« Habibus, deacon, martyr at Edessa Hadrianus, Publius Aelius, emperor Hecebolius, a rhetor at Constantinople »

Hadrianus, Publius Aelius, emperor

Hadrianus (1), Publius Aelius, emperor 117–137. Born in 76, and placed, at the age of ten, on his father's death, under the guardianship of his cousin, Ulpius Trajanus, afterwards emperor, Hadrian was in his youth a diligent student of Greek literature, and entered on his career as military tribune in Lower Moesia in 95. On the death of Nerva in 97, Trajan became emperor, and Hadrian, on whom he bestowed such favours that men looked for a formal adoption, served in the wars with the Dacians, Pannonians, Sarmatians, and Parthians. During the campaign against the last-named, Trajan, leaving Hadrian in command of the army and of the province of Syria, started for Rome, but died at Selinus in Cilicia in 117. Hadrian had himself proclaimed emperor by the army, communicated the election to the senate, and received their formal sanction. His external policy was marked by the abandonment of any idea of extending the eastern frontier of the empire beyond the Euphrates. Having gained popular favour by gladiatorial games, large donations, and the remission of arrears of taxes, Hadrian devoted himself for several years from 120 to a personal inspection of the provinces. In 120–121 he visited Gaul, Germany, and Britain, erecting fortresses and strengthening the frontier defences, of which an example is his Roman wall from the Solway to the mouth of the Tyne. We may find traces, perhaps, of the eclectic tendency of his mind in the altars dedicated to Mithras and to an otherwise unknown goddess named Coventina or Conventina, found near the wall not far from Hexham.8484See a paper by Mr. Clayton in the Transactions of the Newcastle Archaeological Society for 1875. Some archaeologists consider Conventina a Latinized form of the name of some British goddess. The fact that Hadrian when in Spain summoned a conventus of all Romans resident there suggests that the goddess was perhaps the personified guardian of such a conventus held in Britain. In 122 he came to Athens, which became his favourite residence, and the same eclectic tendency led him to seek initiation in the Eleusinian mysteries (a.d. 125). On the death, probably self-sought, of his favourite Antinous, a Bithynian page of great beauty and genius, Hadrian paid his memory the divine honours given to emperors. Constellations were named after him, cities dedicated to him, incense burnt in his honour, and the art market flooded with statues and busts representing his exceeding beauty. The apotheosis of Antinous was the reductio at once ad absurdum and ad horribile of the decayed polytheism of the empire (Eus. H E. iv. 8; Justin, Apol. i. 39). In 131 the emperor began to execute the plan, conceived earlier in his reign, of making Jerusalem a Roman colonia, and rebuilding it as Aelia Capitolina, thus commemorating both the gens to which the emperor belonged and its consecration to the Capitolian Jupiter. At first the proposal was received tranquilly. The work of rebuilding was placed in the hands of a Jew, Aquila of Pontus, and the Jews petitioned for permission to rebuild their temple. They were met with studied indignity, and a plough was drawn over the site of the sacred place in token of its desecration. The city was filled with Roman emigrants, the Jews were forbidden to enter the city, but allowed, as if in bitter irony, on the anniversary of its capture by Titus to bewail their fate within its gates. On one of the gates a marble statue of the unclean beast was a direct insult to Jewish feeling, while Christian feeling was outraged by a statue of Jupiter on the site of the resurrection and of Venus on that of the crucifixion. Trees and statues were placed on the platform of the temple, and a grove to Adonis near the cave of the nativity at Bethlehem. Such persistent defiance of national feeling roused widespread indignation, which burst out under a leader whom we know by his assumed name of Bar-Cocheba ("the son of a star")—a name probably suggested by the imagery of Balaam (Num. xxiv. 17), possibly also by the recollection of the "star in the east" of Matt. ii. 2. He is described by Eusebius (H. E. iv. 3) as a murderer and a robber (φονικὸς καὶ λῃστρικὸς) of the Barabbas type, but was recognized by Akiba, the leading rabbi of the time, as the Messiah, seized 50 fortresses and 985 villages, and established himself in the stronghold of Bethera, between Caesarea and Lydda (rebuilt by Hadrian and renamed Diospolis). The Christians of Palestine, true to the apostolic precept of submission to the powers that be, took no part in the insurrection, and were accordingly persecuted by the rebel leader and offered the alternative of denying the Messiahship of Jesus or the penalty of torture and death (ib. iv. 8). Severus was recalled from Britain, the rebellion suppressed with a strong hand, and edicts of extreme stringency issued against the Jews, forbidding them to circumcise their children, keep the Sabbath, or educate their youth in the Law. Akiba died under torture, and a secret school for instruction in the Law, continuing the rabbinic traditions, was formed at Lydda (Jost, Judenthum, ii. 7). To the Christian church in Judaea the suppression of the revolt and the tolerant spirit of the emperor brought relief. They left Pella, where they had taken refuge during the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, and returned to the holy city. Its 15 successive bishops had all been Hebrews, but now the mother-church of the world first came under the care of a gentile bishop (Eus. H. E. iv. 5).

In his general treatment of Christians, Hadrian followed in the footsteps of Trajan. The more cultivated members of the church felt that in addressing the tolerant, eclectic emperor, "curiositatum omnium explorator," as Tertullian calls him (Apol. c. 5), they had a chance of a favourable hearing, and the age of apologists began. QUADRATUS presented his Apologia, laying stress on the publicity of the works of Christ, and appealing to still surviving eye-witnesses. ARISTIDES addressed to the emperor (a.d. 133) a treatise, extant and admired in the time of Jerome, in defence of the Christians, and was said even to have been admitted to a personal hearing. Early in his reign, but probably a little later, an Asiatic official of high character, Serenius Granianus, applied to Hadrian for instructions 435as to the treatment of Christians, complaining that their enemies expected him to condemn them without a trial. The emperor thereupon addressed an official letter to Minucius Fundanus, proconsul of Asia, regulating the mode of procedure against the persecuted sect. No encouragement was to be given to common informers (συκοφάνται) or to popular clamour. If the officials of the district (ἐπαρχιῶται) were confident that they could sustain a prosecution, the matter was to be investigated in due course. Offenders against the laws were to be punished; but, above all things, the trade of the informer was to be checked (Eus. H. E. iv. 8, 9). The character of Hadrian may be inferred from his policy. He had not the zeal of a persecutor nor the fear that leads to cruelty. His philosophy and his religion did not keep him from the infamy of an impure passion of the basest type. He adapted himself without difficulty to the worship of the place in which he was. At Rome he maintained the traditional sacred rites which had originated under the republic, and posed as the patron of Epictetus and the Stoicism identified with his name. At Athens he was initiated in the Eleusinian mysteries, and rose to the dignity of an Epoptes in the order, as one in the circle of its most esoteric teaching. He became an expert in the secrets of magic and astrology. To him, as he says in his letter to Servianus, the worshippers of Serapis and of Christ stood on the same footing. Rulers of synagogues, Christian bishops, Samaritan teachers, were all alike trading on the credulity of the multitude (Flavius Vopiscus, Saturn. cc. 7, 8). According to a later writer, Lampridius (in Alex. Sev. c. 43), his wide eclecticism led him at one time to erect temples without statues, which he intended to dedicate to Christ. He was restrained, it was reported, by oracles which declared that, if this were done, all other temples would be deserted and the religion of the empire subverted. But the absence of contemporary evidence of such an intention, on which Christian apologists would naturally have lain stress, leads us to reject Lampridius's explanation of these temples as an unauthenticated conjecture. More probably, as Casaubon suggests (Annot. in Lamprid. c. 43), they were intended ultimately to be consecrated to Hadrian himself. So the imperial Sophist—the term is used of Hadrian by Julian (Caesares p. 28, ed. 1583)—passed through life, "holding no form of creed and contemplating all," and the well-known lines—

"Animula, vagula, blandula,

Hospes, comesque corporis,

Quae nunc abibis in loca,

Pallidula, rigida, nudula?

Nec, ut soles, dabis jocos"

(Spartian. Vit. Hadr.)

shew a like dilettanteism in him to the last.

A reign like that of Hadrian naturally, on the whole, favoured the growth of the church. The popular cry, "Christianos ad loenes," was hushed. Apologetic literature was an appeal to the intellect and judgment of mankind. The frivolous eclecticism of the emperor and yet more his deification of Antinous were enough to shake the allegiance of serious minds to the older system. Tolerance was, however, equally favourable to the growth of heresy; and to this reign we trace the rise and growth of the chief Gnostic sects of the 2nd cent., the followers of SATURNINUS in Syria, of BASILIDES, CARPOCRATES, and VALENTINUS in Egypt, of MARCION in Pontus (Eus. H. E. iv. 7, 8). Cf., besides the authorities cited, Gibbon, Decline and Fall, c. iii.; Milman, Hist. of Christ. bk. ii. c. vi.; Lardner, Jewish and Heathen Testimonies; c. xi.

[E.H.P.]

« Habibus, deacon, martyr at Edessa Hadrianus, Publius Aelius, emperor Hecebolius, a rhetor at Constantinople »





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