Of all his significant monuments and buildings, Hadrian’s Wall in north Britain is the most famous. Construction of the wall, known in antiquity as Vallum Hadriani, was begun around 122 CE and corresponded to Hadrian’s visit to the province. It marked the northern boundary of the Roman Empire in Britain but the length and breadth of the project (stretching, as it did, from coast to coast) suggests that the more important purpose of the wall was a show of Rome’s power. The wall was originally 9.7 feet wide (3 metres) and 16-20 feet high (six metres) east of the River Irthing, all built of stone, and 20 feet wide (6 metres) by 11.feet high (3.5 metres) west of the river, made up of stone and turf, stretching 73 miles (120 km) across uneven terrain. It was built in six years by the legions stationed in Britain. There were between 14-17 fortifications along the length of the wall and a Vallum (a ditch purposefully constructed of earthworks) which ran parallel to the wall. The Vallum measured 20 feet (6 metres) wide by 10 feet (3 metres) deep flanked by large mounds of tightly packed earth. As Hadrian’s foreign policy was “peace through strength” it is thought that the wall, which was originally plastered and white washed, would have clearly represented the might of the Roman Empire.
Although Hadrian was a learned and cultivated man, his policy of peaceful relations and negotiations was not always adhered to. In 130 CE, Hadrian visited Jerusalem, which was still in ruins from the First Roman-Jewish War of 66-73 CE. He rebuilt the city according to his own designs and renamed it Aelia Capitolina Jupiter Capitolinus after himself and the king of the Roman gods. When he built a temple to Jupiter on the ruins of the Temple of Solomon (the so-called Second Temple, considered sacred by the Jews), the populace rose up under the leadership of Simon bar Kokhbah in what has come to be known as bar Kokhbah’s Revolt (132-136 CE). Roman losses in this campaign were enormous but Jewish losses were no less significant. By the time the rebellion was put down, 580, 000 Jews had been killed and over 1000 towns and villages destroyed. Hadrian then banished the remaining Jews from the region and renamed it Syria Palaestina after the traditional enemies of the Jewish people, the Philistines. He ordered a public burning of the Torah, executed the Jewish scholars, and prohibited the practice and observance of Judaism.
Death & Successor
His health now failing, Hadrian returned to Rome and occupied himself by of Hadrian in Rome the following year, his body was cremated and the ashes interred there with his wife and son. Antoninus Pius had Hadrian deified and temples built in his honor. The historian Gibbon writes that Hadrian’s rule was, “the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous…when the vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power under the guidance of virtue and wisdom” (61). Although Hadrian was not universally admired during his life, or since his death, his reign is generally considered in keeping with Gibbon’s estimation.