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Following Hadrian : a second century journey through the Roman Empire (edition 2003)

by Elizabeth Speller

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Member:neilgodfrey
Title:Following Hadrian : a second century journey through the Roman Empire
Authors:Elizabeth Speller
Info:Oxford; Oxford University Press, 2003. xx, 328 p. : ill., map ; 22 cm.
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Tags:History.Ancient.Rome

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Following Hadrian: A Second-Century Journey through the Roman Empire by Elizabeth Speller

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This was not quite what I thought it would be: from the title I expected the whole book to be a travelogue of the philhellene Emperor Hadrian's many journeys through the empire. Epigraphs began each chapter, alluding to the theme of each, then excerpts from the [fictitious] memoirs of Julia Balbilla, friend of Hadrian's disliked, if not hated, empress, Sabina. Julia accompanied them on their travels. There was a good deal of history and info dumping, discussion of sites in Rome and ruins of those in other parts of the Roman empire and much speculation on what might have happened, since there is not much primary source material on Hadrian. The book did present Hadrian as a very complicated man, capable of kindness and of cruelty and coldness when it suited him. He could hold grudges for decades, at real or imagined slights. I did get a better picture of his personality.

My heart went out to the childless Sabina, who resented him for his attitude towards her at first, but to protect herself, it became the hard shell of indifference towards him. A marvelous fictional portrayal of the empress is given in the historical mystery Semper Fidelis; in it she plays an important role. Although Hadrian traveled to Greece, Judaea, and other places, much of the travel section was spent in Egypt, the land where his beloved male lover Antinous died. There was at least a whole chapter devoted to theories on his death and another on his possible final resting place. I enjoyed the chapters on the Pantheon and the extensive material on his villa at Tibur [Tivoli]. But I was disappointed the author made only fleeting references to his third great architectural wonder: Hadrian's Wall and there was no speculation as to the reason for building it in the first place. I did like the fact that "stone from Hadrian's Wall ... was placed [in the British Military Cemetery in Italy] at the wish of the citizens of Carlisle, to commemorate those servicemen from Cumbria killed in the Second World War." The book was enjoyable, once I accepted it on its own terms and didn't expect more from it than it could give. ( )
  janerawoof | Jul 15, 2014 |
Always interested in reading about ancient Roman history, and this book is well-written and researched. Covers a period (2nd century A.D.,) I was not that familiar with. ( )
  Tasman | Feb 13, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0195165764, Hardcover)

One of the greatest--and most enigmatic--Roman emperors, Hadrian stabilized the imperial borders, established peace throughout the empire, patronized the arts, and built an architectural legacy that lasts to this day: the great villa at Tivoli, the domed wonder of the Pantheon, and the eponymous wall that stretches across Britain. Yet the story of his reign is also a tale of intrigue, domestic discord, and murder.
In Following Hadrian, Elizabeth Speller captures the fascinating life of Hadrian, ruler of the most powerful empire on earth at the peak of its glory. Speller displays a superb gift for narrative as she traces the intrigue of Hadrian's rise: his calculated marriage to Emperor Trajan's closest female relative, a woman he privately tormented; Trajan's suspicious deathbed adoption of Hadrian as his heir, a stroke some thought to be a post-mortem forgery; and the ensuing slaughter of potential rivals by an ally of Hadrian's. Speller makes brilliant use of her sources, vividly depicting Hadrian's bouts of melancholy, his intellectual passions, his love for a beautiful boy (whose death sent him into a spiral), and the paradox of his general policies of peace and religious tolerance even as he conducted a bitter, three-year war with Judea.
Most important, the author captures the emperor as both a builder and an inveterate traveler, guiding readers on a grand tour of the Roman Empire at the moment of its greatest extent and accomplishment, from the barren, windswept frontiers of Britain to the teeming streets of Antioch, from the dangers of the German forest to the urban splendor of Rome itself.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:33:55 -0400)

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