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Imperial sexuality

Floor 1, Room 20. Portraits of Roman emperors. Trajan and Hadrian
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The diversity of sexuality in the Roman Empire is particularly well documented for its rulers, the emperors. In addition to their very numerous relationships with women, the sources tell us, more or less explicitly, of relationships between some emperors and other men. There are historical references to homoerotic relationships for Tiberius, Nero and Trajan, all of whom you see portrayed in this courtyard. Some emperors, such as Heliogabalus or, according to some sources, Nero himself, went well beyond the boundaries of what was socially accepted, wearing female clothing and having sex in a passive role.

Nonetheless, the best-known homosexual love story among the Roman emperors, and the one that left the most visible material mark for posterity, is the story of emperor Hadrian and the young Antinous. Around 123 AD, when Hadrian was about 40 years old, he met Antinous, a young man from Bithynia in modern-day Turkey. Antinous became the emperor's lover and accompanied him on his travels for years, until his untimely death in Egypt in 130 AD, in circumstances that still remain unclear. Hadrian's mourning for the death of his beloved resulted in one of the most spectacular processes of memorialisation in history. Hadrian founded a city, Antinoopolis, on the spot where his lover died, and deified him, an honour normally bestowed only on members of the imperial family. The emperor also commemorated the memory of Antinous with an enormous number of statues, figures, coins, and even obelisks, scattered throughout the Empire. Even today, hundreds of portraits of Antinous inhabit the halls of museums and palaces around the world, and the face of Hadrian's young lover can be instantly recognised by lovers of the ancient world.

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