Head of the emperor Hadrian

Teaching ideas

The first three activities focus on the head and the statue from which it came.

Most people living in Roman Britain never met or saw Hadrian in person. Ask the students what impression would be given by the bronze head. Based just on that, what do they think they could say about him? Tell them the size of the head and that it came from an over life-size statue. How does that change what they think?

Use the marble bust of Hadrian and images of Septimius Severus and Constantine in For the classroom to compare and contrast with the bronze head and with each other. What are we able to tell about Septimius Severus from the existence of the rest of the statue that we can’t tell about Hadrian and Constantine?

Why do the students think Hadrian had statues of himself put up in public places all over his empire? What other ways can they think of that he could have communicated his importance? What difference does it make that most people in the empire were not able to read and spoke a different language from the Romans?

The next activity would work well after the students have found out more about the achievements of Hadrian.

The face of the emperor also appeared on all his coins. Give the students hard copies of the profile image of the bronze head of Hadrian in For the classroom. Ask them to draw it very carefully. Then show them the coins of Hadrian in A bigger picture and ask them to compare their drawings with heads on the coins. Look at what the coins show on the other sides. You may want to try working out some of the Latin writing with the help of the Portable Antiquities Scheme links in Information. Ask the students to use their drawings and everything they have learned about Hadrian to design their own coin for him.

Do some map work locating the places where the coins in A bigger picture were minted. Discuss the extent of the empire. Why do they think Hadrian decided to make sure this empire was strong, instead of making the empire bigger? Which modern countries were within the Roman Empire?

Compare the Roman coins with modern coins. What are the similarities and the differences?

Why do the students think people in Roman Britain and across the empire would copy the hairstyles of Roman emperors and their families? Can they think of similar fashion trends today?

Use what the students have learned about the Roman Empire in general to create a timeline of important events. Put Hadrian’s reign (AD 117 – 138) on the timeline along with any other dates they can find to do with him. How long had the empire existed before this? How long did it last afterwards?

The following enquiry possibilities focus on different issues raised by the bronze head.

How do people get their face known nowadays? Ask students to look at all the different ways in which a ruler’s or other famous person’s appearance becomes known to people. Compare this with the methods used by Roman emperors and discuss the differences.

What might Hadrian’s body have looked like? Look at the torso of a statue of Hadrian in For the classroom and discuss the effect if the bronze head had a body like this. Do a simple internet images search for statues of Roman emperors. Select some of the different poses and sets of clothes used. Ask the students to imagine Hadrian’s head on each of these. What different messages would be communicated? Ask them to choose the most suitable if the statue was standing in the forum of Roman London and to make a reconstruction of the whole statue.

Next section: For the classroom

Head of the emperor Hadrian