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Following Hadrian: A Second-Century Journey Through the Roman Empire
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Following Hadrian: A Second-Century Journey Through the Roman Empire

3.48  ·  Rating details ·  91 ratings  ·  16 reviews
One of the greatest--and most enigmatic--Roman emperors, Hadrian stabilized the imperial borders, established peace throughout the empire, patronized the arts, and built an architectural legacy that lasts to this day: the great villa at Tivoli, the domed wonder of the Pantheon, and the eponymous wall that stretches across Britain. Yet the story of his reign is also a tale ...more
Paperback, 361 pages
Published October 14th 2004 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2002)
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3.48  · 
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 ·  91 ratings  ·  16 reviews

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From the title I expected the whole book to be a travelogue of the philhellene Emperor Hadrian's many journeys through the empire. This was not quite accurate. Epigraphs began each chapter, alluding to the theme of each, then excerpts from the [fictitious] memoirs of Julia Balbilla, friend of Hadrian's disliked, if not hated, empress, Sabina. Julia accompanied them on their travels. There was a good deal of history and well-written info dumping, discussion of sites in Rome and ruins of those in ...more
Jun 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
Picked it up at Tsewong's in Xiahe. Read it in two days. An engaging reminder that the classical world was not limited to the greek polis. Multi-ethnic empire building old skool style. Hadrian was a truly interesting chap. And I learned that the collossi of Memnon only sang for something like 250 years--a much shorter time than they've been silent.
This was a rather uneven biography of Hadrian, the emperor who ruled Rome from 117 to 138 AD. The beginning, I felt, was strong and full of interesting details of Hadrian's early life: his provincial upbringing, adoption by Trajan, marriage to Sabina (a loveless marriage), and development into the warrior and intelligent ruler he became. At about the midpoint, the whole topic of Antinous came up and the author never really moved on. She seemed to be obsessed with this young man that Hadrian kept ...more
Katharine Harding
I started this while walking Hadrian's Wall, and then put it down for quite some time before finishing it. I enjoyed it but there wasn't much about the Wall! it is more about his life overall, particularly the later years. Which I knew nothing about, so I learned a lot.
Dec 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: History buffs, retired gladiators and architects
Recommended to Wayne by: Hadrian's mighty Constructions
This book failed to mention Hadrian's Wall,
one of my absorbing interests,
but since it didn't seem relevant to the author's purpose
I really failed to be aware of its omission.
And given the context it may not be an omission at all.
What was served was gripping enough.

What reared LARGE was the complexity of Hadrian's personality
and how a different culture can lead you so far from what
you consider to be 'normal' or consider to be obvious or natural.
The influence of a nation's mythology on everyday b
Sep 06, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I picked this book up thinking that it would be a travelogue, following some of Hadrian's peregrinations. It isn't. In a way it's more than that, it's a consideration of Hadrian's philhellenism and how that affected his attitude to ruling an empire. Mainly it is concerned with the visit to Greece and Egypt in 128-130CE and how the mysterious death of his lover Antinous changed him and quite possibly his plans for the Empire.

I'm not a Roman scholar, or even anyone with more than a general knowled
Dec 10, 2008 rated it liked it
I really would like to give this a 3 1/2 star review as I did enjoy it a bit more than 3 stars. Elizabeth Speller does a good job of recounting the reign of Hadrian through existing written and archeological sources. This is not a typical history of Hadrian's time, however. Speller commences her chapters with a fictionalized account of events written by Julia Balbilla, one of Hadrian's entourage and companion of Hadrian's wife, Sabina, during his trip to the East. Much of Speller's review of Had ...more
Sep 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Hadrian remains a mysterious historical figure, definitely complex and very human, and yet, it seems like historians have decided to concern themselves mainly with Hadrian's Wall and his general presence in Britain. This despite the fact that Hadrian has left behind a very significant architectural legacy.

Speller focuses mainly on Hadrian as an emperor and as a human being, realizing that by examining who he was, we can also evaluate his tangible legacy in much more efficient way. Hadrian seems
Apr 13, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
An informational account of the Roman Emperor so often associated with the wall in northern England and the Pantheon in the city of Rome, but little understood beyond that. It seems that a great deal of Speller's focus was put on Hadrian's philhellenism, his tour of the eastern Mediterranean in the years around 130 AD, and even more about his obsession with his "favourite". The book could almost be titled "Antinous: A Journey from Mortal Peon to Diety of Sensuality". The book did serve as inspir ...more
Erik Graff
Jan 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Hadrian fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: biography
This approximates a biography of the Emperor Hadrian. It is unusually organized, being focused, sort of, on his last tour of the East (especially Egypt), but jumping back and forth throughout events in his life--and in the life of the Empire--while being punctuated by the fabricated memoir of one of his aristocratic companions. Although I found the work, even the generally irritating fake memoir, to have some literary merit and to offer the occasional insight into the man and the era, I can't im ...more
Jun 20, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: classics, non-fiction
Interesting. The conceit is that she's included excerpts from "Julia Balbilla's diary," and that's what caused me to buy the book -- but those turned out to be by far the weakest part of the book (Julia Balbilla came off as highly, highly unpleasant). I also found the author's treatment of Antinous very strange (she seemed really uncomfortable talking about him). Hadrian was fascinating, and the more I learn about Julia Balbilla, the more I wish to know more about her, but I'm not sure I would r ...more
Bob Stockton
Mar 16, 2012 rated it liked it
I was disappointed that there is hardly a mention of Hadrian's trip to Britain or his ordering a wall built across the island. I would have been interested in knowing his reasoning.

The best parts of the book were the excerpts from the dairy of a travelling companion of Hadrian's wife. Her words provide an interesting insight into the mindset of the upperclass.
Dec 15, 2013 rated it did not like it
judging by this book, the sources on Hadrian must be pretty thin. every other chapter is told from the point of view of a woman who was close friend of Hadrian's wife, and thus touring the empire with them. Not what I was expecting in a history. Perhaps my expectations were off, but it was not my kind of book.
Oct 11, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, read-non-fiction
Informative and interesting.
Hadrian, interesting gay emperor.
Aug 18, 2015 rated it liked it
I liked this book and it made me feel what life was like during Hadrian era. But in the last chapters it talks too much about Antinous, with too much speculation on the facts.
Michael Boerm
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Dec 06, 2007
Leon Argamasilla
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Nov 30, 2014
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Aug 21, 2007
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João Henriques
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Nov 29, 2014
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Elizabeth Speller is a poet and author of four non-fiction books including a biography of Emperor Hadrian, companion guides to Rome and to Athens, and a memoir, Sunlight on the Garden. She has contributed to publications as varied as the Financial Times, Big Issue and Vogue and produced the libretto for a requiem for Linda McCartney, Farewell, composed by Michael Berkeley (OUP). She currently has ...more
“Think not lightly, therefore, O Hadrian, of what I am saying. Boast not that you alone have encircled the world in your travels, for it is only the moon and stars that really make the journey around it. Moreover, do not think of yourself as beautiful and great and rich and the ruler of the inhabited world. Know you not that, being a man, you were born to be Life’s plaything, helpless in the hands of fortune and destiny, sometimes exalted, sometimes humbled lower than the grave. Will you not be able to learn what life is, Hadrian, in the light of many examples? Consider how rich with his golden nails was the king of the Lydians. Great as a commander of armies was the king of the Danaans, Agamemnon; daring and hardy was Alexander, king of the Macedonians. Heracles was fearless, the Cyclops wild and untamed, Odysseus shrewd and subtle, and Achilles beautiful to look upon. If fortune took away from these men the distinctions that were peculiarly their own, how much more likely is she to take them away from you?” 1 likes
“The Romans learned what European armies were to discover hundreds of years later: that the best-trained and best-equipped fighting force in the world might come to grief against partisans fighting on their own territory and for a cause for which they would willingly sacrifice themselves and their families.” 1 likes
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