Athenaeum of Hadrian

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Athenaeum of Hadrian (Ateneo di Adriano) or the Hadrian's Auditorium (Auditoria di Adriano) was a school of literary and scientific studies, founded by the emperor Hadrian during his reign. The school, ludus in Latin, took its name athenaeum from the Greek city of Athens, which at the time of Hadrian was still regarded as the seat of intellectual refinement and philosophical excellence. The Athenaeum was situated north of the Capitoline Hill and west of the Trajan's Forum.

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The athenaeum was discovered in 2009 CE during excavation work being carried out for the construction of Metro C (Venezia station), in the middle of what is now Piazza Venezia. Some archaeologists and scholars have interpreted the ruins as the Athenaeum of Hadrian or Auditorium of Hadrian, an academic and scholarly institution that would be the center of hellenistic culture in the Urbs Romae. Aurelius Victor names the building as ludus ingenuarum artium.

The building served as an auditorium or school throughout the fifth century CE. The Athenaeum appears to have maintained its elevated reputation well in to the sixth century CE as a place of learning. Although little is known about the specifics of its study programs or disciplines, a constitution from 370 CE includes regulations regarding students in Rome, indicating that the Athenaeum was a large and significant institution. This is further supported by accounts from various church fathers and other ancient authors, who noted that young men from different regions would come to Rome after completing their local education, treating the city as a higher university to finish their studies.

However, near the end of sixth century CE, its marble began to be scavanged. Evidence of metal ingots and furnaces from the late sixth and early seventh centuries CE suggests that it may have also been used as a mint during this time. This metal workshop from the sixth century CE, located atop Hadrian’s Athenaeum in Piazza Madonna di Loreto, Rome, has enabled the identification of various metallurgical processes associated with the production of copper, bronze, silver, and lead.

In the late seventh century, it apparently functioned as a necropolis, and by the eighth century CE, as Rome became more and more depopulated and ruralized. Around the same time in the ninth century CE, an earthquake in 848 CE caused the roof to collapse and the area was abandoned during the tenth century CE. During the medieval period (circa 12th and 13th centuries CE) the area was repurposed as a livestock barn and a number of furnaces (limekilns) were installed for extracting lime from marble.

Subsequently, the site became a landfill and new structures were erected on top of the ancient site, including a hospital, Ospedale dei Fornari, in the mid-sixteenth century CE which was later demolished in 1871 CE as part of a general redevelopment of the square for the construction of the Vittoriano.

The building has been dated to 123 CE from the brick stamps.

Activities at the Athenaeum

circa 125-600 CE

Faculties and Disciplines
Extended faculty of professors, each specializing in different fields of study, was regularly employed. For instance, during the reign of Theodosius II, there were three orators, ten grammarians, five sophists, one philosopher, and two lawyers or jurisconsults. In addition to the instruction provided by these magistri, poets, orators, and critics often recited their works there, occasionally in the presence of the emperors themselves. Recitations also took place in other locations, such as the Ulpian Library, and sometimes a room was rented and turned into an auditorium for this purpose.


circa 125-600 CE

Construction and Decorative Elements
The Athenaeum of Hadrian seems to have three large halls, two large tiered halls connected by a central central corridor where the authors and rhetoricians declaimed, recited or taught lessons. The floor decorations of the Athenaeum are very similar to the Basilica Ulpia's libraries, situated to south-east.

The three large interconnected halls were covered with polychrome marble slabs and vaulted with polychrome stucco vaults, built in the first half of the second century CE by the emperor Hadrian.

A dedicatory base by praefectus Urbi Fabius Felix Passifilus attests that the last public use of the auditoria was in the fifth century CE. In the sixth century CE, the auditoria is still refered to as the "ludus ingenuarum artium".


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