The prime challenge facing the biographer of Hadrian is the inadequacy of the leading literary sources.

The first of these is the Historia Augusta, an abbreviation of its traditional title, “The Lives of Various Emperors and Tyrants from the Deified Hadrian to Numerianus, Composed by Various Hands.” The names of six authors are listed, and a number of references suggest that the book was written in the early fourth century after the abdication of Diocletian and before the death of Constantius. However, other allusions and anachronisms do not fit with this dating.

The mystery was solved by a German scholar in the nineteenth century who convincingly argued that in fact the book was the product of one writer only, and had been written nearly a century later than previously thought, toward the end of the fourth century.

The strangeness of the Historia Augusta does not cease with its authorship. The text itself is mendacious, mixing historical fact with fantasy and citing bogus sources. Fortunately, the life of Hadrian, the first in the series, is more or less free of base matter, although the same cannot be said of the brief account of his adopted son, Aelius Caesar—and indeed of many of the later lives.

We will never know who wrote the Historia Augusta, and what he was thinking of when he did. Maybe he was a hoaxer, sharing some kind of private joke with a coterie of friends.

Although the life of Hadrian does not include much fantasy, it is poor-quality history. Written in the manner of Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars, it is clumsily put together and dully written. It is sometimes difficult to disentangle the order or dating of events, and incidents are described with obscure brevity.

All of that allowed, the Historia Augusta contains much useful information, often confirming and usually being consistent with evidence from other sources.

By contrast, the Roman History of Dio Cassius is a serious, if uninspired, work. A leading imperial politician who flourished around the turn of the third century, a onetime consul and provincial governor, Dio wrote a history of Rome in eighty volumes, beginning with the Trojan prince Aeneas’ landfall in Latium after the fall of Troy and ending with the year A.D. 229. The difficulty in his case is that much of the narrative, including everything concerning the events of Hadrian’s lifetime, survives only in fragments and an inadequate summary by an eleventh-century monk, John Xiphilinus.

Two fourth-century texts, one attributed to Aurelius Victor and the other by an unknown hand, offer minibiographies of emperors, each the length of a substantial paragraph—helpful if handled with care. Bits and pieces can be gleaned from Christian writers such as Jerome and Eusebius, especially on Christian and Jewish matters.

Invisible in the shadows stand two lost books that underpin much of what has survived. These are Hadrian’s own autobiography, written in the last months of his life, and The Caesars (Caesares), a continuation of Suetonius by Marius Maximus; like Dio a leading senator of the Severan dynasty, he wrote in the early years of the third century. His quality as a historian is debated, but he was a substantial author and, it is supposed, influenced both Dio and the Historia Augusta.

Of Hadrian’s contemporaries, few writers have anything to say explicitly about him; however, they fill in much of the background to his life and times. He lived out his childhood and teen years under the Flavian dynasty, covered by Suetonius’ lives of Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. The invaluable correspondence of Pliny the Younger, a senator of moderate views connected to the Stoic opposition, shows how Nerva and Trajan arrived at a concordat with Rome’s estranged ruling class—a concordat that Hadrian as emperor endorsed, but placed under severe strain.

The Histories, by the great historian Tacitus, deals with the period from the fall of Nero and the Year of the Four Emperors up to the death of Domitian. Only the first four books and part of the fifth survive; this is fortunate, for they describe Rome’s most serious crisis since the civil wars of the first century B.C.; it haunted imperial politics for many years afterward, and avoiding a repetition was a preoccupation of the ruling class. Tacitus’ Agricola is useful for observations on Domitian; taken with the Germania, it also reveals much of Roman attitudes to the tribal peoples of northern Europe. The Annals, which covers the Julio-Claudian era after the death of Augustus, sometimes comments allusively on later events.

Specialist authors of various kinds cast light on aspects of the age. They include the great biographer and essayist Plutarch; Hadrian’s friend, the soldier and administrator Arrian, who wrote on hunting, military matters, and the philosophy of Epictetus, all of them topics dear to the emperor’s heart; the poets Martial and Statius, evocative flatterers of Domitian; Juvenal, excoriator of Roman decadence; the engineer and architect Apollodorus, who wrote a textbook on siegecraft; Aulus Gellius, who recorded instructive or curious information he came across in his reading or in conversation; Philostratus’ Lives of the Sophists; the homoerotic versifier Straton; three orators—Dio Chrysostom, the valetudinarian Aelius Aristides, and the egregious Polemon; Pausanias, author of the first guidebook to Greece; and the magical-realist storyteller Apuleius. Pliny the Younger’s letters illuminate the values of Rome’s upper class, from which Hadrian and his colleagues in government sprang. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations reveals much about the boy whom Hadrian singled out to be his ultimate successor to the throne; and Marcus’ mentor Fronto offers an insight into contemporary judgments of Hadrian. Strabo’s Geography, although written in the days of Augustus, is a mine of topographical data.

If the main sources are gravely deficient, then, there is much useful material to offer a rounded view of the Roman world during the late first and early second centuries. And, thanks to the labors of scholars and archaeologists, the physical remains of the past have yielded an almost inexhaustible mine of inscriptions, papyri, and coins. These speak directly to the present-day reader, and mitigate a pervading anti-Hadrianic bias in many of the literary sources. Important letters, decisions, and speeches of emperors were transcribed onto stone reliefs for the public benefit, often recording their verbatim remarks. A vital medium for propaganda, coins reveal an emperor communicating with his subjects (and, of course, placing the best possible spin on events).

Perhaps the most exciting discoveries are documents found in Judaean caves, written by Jewish fighters in the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans; and a papyrus describing a magical spell conducted by an Egyptian priest, whom Hadrian consulted shortly before the drowning of Antinous.

Although important items are to be found elsewhere, three invaluable collections assemble much of this material—Harold Mattingly’s magisterial Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum, volume 3; J. H. Oliver’s Greek Constitutions of Early Roman Emperors from Inscriptions and Papyri; and (in Latin or Greek only) E. Mary Smallwood’s essential Documents Illustrating the Principates of Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian.

Most of the mainstream ancient authors appear, in both Greek or Latin and English translation, on the Loeb Classical Library’s list (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts). Hadrian’s poetry in Latin is included in Loeb’sMinor Latin Poets, volume 2; so far as I know, his attributed verses in Greek are not collected.

Penguin Classics publishes Ammianus Marcellinus, The Later Roman Empire AD 354–378, trans. Walter Hamilton; Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, trans. Martin Hammond; Cicero, Selected Letters, trans. D. R. Shackleton Bailey, and On Government, trans. Michael Grant; the first half of the Historia Augusta as Lives of the Later Caesars, trans. Anthony Birley; Horace, Satires of Horace and Persius, trans. Niall Rudd, and Complete Odes and Epodes, trans. W. G. Shepherd and Betty Radice; Josephus, The Jewish War, trans. G. A. Williamson, rev. E. Mary Smallwood; Juvenal, Sixteen Satires, trans. Peter Green; Martial, The Epigrams (a selection), trans. James Michie; Pausanias, Guide to Greece: Southern Greece and Central Greece (two volumes), trans. Peter Levi; Odes of Pindar, trans. Maurice Bowra; Plato, The Symposium, trans. Christopher Gill; Pliny the Elder, Natural History, trans. John F. Healey; Pliny the Younger’sLetters, trans. Betty Radice; Plutarch, Essays (a selection), trans. Robin H. Waterfield, also selected biographies under various titles from Parallel Lives; Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, trans. Robert Graves, rev. James Rives; Tacitus,Annals of Imperial Rome, trans. Michael Grant, Agricola and Germania, trans. H. Mattingly, rev. S. A. Handford, The Histories, trans. Kenneth Wellesley; Xenophon, The Persian Expedition, trans. Rex Warner.

With rare titles, I have directed readers to Web sites, accurate and active at the time of writing.

For works not published by Loeb, the reader may consult the following (where possible in translation).

Aelius Aristides, P. Complete Works, trans. Charles A. Behr (Leiden: Brill, 1981–86)

Apollodorus. Poliorcetica, see Siegecraft, trans. Dennis F. Sullivan (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000)

Apuleius. The Apologia and Florida of Apuleius of Madaura, trans. H. E. Butler (Dodo Press, 2008)

Arrian. Circumnavigation of the Black Sea, trans. Aidan Liddle (Bristol Classical Press, 2003)

_______ . Arrian’s Anabasis of Alexander and Indica, ed. E. J. Chinnock (London: George Bell and Son, 1893)

______. The Greek Historians. The Complete and Unabridged Historical Works of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon and Arrian (New York: Random House, 1942)

______. Indica. See

_______. Ars Tactica, trans. Ann Hyland, in Training the Roman Cavalry from Arrian’s Ars Tactica (Alan Sutton: Dover, N.H., 1993)

_______. Order of Battle with Array. See

_______. Parthica in Arrianus, Flavius: Scripta: Vol. II. Scripta minora et fragmenta, A. G. Roos and Gerhard Wirth (eds.), Biblioteca scriptorum graecorum et romanorum teubneriana (Leipzig: Teubner, 2002)

Arrian and Xenophon. Xenophon and Arrian on Hunting, trans. A. A. Phillips and M. M. Willcock (Warminster, UK: Aris and Phillips, 1999)

Aurelius Victor. De Caesaribus, trans. H. W. Bird (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1994)

Charisius, Ars Grammatica, ed. K. Barwick. See

Epiphanius. Weights and Measures. See

Epitome de Caesaribus, trans. Thomas M. Banchich. See

Eusebius. Church History. See

Eutropius. Historiae romanae breviarium. See; Adamantius, Physiognomica, ed. J. G. Franzius (Altenburg: Scriptores Physiognomiae Veteres, 1780)

Galen. The Diseases of the Mind, 4; translation from T. Wiedemann, Greek and Roman Slavery (London: Croom Helm, 1981)

Hephaestio of Thebes. Hephaestionis Thebani Apotelesmaticorum libri tres, ed. D. Pingree (Leipzig: Teubner, 1973)

Jerome. Chronicle. See

_______. Contra Rufinum. See

_______. De viris illustribus. See

Justin. See

Justinian. Corpus Iuris Civilis (including the Digest). See

Macrobius. Saturnalia, trans. Peter Vaughan Davies (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969)

The Chronicle of John Malalas: A Translation, by Elizabeth Jeffreys, Michael Jeffreys, Roger Scott, et al. Byzantina Australiensia 4 (Melbourne: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1986)

Philostratus. Heroicus. See

Polemon. De Physiognomia, trans. (from Arabic into Latin) G. Hoffmann (Leipzig: 1893)

Sententiae Hadriani. See N. Lewis, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 32 (1991), 267–80

Sibylline Oracles/Books. See

Soranus’ Gynaecology, trans. Owsei Temkin, et al. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1956)

Strato. Puerilities: Erotic Epigrams of the Greek Anthology (Princeton: Yale University Press, 2001)

Syncellus, Georgius. Chronographia. Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, ed. B. G. Niebuhr et al., vol. 1 (Bonn, 1829)

Talmud. See text links at

Vegetius. Epitoma rei militaris (Military Institutions of the Romans), trans. John

Clark (Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger Publishing, 2007)


Of modern studies the one on which I most depended was Anthony Birley’s Hadrian, the Restless Emperor. A quarry of scholarly information, it assembles all that is known or can be guessed about its subject; in particular, through scrutiny of the tiniest clues and clever speculation, it establishes a clear outline of Hadrian’s journeys.

For those with a general interest in the classical world I recommend from below Balsdon’s Life and Leisure in Ancient Rome, Bowman’s Life and Letters on the Roman Frontier—Vindolanda and Its People, Connolly’s wonderful visual reconstructions in The Ancient City: Life in Classical Athens and Rome, Goldsworthy’s In the Name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire, Hopkins and Beard’s revisionist The Colosseum, Paul Johnson’s A History of the Jews, Royston Lambert’s (somewhat overcolored) Beloved and God, Thorsten Opper’s catalogue, Hadrian—Empire and Conflict, and, of course, Marguerite Yourcenar’s study in melancholy, Memoirs of Hadrian.

For a full bibliography, readers can consult the Cambridge Ancient History, volume 11, The High Empire. What follows is a selection of books and articles that I found useful.

Adembri, Benedetta. Hadrian’s Villa (Rome: Ministero per I Beni e le Attività Culturali, Soprintendenza Archeologica per il Lazio, Electa 2000)

Alexander, P. J. “Letters and Speeches of the Emperor Hadrian,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 49, 1938

Alon, G. The Jews in Their Land in the Talmudic Age II (Harvard University Press, 1984)

Antinous: The Face of the Antique, exhibition catalogue (Leeds, UK: Henry Moore Institute, 2006)

Arafat, K. W. Pausanias’s Greece, Ancient Artists and Roman Rulers (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Balsdon, J.P.V.D. Life and Leisure in Ancient Rome (London: The Bodley Head, 1969)

Beard, Mary, John North, and Simon Price. Religions of Rome, vol. 1: A History (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Benario, H. W. A Commentary on the Vita Hadriani in the Historia Augusta (The Scholars Press, 1980)

Bennett, Julian. Trajan: Optimus Princeps, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2001)

Bernand, A., and E. Bernand. Les Inscriptions grecques et latines du Colosse de Memnon (Archeolog Caire, 1960)

Betz, H. D. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, 2nd ed. (University of Chicago Press, 1992)

Birley, Anthony. Garrison Life at Vindolanda—A Band of Brothers (Stroud, UK: Tempus, 2002)

———. Hadrian, the Restless Emperor (London and New York: Routledge, 1997)

.——– Marcus Aurelius: A Biography (London: Batsford, 1987)

Boatwright, Mary T. Hadrian and the Cities of the Roman Empire (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000)

———. Hadrian and the City of Rome (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987)

Bowerstock, G. W. Greek Sophists in the Roman Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969)

Bowman, Alan K. Life and Letters on the Roman Frontier—Vindolanda and Its People, 3rd ed. (London: British Museum Press, 2003)

Brunt, P. A. Roman Imperial Themes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990)

Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985)

Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 11: The High Empire (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Camp, J. M. The Archaeology of Athens (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004)

Cantarelli, L. Gli scritti latini di Adriano imperatore, Studi e documenti di storia e diritto 19 (1898), 113–70

Castle, E. B. Ancient Education and Today (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1961)

Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum, 12 vols. (Bruxelles: Lamertin, 1898– 1953)

Claridge, A. “Hadrian’s Column of Trajan,” Journal of Roman Archaeology 6, 1993

Clarke, John R. Looking at Lovemaking: Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art 100 BC–AD 250 (University of California Press, 2001)

Coarelli, Filippo. Rome and Environs (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 2008)

Collingwood, R. G., and R. P. Wright. Roman Inscriptions of Britain I: Inscriptions on Stone (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965)

Connolly, Peter, and Hazel Dodge. The Ancient City: Life in Classical Athens and Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998)

Connor, W. R. The Acts of the Pagan Martyrs/Acta Alexandrinorum (Greek Texts and Commentaries) (Ayer Co. Publications, New Hampshire)

Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (Berlin: Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1893–2003)

Corpus Papyrorum Judaicorum I–III. V. A. Techerikover and A. Fuks, eds. (London and Cambridge, Mass.: 1957–64)

Duncan-Jones, R. P. Structure and Scale in the Roman Economy (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press: 1990)

Dupont, Florence. Daily Life in Ancient Rome (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992)

Eck, Werner. “The Bar Kokhba Revolt: The Roman Point of View.” Journal of Roman Studies 89 (1999)

Encyclopedia Judaica. Cecil Roth, ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1972)

Epigrammata Graeca. Georg Kaibel, ed. (Berlin: 1888)

Fontes iuris romani antejustiniani in usum scholarum [FIRA]. S. Riccobono et al., eds. (Florence: S.A.G. Barbèra, 1941–64)

Fuks, Alexander. “Aspects of the Jewish Revolt in A.D. 115–117.” The Journal of Roman Studies 51, parts 1 and 2 (1961), 98–104

Gibbon, Edward. History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (London: Folio Society, 1983)

Goldsworthy, Adrian. In the Name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire (London: Orion, 2003)

Gray, William D. “New Light from Egypt on the Early Reign of Hadrian.” The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 40:1 (Oct. 1923)

Green, Peter. From Alexander to Actium (London: Thames and Hudson, 1990)

Hoff, Michael C., and Susan I. Rotroff. The Romanization of Athens: Proceedings of an International Conference held at Lincoln, Nebraska (April 1996). Oxbow Monograph 94 (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 1997)

Hopkins, Keith, and Mary Beard. The Colosseum (London: Profile Books, 2005)

Inscriptiones Graecae (Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1893ff)

Inscriptiones Graecae ad res Romanas pertinentes (Paris, 1906–27)

Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae. H. Dessau, ed. (Berlin, 1892–1916)

Johnson, Paul. A History of the Jews (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987)

Jones, Brian W. The Emperor Domitian (London: Routledge, 1993)

Jones, C. P. Plutarch and Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972).

________The Roman World of Dio Chrysostom (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978)

Jones, David. The Bankers of Puteoli: Finance, Trade and Industry in the Roman World (Stroud, UK: Tempus, 2006)

Keppie, Lawrence. The Making of the Roman Army from Republic to Empire (London: Routledge, 1984)

Lambert, Royston. Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous (New York: Viking Books, 1984)

Lamberton, Robert. Plutarch (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001)

Lepper, F. A. Trajan’s Parthian War and Arrian’s Parthica (Chicago: Ares, 1985)

Levine, Lee I. Jerusalem: Portrait of the City in the Second Temple Period (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 2002)

Lewis, N. The Documents from the Bar Kokhba Period in the Cave Letters, Greek Papyri (Jerusalem: 1989)

MacDonald, William L., and John A. Pinto. Hadrian’s Villa and Its Legacy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995)

Mantel, H. “The Causes of the Bar Kochba Revolt.” Jewish Quarterly Review 58 (1967)

Mari, Zaccaria, and Sergio Sgalambro. “The Antinoeion of Hadrian’s Villa: Interpretation and Architectural Reconstruction.” American Journal of Archaeology 3:1 (Jan. 2007)

Mattingly, H. Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum III: Nerva to Hadrian (London: British Museum, 1936)

Mattingly, H., and E. A. Sydenham. The Roman Imperial Coinage I–III London [1923–30] (London: Spink and Son, 1968)

Mommsen, Theodor. A History of Rome Under the Emperors, German ed. trans. Demandt, Barbara and Alexxander, ed., Krojze, Clare (London: Routledge, 1976)

Naor, Mordecai. City of Hope (Chemed Books, 1996)

Oliver, J. H. Greek Constitutions of Early Roman Emperors from Inscriptions and Papyri (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1989)

Opper, Thorsten. Hadrian—Empire and Conflict, exhibition catalogue (London: British Museum, 2008)

Panegyrici Latini. R.A.B. Mynors, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964)

Petrakis, N. L. “Diagonal Earlobe Creases, Type A Behavior and the Death of Emperor Hadrian.” Western Journal of Medicine 132.1 (January 1980), 87–91

Platner, Samuel Ball (as completed and revised by Thomas Ashby). A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1929)

Rawson, Beryl. Children and Childhood in Roman Italy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)

Richardson, L., Jr. A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992)

Rossi, Lino. Trajan’s Column and the Dacian Wars (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1971)

Schäfer, P. “Hadrian’s Policy in Judaea and the Bar Kokhba Revolt: A Reassessment,” in P. R. Davies and R. T. White (eds.), A Tribute to G. Vermes, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supp. Ser. 100 (1990), 281–303

Schürer, E. History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175BC–AD135), vol. I, rev. ed., G. Vermes and F. Millar (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1973)

Sherk, Robert K., ed. The Roman Empire: Augustus to Hadrian (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988)

Smallwood, E. Mary. Documents Illustrating the Principates of Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966)

_______. Jews Under Roman Rule (Leiden: Brill, 1976)

Spawforth, A. J., and Susan Walker. “The World of the Panhellenion: II. Three Dorian Cities.” The Journal of Roman Studies 76 (1986), 88–105

Speidel, M. P. “Swimming the Danube Under Hadrian’s eyes. A Feat of the Emperor’s Batavi Horse Guard.” Ancient Society 22 (1991), 277–82

. Riding for Caesar: The Roman Emperors’ Horse Guard (London: Routledge, 1994)

________. “Roman Army Pay Scales.” The Journal of Roman Studies 82 (1992)

Stambaugh, John E. The Ancient Roman City (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988)

Strack, P. L. Untersuchungen zur römische Reichsprägung des zweiten Jahrhunderts II. Die Reichsprägung zur Zeit des Hadrian (Stuttgart: 1933)

Swain, S. Hellenism and Empire. Language, Classicism and Power in the Greek World AD (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996)

Syme, Ronald. “The Career of Arrian.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 86 (1982), 181–211

_______. “Fictional History Old and New: Hadrian.” Roman Papers VI (1991)

_______. Tacitus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958)

_______. “The Wrong Marcius Turbo.” Journal of Roman Studies 52, parts 1 and 2 (1962)

Toynbee, J. M. C. The Hadrianic School: A Chapter in the History of Greek Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934)

Williams, Craig A. Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)

Winter, J. G. “In the Service of Rome: Letters from the Michigan Collection of Papyri.” Classical Philology 22:3 (July 1927)

Yadin, Yigael. Bar-Kokhba: The Re-discovery of the Legendary Hero of the Last Jewish Revolt Against Imperial Rome (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971)

Yourcenar, Marguerite. Memoirs of Hadrian, trans. Grace Frick (London: Secker and Warburg, 1955)

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!