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Hadrian: Empire and Conflict Paperback – October 12, 2010
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Bring[s] together artifacts from around the world, including stunning sculptures, bronzes, coins, mosaics, and fine interpretive texts about the man who was emperor of Rome from 117 C.E. to 138 C.E....[A] striking, beautifully illustrated book. (Joan W. Gartland Library Journal 2008-09-15)
[An] excellent and lavishly illustrated book...Highly recommended and astonishing value for money. (Andrew Jack culturekiosque.com 2008-10-26)
The book is lavishly illustrated with high--quality color photos of many important works of art, architecture, and coins from many countries...Intended for a general audience, the book is lucidly written. (J. Pollini Choice 2009-05-01)
About the Author
Thorsten Opper is a curator in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum. He has published work on ancient sculpture and eighteenth-century antiquarianism.
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Of course Hadrian had never been popular in Rome from the beginning of his reign, plagued by uncertainties about his adoption at Trajan's deathbed, the murder of the "Four Consulars" by his representative in Rome, Attianus, and most of all his abandoning Trajan's newly conquered provinces of Armenia, Assyria, Mesopotamia and even Lower Moesia. The importance of Virgil's "dominion without end" and especially the impact of Alexander, who had even inspired Julius Caesar to plan a Parthian war cannot be underestimated. Trajan got his Alexander moment on the shores of the Persian Gulf, lamenting that his age would prevent him from conquering India (what Rome could have done with India is a complete mystery). But Trajan was lucky. He died at the right time, while Rome was still ecstatic about his victories, not knowing that al the newly conquered territories were rising in revolt, that Trajan himself had already given Mesopotamia back to a Parthian prince, and that his conquests had been more like a grand march to nowhere.
Hadrian had all this thrust upon him as well as another major Jewish Revolt, and so much trouble from the Roxolani, Iazyges and Dacians that he had to abandon the flat, unprotected plains of trans-Danube Moesia, withdraw the borders of Dacia to the Carpathians and even dismantle the famous bridge of Trajan and Apollodorus. That he stabilized all this at the very beginning of his reign was a kind of minor miracle. But the results lost him the esteem of the people just as the killing of the four senators, which he claimed was not his order, poisoned his relations with the senate for the rest of his reign. His reign was long and peaceful, and among his many accomplishments was bringing the Greek East fully into the empire, a vast program of building, and his travels. The travels have been found to be not an indulgent sightseeing tour, but a thought out program to fortify the borders of the empire and reforming the training and discipline of the army. This "Greekling" was a strong military man who had had three tribunates and whose reforms were still in effect in the time of Cassius Dio.Add to all this his interest in the Mysteries, philosophy and architecture, particularly evident in the Pantheon and the Tibur Villa, and you have the most intelligent and complex emperor since Tiberius, but one who possessed the outgoing nature of Augustus.
This book contains all this and much more. It is unique in that it is neither a popular biography nor a scholarly history but a companion book to the British Museum's 2008 exhibition on Hadrian and his times, written to give people the context of the items on display. The author, Thorsten Opper is the British Museum's Curator of Greek and Roman Sculpture, and as such has a considerable knowledge of the period. Freed from having to present or defend a particular historical thesis, he divides his book into thematic sections of background, the travels and military fortifications, the architectural works, and people (Sabina and Antinous each get a chapter). Thus the book is not a chronological history of the reign as much as it is a cultural survey of the times in which he lived, which is fitting for an exhibition of this type in which not only great sculptures are represented, but also soldiers' mess tins, mirrors, helmets, coins and architectural details. For this reason a reader not familiar with the period may want to read an article or two about Hadrian and his reign before reading this book.
The book is lavishly illustrated with photos of all the items, which were part of the British Museum's "Hadrian Empire and Conflict". An exhibition like this takes years to put on as it is not just their properties, but items from museums all over the world on loan. For this reason I am so glad that the book was written as a record of the exhibition, as one like it won't be happening again anytime soon. It's a coffee table sized book, so the photos are large, often a full page, and all in color. The language is clear and wonderfully readable, and accessible to anyone with an interest in the subject. The book is available in hard or soft color, which means it sells at many prices. I fully recommend this book to anyone.
An Extra Note:
Hadrian's Villa at Tibur (Tivoli) would have assured him a place in the popular imagination, being as it was, one of the great Wonders of any time in history, had it not been so thoroughly looted by Renaissance princes eager to get their hands on its exquisite pillars and ornaments made of luxury materials from throughout the empire. As it is, the ruins are a disappointing thing, with hardly anything left at all, much less to show the glory of what had been there. For this reason I recommend going to You Tube and looking up the "Digital Hadrian's villa Project". This is a virtual reconstruction put together by scholars and computer imaging people at Indiana University and the University of Virginia with input from others. There is a 19 minute full tour and a fascinating Now and Then sequence of 6 minutes that makes you wish it had survived in a more intact form.
Also on You Tube, Thorsten Opper himself gives talks on the Hadrian Exhibition and other topics.