Centre for Continuing Education

History Course: Hadrian the Builder

History. See the future. It’s in the past.

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Please note that course materials for all classes (excluding prescribed textbooks) are shared electronically within 48 hours of a course starting. Printing is not available.

Join us on a grand tour of the Roman Empire as we follow in the footsteps of Hadrian the builder.

The emperor Hadrian who reigned 117-138AD, was both a tireless traveller and an enthusiastic builder. In Rome, and during his travels throughout the provinces of the Roman Empire, Hadrian initiated numerous building projects that even today constitute an impressive architectural legacy.

We follow Hadrian to Athens (where he built his new Hadrianic city), North Africa (where he provided the people of Leptis Magna with new baths) and Carthage (where he provided the city with an aqueduct to bring water from a spring 132kms away). In Britain, we will tramp along Hadrian’s Wall, a fortification built as a consequence of the emperor’s visit in 122AD. Our day will end with a study of Hadrian’s mausoleum (now Castel Sant' Angelo), his massive villa below Tivoli, and the Pantheon, one of the most innovative buildings ever created in antiquity.


The aims of this course are to:

  • provide you with an understanding of the key policies of the Emperor Hadrian and an cultural/historical appreciation of the significance of his major building projects
  • equip you with an understanding of the historiographical problems of our source material for the emperor and his policies
  • develop your understanding of key architectural forms and the engineering expertise developed by the Romans in constructing vaults and domes
  • equip you with an up-to-date knowledge of recent scholarship on Roman engineering in the time of Hadrian and on the cultural context in which they were built.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • demonstrate a clear general appreciation of the social, military and religious policies of the Emperor Hadrian and be able relate this to selected building projects initiated by the emperor at Rome and in the provinces
  • identify key Roman building techniques
  • demonstrate a knowledge of the qualities of Roman building materials
  • demonstrate an understanding of, and employ accurately, key art-historical and architectural terms and concepts
  • analyse the engineering challenges of making a concrete dome in antiquity, and explain how it was constructed and why it has not collapsed
  • evaluate the cultural significance of Hadrian’s buildings and provide an argument in support of your views.


Understanding Hadrian the Builder

We will begin with an overview of the reign of Hadrian and discuss some of his many journeys though the provinces. There will be a consideration of the traditional role of building as a form of imperial propaganda. Building will also be considered within the context of imperial benefactions as an expression of the patronage of provincial communities. We will examine some key inscriptions from the reign of Hadrian relating to towns and investigate how the emperor’s buildings were presented to the public.

Hadrian’s building projects in the Greek East and North Africa

As a cultural philhellene Hadrian took a special interest in Greece and the Greek cites of the east. We will examine the new Hadrianic city that extended classical Athens, and Hadrian’s completion of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Both were an expression of Hadrian’s refounding of the city as the new Theseus. In North Africa we will examine Hadrian’s new baths for the people of Leptis Magna in relation to earlier emperors' benefactions. The huge engineering works need to bring water to Carthage will be examined as part of a new interest in the province of Africa. Hadrian also was the founder of the huge Roman military camp of Lambaesis, now in modern Algeria, and his visit recorded in a significant inscription, gives details of military training and manoeuvers there.

Hadrian’s visit to Britain and the building of Hadrian’s Wall

The visit of Hadrian to Britain in 122AD appears to have been a great shock to the troops serving in that remote and relatively quiet part of the Roman world. Hadrian reformed the soldiers training and got them into a new state of military preparedness. And he ordered the construction of a huge fortification that was to stretch 135km from Wallsend on the east coast to Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast of England. We will consider the reasons for the building of the wall, the materials used and the construction methods employed by the soldiers who built it. As we move along it we will stop to examine some key forts that were part of the defensive system.

Hadrian’s villa – the empire encompassed

Hadrian’s massive villa on the flat land below the Alban hills was constructed as a place of retreat for the emperor. The villa covers an area of 120 hectares and includes a massive palace, large and small bath complexes, libraries and a series of separate groups of building and garden spaces designed for entertaining. Many areas such as the Canopus and the Vale of Tempe were constructed to recall places that Hadrian had visited in the course of his travels. We will interpret the buildings of this sprawling complex within the tradition of the Roman country villa and discuss some of the theories that have been advanced to account for novel structures such as the so-called Naval Theatre.

Hadrian and the city of Rome – the Mausoleum and the Pantheon

The year before his death in 138AD the emperor Hadrian and his wife Sabina dedicated their family mausoleum on the Vatican side of the river Tiber, across from the mausoleum of Augustus on the Campus Martius. Set on a squared base the mausoleum featured a massive concrete drum 64 metres in diameter and 21 metres high. Inside this drum a ramp led to the burial chamber and the structure was surmounted by a garden, and probably a statue of the emperor. We will examine the Hadrian’s tomb (now Castel Sant’Angelo) in the tradition of tomb architecture in Italy going back to the Etruscans.

We conclude with a detailed analysis of the construction history of Hadrian’s Pantheon, the Temple of All The Gods, built between AD 118 and 125. In particular we consider how the Roman builders constructed the great coffered dome and analyse the source of its enduing strength. This impressive building, the best preserved monument to survive from antiquity, is the supreme achievement of Roman architecture. It is Hadrian’s finest legacy.

Intended audience

This course may be of interest to anyone wanting to:

  • explore Roman history and the Emperor Hadrian and his reign
  • learn about Roman engineering, ancient buildings, art and architecture
  • visit Hadrianic buildings in Rome and Greece, or Hadrian’s Wall in Britain.



Delivery style

The course combines two formats: lecture style delivery, and class discussion.

Recommended reading

Birley, A, Hadrian The Restless Emperor.

Boatwright, MT, Hadrian and City of Rome.

Boatwright, MT, Hadrian and the Cities of the Roman Empire.

Danziger, D and Purcell, N, Hadrian’s Empire.

Frazer, TE 2006, Hadrian as Builder and Benefactor in the Western Provinces, Archeopress, London.

Hingley, R 2012 Hadrian’s Wall: A Life, OUP, Oxford

Marder, TA 2015 The Pantheon: From Antiquity to the Present, CUP, Cambridge.

Speller, E 2004, Following Hadrian: A Second Century Journey Through the Roman Empire, OUP, Oxford.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

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