130 AD in Rome as the daughter of Emperor Antoninus Pius and Empress Faustina the Elder. In 145 AD, she married Marcus Aurelius, who was then only his adopted son. Together, they had at least 13 children. Faustina II was known for her beauty and devotion to the goddess Juno. In Rome, she had many buildings and temples dedicated to her name, including the famous Arches of Faustina. After the Empress’ death in 175 AD, Marcus Aurelius declared her a goddess and ordered the construction of many temples in her honor. Additionally, Faustina II was depicted on Roman coins and medals for many years after her death, demonstrating her popularity and significance in those times.