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Bust of Antinous from the Villa Hadriana in Tivoli . Today at the Louvre .

Antinous ( Greek  Ἀντίνοος , Latinized Antinous ; * November 27 between 110 and 115 in Bithynion-Klaudiopolis , Bithynia ; † on or shortly before October 30, 130 in the Nile near Besa ) was a favorite and probably lover of the Roman emperor Hadrian . After his death he was declared a god and worshiped. Many of his portraits have survived to this day. From the Renaissance to the present day, Antinous art was widely received. This applies to both the art handed down from antiquity as well as reproductions and interpretations of ancient works of art in modern times.

Life and legends

Contemporary marble bust of Hadrian. Today in the Palazzo dei Conservatori .

Little is known about Antinous, its actual importance for the present day does not emerge from his life, but from his lasting effects to this day. Even in ancient times , the little real information about his life was mixed with legends . To this day, the fascination that Antinous exerts is primarily based on his relationship with Emperor Hadrian and the many works of art that were created in memory of the young man. Science has never been able to reconstruct the personality behind the sparse information in the historical sources and the works of art.

What is certain is that Antinous was born between 110 and 115 in Bithynion-Klaudiopolis in northwestern Asia Minor . On one of Hadrian's travels, the emperor became aware of the handsome boy. Today it is no longer possible to clarify exactly whether the first meeting of the two took place during Hadrian's stay in Bithynia in 121 or 123/124. From then on, Antinous accompanied the emperor on all of his travels.

Hadrian pursued a Greek ideal all his life. In the minds of the Romans, this also included pederasty . Here, the man took on the role of mentor for the boy in all areas of life. Christian tradition and modern reception later reduced these relationships more and more to the sexual component. In addition, the emperor himself was dissatisfied with his wife Vibia Sabina in his marriage .

There is hardly any information about the exact relationship between Antinous and Hadrian. In the scholarly meal of Athenaios it is reported that the Alexandrian poet Pankrates is said to have recommended himself to Hadrian with a particularly refined flattery: The poet presented the emperor with a rose-red lotus flower with the words that this flower deserved to be called the "Antinous lotus" the reason that it sprang from the ground where Hadrian once struck down a lion with a spear in the desert near Alexandria at the last moment, just before it attacked Antinous. The lion's blood would have colored the lotus, so to speak. The emperor was pleased and assigned the poet a position in the Museion .

The circumstances of Antinous' early death are also steeped in legend. What is certain is that on or shortly before October 30, 130, the young man fell into the Nile near the city of Besa in Middle Egypt and drowned in front of his father's friend. The later historians Cassius Dio and Aurelius Victor report that the circumstances of death were unclear. According to some historians' accounts, the death of Antinous was an accident. According to other reports, he sacrificed himself for the emperor in order to ensure a long and happy life for him with the victim. Because Antinous is said to have learned from an astrologer that his suicide would give the emperor his expected lifespan during his lifetime. In the late antique Historia Augusta , a collection of emperor biographies, the details of which are to be used with great caution, however, the view is taken that Antinous fled to suicide in order to be able to evade the excessive sexual stalking of Hadrian. In retrospect, courtly intrigue cannot be ruled out either. Hadrian's wife is said not to have been particularly sad about the death of the rival.

Cultic worship and judgment in antiquity

Antinous as Osiris . Found at Villa Hadriana. Today at the Louvre .
Antinous relief as Dionysus , today in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme .

Immediately after Antinous' death, possibly on the same day, the deeply grieving Hadrian began to pay tribute to his young companion. On the right bank of the Nile in Middle Egypt, the place of the accident, he had the city of Antinoupolis built according to the Hellenistic model . The city and its inhabitants received very exceptional privileges and favors from the emperor. The tomb for the emperor's darling was probably built in the city. The hieroglyphic inscription on an obelisk in Rome today reports on the building . Originally the obelisk probably also stood in Antinoupolis and, according to ancient Egyptian beliefs, symbolized the place of the rebirth of the dead.

Immediately after the young man's death, he began to be worshiped as a deity, or at least as a hero . Antinous cults were particularly successful in the Greek-influenced east of the Roman Empire. There were several reasons for this. People have been worshiped as gods after their death since the Hellenistic age. Such ideas existed in the western provinces of the empire, but never became so firmly established there. On the other hand, many Greek cities wanted to flatter the Greek-friendly emperor with it. Antinous was merged or equated with gods like Dionysus . In Egypt, the identification with Osiris was of particular importance. Only death by drowning in the sacred waters of the Nile included an automatic increase for the Egyptians. According to the Osiris myth, the god Osiris also drowned in the Nile. So the worship that followed as Osirantinous was not surprising either. As a high God he is said to have answered prayers and healed the sick.

In many cities of the empire, shortly after the death of Antinous, the construction of temples and the establishment of priesthoods for the dead imperial darling began. Similar to the Panhellenic Games , the Panathenaic Games and the Ptolemies , sporting and musical competitions with a religious background, the Antinóeia , were held. In addition to Antinoupolis and his hometown of Bithynion-Klaudiopolis, the cities of Alexandria and Mantineia in the Greek landscape of Arcadia and Lanuvium in Latium developed into centers of worship. The "Great Antinous Games " were held there every four years . Honorable inscriptions were found throughout the empire, in addition to Rome, for example, in Lanuvium and Tibur . There also seems to have been an Antinous temple in Hadrian's villa near Tibur . Statues were erected in many places and coins were minted with portraits of the deceased.

The rhetorician Numenios wrote a consolatio for the emperor and the poet Mesomedes wrote poems in Antinous. From a poem by the above-mentioned Alexandrian Pankratius, four hexameters have come down to Athenaios. There is also another poem by an unknown poet. Probably the highlight of the veneration was the naming of the constellation Antinous after the young Bithynian.

The climax of Antinous worship fell in the eight years between his death and Hadrian's death in 138. What the emperor's contemporaries thought of his almost obsessive worship of this insignificant man is not recorded. Yet some of the veneration seems to have been genuine. In the eastern part of the empire Antinous was seen as a hero because of the alleged sacrificial death for his father's friend. The early Christians saw him quite differently. Neither the alleged victim death nor the mysterious circumstances of death were discussed with them. You were both very critical and polemical with him in court. On the one hand, they saw in him a man-made unfortunate (infelix) mythical god, on the other hand the emperor's boyish boy who had made himself available to him for his homosexual practices. Antinous became a symbol of the moral depravity and polytheism of the Romans , especially among the doctors of the 4th century. Nevertheless, later Christian authors reevaluated the sacrificial death as positive and even put it on the same level as the selflessness of Jesus Christ .

Representation in ancient art

Antinous as Aristaios , found in Rome in the 17th century, today in the Louvre

Although it was rather unusual for people who did not belong to the imperial family to be honored in such an outstanding way, there are still very many traditional portraits of Antinous. This is particularly special because the youth's main period of worship was barely ten years, from his death to the death of Hadrian. It is unclear whether there were Antinous portraits during his lifetime. All surviving portraits were made after his death. Around 100 portraits have survived from the field of free sculpture alone . There are also around 250 coin portraits and other portraits of cabaret ( gems , cameos , bronzes and the like). Although Antinous did not hold any public office and could only be considered a private person, his portraits do not have the character of private portraits. In addition to the high number, the iconographic range of the works is also surprising. Here, too, there are only equivalents in portraits of Roman emperors. The various types of portraits, both in the form of sculptures and in numismatic form, combined different aspects of imperial propaganda.


The portraits of Antinous set the style for portraits of youths of the 2nd century. Many of the sculptures created over the course of the century refer to the portraits of Antinous. This is another reason why unambiguous identification is not always certain. The face looks soft and is a little full. The lips are full, but the mouth is not very large. The nose is very straight, the eyebrows curved. The gaze is generally somewhat absent and, above all, gloomy . The curls falling down to the neck are particularly striking. At first glance they seem chaotic, but on closer inspection you can see a strict order. Based on the hair, two slightly different styles can be distinguished, on the one hand the "Mondragone type" and on the other the "Egyptianizing type".

Antinous as an imperial priest, found in Cyrene in the mid-19th century, today in the Louvre

If the portraits are all quite similar to one another, there were different, sometimes very different, variants for the body. It is believed that the archetype from which the copies are derived is based on a statue of the “ strict style ” of the early Greek classical period . Possibly this archetype is the so-called " Tiberapoll ". For some statues, for example, the standing motif, head turning and the proportionalization, especially that of the trunk, were adopted from the classic model. However, the images also contain elements that are common to the Hadrian era. The shapes are wider and fuller, the frontal view is more emphasized and the upper body is straightened. The portraits of this type thus correspond to the classifying tendencies of contemporary sculpture. The aim was to combine the classic ideal of youthful beauty with naturalistic details. The classic Hadrianic fusion is also noticeable in the portraits. However, while Greek classical artists generally did not depict real portraits, but rather idealized images, these ideas of ideal beauty are combined with the real portraits of the deceased.

Often the statues were given the attributes of deities with which Antinous should be identified or fused. In addition to Dionysus and Osiris, these were, for example, Apollon , Hermes and Vertumnus .


Since 133/34 coins with the portrait of Antinous were struck in various cities in the Greek east. From the west of the empire, even from the city of Rome, no Antinous coins are known. The coins can be dated relatively precisely because the local date was struck on the coins in Egypt. The last minting is documented for the year the emperor died. It can therefore be said that Antinous coins were minted for a maximum of five years. It shows once more how great Hadrian's pain or the real admiration of the young man in the East must have been, since 250 different coins were minted in such a short time. Usually only emperors, members of the imperial family or gods were portrayed on the obverse. Antinous was a special exception here, which, however , could be justified by the apotheosis .

The Antinous imprints had individual centers. These included the landscapes of Arcadia in Greece, Bithynia in Asia Minor, and Alexandria in Egypt. Particularly high quality coins were minted in Smyrna . The embossing was done in bronze throughout. Three different groups can be identified. First, there were large coins with finely worked portraits that were almost like medals. The second group were smaller, normal coins. The third were very small, poor quality coins. In general, coins showed the head or bust of Antinous on the obverse . He is inscribed on the coins as a hero or god. The coins from Alexandria and Tarsus dispensed with this inscription. They marked the divinity of the deceased with a hem-hem crown or a star symbolizing the divine nature of the person depicted.

Roman lead essera minted in Alexandria. Obverse: Antinous with hem-hem crown and crescent moon. Reverse: Sarapis with kalathos and scepter

The uniformity of the front was complemented by a more variable lapel display . In Kyme in Asia Minor , Athena Promachus was embossed on the reverse ; in Tarsos Dionysus riding a panther, a single panther or the local river god Kydnos . Nicopolis shows the views of buildings and city gates or a bull, which Mytilene also had shaped. In Arcadia one finds a horse on the lapel, in Delphi a tripod . Direct references to Antinous are rarer. In his hometown you can see him next to a running ox as Antinous-Hermes, in Tarsus as Dionysus-Osiris.

Last but not least, the coinage should also make the emperor friendly and assure him of the loyalty of the individual cities. For self-propaganda, the founders of the coinage could also be mentioned on the coinage of several cities. In addition to coins, lead tesserae were also minted.

Even in ancient times, coins of the medal-like type were apparently valued. Ancient modifications to small sundials and pocket mirrors are known. Coins with heavily ground backs, probably used as game pieces, are also known. There are also coin impressions in clay. These terracotta appliqués were used as votive tablets or to decorate wooden sarcophagi. These coins are still coveted collector's items today. Counterfeits from the early modern period, called Paduans , are also known.

Modern reception

Antinous Farnese

Almost parallel to the rediscovery of ancient art in the Renaissance, there was also the rediscovery of Antinous. At the beginning, the focus was explicitly on the representation in art, not the interest in the person or the myth of the Bithynier. A positive factor for this development was that there were many traditional artifacts in the area of ​​sculpture and coins, i.e. the two areas with which research into ancient art began. In addition, it was established early on that the Antinous type is a particularly classic example of ancient art. In exuberance, statues were often identified as Antinous, which actually represented a different deity. Two of the most important Antinous portraits, which were particularly important for considering the Antinous reception, are the so-called "Antinous of Belvedere " from the Vatican Museums and "Capitoline Antinous " from the Capitoline Museums in Rome.

The Antinous of Belvedere and the Capitoline Antinous

Antinous of Belvedere (now Hermes)
Capitoline Antinous

The Antinous of Belvedere was first mentioned in 1543. It can therefore be assumed that it was found only a little earlier. Ulisse Aldrovandi reported in 1556 that the statue was found on the Esquiline , near San Martino . Michele Mercati, on the other hand, reports in the 1580s that the statue was found in a garden near Castel Sant 'Angelo . Nicolaus de Palis, on whose property the statue was found, stated when the find was first mentioned in writing that it had been sent to Pope Paul III. to have sold for 1000 ducats . The sculpture was valued for its aesthetics and was placed in the Belvedere courtyard of the Vatican , which is where the name comes from. The first casting mold was made as early as 1545. Other interpretations, such as the genius of a prince, could not prevail. In the following years the statue was part of the universal canon in dealing with antiquity. She was also reported on in almost all important works of the early modern period . Artists such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini , François Duquesnoy and Nicolas Poussin studied the ancient skills at sculpture. The royal houses of England, Spain and France had copies made of bronze or marble. Even Johann Joachim Winckelmann appreciated the statue for their beauty, although he complained about the legs and umbilical some blemishes. He mistakenly interpreted the statue as Meleager . But the interpretation as Antinous, even if it was immensely important for research into the Antinous portrait, was ultimately wrong. Ennio Quirino Visconti interpreted the statue as a representation of Mercury in the early 19th century. This interpretation was convincing and is still valid today. After a comparable statue was found in a grave in Andros , this type of statue was called "Hermes Andros-Farnese".

The Capitoline Antinous, also called " Antinous Albani ", was no less well received . It had been in the collection of Cardinal Alessandro Albani since at least 1733 . In an inventory catalog it was noted that the statue was one of the highest works of art of antiquity. In 1750, Pierre-Jean Mariette reported that the statue would have been almost forgotten in the last 30 years since it was found if it had not been recognized as an ideal image for studying the proportions. The Capitoline Antinous has often been compared to the Antinous of Belvedere in terms of aesthetics and style. Duquesnoy and Poussin also studied this Antinous in detail. The judgment when comparing the two statues was very different. Winckelmann expresses himself several times and in detail in his works on various depictions of Antinous, but not on the Capitoline Antinous. Only in one letter did he casually indicate that apart from the head he did not appreciate the statue. Like the Antinous of Belvedere, this statue has been replicated many times. Among other things, a copy was found at the French royal court. Above all, however, scaled-down replicas circulated across Europe. As with the Capitoline Antinous, Ennio Quirino Visconti was able to prove that it was not the depiction of Antinous at all, but again that of Hermes.

The Antinous Jonas and the relief Villa Albani

Possibly the most important work of artistic reception was the " Antinous-Jonas " in the Chigi Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, which Raphael built from 1513 onwards. For the church, Lorenzo Giovanni di Ludovico also created a statue of Antinous according to Raphael's instructions, which he fused with another person based on an ancient model. However, Raphael did not choose an ancient deity, but the prophet Jonas and thus Christianized the figure of Antinous. Jonas was no longer the old, bearded prophet, but a young, somewhat unstable-looking man who had just escaped death. He is sitting naked on a fish, only lightly covered with a robe. The portrait is without a doubt based on ancient Antinous portraits. Since almost all of the Antinous portraits were only excavated later, the two artists were probably inspired by the " Antinous Farnese ", which was already known at the time and was part of the Chigi collection at the time and is now in the National Museum in Naples .

Relief Villa Albani, drawing from the 19th century

1734 was near the Villa Hadriana a " Relief Villa Albani " called relief excavated. Immediately since its discovery, it was considered a particularly outstanding work of art in specialist circles.

Antinous Mondragone in profile

Together with the “ Mondragone Head ”, an Antinous portrait, Winckelmann found the relief to be “ the honor and the crown of the art of this as of all times ”. The relief shows particularly individual features of Antinous. In contrast, the Mondragone head is an example of the particularly idealized representation. The head probably belonged to a colossal cult image of Antinous. He was shown here wearing a Hem-Hem crown as Dionysus Osiris. The head was found around 1720 and exhibited for the first time in the Villa Mondragone near Frascati . After that he got his name. Winckelmann described the head as " after the Vatican Apollo and the Laocoon the most beautiful thing we have left ". Winckelmann correctly recognized both works as Hadrianic and as based on classical Greek models.

From the second half of the 17th century to the end of the 19th century, busts and statuettes, mostly made of bronze, were widespread. Many of these scaled-down reproductions based on contemporary tastes have often been described as kitschy in reception from today's perspective. A marble statue by Franz Jakob Schwanthaler , popularly called "The Harmless" , is a portrait of the young man Antinous; it stands near the English Garden in Munich .

Antinous in pop culture and exhibitions

The preoccupation with Antinous and his relationship to Hadrian did not end with the examination of ancient art and its re-creation and reinterpretation. Novels were also written. George Taylor's novel Antinous. Historical novel from the Roman Empire dates from 1880, Oscar Linkes Antinous, the emperor's favorite. A soul painting from antiquity from 1888. Ernst Sommer's novel Antinous or the journey of an emperor appeared for the first time in 1955, Ulrich Stöwer's novel Antinous, Beloved! A Fateful Year for Emperor Hadrian was first published in 1967. Georg Ebers ' Der Kaiser (1890) and Marguerite Yourcenar's I tamed the she-wolf (1951) also deal in detail with the relationship between the two.

The Viennese composer Irma von Halácsy (1880-1953) wrote an opera Antinous on her own libretto , fragments of which were premiered in 1911. A full performance of the opera never took place.

On 13 October 2018, the opera was Hadrian of Rufus Wainwright in the Four Seasons Center for the Performing Arts in Toronto by the Canadian Opera Company premiered. The opera is about the life of Emperor Hadrian and focuses on his relationship with Antinous.

In recent years, Antinous has returned to the focus of research. From December 3, 2004 to May 1, 2005, an exhibition " Antinous - Beloved and God " organized by the Berlin Collection of Antiquities took place in the Pergamon Museum . The Henry Moore Institute in Leeds , England , hosted from May 25 to August 27, 2006 under the title “ Antinous. The face of the Antique “a large Antinous exhibition. In the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford , the exhibition “ Antinous. Boy made God ”.


(in ascending chronological order)

Web links

Commons : Antinous  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. Rudolf Hanslik , Der Kleine Pauly , Vol. 1, Col. 385, names the year 110; Annika Backe a period between 111 and 115; on November 27th as date of birth: CIL 14, 2112 = Inscriptiones Latinae selectae 7212.
  2. a b Annika Backe: Antinous. Beloved and God . Berlin 2005, p. 4.
  3. ^ Hermann Bengtson : Roman history . 7th edition Munich 1995, p. 299.
  4. a b Athenaios scholar's meal 15,677d – f = FGrH 625 The Literature Collection: The deipnosophists, or, Banquet of the learned of Athenæus (volume III): Book XV
  5. On the circumstances of death see Annika Backe: Antinous. Beloved and God. P. 4
  6. ^ Pausanias 8: 9, 7.
  7. Michael Zahrnt : Hadrian in: Manfred Clauss : The Roman Emperors. 55 historical portraits from Caesar to Justinian. CH Beck, Munich 1997, p. 133f .; on the privileges see also Zahrnt (literature list).
  8. To the grave of Nils Hannestad: About the tomb of Antinous. Topographical and thematic studies in the Canopus area of ​​Villa Adriana. in: Analecta Romana Instituti Danici. 11, pp. 69-108 (1982).
  9. On the obelisk, see Hugo Meyer: Antinous. Archaeological monuments including numismatic and epigraphic material and literary news. A contribution to the art and cultural history of the Hadrian-early Cantonese period. Munich 1991, pp. 175-178 ( digitized version ); Hugo Meyer (Ed.): The Obelisk of Antinous. An annotated edition. Fink, Munich 1994 ( digitized version ).
  10. Pausanias 8: 9, 7; Supplementum epigraphicum Graecum 31, 1060; CIL 14, 2112 = Inscriptiones Latinae selectae 7212.
  11. CIL 6, 1851 ; CIL 14, 3535 and others.
  12. ^ Temple found for Hadrian's lovers . ORF, July 2009.
  13. Suda , keyword Noumenios ( Νουμήνιος ), Adler number: nu 518 , Suda-Online
  14. Suda , keyword Mesomedes ( Μεσομήδης ), Adler number: mu 668 , Suda-Online
  15. PIR² A 737; in addition Wolfgang Dieter Lebek : A hymn to Antinous. in: Journal of Papyrology and Epigraphy . 12 (1973), pp. 101-137.
  16. On the relationship between Christianity and Antinous see Annika Backe: Antinous. Beloved and God . Berlin 2005, p. 6.
  17. Annika Backe: Antinous. Beloved and God . Berlin 2005, p. 13.
  18. Peter Gerlach: Why was the ´Hermes-Andros´ of the Vatican Belvedere called ´Antinous´ . In: Matthias Winner, Bernard Andreae, Carlo Pietrangeli (eds.): Il Cortile delle Statue. The statue courtyard of the Belvedere. Files of the international congress in honor of Richard Krautheimer, Rome 21.-23. October 1992. Bibliotheca Hertziana, Max Planck Institute for Art History. Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 1998, pp. 355-377.
  19. ^ Quote from Annika Backe: Antinous. Beloved and God . Berlin 2005, p. 21.
  20. ^ Quote from Annika Backe: Antinous. Beloved and God . Berlin 2005, p. 22.
  21. ^ Archived in the Vienna Library in the City Hall
  22. Anonymous / dpa: Premiere for Rufus Wainwright's opera “Hadrian”. Die Welt, October 14, 2018, accessed on December 3, 2019 .
  23. Antinous: Boy made God
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on October 29, 2006 in this version .