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This Week In History

The Emperor´s Mausoleum. July 10, 138 AD.

Hadrian died in the year 138 on the 10th of July, in his villa at Baiae at the age of 62. Dio Cassius and the Historia Augusta record details of his failing health. He had reigned for 21 years, the longest since Tiberius, and the fourth longest in the Principate, after Augustus, Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius, and Tiberius.

He was buried first at Puteoli, near Baiae, on an estate that had once belonged to Cicero. Soon after, his remains were transferred to Rome and buried in the Gardens of Domitia, close by the almost-complete mausoleum. Upon completion of the Tomb of Hadrian in Rome in 139 by his successor Antoninus Pius, his body was cremated, and his ashes were placed there together with those of his wife Vibia Sabina and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, who also died in 138. The Senate had been reluctant to grant Hadrian divine honours; but Antoninus persuaded them by threatening to refuse the position of Emperor. Hadrian was given a temple on the Campus Martius, ornamented with reliefs representing the provinces. The Senate awarded Antoninus the title of “Pius”, in recognition of his filial piety in pressing for the deification of his adoptive father. At the same time, perhaps in reflection of the senate’s ill will towards Hadrian, commemorative coinage honouring his consecration was kept to a minimum.

The tomb of the Roman emperor Hadrian, also called Hadrian’s mole, was erected on the right bank of the Tiber. Originally the mausoleum was a decorated cylinder, with a garden top and golden quadriga. After his ashes were placed in the mausoleum, the remains of succeeding emperors were also placed here, the last recorded deposition being Caracalla in 217. The urns containing these ashes were probably placed in what is now known as the Treasury room deep within the building. Hadrian also built the Pons Aelius facing straight onto the mausoleum – it still provides a scenic approach from the center of Rome and the left bank of the Tiber, and is renowned for the Baroque additions of statues of angels holding aloft instruments of the Passion of Christ.

Much of the tomb contents and decorations have been lost since the building’s conversion to a military fortress in 401 and its subsequent inclusion in the Aurelian Walls by Honorius. The urns and ashes were scattered by Visigoth looters during Alaric‘s sacking of Rome in 410, and the original decorative bronze and stone statuary were thrown down upon the attacking Goths when they besieged Rome in 537. An unusual survivor, however, is the capstone of a funerary urn (probably that of Hadrian), which made its way to Saint Peter’s Basilica, covered the tomb of Otto II and later was incorporated into a massive Renaissance baptistery.

In 590 Pope Gregory the Great, conducting a penitential procession to pray for the end of a plague, had a vision of the archangel Michael sheathing his sword over the castle, signifying the end of the plague; from that incident came the structure’s modern name (Castel Sant´Angelo) and the marble statue of the archangel that surmounts the building. Throughout the Middle Ages the castle served as a refuge in times of trouble, especially for the popes, who could reach it from the Lateran through a protected passageClement VII took refuge there from the troops of the Holy Roman emperor Charles V during the sack of Rome in 1527. The papal apartments were substantially reconstructed for their residents, and they contain significant Renaissance decorative paintings; one lavishly decorated bedroom is attributed to Raphael. The popes used part of the castle as a prison, and eventually the building became a military barracks and prison. The military use ended in 1901, when the castle’s restoration was begun. Part of it is now a museum of military history.

 

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