It's a rather splendid discovery, of course. But what interests me is the sociology of the BBC report, and what it says about the way we view Hadrian. All the usual motifs are there - Hadrian's Wall, Hadrian as a good military administrator, Hadrian as one of the 'five good emperors' (a position into which he was canonized by Edward Gibbon).
This fits in with the way Hadrian has always been viewed in England. Because of his association with the Wall, he has, more than any other Roman emperor, been adopted by the English as practically an honorary Englishman - only Constantine comes close in the affections of the English (I refer, of course, to the increasingly small portion of the English population that cares about Roman emperors at all). Hadrian the soldier is highlighted, making him the sort of emperor that retired Guards colonels can identify with. One can't imagine the British press making much of a fuss about a colossal statue of Marcus Aurelius or Gallienus.
There is, however, a different side to Hadrian. That is Hadrian the lover of all things Greek, to such a degree that he was mocked in his youth as a 'Greekling'. (I often wonder if it is coincidental that, in the reign of Hadrian's predecessor Trajan, the satirist Juvenal is, in his vicious attack on Greeks in his Third Satire, using exactly the same word , Graeculus, as was applied to the young Hadrian.) There's Hadrian the homosexual, whose passionate affair with Antinoos scandalized some sections of Roman society, as did the way in which Hadrian mourned Antinoos' death, with an intensity that matched Victoria's mourning for Albert. That's hardly the sort of thing to appeal to retired colonels. (Mind you, having seen some of the images of Antinoos assembled for an exhibition in Leeds last year, I can see Hadrian's point - I mean, I'm a straight bloke, and I'd have done him.) There's Hadrian the capricious tyrant, who exiled and then had executed the architect Apollodorus (who to a degree only had himself to blame - asked for his opinion of the emperor's architectural plans, he made the mistake of giving it), and who executed Senators both at the beginning and end of his reign. Hadrian was in fact, so hated by the Senate that they tried to block his deification after his death, and only the threat of new emperor Antoninus Pius to step down, thus plunging the empire into civil war, browbeat the Senate into acquiescing.
This Hadrian has rather a lot in common with the previous emperor to take up wearing a beard, Nero. (Both emperors wrote poetry, for a start.) What differentiates the good emperor from the monster seems to me to come down to the fact that one survived, and one didn't, and Hadrian survived because he (a) didn't push things as far as Nero - no actual public performances for this emperor - and (b) always knew that the army was on his side (they were always on Nero's side as well, but Nero didn't realize this, and so panicked).
So perhaps Hadrian is the worst of the 'good emperors'.
On a wholly different subject, the Today programme featured an item this morning about an English Heritage sponsored debate that will take place over the weekend, concerning who England's greatest monarch was. This was Today at it's worst. The show always likes to set up confrontations between opposing views, which blights a lot of its non-political reporting, which sits uneasily in such a format. This was particularly unedifying, as Alison Weir, Sarah Gristwood and Martyn Downer, making the cases for their respective choices (Henry VIII, Elizabeth II and Victoria), rapidly came down to 'my monarch's bigger than your monarch'.
In any case, they're all wrong - it should of course be Charles II.