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: The Restless Emperor with a Passion for Egypt: Hadrian the Traveler and his Favourite Province mirrored by Coins

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Hadrian (117-138) was a very special emperor. His voyages made Rome a cosmopolitan Empire. One of them brought Hadrian to Egypt. Our podcast reports about this trip 

 

 

Come along with us on our journey through the world of money. Today we are stopping in the Roman province of Egypt. We are in the year 130 A.D.

 

These Romans absolutely could not bear their emperor, Hadrian. He wore a beard like they did in the east! And anyway, for a proper Roman, Hadrian was on the road far too often. When Hadrian took over the government in 117 A.D., the Roman Empire was geographically at its peak. It would never again achieve such an expanse.

 

This was because Hadrian's predecessor Traian loved waging war. He had been a famous general before the Emperor Nerva adopted him as his successor. And so he conquered huge new areas in his new office as well.

 

Hadrian on the other hand, loved literature, philosophy, the Greeks. He had also led soldiers, but in doing so had understood that the Roman Empire was held together by its culture rather than its military.

And so the soldier Hadrian turned into a peace emperor who travelled around his empire so he could get to know his people and they could get to know him.

 

A vast number of coins have shown us which provinces the emperor visited. Our example is devoted to Egypt. AEGVPTOS is written in large letters on the coin. But even for illiterates, it was clear which province was meant, since the personification of Egypt is represented on the coins with her attributes:

 

In her right hand she is holding a sistrum. A sistrum is a type of small Turkish crescent. In a bronze frame, small pieces of metal were attached loosely to bars. When you shook the sistrum, it made quite a noise.

 

The sistrum wasn't a musical instrument, but rather a holy prop which accompanied the holy ceremonies during the mysteries of Isis. Isis also came from Egypt, but her cult was prevalent throughout the whole of the Roman Empire. The Romans knew Isis because her festival was associated with the departure of the Roman fleet. Isis protected the corn transporters which brought bread from Egypt to Rome.

 

Ibis was also characteristic of Egypt. The Romans knew him as the god Thoth's pet, who played a decisive role, together with Isis, in the myth of Osiris.

 

With Thoth's help, Isis gathered together Osiris's scattered limbs. His revival didn't just symbolise his resurrection to the faithful. Osiris was also the Nile. With him came the flood which brought fertility to the Egyptian fields. Our Ibis stands on a small pillar. But of course it isn't just any old pillar, it's the famous nilometer.

 

In Egypt the nilometer was used to measure how high the Nile rose. The clerks used it to determine the taxes since the hight of the flood corresponded with the fertility of the fields.

16 was the optimum figure. That's why 'father Nile' is often shown with 16 small children playing around him.

 

For Hadrian, the Nile was to take on a whole new meaning. His beloved friend Antinoos drowned under suspicious circumstances in the Nile in 130 A.D.

 

Two years later, Hadrian returned to Rome. He was never to leave the Eternal City again.

Most of the time he lived a secluded life in his villa in Tivoli. He had also recreated a small piece of Egypt there. In Canopus the old man dreamed of the past.

 

The Romans still didn't like their emperor. So Hadrian chose as his successor a man who had all the characteristics which a Roman senator valued. And indeed, Antoninus Pius became an emperor after Rome's heart. He stayed at home.

 

Thank you for listening. And you can find more podcasts about coins and money on the Sunflower Foundation Web page.