Emperor Hadrian returns to Jerusalem

The Roman emperor Publius Aelius Hadrianus returns to Jerusalem after almost 2000 years as the Israel Museum brings together for the first time the only three bronze images of Hadrian that have been found. These portraits are in the Rollockenfrisur style, popular in the Roman provinces and characterized by nine curls which evenly frame the face and are rolled to the left.

Hadrianx3 photo by Eli Posner

Hadrian in bronze, photo by Eli Posner

The head on the left is from the Louvre, provenance unknown. The second head on loan from the British museum was found in 1834 in the River Thames below a bridge. The third on the right is from the Israel museum collection, actually a head and torso found at Tel Shalem, the camp of the Sixth Roman legion in the Bet Shean valley. Also check out the 6 fragments of a three-line inscription in Latin  (11 meters wide) also found at Tel Shalem on display in the Archaeology wing, presumably part of a monumental triumphal arch commemorating the suppression of the Bar Kochba Revolt.

Hadrian Torso

Approximately 160 portraits of Hadrian have survived, mostly in marble and you can find images on the Internet or see a good selection of them (73) at the Following Hadrian site.

So having met Hadrian, what can we understand about the man?
According to some “with his abundant energy, keen intellect, and wide-ranging interests, Hadrian is considered one of the Roman Empire’s more enlightened rulers.” When Jewish sources mention Hadrian it is always with the epitaph “may his bones be crushed” (שחיק עצמות or שחיק טמיא, the Aramaic equivalent), an expression never used even about Vespasian or Titus who destroyed the Second Temple.

There is a difference of opinion among scholars about the cause of the Bar Kochba Revolt and the exhibit leaves the debate undecided. Hadrian visited Jerusalem in 130 CE and found the city in need of rebuilding from its destruction in the Roman Jewish War (66-73 CE). One narrative suggests that at first Hadrian was sympathetic to the Jews and set out to rebuild the city and even the Jewish Temple. It is not clear whether building a foreign, Roman city with a pagan temple to Jupiter on the Temple Mount, the holiest site to Judaism, was the cause of the Bar Kochba Revolt or whether the Revolt pushed Hadrian to obliterate Jerusalem, in place and name, and build Aelia Capitolina.

Hadrian built temples to various Roman gods, a temple to Venus at the traditional site of Jesus’ burial, the holiest site to Christianity. He built a temple to the Hellenistic god Zeus Hypsistos on Mount Gerizim, the site holy to the Samaritans.

Whatever your politics, the exhibit reverberated for me as a commentary on contemporary Israel and the Palestinians.

Hadrian’s built a wall to protect empire Israel built a security/separation wall
Keys of Jews who fled their homes to desert , never to return Keys taken by Arab refugees who fled their homes in 1948
Jews revolt against Roman authority Arab intifada against Israeli authority
Bar Kochba writes that Jews of Tekoa who don’t follow his directives will have their homes destroyed Destruction of homes of Arab terrorists
Although a military man Hadrian actually withdrew from territory for peace Israel should withdraw from territories for peace

So once you have met Hadrian at the museum, in the flesh so to speak, what sites are there associated with Hadrian? As your guide, I can take you to these sites and explain the connection:

  • Roman gate under Damascus gate, Bab el Amud
  • Roman square with column and statue of emperor
  • Cardo and secondary cardo from Aelia Capitolina
  • aesclepion expanded into a large temple to Asclepius and Serapis
  • Ecce Homo arch, actually Roman gate to forum
  • Two vaults over Struthion pool to lay street
  • Lithostratus, Roman street
  • Holy Sepulcher site, Roman temple to Venus built by Hadrian
  • LEGIO X FRETENSIS stone outside Jaffa gate
  • quarry in Ir David excavated by Weill that was used for stones to build Aelia Capitolina
  • Caesarea, city and port rebuilt by Hadrian; second aqueduct from Taninim spring
  • Temple on Mount Gerizim
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One thought on “Emperor Hadrian returns to Jerusalem

  1. Pingback: Unique Hadrian exhibit at the Israel Museum | Ferrell's Travel Blog

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