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History Buff, a blog for history lovers everywhere! History Buff brings
news stories about archaeology from around the world together on one site.
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historical fiction writer I am fascinated by news stories featuring the
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Emperor of the first holocaust: How the death of his male lover left Hadrian a tyrantBy William Napier
His name is Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph, one of the greatest scholars of his day. But that means nothing to these ruthless military men who continue to beat and insult him as their senior officer looks on approvingly.
An appalling scene from Nazi Germany, perhaps?
No. The scene took place in the Roman Province of Judea, in AD135. And the senior officer is none other than the Emperor Hadrian himself, witnessing the torture and death of the rabbi with grim satisfaction.
Emperor Hadrian's name has lived on through the ages thanks to his colourful legends, but it is little-known he was responsible for the slaughter of 600,000 Jews
Yet when he had ascended the imperial throne 18 years before, Hadrian was hailed as one of the most enlightened and peace-loving of all emperors. What had gone so terribly wrong?
Rabbi Akiba, the Romans would say, was the spiritual inspiration behind the Jewish Revolt which had raged for the past four years, and left so many hundreds of thousands dead throughout Judea.
Now, Hadrian sat on his fine white Spanish horse and watched the muscled legionaries inflicting a punishment of unimaginable brutality on their captive.
They stretched him out on the ground, ripped his ancient, tattered robe from his emaciated body, and fixed iron hooks into his flesh as the rabbi began to mutter the ancient prayer of his people, the Shema Yisrael.
Then the Romans roped the hooks up to four horses, cracked their whips, and the animals pulled in four different directions. The old man's voice rose to a scream, but still he prayed even as his body was torn apart: 'Hear, O Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!'
Hadrian finally turned his horse away in disgust and gazed out westwards over the mountains of Judea, this wretched, fanatical little province, towards the sunlit calm of the Mediterranean.
How had it come to this? This scene of utter degradation and death which, he knew, was also the death of all his own hopes and ideals?
A colossal marble head of Hadrian installed at the British Museum by volunteers Danaliese Crawford (l) and Tracy Sweek (r)
This week, a blockbuster exhibition opens at the British Museum that will attempt to answer that very question. Using fascinating archaeological finds - including, as its centrepiece, a halfton marble bust of Hadrian that was discovered in Turkey only last year - it will tell the story of this most contradictory of leaders.
Best known, of course, for the 73-mile wall that he commanded to be built to separate his provinces in what is now England from the marauding picts of the north, Hadrian was a man who was in many ways a Renaissance figure ahead of his time, combining military brilliance with refined artistic sensibilities.