Gods

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A relief of Antinous, the deified favourite of Emperor Hadrian, Plovdiv Archaeological MuseumA relief of Antinous, the deified favourite of Emperor Hadrian, Plovdiv Archaeological Museum

In 131, a troubling letter arrived at the Koinon ton Thrakon, the council of the cities of the Roman province of Thrace, which resided in Philippopolis and was responsible for liaison with the emperor. Emperor Hadrian (117-138) informed all cities that on 30 October 130 his best friend, the young and beautiful Antinous, had accidentally drowned in the Nile. Mourning was imposed. The dead youngster was proclaimed a deity and the cities were told to honor him properly.

The people of Philippopolis had already heard the rumors about the death of Antinous being spread by Eastern merchants. It had nothing to do with accidental drowning, the gossip went. Emperor Hadrian fell fatally ill while touring the Nile. His closest advisors, the magicians, proclaimed that only human sacrifice could save his life. Antinous volunteered – or was forced to volunteer – and was thrown into the river's hungry waters.

Everyone knew that the emperor and Antinous were lovers, an Ancient Greek practice revived by Hellenophile Hadrian. So the grief of the emperor, who, according to historian Aelius Spartianus, "wept like a woman," was understandable. No one, however, understood why Antinous was deified.

 

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