The Emperor Hadrian & Astrology By Luciana Marinangeli, Italy

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Luciana Marinangeli, has studied under the psycholinguist M.A. Sèchehaye in Geneva and the junghian Mario Moreno in Rome. She is an anchorwoman and author for RAI.

Her books have been translated in many countries, as far as Japan.

Among her books are Humpty Dumpty salta. Storia iniziatica (‘Humpty Dumpty jumps. A History Of Initiation’, Lo Faro 1983), Astrologia tibetana (‘Tibetan Astrology’, Edizioni Mediterranee 1987), Introduzione all’astrologia indiana (‘Introduction To Indian Astrology’, Rizzoli 1993), Vivere sereni (‘Living Peacefully’, Rizzoli 1995), Parlare con Pinocchio (‘Talking to Pinocchio’, Bompiani 1996), Contro la sofferenza (‘Against Suffering’, Rizzoli 1998).

The Emperor Hadrian & Astrology


Luciana Marinangeli, Italy

Introductory Note

This paper was originally presented to the International Congress of Astrology organized by the C.I.D.A, the Italian Center for Astrology, in 1993. It is about the astrological interests of Roman Emperor Hadrian who in the second century A.D. built a wonderful villa for himself in Tivoli, near Rome.

A research project recently presented by the “Istituto dei Rapporti con l’Oriente” to the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche of Italy provides for the inclusion within its scientific programme of an investigation to find out whether “… the impact that some charismatic individuals (kings, emperors, military leaders) have had on history’s events has in fact been instrumental in comparison to other institutions. In addition to “kingship”, a historical and religious category amongst those which have been investigated more fully, an occult decisional moment could be considered as being controlled by a technocracy (which may also overlap with the others) … the investigation would aim at analyzing the astrological and astronomical data relevant to the institution of kingship in order to define spheres of influence in relation to

institutions”. (1)                                                                                           

From this point of view the life of the emperor Hadrian would be a particularly difficult case study: a man who believed in astrology but was also an astrologer himself, just like the members of the Medici family in Florence and the enlightened Mughal emperors of India, whom they resembled so much, the object but also the active subject of astrology’s skills in creating emperors – and also gods – at the time of the Caesars in Rome. (2)

Hadrian, who “explored all branches of science”, united within himself, in an apotheosis of the late ancient world, two souls and two cultures, the Roman and the Greek, without favouring one over the other: by praising the wise administration of the former – which also included his very unusual interest in the education of soldiers, his passion for architecture, his love of travelling – and his passion for the arts, his versatility, his scientific curiosity, which included a deep and reverent attention for the guidance of the stars. It is the union of the opposites – to quote Jung (3) – which produces an increase of positive energy; it is not by chance that it is under Hadrian’s rule that the long period of peace of the Antonine dynasty, the happiest period of Roman history, begins; “Under Hadrian there almost was no longer talk of war” writes Aelius Spartianus, the writer of the Historia Augusta, (4) who testifies to the man’s and the emperor’s interest for astrology:” Emperor Hadrian’s family has its remotest origins in the Picenum, its more recent ones in Spain … he was born in Rome on the 24th of January 76 A.D…. Exactly in the last years of Domitian’s rule he was sent to Lower Mesia where it is said that an astrologer predicted his future imperial dignity, thus confirming a prophecy by his paternal uncle Aelius Hadrian, a great expert in the study of the stars …

He believed he was so skilled in astrology that, on the first of January he had already written all that would happen to him during the year, hence in the year when he died, he had already written all that he would do to the last hour of his life…” Hadrian’s predecessors had already made use of astrology: Nero with his astrologer Balbillus, whom he nominated prefect of Egypt, and whose niece, Julia Balbilla, would accompany Hadrian to the oracle of the Colossus of Memnon; and Tiberius with Trasillus. It had been known for a long time in the Rome of the Caesars that astrology could be used not only to advise but sometimes to create emperors, and also gods,

because the mathematicians (5) of the Roman empire never forgot that they were the successors of the ancient Caldean priests.

The prestige conferred on astrology by its constant relationship with the godly stars is splendidly described in the words of Arellius Fuscus, a rhetorician of the time of Augustus: “He, to whom the gods themselves reveal the future, who also imposes the gods’ will upon kings and their people, cannot be formed within the same womb that has borne us, ignorant men. He belongs to a superhuman kind. The confidant of the gods, he himself is divine. If the affirmations of astrology are true, why is it that men of all times do not devote themselves to their study? Why is it that from our childhood we do not fix our eyes upon nature and upon the gods, when we see that the stars unveil themselves for us, and that we could live amongst the gods?”

In Hadrian’s time an imperial horoscope was not only that of a man’s nature and of a man’s destiny: it could even signal or create a king: Suetonius, who was an official at Hadrian’s court wrote that a certain Vettius Pompusianus was sentenced to death by Domitian because he let people know that he had a horoscope which revealed an emperor. With the danger of these mathematicians of Greek culture who found within the make up of Caesar’s empire a way to impose men of their own choice, Hadrian was not the sort of man to leave to others the use of such a powerful instrument of power: the latest research indicates that he used the secrets of the geniture oroscopica precisely to back up his government decisions: amongst others, to choose, very advisedly, his adoptive sons and heirs to the empire: the future Lucius Verus and a young boy with a pensive and sincere look, Annius Verus, the future Marcus Aurelius. It appears that Hadrian used the prestige astrology gave to justify a previous choice, which had at the time appeared bizarre and unjustified, that of the youth Ceionus Commodus, called Aelius Verus, clearly unsuitable to be a ruler and who died young; perhaps he was Hadrian’s secret son.

Naturally the astrology of the time took great interest in Hadrian’s horoscope: here is its description, by an admiring Antigonus of Nicea, a scholar of the 2nd century who must have been writing soon after the death of the great man:” There was a man born when the sun was at the 8 degree of the Aquarius, the Moon, Jupiter and the Point of the Horoscope, the three all together in the first degree of the same sign of Aquarius, Saturn in the 16 degree of Capricorn, Mercury in the same sign, at the 12 degree, Venus in Pisces at 23 degrees, whilst Mars was in the 22 degrees … The moon was in conjunction with a bright fixed star …. The fact that he was honoured and received the proskynesis (6) from all men alike is because Jupiter was in epicentric vigilance (?) on the Sun and on the Moon … And he received beneficial qualities from Jupiter’s position. That he was the benefactor of many … comes from the fact that the epicentric Sun and the Moon were equally served by five other planets. Above all if the Sun and the Moon are found in the active points (or cardinal ones?) that is in the Horoscopic Point or in the Mesouranema, and they are thus served by all the stars (planets), they cause those who are born under such a conjunction to become kings ruling over numerous nations”.

The recent discovery of a Swiss historian (7) has shown the important place astrology had in the life of this son of Jupiter even during the last years of his life: a mysterious building at Tivoli, in the villa which Hadrian had built for himself in 118 A.D., and whose purpose was for a long time a mystery, seems to have been the personal observatory of the emperor. It is the so-called Teatro Marittimo, which was not a theatre because no plays were ever performed there, nor a natatio, a pool, because the water there is only a meter deep. It was instead the place where Hadrian, in the midst of a symbolic architecture, allusive to the four elements and the sinuous cyclicity of time, would retire to personally read in the stars of the future of Rome and of the Empire.

chart 97

The building is a complex radiocentric structure with a barrel vault roof supported by a circular enclosure wall and 40 columns, with a portico which surrounds a basin with a central small island, having the same 44 meters diameter as the Pantheon. The inspira-tion for this peculiar building is to be found in Varro’s birdhouse at Casium, in the Via Latina; in Nero’s Domus Aurea with a “… circular room that continuously turned on its own axis, just as the world does …”; in the Anticitera’s machine, an extraordinary computer that operated as a lunar and solar calendar; in the Tower of the Winds in Athens, an anaphoric clock that marked the rise of the stars or the appearance of the signs of the zodiac on the horizon. The planetary symbols were shown inside Hadrian’s cupola by a series of revolving bronze armillary spheres (the thin tilted bands which were used by Hipparcus and the ancient astrologers to observe the skies), whilst underneath there was the zodiac starry band; today all that remains is a small frieze underneath it with the symbol of Capricorn, repeated many times.

Far away, many centuries later, another extraordinary ruler, with the same nature as Hadrian’s, “… who freed himself through a frenetic building activity; who sunk in a deep
    melancholy to explode sometimes in a disproportionate rage, with an inexhaustible thirst for knowledge and for understanding philosophy, but above all for satisfying the impulse to transcribe in stone his own visions and the most esoteric messages …” (8) (Petruccioli). He built a similar place to satisfy his cognitive, but also magic and ritual needs. This was Akbar, the Mughal emperor, who, in the 16th century, in India, build in his palace in Fatehpur Sikri the mysterious Anup Talao, “the incomparable pool” at the centre of which he would retire on a platform covered by a planetary canopy and he would meditate and also show himself as a cosmocrator, the lord of the world, in a manner very akin – it can be surmised – to that of Hadrian’s in his own very similar palace.

Again, in Rome, in the 17th Century, another great man echoed similar concepts by creating an architecture which was the concrete expression of a cosmic vision. This was Francesco Borromini who had heard of the wonders of the East from his patrons at the Propaganda Fide and who had certainly studied with fervent attention the ruins of Hadrian’s villa: in 1644 he showed cardinal Pamphilij a project for a villa where “… from the windows of the side walls one could see many of the things in the sky which are taught by mathematicians with the aid of spheres. The whole building should in fact be a study of practical mathematics…” (9)

Marguerite Yourcenar makes Hadrian say “… I once offered to the constellations the sacrifice of a whole night it happened during a crossing of the Syrian desert. Lying down and with my eyes wide open, for a few hours casting aside all human preoccupations, I abandoned myself from dusk to dawn to that world of crystals and flames. This was the most beautiful of my journeys… I have tried to comply with the divine in many different ways… I still ignore what happens behind that dark curtain. But the Syrian night represents my conscious part of immortality.” (10)


  • Adriana Bellucio, Scienza, storia e destino nella definizione dell’istituto della regalità, Programma scientifico del Progetto di Ricerca per il CNR, Centre Nazionale del Ricerche, Italia

  • Paolo Cueno, Il Principe e gli astri : astrologie e astronomia presso i Medici e i Moghul, in : Franchetti, Jones, Koch, Giusti, Spallanzani, Fabris, Grube, Petruccioli, Pieper, Conforti, Devapriam, Cuneo, Cimino, Lo Speccio del Principe. Mecenastismi paralleli: Medici e Moghul, Edizioni del’Elefante, Roma 1951.

  • G. Jung, Aion, 1951

  • A collection of the lives of Roman Emperors by many authors

  • Latin: the astrologers from Greece

  • Greek: veneration

  • Henri Stierlin, 1983, C.f. Rossana Rossi, Il cosmo in una stanza, “Airone”, n. 99, july 1989

  • Attilio Petruccioli, La città come teatro: note in margine all’urbanistica delle grandi capitali moghul dei secoli XVI-XVII, in Lo Specchio des Principe, cited

  • Paolo Portoghesi, Borromini nella cultura europea, Laterza, Bari 1982

  • Marguerite Yourcenar, Mémoires d’Hadrien, Libraire Plon, Paris 1951

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