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Mausoleum of Hadrian

The Mausoleum of Hadrian

‘Hadrian’s Mausoleum was yet much greater and more adorn’d than that of Augustus: But of this there remains only a Tower, tho’ of an enormous Size which now makes the Fortress in the Castle of S. Angelo, and is a Piece of Building of such prodigious Strength, that it seems to have been calculated to stand for ever.’

Bernard de Montfaucon, L’antiquité expliquée, et représentée en figures (Paris, 1719), 5 vols. in 10, vol. 5, pt. 2, p. 121.


Bernard de Montfaucon, L’antiquité expliquée, et représentée en figures (Paris, 1719), 5 vols. in 10, vol. 5, pt. 2, plate 103 (plan and front elevation of Hadrian’s Mausoleum).

Montfaucon describes this elevation and plan of the Mausoleum of Hadrian as follows :

The Outside of it was adorn’d with several Ranges of beautiful Columns, fourscore of which are yet to be seen in S. Paul’s Church without the Walls : One half of these is of a larger Size than the other half, so that forty were probably intended for the Range below, and the other forty for the Range above. But we here exhibit the Plan of this spacious Edifice as it was published by Bartoli, and its Profil as published by the same. As to the Plan, seems to be pretty accurate ; nor indeed was it difficult to make it so : But I cannot say so much of the Profil or Upright, there being many things which Bartoli seems to have put there from Conjecture only. For Bartoli assigns only two Ranges of Columns to this Structure, tho’ Lauro and others make three of them. We however follow only the first…. Bartoli, it seems, made the second Range consist of Pilasters ; whereas if we may give Credit to the Benedictines of S. Paul, the second Range was Columns, tho’ less than those below ; so that Bartoli’s Pilasters are nothing but pure Caprice. This Mausoleum was adorn’d with both Pedestrian and Equestrian Statues, and with Chariots too : But these Statues, Procopius says, were broken in pieces in the Time of the Gothick War, when the Romans, through want of Stones, were forc’d to make use of them to throw upon the Enemy.’

The Bartoli mentioned here was Pietro Santi Bartoli (1635-1700), an Italian engraver, painter and antiquarian, who later became secretary to Queen Christina of Sweden. Montfaucon is probably referring to either Bartoli’s Admiranda romanarum antiquitatum published first in 1675 and then in a second edition in 1693, or his Gli Antichi sepolchri of 1697.

Davies suggests that the site of Hadrian’s Mausoleum was deliberately chosen as it forms a straight line between it, the Pantheon and Trajan’s Column. Thus in its form it echoed the Mausoleum of Augustus and in its position it reminded viewers that the Emperor Hadrian (76-138 AD) had a) rebuilt the Pantheon and b) was the successor to the Emperor Trajan (53-117AD).


Filippo Buonanni, Numismata pontificum Romanorum quae a tempore Martini V. usque ad annum 1699 (Rome, 1699), vol. 2, plate after p. 716 (bridge leading to Hadrian’s Mausoleum now Castel Sant’ Angelo).

Cassius Dio (c. 155–235) tells us that Hadrian was ‘buried near the river itself, close to the Aelian bridge; for it was there that he had prepared his tomb, since the tomb of Augustus was full, and from this time no body was deposited in it.’ The Pons Aelius had been built by Hadrian – indeed its very name drew attention to this fact since Hadrian had, before his adoption by Trajan, been named Publius Aelius Hadrianus. The Aelian bridge led directly to Hadrian’s Mausoleum and crossing it ensured that visitors to the Mausoleum had a direct view of the might and grandeur of Hadrian’s tomb. It is clear that Hadrian built it for a number of reasons: the Mausoleum of Augustus had as Dio tells us, run out of space for imperial burials, but Hadrian, like Augustus, was eager to put his stamp on Rome. His Mausoleum served as an imperial burial ground until Caracalla’s burial there in 217. During the fall of Rome in the early fifth century it was turned into a fortress and much of its internal decoration was lost. By the late sixth century its identity was overtaken by a local legend which says that in 590 St Michael the Archangel appeared over it and so today it is called Castel Sant’ Angelo, with a sculpture of the Archangel by Peter Anton von Verschaffelt at its tip. In Buonanni’s 1699 work Numismata pontificium Romanorum quae a tempore Martini V, usque ad annum 1699 we see a dramatic depiction of Raffaelo da Montelupo’s earlier sculpture of Archangel Michael and, in addition, the baroque statues of angels designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini which adorn the Pons Aelius, now known as Pont Sant’ Angelo.

Davies, Penelope J. E. Death and the Emperor: Roman Imperial Funerary Monuments from Augustus to Marcus Aurelius (University of Texas Press, 2000).

MacDonald, William L. The Architecture of the Roman Empire. Volume I: An Introductory Study (Yale University Press, 1982).

Rowland Pierce, S., ‘The Mausoleum of Hadrian and the Pons Aelius’, The Journal of Roman Studies, vol 15 (1925), 75-103.

Thomson de Grummond, Nancy, Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology, (London, 1996), 122-3.

Text: Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Edward Worth Library.