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September 25, 2008

Christie Davies enjoyed the Hadrian exhibition but dislikes the Emperor - Hadrian was a paedophile, oppressed the Geordies and drove the Jews into exile: Hadrian: Empire and Conflict at the British Museum

Posted by Christie Davies

Hadrian: Empire and Conflict
British Museum, London
24th July - 26th October 2008
Daily 10am - 5.30pm (Thursdays & Fridays until 8.30pm)

Hadrian at the British Museum is a triumph. The great Reading Room, where the ranters Karl Marx and Germaine Greer once toiled, is an ideal setting for the exhibition. Not only does the dome resemble that of Hadrian's Pantheon in Rome but the great hall provides a necessary great space. Go there on a Friday evening when the crowds have gone. You can look across at the heads of the emperors and think of the city of Zuleika Dobson, except that these ones are in shining white marble. Although the heads were mass produced, they were taken from a model that reflected the real appearance and yet also the chosen image of each Emperor.

Here are Trajan the tough soldier who pushed the empire to its furthest brief extent, short haired and beardless, and Hadrian, who had a peculiar admiration for the Greeks, with his full beard.

The sculptor has even accurately reproduced the two curious deep creases in Hadrian's ear, an oddity which predicts a 77% likelihood of serious heart disease. These ubiquitous statues of the emperor Hadrian, sometimes in armour, sometimes naked in the guise of Mars, god of war and ancestor of Rome, were placed throughout the Empire, like those of the full-skirted, orb and sceptre Queen Victoria, to remind people of its power. We are the Empire. We run things round here.

The other glories of the exhibition, which greatly benefit from being well-lit, are carved architectural fragments, friezes, columns, statues from the Pantheon, Hadrian's mausoleum, now the Papal Castel Sant'Angelo and from his pleasure gardens at Tivoli.

Tivoli was in fact a great complex of buildings where the Emperor, his entourage and his more senior advisers and officials would retire from Rome in the summer to escape the heat and the crowds. Hadrian governed from Tivoli much as the Viceroy did from Simla when escaping the heat of India. Simla, I'm afraid, was no Tivoli and today it looks like a rundown cluster of British suburban houses, quite unworthy to be the hill-station counterpart of Lutyens' New Delhi. The British did not embellish their empire with fine cities and monuments the way Hadrian the builder did from Spain to Egypt, from Rome to Turkey. As you look at the Roman magnificence in this exhibition, think of the dreariness and dowdiness of Toronto, Melbourne, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Chennai or Singapore. Even the Anglican churches are boring. They are all great exciting centres of wealth and commercial energy but you wouldn't go there to see their once British aesthetic glories.

But then the Roman Empire was about glory, and the British Empire was about trade, which is why the authoritarian militaristic French despised it, much as they now resent the way the Americans do empire.

As the exhibition shows, Hadrian adorned the world, whereas the coarse commercial British uglified it. Go to Trajan's birthplace Italica in South Western Spain near Seville and you will find the ruins of the great city Hadrian built there. Go a little further to the north and you will come to Britain's imperial contribution, the great mine of Rio Tinto. Alongside are a little cluster of neat dull British suburban houses around a dull British church, where the management lived in seclusion in order to avoid all contact with the horrid Spaniards. All around you is the polychrome devastation of the old British copper mine which you can tour on a British railway train.

It has to be said that the colours and the turmoil left by the mine are far more enthralling than ruins of the Roman city. But it is a chance by-product of British greed. The British abroad are an ugly people who then create a matching environment.

But in the British Museum we are seeing the best of Rome. Look out for the bull's head with festooned garlands of fruit and ribbons from Hadrian's mausoleum and the pillars of Tivoli festooned in stone with climbing plants through which in turn climb little animals. Truly masterpieces of stone-carving.

Much is made in the exhibition of Hadrian's unnatural relationship with a young Greek boy Antinuous. The Greeks went in for that kind of thing and the Romans did not prohibit it. Cato the censor complained in 200 BC that a roguish, poguish slave boy cost as much as a decent sized farm.

Hadrian's predecessor Trajan had also had a taste for the pretty little boys in his court. It may well have been the reason why neither had children and had to appoint their heirs late in life. Yet as I have said in my study of homosexuality and royal lineage The Strange Death of Moral Britain,

the bottom of the page does not mean the end of the line.
It is now America's favourite pun.

Problems only arose when Antinuous grew up. A Roman of standing, like his Greek counterpart, was allowed to have a homosexual relationship but only if he were the dominant partner and his catamite, his pathic, his pogue was a boy, a slave or an alien.

A homosexual relationship between two adult male Roman citizens was a serious sexual transgression, much like seducing another citizen's wife and property. Such adulteries eroded the male superiority and standing of the cuckold and a sexual relationship between two adult men equally undermined the social order. One of the latter pair would have been degraded to the lowly role and status of a woman, which was quite unthinkable in decent society.

Antinuous solved the problem by getting himself drowned in the Nile. As with the evil Robert Maxwell, we shall never know whether it was suicide or a reckless disregard for the killing power of water brought about by inner turmoil and despair. Hadrian was devastated by the loss and had statues of him made, which we can see in the exhibition, as Osiris in the Egyptian fashion and Dionysius in the Greek, the two gods who had been reborn. In 130 AD Hadrian built a city in Egypt near where Antinuous drowned named Antinoopolis and a religious cult emerged that worshipped images of the drowned lad.

The exhibition is called Hadrian: Empire and Conflict but there is not that much about conflict except in relation to those most troublesome of peoples, the British and the Jews.

In Britain in 122 AD his forces began the construction of Rigore Valli Aeli, Hadrian's wall, the biggest fortified line in his empire: sed limes, sed pro patria. Yet it was not there to keep the weasel Scots out, for they had not yet invaded from Ireland, nor even to restrain the Picts, which was possibly the aim of his successor Antoninus Pius, whose defensive line was at the northern edge of the Scottish lowlands. Welsh speaking British tribes lived on either side of Hadrian's Wall. Many of these "men of the north" later, much later, moved to North Wales to fight off the savage Irish invader after losing the battle of Catraeth to the Northumbrians.

Hadrian's purpose was simply to scare and oppress the British of the North by keeping an army there which could move quickly, watch and patrol and control the movements of the local tribesmen. The problem is that you can't show much of the wall in an exhibition and exhibitions are about seeing.

Likewise there is not much to be seen of Hadrian's greatest crime, the brutal suppression of the revolt in Judaea led by the pseudo-messiah Shimon bar Kochba. Cassius Dio estimated that half a million were killed and far more died of disease and famine. Those Jews who remained were forced into exile and Judaea renamed Palestine. Only in 1948 and in 1967 was this unjust historic disaster reversed.

But how do you show such a war through objects? Even today there is a Jewish curse, "Hadrian, may his bones rot" but the British Museum does not even have a single one of Hadrian's bones on display, not even a tibia or a fibula or some other bit with a daft Latin name.

Given that the crease-eared Hadrian probably died of rotting arteries and that in the very long run everyone's bones rot, the curse seems a bit pointless. But then on Purim the Jews are still cursing Haman who plotted against the Jews in the time of Mordecai centuries before Hadrian and eating his ears, though some rabbis, such as the learned Baruch Schechter, say that they are obliged to get so drunk they may well be cursing Mordecai by mistake. Drink is the work of the cursing classes.

Nonetheless the Jews are the world's preeminent cursing people. Who else could say:

In der toyre zaynen do mer kloles vi brokhes.
(There are more curses in the scriptures than blessings)

Homens gdule un korakhs nes zol im trefn!
(May Haman's glory and Korah's miracle befall him)

May all his teeth fall out and only one remain for toothache!

What is curious is that so many people in Britain should still be interested in the life and times of our former dictator Hadrian, a bit like having an EU sponsored exhibition about Napoleon in a museum in Jena or Vittoria. What did the Romans ever do for us?

Their main legacy was Latin, ever the language of oppression. It was to become the language used by a caste of prelates and priests to prevent ordinary people reading the Bible. It was the language used by a tiny public school educated upper and upper middle class elite arbitrarily to exclude everyone else from power and position.

An Indian professor of classics working in the United States once complained to me how it was used by the colonial ICS (Indian Civil Service) to exclude Indians from the highest positions. Entry to the ICS was by competitive examination but then bright Indians, of whom there were many, started doing extremely well in the exams. Then as now, educated Hindus often spoke perfect English and understood it better than we do ourselves.

To counter this, the syllabus was changed to put greater emphasis on Latin. What chance would an able and ambitious Indian now have, unless he had been sent as a boarder to an English public school to learn Latin and as a further part of the Roman tradition to be flogged and subjected to homosexual advances from his elders? Latin, sodomy and the lash are, as Professor John R de S Honey shows in his book Tom Brown's Universe, these schools' main traditions.

Within the highest ranks of the British conquerors of India, Latin had long been used to baffle the natives. When General Napier annexed Sindh he informed the Governor-General in a cunning, punning message of only one word "Peccavi" (I have sinned), guaranteed to puzzle any Indian who intercepted it. In later more settled times, ICS men would exchange Latin tags and even long quotations in their letters and memoranda to one another, a way of defining insiders and outsiders.

Latin had the added advantage that it was linked to the literature of an earlier empire which had brought the joys of civilisation to distant parts. As you governed from Pune in the summer or sat anxiously in Peshawar, you could use the Roman model to justify your very existence, to console yourself in exile, to legitimate your rule.

The British ICS was a caste, an administrative caste with all the attributes of an Indian caste. Latin was for them what Sanskrit was for the Brahmins. It kept in their place not only Indians but also other lesser folk such as the "box-wallahs" from Dundee who ran the jute trade in Bengal or the English managers of cotton mills in Gujarat. They married women from their own caste, single gels from the right background, often the descendants of earlier ICS couples, who came out in the "fishing fleet" to hook them. Unlike their counterparts in Burma or Nigeria, the ICS men never took local mistresses.

That is why you will not see any brown faces at the Hadrian exhibition. Although Britain's Hindus are far wealthier and better educated than the autochthonous English, they are clearly boycotting the exhibition because of its imperial implications. They know that Hadrian is standing in for Curzon.

As a schoolboy at the same obscure provincial school as the Archbishop of Canterbury I specialised in science and mathematics but I was forced also to take Latin in order to get into a decent university, even though I would have much preferred to study the language of ewigkeit. The study of Latin like that of all dead languages such as Ancient Greek, Sanskrit or Welsh is a mark of unfreedom. Studying it is a waste of time and it has an opportunity cost.

There are still children in Britain who start learning Latin at the age of seven. Why are they not studying Chinese, the language not only of the most numerous and powerful people in the world but whose written language gives access to an ancient civilization whose artistic and practical achievements make those of Hadrian's little Mediterranean domain look rather trivial? We don't have an Empire any more. Hadrian and his message are obsolete and our very real enjoyment of this excellent exhibition at the British Museum is a mark of our decadence and decline.

Christie Davies is the author of The Strange Death of Moral Britain.


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I agree with most of what is said in this article, except the bit about the Welsh language. It is (as near as we can get) wot woz spoke in this island before them Rotten Romans invaded, so keep it going.

Also, it's the one language where, as I understand, the nasty EU has not tried to enforce the spelling "EURO", as they have on Gaelic (should be EORA) and Greek (should be EVRO). Although the Bulgarians have gained a victory for EVRO, but will it last? In Welsh it is EWRO.

Or is the learned Professor trying to get at Richard Brunstrom?

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at September 26, 2008 08:16 PM
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A disgraceful attack on a great civilisation, that of Rome. Commercial empires are crass but Rome , based on conquest and tribute was great. It had the martial virtues, the British the soul of a kremer.
In the Middle East by an ironic twist the Israelis have a created a new Roman province. They have come back to haunt Hadrian. They are farmer-soldiers defending an ever-advancing frontier with their ex-legionaries planted as settlers on the West Bank just as the original kibbutzim were. They too have revived a dead language and developed Ivrit They have become a disciplined people. I have never forgotten the IDF parade in Jerusalem in 1967 after the Midianites had been vanquished in the desert - it was a Roman triumph. The wheel had come a full circle and they were back.

Posted by: james at September 29, 2008 10:31 PM
•••

A disgraceful attack on a great civilisation, that of Rome. Commercial empires are crass but Rome , based on conquest and tribute was great. It had the martial virtues, the British the soul of a kremer.
In the Middle East by an ironic twist the Israelis have a created a new Roman province. They have come back to haunt Hadrian. They are farmer-soldiers defending an ever-advancing frontier with their ex-legionaries planted as settlers on the West Bank just as the original kibbutzim were. They too have revived a dead language and developed Ivrit They have become a disciplined people. I have never forgotten the IDF parade in Jerusalem in 1967 after the Midianites had been vanquished in the desert - it was a Roman triumph. The wheel had come a full circle and they were back.

Posted by: james at September 29, 2008 10:31 PM
•••

A disgraceful attack on a great civilisation, that of Rome. Commercial empires are crass but Rome , based on conquest and tribute was great. It had the martial virtues, the British the soul of a kremer.
In the Middle East by an ironic twist the Israelis have a created a new Roman province. They have come back to haunt Hadrian. They are farmer-soldiers defending an ever-advancing frontier with their ex-legionaries planted as settlers on the West Bank just as the original kibbutzim were. They too have revived a dead language and developed Ivrit They have become a disciplined people. I have never forgotten the IDF parade in Jerusalem in 1967 after the Midianites had been vanquished in the desert - it was a Roman triumph. The wheel had come a full circle and they were back.

Posted by: james at September 29, 2008 10:35 PM
•••

A disgraceful attack on a great civilisation, that of Rome. Commercial empires are crass but Rome , based on conquest and tribute was great. It had the martial virtues, the British the soul of a kremer.
In the Middle East by an ironic twist the Israelis have a created a new Roman province. They have come back to haunt Hadrian. They are farmer-soldiers defending an ever-advancing frontier with their ex-legionaries planted as settlers on the West Bank just as the original kibbutzim were. They too have revived a dead language and developed Ivrit They have become a disciplined people. I have never forgotten the IDF parade in Jerusalem in 1967 after the Midianites had been vanquished in the desert - it was a Roman triumph. The wheel had come a full circle and they were back.

Posted by: james at September 29, 2008 10:55 PM
•••

A disgraceful attack on a great civilisation, the Roman empire, based on martial virtues , on conquest and tribute quite unlike the grubber traders , the kremers of Britain. Britain was never Rome's successor.
Ironically Rome's successor is Israel the nation they thought they had scattered. Hadrian's bones did not rot;they are turning in his grave.
Israeli's settlers on the West Bank are farmer-soldiers, ex-legionaires planted there to defend an ever-advancing frontier as the original kibbutzim were.They have revived a dead language to create Ivrit, the basis of their disciplined society
I have never forgotten the IDF parade in Jerusalem in 1967 after the Midianite sons of Ishmael had been scattered into the desert. It was a true Roman triumph. Sed miles sed pro patria.

Posted by: jack at September 29, 2008 11:09 PM
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A strange splenetic article, full of errors (Welsh is not a dead language) and misspellings (Antinuous for Antinous) and misconceptions about history and wrong-headed attacks. Christie brings in no evidence for his assertion that Latin was used to 'baffle the natives' in India. The 'Peccavi' story may well be apocryphal (see snopes.com, who attribute it to a Punch cartoon); ('nunc fortunatus sum', supposed to have been said of the taking of Lucknow by Lord Clyde, definitely is). It is well known, I think, that British officials in India, from Sir William Jones on (he proposed the Indo-European family of languages after studying Sanskrit) took great interest in Indian culture, language and history.

Posted by: Graham Asher at October 8, 2008 05:55 PM
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What has been said about India is correct. After Tagore's brother got into the ICS using his skill in Sanskrit and oriental scholarship the wretched examiners in London changed the syllabus to emphasise Greek and Latin. Would Graham Asher deny this?
Curzon took a great interest in Indian antiquities but it can not be said that he allowed the Bengali intellectuals to rise in the ICS.
Most of India's problems after independance stemmed from the ICS tradition of appointing men with no practical or commercial knowledge to run a bureaucratic system

Posted by: Bhaibhai at October 17, 2008 05:41 PM
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'..Those Jews who remained were forced into exile and Judaea renamed Palestine. Only in 1948 and in 1967 was this unjust historic disaster reversed..'

This is a monumental statement. I have lived as an expat American in the UK for thirty-two years and have rarely heard a Briton express anything but hatred for the establishment of Israel. In fact, in three decades the only people who understand the evolution of Jewish aspirations are Douglas Murray and Winston Churchill (the current one.)

So glad Dr Christie sees through the silliness of the Hadrian exhibition. One of the reasons why young Jews are never issued with ASBOs ( well, except for Amy Winehouse) is because they start learning Hebrew in childhood, study for bar mitzvah and enjoy traditional family life. Christie is right about learning Chinese ( or Arabic in this modern world) ; it makes more sense than Latin. This dear little country is most definitely in a state of decadence and decline. I could go on and on.

Posted by: Carol Gould at October 17, 2008 08:54 PM
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Is there an echo on here?

Posted by: William Bailey at October 22, 2008 06:36 PM
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