Hadrian: The Restless EmperorAnthony R. Birley (New York: Routledge, 1997) 399 pp., $50
Hadrian, who ruled Rome from 117 A.D. to 138 A.D., seems like the ideal subject of a biography. It was Hadrian who built the fortification wall that still snakes across northern Britain and who constructed the great dome of the Pantheon in Rome. He was devoted to Greek culture, traveled almost continuously from one end of the Roman Empire to the other, and bestowed lavish benefactions on cities. Hadrian also fought a ghastly war against the Jews (the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome [132–135 A.D.]), seizing Judea and restricting Jewish religious expression by prohibiting circumcision and the ordination of rabbis. After laying claim to Jerusalem, Hadrian renamed the city Aelia Capitolina—after himself, Aelius Hadrianus, and his favorite god, Jupiter Capitolinus. Hadrian’s divisive policy ultimately promoted rival claims to the Holy Land that still cause turmoil in the Middle East.