Book Review: Hadrian


by James Morwood

London / New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. Pp. xviii, 130. Illus., map, chron., notes, biblio., index. $24.95 paper. ISBN: 1849668868

A Life of Hadrian, soldier, emperor, administrator, patron of the arts, “Optimus princeps  

Regarded as one of the greatest of Roman emperors, Hadrian (r. 117-138) has been the subject of several scholarly biographies, the excellence of which Classicist Morwood praises in his Introduction.  But Morwood goes on to note that such monumental tomes may be daunting for those not familiar with Roman history.  As with the other volumes in the useful Bloomsbury series “Ancients in Action,” Morwood’s Hadrian is a short book about the peripatetic Emperor and his world, rather than a biography or even a “life and times.” 

Morwood opens with a “flash forward” to a significant incident in Hadrian’s later life, one for which we will not provide a spoiler.  Morwood then devotes three chapters to Hadrian’s family, early life, education, political and military service, and accession to the imperium. Then, abandoning chronological treatment, he follows with seven chapters that each examine a different aspect of the Emperor’s life and work, such as his diplomatic and military polies, his building programs, his "games," his famous villa, his journeys, his eremenos Antinous, and so on.  The last chapter looks at Hadrian’s final years and evaluate him as both man and emperor. 

Morwood writes well, seasoning his text with interesting, and sometimes amusing citations from ancient literature, which makes Hadrian an easy read.

An excellent introduction to Hadrian’s life, not incidentally with many insights into the nature of the imperial power, Morwood’s work will also be of value to the more seasoned student of Roman history.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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