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Antinous and Hadrian

Bust of Hadrian

Antinous and Hadrian are the most famous homosexual couple in Roman history.

Although Hadrian was married, ancient sources reveal that he also had several homosexual relationships. Homosexual relationships were not considered unusual in ancient Rome. A Roman man was free to choose sexual partners of either gender so long as he remained the active partner in any sexual encounter. It was therefore common for Roman men to enter into sexual relationships with younger men.  

Hadrian became enamoured with Antinous, a younger man renowned for his beauty and invited him to join his tours of his Empire.  In AD 130 Antinous drowned in the river Nile and Hadrian was devastated.  Reports said that Hadrian wept for him ‘like a woman’. Hadrian mourned Antinous’ death intensely and publically rather than in private as was custom.

Statues of Antinous were built throughout Hadrian’s Empire, he was deified (worshipped as a God), and a new city named Antinopolis was founded near the site of his death.  

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LGBT collections

Explore our LGBT collections researched by our Pride and Prejudice research project