Carole Raddato was born in France in 1976, and now lives in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, where she freelances as a music charts analyst for the British music industry. She runs the history photo-blog, Following Hadrian (https://followinghadrian.com), which documents her travels in the emperor’s footsteps, and she regularly contributes to the online World History Encyclopedia and Ancient History Magazine.

Like many personal projects, my photo-blog Following Hadrian started as a simple hobby, covering random visits to ancient ruins across the Mediterranean, like those of any tourist with a passing interest in ancient history. I have no formal background in archaeology or history and have never studied either at the university level; my engagement with Emperor Hadrian and antiquity is my passion, not my profession. Since antiquity, the legacy of Emperor Hadrian (r. 117–138 CE) has been primarily marked by his long journeys across the empire, for both administration and leisure. He was, after all, known as omnium curiositatum explorator (an explorer of all curiosities),1 a trait that I myself have tried to adopt nearly two millennia later. This essay will trace my journey in Hadrian’s footsteps, as this passion has grown into a lifetime project.

My interest in the ancient world began 15 years ago in the British Museum, when I moved to London. My regular visits were soon supported by as many archaeological and historically themed programs as I could find on TV, and I also attended exhibitions, lectures, and talks. But ultimately, in order to do my nascent interest any kind of justice, I had to see and explore the sites where this ancient history actually happened. I, therefore, decided to follow the trail of the ancients and started traveling to Italy, Greece, and Turkey to explore the places where the classical heritage had been formed.

Almost from the first step, I have methodically documented this journey, recording my encounters with everything from vast archaeological sites to delicate artifacts in museums. These include significant as well as less visited sites across Europe and, further afield, in Jordan, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey (sites in southern and eastern Anatolia), Armenia, and (most recently) Iran, Lebanon, and Egypt. After visiting over 1,000 sites and museums in the last 15 years, I have not only accumulated more than 100,000 photographs but have made most of them free for use under the Creative Commons / Attribution-ShareAlike license. As such, my pictures have found their way into dozens of academic books and papers.2

Unfortunately, this peripatetic existence was put in jeopardy last year due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Like everybody else, I was forced to cancel the travels I had been planning for months. In 2020 alone, I was set to travel to Algeria in April and Turkmenistan in October. Algeria has some of the most impressive Roman remains in the Mediterranean, while Turkmenistan has two of the most important cities of the ancient world: Nisa (the capital of the Parthian Empire) and Merv (the oldest and best preserved of the oasis cities along the Silk Road). Fortunately, I was able to take a trip to Egypt in February, just before the pandemic struck and air travel ground to a halt. I went on a cruise along the River Nile and visited all the iconic sites. Over the summer, I also managed to travel locally in Germany, as well in southern France and across Switzerland. As I write these lines, I have nothing on my calendar for the first time in many years and desperately await the certainty of travel to return.

Maintaining passion and commitment has always been an important part of my life, and today more than ever. It is not simply a matter of knowing; it’s also about feeling and experiencing. My special interest in Hadrian developed naturally out of the pull that peripatetic learning and direct encounter held for me. The Roman emperor was himself an incessant traveler; nearly everywhere I went, I would see portraits of him in museums, testament to the enumerable occasions when he had visited yet another city and commissioned yet another building project.

But it was only when I saw the stunning Hadrian: Empire and Conflict exhibition at the British Museum in 2008 and first visited Greece, Tunisia, and Turkey two years later that I became fully aware of Hadrian’s peregrinations around the Mediterranean. I realized how immense and enduring his legacy was. I also learned about his passion for the arts (painting, poetry, and music), literature, architecture, and geometry. Hadrian seemed to me so very modern in his sensibility that I could somehow relate to him in a more immediate manner than to any other figure from the ancient world. I felt we both had an insatiable curiosity. The exhibition showed that, during the 21 years of his reign, Hadrian governed tirelessly over a vast empire, spanning much of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, and made it his policy to visit every part of it. At the same time, Hadrian’s approach to military matters in Judaea and Palestine also revealed a more ruthless streak. War, peace, and architecture were the main themes of this 2008 exhibition, and the 180 objects that were on display invited viewers to reflect on the various faces of Hadrian. This mixed personality is reflected in the Historia Augusta, where Hadrian is described as “austere and genial, dignified and playful, dilatory and quick to act, niggardly and generous, deceitful and straightforward, cruel and merciful, and always in all things changeable.”3 I left the British Museum wanting to know more and more about this erratic emperor.

Hadrian was educated in Athens and became a great lover of all things Greek, even earning himself the nickname Graeculus (Greekling).4 Before becoming emperor, the Athenians granted him Athenian citizenship and elected him archon eponymous, their chief official. He openly surrounded himself with Greek intellectuals, spoke the Athenian dialect (Attic), and promoted Panhellenic identity in the Greek East. Hadrian returned to the region at least three times in the course of his reign, initiating building projects, religious programs, and benefactions to the people. He thus placed himself in the heart of the Greek world.

There could be, therefore, no better place than Athens to start following Hadrian. In 2010, I explored and photographed the ancient remains of Athens for the first time, including all the monuments built by Hadrian and the remaining portraits of him in the archaeological museum, while in the evening I was able to indulge another great passion of mine: music. During a festival performance by the English synth-pop band, Hot Chip, I noticed an image of Hadrian projected onto their stage screen, which I initially took to be a local reference for this specific gig, in Hadrian’s favorite city. In fact, it was part of the cover of their new album, “One Life Stand” (Figure 1). Their guitarist, Owen Clarke, later explained in an interview how he had found photos of Hadrian’s marble bust being installed at the British Museum, tied up with colored straps and lowered into place. He apparently liked the way the bold stripes reinvented the object as something unusual. This colossal bust was in fact a centerpiece of the 2008 Hadrian exhibition I had known so well, unearthed just the previous year at Sagalassos (a city in southern Turkey). I took this whole episode as a sign: I was now on the right path.

Figure 1.

The Hot Chip’s records featuring Hadrian and Antinous on the cover. Photo by the author.

Figure 1.

The Hot Chip’s records featuring Hadrian and Antinous on the cover. Photo by the author.

A few months later, I took a trip to Italica in southern Spain, where Hadrian’s ancestors had settled at the end of the Second Punic War. In that period, Italica was the “patria” of the Aeli, located in the province of Baetica. It has been suggested that Hadrian could have been born there, although opinion generally favors Rome (as recorded in the Historia Augusta).5 But, whatever the case, Hadrian certainly spent some time hunting in Italica as a youth before Trajan called him back to Rome for more stately pursuits. While there is no record of Hadrian’s having visited Italica during his later travels as emperor, he enriched the city with many buildings that can still be seen today. A visit to the nearby Archaeological Museum of Seville also allowed me to see and photograph up close one of Hadrian’s best-preserved busts, in military attire, which was originally found at Italica (Figure 2).

Figure 2.

Bust of Hadrian in military costume, from Italica, Santiponce, 117–138 CE, Pentelic marble. Museo Arqueológico de Sevilla, Sevilla, Spain (inv. no. 151). Photo by the author, 2016, during her second trip to the museum.

Figure 2.

Bust of Hadrian in military costume, from Italica, Santiponce, 117–138 CE, Pentelic marble. Museo Arqueológico de Sevilla, Sevilla, Spain (inv. no. 151). Photo by the author, 2016, during her second trip to the museum.

I would have more encounters with Hadrian while exploring Turkey’s Aegean coast in April 2011, my first of many journeys across Anatolia. In Troy, for instance, I saw the Odeon that Hadrian himself had restored: a commemorative statue was uncovered there in 1993 and is now held in the Troy Museum (Figure 3). At Ephesus, his architectural legacy continues with the so-called Temple of Hadrian (Figure 4), and at Pergamon Hadrian had a temple built in honor of his predecessor and adoptive father, Trajan, as well as the so-called Red Basilica (built for worship of the Egyptian gods). At the prophetic center of Claros, I learned that Hadrian had played a crucial role in reconstructing the Temple of Apollo. I concluded this trip with a visit to Istanbul’s huge Archaeological Museum, which houses a statue depicting Hadrian as a conqueror, trampling over a defeated enemy (Figure 5). I returned from Turkey with a promise to myself that I would next seek out Hadrian’s Wall and Hadrian’s Villa at the first opportunity.

Figure 3.

Hadrian Statue from Troia IX, found in the Odeon, Troy (Ilium), dated 85 BCE–450 CE). Troy Museum, Turkey (env. no. 9). Photo by the author, 2011.

Figure 3.

Hadrian Statue from Troia IX, found in the Odeon, Troy (Ilium), dated 85 BCE–450 CE). Troy Museum, Turkey (env. no. 9). Photo by the author, 2011.

Figure 4.

The author at Ephesus in 2014 in front of the temple dedicated to Hadrian and the demos of Ephesus by the asiarch Poplius Vedius Antoninus Sabinus. Photo by Alan Robert, copyright the author.

Figure 4.

The author at Ephesus in 2014 in front of the temple dedicated to Hadrian and the demos of Ephesus by the asiarch Poplius Vedius Antoninus Sabinus. Photo by Alan Robert, copyright the author.

Figure 5.

Statue of Hadrian in military regalia, quashing a barbarian foe, from Hierapitna (Crete), marble. Istanbul Archaeological Museum, Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by the author, 2011.

Figure 5.

Statue of Hadrian in military regalia, quashing a barbarian foe, from Hierapitna (Crete), marble. Istanbul Archaeological Museum, Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by the author, 2011.

Hadrian’s Wall is now the basis for a national trail, attracting hikers and history buffs alike. It stretches 84 miles (135 km) from Wallsend on the east coast, through some of Great Britain’s most beautiful countryside, all the way to Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast. The most famous of all the Roman frontiers, Hadrian’s Wall not only reminds us of past glories but also continues to inspire respect. It was made a World Heritage Site in 1987 and in 2005 was inscribed as an international Frontier of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site (which includes the German Limes and the Antonine Wall in Scotland). In July of 2011, I arrived at Hadrian’s Wall and followed the path along the best-preserved sections, up and down the hills, with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside (Figure 6). Besides the famous wall, Hadrian’s frontier barrier in Britain was also made up of forts, milecastles, turrets, and earthworks. Several extensive forts and modern museums can be visited along the way, telling stories of life in Roman Britain (Figure 7). Hadrian had an acute concern for the security of his empire, consolidating the frontiers to protect the provinces against invasion. Indeed, Roman military borders and fortifications have become a recurring theme of my travels in Hadrian’s footsteps, and even of my personal life—the limes Germanicus (Germanic frontier) stands just 18 miles away from where I now live, in Frankfurt.

Figure 6.

Milecastle 39, along Hadrian’s Wall. The defensive boundary that the emperor constructed between Northern England and Scotland is one of his most enduring achievements. Hadrian is known to have visited the area in 122 CE, to both supervise construction and train his men. Photo by the author, 2017.

Figure 6.

Milecastle 39, along Hadrian’s Wall. The defensive boundary that the emperor constructed between Northern England and Scotland is one of his most enduring achievements. Hadrian is known to have visited the area in 122 CE, to both supervise construction and train his men. Photo by the author, 2017.

Figure 7.

The remains of barrack blocks at Chesters Roman Fort (Cilurnum) on Hadrian’s Wall. The structures are a clear example of auxiliary barracks that might have been seen anywhere in the empire. Photo by the author, 2017.

Figure 7.

The remains of barrack blocks at Chesters Roman Fort (Cilurnum) on Hadrian’s Wall. The structures are a clear example of auxiliary barracks that might have been seen anywhere in the empire. Photo by the author, 2017.

Next on my agenda was Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli (this time as my 35th birthday treat). The emperor had the villa constructed 19 miles outside of Rome, combining ideals both intellectual and artistic, and testifying just how deeply Hadrian would rely on classical culture for forging of his own identity. The airy foothills of the Tiburtine mountains around Tivoli, formerly known as Tibur, had often provided a pleasant retreat area for other wealthy Romans to build their villas, but never on such a scale as Hadrian’s imperial residence—a vast complex of interconnected buildings and pleasure gardens spread over 120 hectares (approximately twice the size of Pompeii). This extravagant microcosm of his empire drew on his travels, evoking memories of distant lands like Egypt and Greece. The villa also housed a wealth of art and sculpture, which has since found its way to galleries and museums across the globe (Vatican, Louvre, British Museum, Hermitage, Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket, and the Altes Museum in Berlin, to name just a few) (Figure 8). Of course, I had seen many images of the villa and even a scale model at the Hadrian exhibition in the British Museum, but none of this prepared me for actually walking through the site itself. Even in its ruined state, the full scale of what Hadrian had accomplished there is staggering. I approached the villa at Tivoli as the expression of Hadrian’s personal taste, which enhanced my feelings of personal connection to him.

Figure 8.

Central panel (emblema) of a large mosaic depicting a pair of centaurs fighting wild cats. The panel formed part of the floor decoration for the dining room (triclinium) in the main palace of Hadrian’s Villa near Tivoli. Altes Museum, Berlin, Germany (inv. no. Mos. 1). Photo by the author, 2014.

Figure 8.

Central panel (emblema) of a large mosaic depicting a pair of centaurs fighting wild cats. The panel formed part of the floor decoration for the dining room (triclinium) in the main palace of Hadrian’s Villa near Tivoli. Altes Museum, Berlin, Germany (inv. no. Mos. 1). Photo by the author, 2014.

Photographing portraits of Roman emperors, particularly those of the Nerva-Antonine dynasty, had become an important part of my museum trail around the world. After six years, my album of imperial portraits had reached archival proportions (Figure 9). I then set myself a more specific goal to see and photograph all the extant images of Hadrian and his wife, Sabina (Figure 10), and his favorite lover, Antinous (Figure 11). Owing to his popularity as a builder and his extensive travels throughout the empire, all spread over a 21-year reign, Hadrian is now known to have been the second most sculpted emperor, after Augustus. To date, approximately 150 such portraits of Hadrian have been identified and, as of December 2020, I have photographed 96 of them, as well as 20 of Sabina and 52 of Antinous.6

Figure 9.

The author among Hadrian and his family in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme in Rome. Photo by Alan Robert, copyright the author.

Figure 9.

The author among Hadrian and his family in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme in Rome. Photo by Alan Robert, copyright the author.

Figure 10.

Idealized portrait of Sabina, with hairstyle inspired by the imagery of the goddess Diana, ca. 130 CE, white marble. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain (inv. no. E000210). Photo by the author, 2014.

Figure 10.

Idealized portrait of Sabina, with hairstyle inspired by the imagery of the goddess Diana, ca. 130 CE, white marble. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain (inv. no. E000210). Photo by the author, 2014.

Figure 11.

Bust of Antinous, discovered near Banyias (ancient Balanea), Syria, in 1879, Thasian marble. It is unique in being the only known classical representation of Antinous, apart from coins, to be identified by an inscription. It has a dedication in Greek “to Hero Antinous” by M. Loukkios Phlakkos, who may have been a member of the local elite at Balanea and whose family had acquired Roman citizenship. Private collection. Restored by the Ashmolean Museum, shown in the Antinous: Boy Made God exhibition, 2019, Oxford. Photo by the author, 2018.

Figure 11.

Bust of Antinous, discovered near Banyias (ancient Balanea), Syria, in 1879, Thasian marble. It is unique in being the only known classical representation of Antinous, apart from coins, to be identified by an inscription. It has a dedication in Greek “to Hero Antinous” by M. Loukkios Phlakkos, who may have been a member of the local elite at Balanea and whose family had acquired Roman citizenship. Private collection. Restored by the Ashmolean Museum, shown in the Antinous: Boy Made God exhibition, 2019, Oxford. Photo by the author, 2018.

It was my interest in imperial portraits that brought me to Toulouse, France, in March 2012 to see the exhibition Image and Power: The Century of the Antonines. The hosting Musée Saint-Raymond also houses an impressive collection of Roman sculptures, originally from the Roman villa of Chiragan. This archeological site is second only to Hadrian’s Villa, by the sheer volume of architectural decorations and sculptures it has yielded over the years. Twenty Roman marble portraits, dating from the Augustan to Tetrachic period, also constitute the second-most important collection of its kind in France, after the Louvre.

The exhibition I came to see focused on imperial portraiture during the reigns of the Antonine emperors (from Trajan to Commodus, via Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius), showing how this medium could express power and serve as a tool of propaganda. I learned how a prototype would first be fashioned in Rome, then copied and disseminated throughout the empire.7 These portraits tended to highlight the most flattering character traits of their subject, with specific facial features; sometimes new portraits were later created to mark major events in that emperor’s life. I also learned that most of Hadrian’s extant portraits fall into seven recognized iconographic types, determined by the arrangement of his hair locks. Hadrian was 41 when he became emperor, and his portraits invariably depict a middle-aged man. He was also the first emperor to sport a beard, following the Greek tradition of the philosophers, poets, and statesmen he so admired. In fact, Hadrian’s successors would even continue this fashion as a way of legitimizing their lineage. Another recurring feature of Hadrian’s portraits is the distinctive crease, running along his earlobe, now known to be a sign of cardiovascular disease. The exhibition featured nearly 40 portraits, some already owned by the Musée Saint-Raymond itself and others on loan from various other European museums.

While I had joined Flickr and Twitter in 2009 and started sharing my photographs on both platforms under my real name, it was only when I set up a Facebook page that I adopted the alias “Following Hadrian,” by way of homage to Elizabeth Speller’s novel of the same name. This was, after all, the book that had originally inspired me to act on its title, quite literally: part travelogue, part biography, and part fictional memoir, Speller’s book tells the story of Hadrian’s wandering reign through the imagined words of the historical figure Julia Balbilla, an aristocratic lady, poet, and good friend of Hadrian’s wife, who accompanied the imperial party to Egypt. She commemorated their visit by inscribing four poems in an archaic Aeolic dialect upon the lower left leg of the Colossus of Memnon. Thus, my own project became “Following Hadrian.”

Speller, a Classics scholar, was herself inspired by the famous novel Mémoires d’Hadrien (Memoirs of Hadrian) by the French author Marguerite Yourcenar. As a French woman myself, it could be assumed that my interest in Hadrian developed from reading Yourcenar’s book, but actually this was not the case. What did fascinate me was the story about the relationship between Yourcenar and Hadrian, one that lasted some 36 years before Mémoires d’Hadrien finally got published. It began in 1915, when the 12-year-old Yourcenar visited the British Museum and came face-to-face with Hadrian’s bronze head, recovered almost a century earlier from the River Thames (Figure 12).8 When she later visited Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli in 1924 on her 21st birthday,9 Yourcenar committed to writing about Hadrian, but the task would prove long and full of obstacles.

Figure 12.

Bronze head of Hadrian, from a larger statue (one and a quarter times life-size) recovered from the River Thames. The statue may have been put up to commemorate Hadrian’s visit to Britain in 122 CE. British Museum, London, UK (inv. no. 1848,1103.1). Photo by the author, 2018, taken at the Three Bronze Portraits of Hadrian exhibition, Louvre Museum, Paris.

Figure 12.

Bronze head of Hadrian, from a larger statue (one and a quarter times life-size) recovered from the River Thames. The statue may have been put up to commemorate Hadrian’s visit to Britain in 122 CE. British Museum, London, UK (inv. no. 1848,1103.1). Photo by the author, 2018, taken at the Three Bronze Portraits of Hadrian exhibition, Louvre Museum, Paris.

When she submitted the dialogue “Antinoos” to a publisher two years later, the subsequent rejection convinced Yourcenar to destroy the manuscript herself. She only resumed her historical researches between 1934 and 1937 while on a trip to the United States, and her knowledge of classical antiquity was greatly expanded in the Yale University libraries. The first lines of her manuscript were written at this time, including the novel’s opening scene, depicting Hadrian’s visit to his physician, Hermogenes. When WWII broke out in 1939, she exiled herself to the United States, armed only with some of her Yale notes, a map of the Roman Empire at the time of Trajan’s death, and a postcard of Antinous’ bronze head (from the Archaeological Museum in Florence). She then entered a long period of uncertainty, abandoning her literary ambitions and even burning all her notes.

However, on a cold day in January 1949, the 46-year-old Yourcenar received a trunk-load of personal effects from Switzerland. Most of these old family papers and correspondences were similarly consigned to the flame until, by chance, she came upon a page that started with the line “Mon cher Marc” (My dear Mark). Yourcenar later recounted in her “Reflections on the Composition of Memoirs of Hadrian,” “I could not recall the name at all. It was several minutes before I remembered that Marc stood here for Marcus Aurelius and that I had in my hand a fragment of the lost manuscript. From that moment on, I knew this book had to be written, whatever the cost.”10 So, in the wake of this unexpected delivery, she began rewriting Mémoires d’Hadrien, which was finally completed and published in 1951. Yourcenar thenceforth dedicated herself to collecting written sources, documents, and photographs relating to Hadrian and studying them all tirelessly.11

Like Yourcenar, I devote pretty much all my spare time to research, study, and travel. In the summer of 2012, I moved from London to Frankfurt, and my life changed on many levels. Crucially, I became self-employed. Working from home has afforded me more time and resources to focus on my passions: research, writing blog posts, and editing and curating my photographs. My day job also allows me to work remotely while traveling pretty much anywhere, which has allowed my passion for ancient history to take a new turn. Under the tagline, “I came, I saw, I photographed…,” my research, traveling, and blogging all now have a definitive focal point, primarily on Hadrian but also on the wider ancient world. In today’s digital landscape, academic content and library materials can often be retrieved quickly and conveniently through the internet (sometimes for a fee, as with JSTOR). For me, blogging is about sharing one’s learnings with others, a practice that also informs my tweeting. The photographs I take at archaeological sites and museums are always the starting point for research and my subsequent writings. For example, a trip to Israel in 2014 allowed me to study a lesser known aspect of Hadrian’s reign: his ruthless suppression of the Second Jewish Revolt (132–135/6 CE). The photographic materials I collected in Jerusalem and Caesarea and at the Israel Museum have enabled me to publish a few blog articles related to his war against the Jews and his refounding of Jerusalem as the Roman colony Aelia Capitolina.

Sometimes a chance event can add a more personal dimension to the narrative, as was the case during my trip to Israel. On the very day of my arrival in Jerusalem, a remarkable find of historical significance was unveiled to the public by the Israel Antiquities Authority: a monumental limestone slab bearing the name of Hadrian, which had surfaced during salvage excavations near the Damascus Gate earlier that year, was now on display in front of their headquarters, The Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem. What a stroke of luck! Even as I was checking in at the hotel, I was bombarded with messages. My followers were sending me links to the articles about the discovery, published on Israeli media. Happily, I could reply to them all with the reassurance that I would view the inscription that very day (Figure 13). Archaeological analysis revealed that the text that had been discovered was the second part of a known inscription, its partner having been discovered in the late nineteenth century and since held at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Museum. So after inspecting the newly discovered inscription, I headed straight to the first part. The two pieces were subsequently reunited for the first time since antiquity as part of an exhibition at the Israel Museum in 2016, to which I was personally invited and given an exclusive curator-guided tour: a very satisfactory conclusion!

Figure 13.

The author in front of the Latin inscription dedicated to Hadrian unveiled in Jerusalem at the Rockefeller Museum on 22 October 2014. Photo by Alan Robert, copyright the author.

Figure 13.

The author in front of the Latin inscription dedicated to Hadrian unveiled in Jerusalem at the Rockefeller Museum on 22 October 2014. Photo by Alan Robert, copyright the author.

Today, about 800 people are also ‘‘following Hadrian’’ with me on my blog. Since its creation in 2013, I have published 230 posts that have received just over 1 million views. In 2016, I created another blog, Following Hadrian Photography, that covers Roman archaeological sites more generally, rather than Hadrian per se; it currently features 130 sites from 22 different countries.12 I have also included pre- or post-Roman remains in posts and discussions, and sometimes even other civilizations, such as ancient Iran. I can often find inspiration for new material by looking back over my own past travels, spotting things I missed on the first pass and then developing a new angle. While hundreds of my photos can be viewed on my photography blog, the bulk of my archive is housed on my Flickr page, which contains 40,000 original and publicly available photographs.

Flickr is the ideal platform for my purposes, allowing image owners to assign their work Creative Commons licenses. With the Creative Commons / Attribution-Share-Alike license (CC-BY-SA), anyone can download, use, or share my images via social media free of charge, so long as the source is credited properly. Thanks to Flickr, many of my photographs have been used to illustrate books, magazines, blogs, websites, academic papers, and even documentaries. To be able to contribute modestly to the work of others is deeply satisfying—and for that I am grateful.

The year 2017 marked the 1900th anniversary of Hadrian’s accession to the imperial office, and I myself was born precisely 1,900 years after Hadrian. This elegant parallelism gave me an idea: under what I dubbed my “Hadrian 1900” project, I would retrace the emperor’s journeys in strict chronological order, so that I would consistently be present at the same place and at the same age as he was, only 1,900 years later. I had already been taking Hadrian’s travels as the basis for my own, but I would now take the process one step further: a lifetime project of 21 years, from 2017 to 2038.

With Anthony R. Birley’s splendid 1997 biography of Hadrian as my leading guide and primary source, my objective has now become to travel where Hadrian traveled, explore the archaeological remains, take photographs, research, and ultimately celebrate the 1900th anniversary of each successive historical event on my “Following Hadrian” blog. So far, this project has brought me to Turkey twice, and across the Balkans, just as Hadrian, upon becoming emperor in 117 CE in Antioch, traveled back to Rome from the Syrian capital, “by way of Illyricum,”13 via Ancyra and Nicomedia. This final stretch of his journey was presumably completed using the Via Flaminia in the summer of 118 CE, arriving in Rome on 9 July (as recorded on the Arval Acta).14 In 119, Hadrian also visited Campania, “where he aided all the towns of the region with gifts and benefactions.”15 From ancient writings, inscriptions, coins, and papyri, it has been possible to track his itineraries and reconstruct his journeys in some detail. Once all the documentation is gathered, I attempt to track Hadrian’s route on a modern Google map with the help of two specialized online maps created by René Voorburg: OmnesViae, a Roman route planner with all the main roads and cities of the Roman Empire (based on the Tabula Peutingeriana), and vici.org, which lists all the sites and museums of interest in a given surrounding area.

In 117 CE, Hadrian took up residence in Antioch to govern over Syria while Trajan was campaigning in the East. Trajan died on the 8th of August; on the 9th, it was announced that he had adopted Hadrian; and on the 11th the army of Syria hailed Hadrian as emperor. His first imperial journey got underway soon after. Thus, in July 2017, I flew to Turkey and took Antakya as the starting point for my own Hadrian 1900 project. This city is on the site of the ancient Antioch-on-the-Orontes and today serves as the capital of the southern-most Hatay Province. After landing in Adana, I rented a car and drove to Antakya, where I spent the day looking for ancient remains and visiting the new Hatay Archaeology Museum. Its ancient mosaics are now the only real legacy of the city’s past glories, as very little of Antioch has survived. Hadrian is said to have improved the local water supply, and a small section of the aqueduct can still be seen in the city center (Figure 14). I took photographs of the Orontes River and all the ancient ruins: the remains of a temple podium dating to the end of the second century CE, the monumental Hellenistic rock carving on the mountainside above the city, and St. Peter’s Cave Church (one of the oldest sacred sites in Christianity). All these photos would illustrate the article published on my blog, commemorating the 1900th anniversary of Hadrian’s accession (August 11, 2017).

Figure 14.

The aqueduct of Antioch, the only surviving monument dated to the time of Hadrian. Photo by the author, 2017.

Figure 14.

The aqueduct of Antioch, the only surviving monument dated to the time of Hadrian. Photo by the author, 2017.

After Antakya, I started following the route that Hadrian took to reach Ancyra (modern Ankara), via Selinus, in Cilicia (present-day Gazipaşa, about 180 km to the east of Antalya). According to the Historia Augusta, having set out from Antioch, Hadrian made a detour to Selinus to view the remains of Trajan. The Optimus Princeps had died there en route to Rome from his Parthian expedition in the east. Selinus’s most famous monument is a large rectangular building thought to have been built as a cenotaph for Trajan. In the spirit of Hadrian, I would also pay my respects to the Optimus Princeps, on the 1900th anniversary of his death (Figure 15). Thanks to a number of epigraphical sources, we can now reconstruct the overland journey between Antioch and Illyria. One particular inscription found in Rome names and dates various way stations (from Tarsus on 12 October to Andabalis on 19 October), which refer to Hadrian’s march across Cilicia and Cappadocia (Figure 16).16 In addition, there is the copy of a letter, dated 11 November, 117 CE, which confirms the emperor’s presence at Juliopolis in Bithynia. In it, he addresses the association of Pergamene young men (Synod of neoi) from Juliopolis.17 These documents, as well as the Itinerarium Burdigalense (the anonymous account of a pilgrimage from Bordeaux to the Holy Land in 333 CE), enabled me to deduce that Hadrian was traveling approximately 25 Roman miles per day (37 km). At that pace, he would have reached Ancyra toward the end of October and Nicea toward the end of November. Equipped with all the GPS coordinates taken from vici.org and Birley’s biography of Hadrian, I followed Hadrian’s route between Antioch and Andabalis during my first trip to Turkey in July 2017, and then between Ancyra and Byzantium in a second trip made the following October.

Figure 15.

The author visiting the cenotaph of Trajan at Selinus, Cilicia, on the 1900th anniversary of his death, 2017. Photo by Alan Robert, copyright the author.

Figure 15.

The author visiting the cenotaph of Trajan at Selinus, Cilicia, on the 1900th anniversary of his death, 2017. Photo by Alan Robert, copyright the author.

Figure 16.

The author walking along the Via Tauri near Tarsus, southern Turkey, 2017. The ancient road ran between Cappadocia and Cilicia and led to the famous Cilician Gates. Photo by Alan Robert, copyright the author.

Figure 16.

The author walking along the Via Tauri near Tarsus, southern Turkey, 2017. The ancient road ran between Cappadocia and Cilicia and led to the famous Cilician Gates. Photo by Alan Robert, copyright the author.

After spending the winter in Nicomedia and Byzantium, Hadrian first headed to Dacia to deal with troubles on the Danube frontier and to conduct negotiations with the king of the Roxolani, Rasparaganus. Birley has suggested that Hadrian probably met with the King at the town of Troesmis (modern-day Iglita, in Romania), near the delta of the Danube (Figure 17). Hadrian remained in these lands for a couple of months to review his troops, before continuing his march toward Rome. I tracked this journey in April 2018, with a two-week trip along the Danube, crossing four countries: Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Croatia. Since Hadrian is believed to have inspected all the military bases along the lower and middle Danube frontier, I made sure to visit every ancient Roman fort where he could have stopped over. These included Viminacium and Singidunum in Serbia, Durostorum and Ratiaria in Bulgaria, and Troesmis in Romania. The final leg of Hadrian’s journey back to Rome is uncertain. He may have crossed the sea from Dalmatia to Italy or carried on overland to Emona (Ljubljana), then continued along the coast to Ariminum (Rimini) and finally down the Via Flaminia to the capital.

Figure 17.

The author visiting Troesmis in Romania, 2018. Photo by Alan Robert, copyright the author.

Figure 17.

The author visiting Troesmis in Romania, 2018. Photo by Alan Robert, copyright the author.

I decided to follow Birley’s suggestion that Hadrian had traveled overland along the Via Flaminia. In the summer of 2018, on July 9, I arrived in Rome and re-enacted the emperor’s entry by crossing the Milvian Bridge and then walking the last stretch up the summit of the Capitol, to the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.18 In 2019, I focused on Hadrian’s journey to Campania and spent several days tracing various inscriptions that testify his generosity toward civic communities across the region. In 2020, despite the travel restrictions, I managed to track down further Hadrianic inscriptions in France and Germany, relating to the corresponding years, 119–120 CE.

From this first phase of fieldwork and research (covering the years 117–120 CE), I was able to produce a dozen new articles, each published on the appropriate anniversary date. I also documented the exhibitions held across Europe (Athens, Budapest, Seville) that celebrated the 1900th anniversary of Hadrian’s accession.

This project has made me take a more focused and, shall I say, academic approach to my travels. The latest tourist guide and a couple Google searches may have sufficed for my earlier archaeological expeditions. But now I am preparing for them with as much research as possible, lest I miss an entire archeological site or museum, or even a small but vital detail within one of these locations. Bettany Hughes, an eminent historian and broadcaster who has been a great inspiration to me, once said, “I cannot write about the past unless I go where history happened.…If you’re going to inhabit someone else’s world, the very least you can do is to spend a little time in it.”19 I have adopted this ethic as my own, and it particularly resonates with me as a nonscholar. My determination to travel and realize this project is very much a personal affair, bringing me happiness and a sense of achievement.

While I cannot and do not claim scholarly credentials, I believe deeply in the way I have infused direct experience of places and objects with traditional research methods. Reading about ancient history has been an essential grounding, but ultimately it is not enough for my needs. Nothing compares to actually walking through the landscape of Antioch, seeing the ancient remains with the naked eye or to being on the very spot where such an event took place 1,900 years ago. I never forget anything I learn in archaeological sites and museums, whereas I can remember struggling with Herodotus’ writings, because I had little sense of geography in the ancient world. Several years and several thousand miles later, I can often visualize his words from my very own memories. These explorations, though expensive and time-consuming, are what have brought the pages of history back to life for me. Traveling is a never-ending learning experience, and my interest in ancient history has taken me to countries well off the beaten track.

Many of my followers on social media have also drawn pleasure from my peregrinations. This seems to be especially true for those living in the US, an ocean away from the Mediterranean landscape of the Roman world. By contrast, intercity flights within Europe are relatively cheap and easy, usually taking two to three hours. From Frankfurt, I can easily reach Rome or Athens and start exploring the city before lunchtime or visit an exhibition in one of their museums. Furthermore, as a freelancer, my work schedule is pretty flexible and can be taken anywhere. One week, I can work from a hotel terrace overlooking the Parthenon, the next from a café opposite the Roman theater in Orange. I do not take this peripatetic lifestyle for granted. I feel duty bound to share my journeys and the beautiful places I discover along the way. My photographic archive follows this ethic, being publicly accessible for all. Meanwhile, blogging and social media platforms have helped me reach a wide audience and, in turn, inspire other students of the ancient world to travel more.

Although it was not my original intention to create an online resource for enthusiasts and scholars, my collective writings and images have evolved precisely into this. During my stay at the American Academy of Rome in November 2019, on the invitation of Corey Brennan, I made the decision to gift the core of my vast collection—some 40,000 digital images—to the Academy’s library, thereby ensuring its long-term preservation and continued accessibility to the academic establishment. I could not expect a better legacy for my work or a better gift to those who have, in turn, been so supportive to me. My Hadrian project would have ground to a halt without the continued support of scholars, archaeologists, and historians. It is my hope that I have gone some way to repaying this debt. We are currently in the long process of cataloging and building a photographic archive, and my personal gratitude to Brennan is boundless.

Besides the academic world, my blogging has gained the recognition of several other established entities, such as the online World History Encyclopedia (previously Ancient History Encyclopedia) and the printed Ancient History Magazine. Over the last few years, I have published numerous travel articles, reflecting on the archaeological and cultural heritage sites I have thus far explored and covering their history. I’ve published travel guides for the World History Encyclopedia and Ancient History Magazine, illustrated with my most visually appealing photographs and aimed at promoting cultural heritage and encouraging readers to get traveling themselves.20

Since the pandemic has put my traveling on hold from early 2020, I have kept my project alive as best I can with new articles, pictures, and sharing memories. The past year has certainly afforded me plenty of time to reflect more on my past adventures and process my enormous backlog of material into something suitable for publishing, in whatever form. In particular, I have also utilized this extra time to catalog and label my photos for the American Academy’s archive in Rome as well as my collection of Hadrian coins (Figure 18).

Figure 18.

Denarius commemorating Hadrian’s safe return to Rome from Antioch, 118 AD. RIC 41. Coin from the author’s collection. Photo by the author.

Figure 18.

Denarius commemorating Hadrian’s safe return to Rome from Antioch, 118 AD. RIC 41. Coin from the author’s collection. Photo by the author.

As 2021 progresses I await the greenlight for travel to resume, with bated breath. In the years 121–125, Hadrian traveled to Gaul and Rome’s northwestern provinces in Germany and Britain, where he spent a few months setting new borders for the empire. The year 123 also took him to Tarraco in northern Spain (modern-day Tarragona) and then east to Antioch, the Syrian capital, responding to news of danger and to make a peaceful settlement with the Parthian king. In 123/4, Hadrian then moved through various parts of Asia Minor and, during a tour of Bithynia, he met and fell in love with a beautiful young Greek boy named Antinous. Back in Athens, the emperor financed an ambitious building program, visited Delphi, and was initiated into the mysteries at Eleusis. Before returning to Rome, Hadrian sailed to Sicily where he climbed Mount Etna to take in the sunrise, “said to be like a rainbow.”21 Those are my travel plans—all sorted until 2025!

Figure 19.

The author holding the biography of Hadrian written by the late professor Anthony Birley to whom she dedicates this article. Birley passed away on 19 December 2020. Photo by Alan Robert, copyright the author.

Figure 19.

The author holding the biography of Hadrian written by the late professor Anthony Birley to whom she dedicates this article. Birley passed away on 19 December 2020. Photo by Alan Robert, copyright the author.

1.

Tertullian, Apologeticus 5.7.

2.

For example, my photograph of Vibia Sabina with veiled head from the Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, appears on the cover of the fascinating study on the life of Hadrian’s wife by T. Corey Brennan, Sabina Augusta: An Imperial Journey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

3.

Scriptores Historiae Augustae, Hadrian, 14.11, translation from Historia Augusta, trans. David Magie, vol. 1, Loeb Classical Library 139 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

4.

SHA Hadrian 1.5 (Magie, LCL 139); Aurelius Victor, Epitome de Caesaribus 14.2. In the judgment of Anthony Birley, the nickname “was certainly a form of mild mockery” (Hadrian: The Restless Emperor [London: Routledge, 1997], 17).

5.

SHA Hadrian 1.3 (Magie, LCL 139).

6.

For the most exhaustive analysis of Hadrian’s portraits, see Cécile Evers, Les portraits d’Hadrien: Typologie et ateliers (Brussels: Classe des beaux-arts, Académie royale de Belgique, 1994). On the portraits of Antinous, see Caroline Vout and Penelope Curtis, Antinous: The Face of the Antique (Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2006) as well as Caroline Vout, “Antinous, Archaeology, and History,” Journal of Roman Studies 95 (2005): 80–96. On Sabina, see Brennan, Sabina Augusta, 225–37, which presents a chart of about 60 of her portraits.

7.

The use of propaganda through imperial portraiture is thoroughly covered in Paul Zanker’s seminal book, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, trans. Alan Shapiro (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988).

8.

In Yourcenar’s own words, “Mais enfin, on allait beaucoup à Londres, à la National Gallery, au British Museum. Là, j’ai vu Hadrien pour la première fois, le viril et presque brutal Hadrien de bronze vers la quarantième année, repêché dans la Tamise au XIXe siècle. C’était la naissance d’une imagination” (Les yeux ouverts: Entretiens avec Matthieu Galey [Paris: Le Centurion, 1980], 31–32).

9.

Yourcenar, Les yeux ouverts, 151

10.

Yourcenar, “Reflections on the Composition of Memoirs of Hadrian,” in Memoirs of Hadrian, trans. Grace Frick (London: Penguin Classics, 2000), 273–74.

11.

In 2016, the Forum Antique de Bavay, located in northern France, held an exhibition devoted to Mémoires d’Hadrien. The show provided insights into the meticulous work behind Yourcenar’s historical novel, with the presentation of the documents and photographs she amassed as well as her annotated manuscripts. I covered the exhibition on my blog: https://followinghadrian.com/2016/05/17/marguerite-yourcenar-and-hadrian-in-bavay-france.

12.

See Following Hadrian Photography (blog), https://followinghadrianphotography.com.

13.

SHA Hadrian 9.2–3 (Magie, LCL 139): per Illyricum Romam venit.

14.

Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 06, 02078.

15.

SHA Hadrian 9.6 (Magie, LCL 139).

16.

Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 6.5076.

17.

IGR IV 349.

18.

Hadrian’s adventus was celebrated by the Arval Brethren with solemn sacrifices at the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill, to which the inscriptions containing the Acts of their college bear record: VII I[d(us) Iul(ias)] / in C[apitol]io ob adventum I[mp(eratoris) Caes(aris) Traiani Had]riani Aug(usti) fratres / [Arvales] convenerunt ib[i]que [Trebicius Decia]nus mag(ister) ob adven/[tum faustum eiusdem n]omine colle[gi(i) fratr]um Arvalium Iovi O(ptimo) M(aximo) (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 6.32374).

19.

Bettany Hughes, “Bettany Hughes: ‘I cannot write about the past unless I go where history happened’” Guardian, 11 February 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/11/bettany-hughes-working-day-where-history-happened.

20.

Among the articles I have written for the World History Encyclopedia (https://worldhistory.org) are a series of travel guides devoted to the archaeological sites around the Bay of Naples (Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, Stabiae, and Boscoreale), as well as guides to Ancient Cyprus, Western Crete, and Caria. For Ancient History Magazine, I have covered my journeys in Iran, Lebanon, and Albania.

21.

SHA Hadrian 13.3 (Magie, LCL 139).