The only set of dates we can surmise from history for the birth of Antinous are between the years 110 A.D. and 112 A.D. He was probably born in the month of November on the 27th. Antinous was born in Bithynia. In the year 74 A.D. the last king of Bithynia, Nikomedes IV had bequeathed his country to Rome. This happened during the time that Rome was absorbing the Hellenistic world. Rome made Bithynia into a province (approximately the size of modern Denmark), governed by a proconsul appointed by the Senate. In 64 B.C., Pompey had reorganized the system of Greek government and established twelve city-states. The civil wars of the late Roman republic wreaked havoc upon Greek soil and were financed by Greek resources. In the end the victory of Rome and Octavian over the Hellenistic east and Mark Antony happened at Actium in 31 B.C.
The Roman emperors were attracted to Bithynia for the main reason that it was equidistant from the two most vulnerable frontiers of the Empire in the late first century. The frontiers were the Euphrates to the south-east and the Danube to the north. If the Empire could hold the Cilician gates and the borderlands of the Propontis it could keep its power over the territories it had conquered and hold back incursions from hostile forces. Bithynia was quite literally a bridge culturally and geographically between Rome and Greece, between east and west, and between temperate Europe and the heat stricken orient.
The culture that Antinous was born into was quite varied. Bithynian cities were the origen of some major contributors to classical civilization: Dio, the rhetor of Prusa; Arrian the historian and Quirinus the sophist of Nikomedia, and later Dio Cassius the historian of Nicea. The rural people were never integrated into the classical city-culture of ancient Greece and retained their ancient eastern beliefs and dialects. Ancient eastern beliefs persisted, even if they disguised themselves in the orthodox Olympian deities. These beliefs grew more powerful as the old pantheon of gods were eclipsed by the eastern gods of mystery. Dionysos, who locals believed had been born in the Sangarius river and Demeter were both deities of renewal, fertility and ecstasy. These deities were to play a role in the destiny of Antinous. The ancient themes for the reverence for natural forces and the practice of secret mysteries and actual participation in those mysteries, are perhaps the belief system Antinous was reared in-rather than the observance of the cults of the anthropomorphic deities of Olympus.
Antinous was said to have been born in Claudiopolis in what is now north-west Turkey. Its acropolis was near a river in the midst of a beautiful plain. On these pastures grazed the cattle that produced the famous Salonian cheese, described by Strabo. The city ranked about eighth among the cities of Bithynia. Claudiopolis must have been a nice place to grow up in. It had none of the hustle and bustle of other crowded cities of the day and was quite pastoral in some respects. It had a flowing river, fresh mountain air and bountiful green meadows and pastures. A nice balance of rural and urban influences for a young man to experience growing up.
Claudiopolis literally stood along a great highway built in the 70s and 80s of the first century. The traffic-military, trade and agricultural increased year after year. It was crossed by people of great importance and those whose lives were much more mundane. The traffic between the east and the west along this great highway might have held a fascination for the young Antinous.
From Royston Lambert's, Beloved and God: "And there was always the incessant life of that great road-flowing faster than the river with a stream of people, commercial and military, eastern and western, magnificent and humdrum-to excite and intrigue. Indeed, that road was an ever-inviting open question: who knew who might pass this way next? "
I hope you enjoyed the introduction to some of the background and history of the area of the world that Antinous was born into. I wanted to do this post before getting into the actual relationship of Hadrian and Antinous and how they might have met and other things known and things we can only guess at about this story that has always held a deep interest for me. I do not know the time-frame of the next post in this series-hopefully within a week-maybe days depending on how my health is holding up. In the meantime I want to post more poetry and an example of my writing-how I start a very rough sketch of streaming conciosuness writing. I hope these words find any readers I may have in great spirits and enjoying life.