New discoveries reveal life and times of the Roman Emperor Hadrian

Emperor Hadrian, HadrianThe Emperor Hadrian is one of Rome’s most famous emperors, ruling at the height of the Empire from 117-138 AD. His villa just north of Rome is a popular tourist attraction, yet some Italian researchers have discovered what countless visitors never noticed: the buildings are aligned with astronomical events.

On the summer solstice (June 21 this year) light passes through an opening above a doorway and shines on a niche in the opposite wall. The niche probably contained the statue of some deity. This sort of light effect has been found in other ancient sites. Another building is aligned both to the summer and winter (December 21 this year) solstices, during which the light shines through a row of doors.

The effects may have been part of the worship of Isis. Originally an Egyptian goddess, a popular mystery religion grew up around her in the Roman Empire.

Hadrian’s other famous monument, Hadrian’s Wall, is also the site of a recent discovery. At the fort of Vindolanda, dozens of circular huts have been discovered that don’t look like anything the Romans built. In fact, they look like the huts of the tribes living north of the wall in Scotland, outside the direct influence of the Roman Empire. These may have been homes for refugees from friendly tribes fleeing common enemies, perhaps during the invasion of Scotland by Emperor Septimius Severus (ruled 193-211 AD) or the homes of temporary workers who lived along the wall and served the Romans.

For more on Hadrian’s Wall and a hike you can take along the entire length, check out my series on hiking Hadrian’s Wall.

[Photo courtesy Jastrow]