Interesting Love Stories that Helped Shape the Modern World

Hadrian returns from Tivoli, by Ettore Forti. Wikimedia

2. Hadrian and Antinous

The Roman emperor Hadrian spent large portions of his reign touring his realm, establishing his relationship with the people and performing rituals to enhance his reputation. On one such tour he met Antinous, a young Greek boy 35 years his junior. Three years later, Antinous moved to Italy, where he was installed in Hadrian’s villa in approximately 128 CE. Hadrian regarded Antinous as his favorite of several young male “servants”, and on future travels had him accompany the Imperial party. On one such tour, in Egypt in 130 CE, Antinous died, under circumstances never agreed upon by historians. Hadrian was grief stricken at the loss of his lover, and had the Egyptian priests embalm his body, and deify him.

The deification of Antinous led to the development of a cult within the Roman Empire, which worshiped him as a god. The cult spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean regions, into Europe, and even as far as the British Isles. Other pagan cults within the empire opposed it, as did the Germanic and Gallic pagans, and the emerging sect of Christianity. Hadrian actively promoted the cult, which continued to expand following the emperor’s death. By the 4th century, more than two dozen temples to Antinous existed throughout the empire, and he had entered the pantheon as a dying and rising from the dead god, in direct conflict with the Christian sects of the time. After the adoption of Christianity by the empire the cult faded, but never entirely died out, and a modern cult devoted to Antinous exists in the 21st century.