Musei Capitolini, Rome
The relief depicts the adventus of Hadrian, the ceremonial entry of the emperor in Rome. Hadrian is greeted at the gates of Rome by the goddess Roma, the Genius of the senate and that of the Roman people. The relief presents two interposed registers. While the frontal register is worked using a high relief technique, the register set in the background is worked using a low relief technique. The scene depicted in the frontal register focuses on the figures of the emperor, depicted on the right, and of the goddess Roma, depicted on the left. Hadrian wears a tunic, and he is draped in a toga. The emperor is portrayed as receiving a small globe – a symbol of universal domination – from Roma. Thus, his right hand is stretched towards the goddess. The goddess Roma, dressed in a short tunic, or chitōn, is draped in a short cloak dropped on her back, and her head is covered by a helmet. She wears the calcei, or laced shoes, which were used by the members of the senatorial order.
The background register, on the other hand, focuses on the two figures of the Genius of the senate and the Genius of the Roman people, depicted between the goddess and the emperor. While the Genius of the senate is portrayed as a bearded figure, dressed in a tunic and draped in a toga, the Genius of the Roman people is portrayed as a young man. The other figures depicted are often identified with soldiers, possibly the personal guards of the emperor. This identification is strengthened by the fact that a vexillum, or standard, is depicted on the right side of the gate (Kleiner, Roman Sculpture, p. 255). The only architectural element is the gate depicted on the far left of the background register. Yet, it is an important element, as it serves to conceptually emphasize the adventus, the entering of the emperor into Rome.
This imperial adventus could be associated with the emperor’s return from his visits to the provinces. As emphasized by Diane Kleiner, what makes this relief particular is the fact that it completely lacks the martial iconographic elements which characterize the depiction of the adventus or the profectio, the ceremonial leaving of the emperor for a military campaign. Thus no element suggests a military campaign, such as the depiction of winged Victoria, the goddess of victory, or Mars, the god of war – in opposition to the panel depicting the adventus of Marcus Aurelius, for example. The emperor is thus probably depicted as coming back from a trip the purpose of which was to intensify the bond between the emperor and the provinces, between the center and the periphery. Diane Kleiner argues that the fact that the emperor is depicted as wearing a toga possibly serves to emphasize the fact that the adventus was a peaceful event. Indeed, the reverse of coins minted in 118 CE and then in 134 CE portrays the imperial adventus of the emperor following his travels, and shows him draped in a toga.
This depiction of the imperial adventus follows the earlier and later reliefs depicting the ceremonial entry of the emperor in Rome, such as the reliefs from the Cancelleria, or the relief depicting the adventus of Marcus Aurelius, which were later used to decorate the Arch of Constantine. Consequently, in this relief all the iconographical traditional elements which characterize the celebration of a public event are present, such as the goddess Roma welcoming the emperor, as well as the two Genii, that of the senate and that of the Roman people. The emperor was thus surrounded by figures which emphasized the might and the people of Rome, as well as the consensus around the new imperial policy of close relationship between the emperor and the provinces. Moreover, he was also visually associated with the celestial world of the gods. Because on this relief Hadrian is closely associated with the goddess Roma, it is worth noting that Hadrian erected a huge temple to the goddess Roma and to Venus (on the goddess Roma and the development of her cult in the East, see Livy, History of Rome XLIII.6; Venus on the other hand was the mother of Aeneas and thus the ancestor of Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, through his adoption by Julius Caesar). It is Roma who gives the emperor a globe, the symbol of the domination of Rome over the oikoumenē. It is worth recalling that a sestertius minted in 123 CE depicts Hadrian raising the kneeling personification of the Orbis Terrarum, or the entire world. This issue was probably the “forerunner” of the restitutor types, which celebrated Hadrian’s visit to various provinces. In this case, the globe stands for the Roman empire, which is clearly identified with the whole universe. Yet, as the relief has been massively restored, this issue ought to be left open.