Rome Reborn

Institute for Advanced Techology in the Humanities

Rome Reborn

Mausoleum of Hadrian

Mausoleum of Hadrian

When Augustus' Mausoleum was full, Hadrian (A.D. 76-138) had to construct a new imperial tomb in the 130s A.D. Imitating but also enlarging Augustus' monument on the left bank of the Tiber, he designed it with a circular plan and located it on the opposite bank of the river. The emperors down to Caracalla (A.D. 188-217) were buried here. The tomb was topped by a statue showing Hadrian riding a four-horse chariot. A bronze fence marked the area; two bronze peacocks decorating it survive and can be seen in the Courtyard of the Pigna in the Vatican Museums. The tomb (known today as the Castel S. Angelo) was converted into a fortress in the middle ages and can be visited by the public.

Mausoleum Hadriani

From Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, rev. Thomas Ashby. Oxford: 1929, p. 336-338.

The modern Castel S. Angelo, on the right bank of the Tiber, built by Hadrian as his mausoleum, together with the bridge (Pons aelius, q.v.) by which it was approached (Ill. 34) (Hist. Aug. Hadr. 19: fecit sui nominis pontem et sepulcrum iuxta Tiberim; Pius 5: Hadriano . . . mortuo reliquias eius . . . in hortis Domitiae conlocavit; Cass. Dio LXIX.23: ἐτἁφη δὲ πρὸς αὐτῷ τῷ ποταμῷ, πρὸς τῇ γεφύρᾳ‧ τῇ Αἰλίᾲ ἐνταῦθα γὰρ τὸ μνῆμα κατεσκευἁσατο). The mausoleum of Augustus had last been opened to receive the remains of Nerva, but was no longer in use; and the Antonine emperors and their families were buried also in the mausoleum of Hadrian, so that it acquired the name of Antoninorum sepulcrum or Ἀντωνινεῖον (Hist. Aug. and Cass. Dio cit.). Inscriptions actually recorded (CIL VI.984-995) are as follows: the dedicatory inscription to Hadrian and Sabina set up in 139 A.D. (the latter was already deified, the former not) by Antoninus Pius, the sepulchral inscriptions of Antoninus Pius and Faustina, and of three of their children; of Aelius Caesar; of three children of Marcus Aurelius; of Lucius Verus, and of Commodus. That Marcus Aurelius himself was buried here follows from Herodian 4.1.4 (ἀπέθεντο — the urn containing the ashes of Septimius Severus — ἐν τῷ νεῷ ἔνθα Μἁρκου τε καὶ τῶν πϱὸ αὐτοῦ βασιλέῶν ἱερὰ μνῆματα δεῖκνυται), and it is probably true of Faustina the younger also. Cass. Dio (LXXVI.15.4; lxxviii.19.1; 24.3) tells us that, besides Severus, Julia Domna, Caracalla and Geta were also laid to rest here. The various mentions of it in Hist. Aug. (Severus 19.3 = 24.2; Carac. 9.12 = Macrin. 5.2) are simply copied from Cassius Dio; see v. Domaszewski, SHA 1916, 7A.5 sqq.; and, for the first passage, cf. Sepulcrum Severi.

View Full Article

Additional source material

  • Ancient Library Sources (from Peter Aicher, Rome Alive: A Source Guide to the Ancient City, vol. 1, Bolchazy-Carducci: 2004) [Works cited]

    97. Mausoleum of Hadrian. Commentary.

    As with the Pantheon, Hadrian's other famous surviving structure in Rome, the Mausoleum of Hadrian recalls Augustan rule, and once again, while preserving the overall dimensions of his predecessor's monument, the result is a different order of splendor and complexity. In the case of his tomb, he didn't replace the Augustan structure, but built a new one across the river, though closely connecting it to the Campus Martius with a new bridge called the Pons Aelius after Hadrian's family name. Brick stamps show construction on the mausoleum began in AD 134, four years before Hadrian's death, but it was only finished under his successor Antoninus Pius, whose dedicatory inscription [97.4] dated to AD 139 once stood over the entrance.

    Though some of the tomb's interior complexity can still be experienced, not only the tomb's lavish decoration of statuary and marble but its upper reaches have been stripped or destroyed. Its basic structure was a tall square podium (87 m.) surmounted in the middle by a solid cylinder, the concrete core of which is visible today. An entrance corridor, aligned with the bridge, led straight into a ground-floor chamber with a large niche (probably for a statue of Hadrian). From this chamber, a helicoidal staircase led up through the mass of the cylinder to reach in one spiral the level of the burial chamber, reached by a radial corridor that led to the center of the tomb. (Today's corridor, built in 1492, still leads into this chamber, but on a ramp that crosses the burial chamber high above its floor). Further ancient ramps or stairs led to higher chambers, but the configuration of the top of the tomb is not known. Presumably then, as today, one could walk to the top to enjoy panoramic views of the river and the city beyond.

    The central burial chamber had three arched niches to display the funerary urns. Inscriptions and the sources tell us that the Mausoleum of Hadrian was in use from his death in AD 138 at least until the death of Caracalla in AD 217, the sixth emperor to be buried in the tomb and the last recorded deposition of imperial remains in it.

    Even in antiquity, however, the tomb began to function as the fortress for which it was so well suited, being not only tall, sheer, and sturdy but perfectly situated as a bridgehead that preserved access to the right bank of the Tiber via the Pons Aelius. Sometime after the Aurelian Wall was built and before the Ostrogoths besieged the city in the sixth century, the tomb had been incorporated into Rome's defenses. Later it became a papal fortress, accessible from the Vatican in times of trouble by means of an elevated walkway built in 1277. The common name for the fortress/tomb, Castel S. Angelo, derives from a vision Pope Gregory the Great had in AD 590, when, shortly before a terrible plague was lifted from the city, he saw the archangel Michael sheath his sword, as depicted by the statue on top of the fortress today.

    97. Mausoleum of Hadrian. Sources.


    Hadrian built the bridge named for his family [the Pons Aelius] and the tomb alongside the Tiber.

    Imperial Lives, Hadrian 19.11


    Hadrian lived for 62 years, 5 months, and 19 days, having ruled for 20 years and 11 months. He was buried right by the river, in front of the Aelian bridge. It was here that he had prepared his tomb, since the Mausoleum of Augustus was full and from this time forward received no more remains.

    Dio, History 69.23.1


    Among the projects of Antoninus Pius that remain today … is the Tomb of Hadrian, which he completed.

    Imperial Lives, Antoninus Pius 8.2


    Antoninus Pius…set this up [in AD 139] in honor of his parents, the late emperor Hadrian (son of the deified Trajan, grandson of the deified Nerva)…and the deified Sabina.

    ILS 322 = CIL 6.984


    [Epitaph] In memory of the empress Faustina, wife of Antoninus Pius….

    ILS 349 = CIL 6.987


    [Epitaph] In memory of emperor Caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius [died AD 161], Pontifex Maximus, with tribunician power 23 times, hailed as imperator twice, consul four times, Father of his Country.

    ILS 346 = CIL 6.986


    Spurred on by the emperor Commodus's cruelty, which they had endured too long, Laetus, prefect of the guard, and Marcia, Commodus's concubine, formed a conspiracy to assassinate the emperor. First they tried to poison him. When that didn't work, they had his athletic trainer strangle him.

    The people and Senate demanded that Commodus's corpse be dragged by hook and thrown in the Tiber, but the new emperor Pertinax ordered it taken to the Tomb of Hadrian.

    Imperial Lives, Commodus 17.1-4


    [Epitaph] In memory of the emperor Commodus, son of the deified Marcus Aurelius, grandson of the deified Antoninus Pius, great-grandson of the deified Hadrian, great-great-grandson of the deified Trajan, and great-great-great-grandson of the deified Nerva ….

    ILS 401 = CIL 6.992


    [When the emperor Septimius Severus died in Britain] his sons Caracalla and Geta each got an equal share in the rule of the empire. They decided to sail from Britain, and arrived in Rome escorting the remains of their father, which had been placed in an alabaster urn after his cremation. This they intended to place in the sacred imperial mausoleum.…

    When they arrived in Rome … the brothers, dressed in the imperial purple, led a procession, followed by the consuls carrying the urn with the remains of Severus. Those who approached the new emperors in greeting also bowed before the urn.… They escorted the urn to the shrine that displays the sacred tombs of Marcus Aurelius and his imperial predecessors [=Hadrian's Mausoleum].

    Herodian, History 3.15.7 and 4.1.3-4


    The remains of Severus were interred in the tomb of Marcus Aurelius, who was Severus's favorite of all the emperors.

    Imperial Lives, Severus 19.3


    The body of Caracalla was cremated and his bones placed in the tomb of the Antonines. They had to be smuggled in secretly, since everyone—senators and commoners, men and women alike—bore him a passionate hatred.

    Dio, History 79.9.1


    [The Goths, under Vittigis, subjected Rome to a lengthy siege and fought several battles with the Romans, who were led by the famous general Belisarius.] One of the Gothic assaults [in AD 537] occurred in the following manner at the Porta Cornelia, just in front of the Aelian Bridge.

    Across the bridge, not more than a stone's throw outside this gate, stands the spectacular tomb of the Emperor Hadrian, made out of white marble from Paros that is fit together with such precision that no mortar was needed. It has four sides of equal length, again about the distance of a stone's throw; their height exceeds that of the city's defensive walls. On top of the tomb's outer walls, statues of men and horses are mounted, beautifully carved from the same white marble as the walls. Since it occurred to earlier inhabitants that the tomb might serve as an enemy fortress against the city (it does indeed look like a high tower built opposite the gate), they made it part of the city's defenses by extending two walls to it from the circuit walls [running from the sides of the tomb to the right bank?]….

    When the Goths made their assault, they mounted an attack at both this tomb and the Porta Cornelia. They had no siege engines, but carried numerous ladders and thought they could easily overwhelm the defenders with showers of arrows and then take the fortress without much trouble because it was undermanned. Equipped with long shields, the Goths advanced under the cover of the colonnade extending from the Aelian bridge to St. Peter's, thereby escaping the notice of the Romans until they were quite close to the tomb, where they sprung out and immediately began fighting. Their proximity took the Roman ballistae out of play (since these machines can only shoot horizontally) and the long shields of the Goths protected them from the defender's arrows. The Goths kept up their assault, sending out volley after volley, and were on the point of setting up their ladders.…

    For a short time the Romans were at a loss, unable to find a way to defend themselves. Then by mutual agreement they shattered most of the huge marble statues into hundreds of rocks, and began to hurl them down on the heads of the enemy. The Goths gave way under this barrage [and soon were routed].

    Procopius, Wars 5.19, 5.22.12-22

  • Stanford Digital Forma Urbis Romae Project
  • Flickr images
  • Wikipedia

©2008 by the Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia. All rights reserved.