Scottish Independence and Hadrian

The Hadrian Wall, second century AD. Photo: Wikipedia.

The Roman Emperor Hadrian or Hadrianus (117 to 138 AD) is best known for his passion for Greek culture, interest in architecture and the wall he built between England and Scotland. Hadrian was originally from Spain. As the Roman Empire expanded and became more diverse in the 1st and 2nd century AD, it became possible for people outside the traditional Roman and Italian elites to come to power. Hadrian was the child of a wealthy romanized family from Italica, close to Hispalis (Sevilla) in the province Baetica (about present-day Andalucia).

This province was renowed for its natural resources, in particular mines and agricultural products. The landowning elites became wealthy and this brought political influence in Rome. The father of Hadrian became a senator in Rome and had thus residency requirements there, the reason why Hadrian was born in Rome. Hadrian was adopted by the later emperor Traian or Traianus after the death of his father. Traian was also a Spaniard from Italica. He became emperor in 98 AD and Hadrian succeeded him in 117.

The Roman Empire covered much of Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East. Hadrian recognised the imperial overstretch and acted by consolidation rather than continuing the campaigns of his predecessor.  Hadrian was also a philhellene and passionate about Greek culture. He was the first emperor to wear a full beard. One explanation is his infatuation with Greek culture. Another reason might have been his close relationship with his soldiers, who often wore beards. A central theme of Hadrian’s life and his legacy can be found in his strong personal interest in architecture. Highly innovative, iconic buildings were constructed throughout the empire. The most famous are the Pantheon in Rome and his magnificent residence at Tibur (today’s Tivoli), a few miles east of the capital. The villa was like a small city, the empire in miniature, and the largest villa known from the Roman world. He rebuilt his native city Italica with magnificent public buildings. Imperial euergetism or benefaction made Italica one of the most splendid towns in Baetica to collapse within one generation after his death in 138 AD however. the usual problem of the expensive maintenance. A common feature with regard to EU-projects as well.

Hadrian visited Britain in 122 AD. The situation was highly volatile and Hadrian decided to mark the frontier zone in the North with a stone wall. The wall is known as the Hadrian’s wall nowadays. The wall was not just a defensive bulwark to separate Romans and barbarians, but a tool of Roman dominance that allowed the control of a wide area. The wall had a deep psychological impact on local tribes and some link even Scottish history and present Scottish independence discussions to this wall. (Source: Th.Opper, The Emperor Hadrian (British Museum Press London 2008) and www.britishmuseum.org.