As our story continues some might wonder if Hadrian had any sexual attraction towards women and what his relationship with his wife, Sabina ,was like. The historical evidence that shows Hadrian had any desire for heterosexual relations is extremely limited and in some cases the origin of the claims are suspicious. The claim that Hadrian had an aldulterous affair with Plotina, the wife of Trajan, is also of dubious veracity.
From Royston Lambert's, Beloved and God: "Despite the confident claims of the school which sees him as the adulterous father of Commodus, or the shamefaced suggestion that he was the lover of Plotina, there exist in the whole of the extensive ancient literature about him only three meagre references to any erotic or sexual relations with women. The Historia Augusta tells us in the same breath ('it was said') he was addicted to passion for males and to adulteries with married women. Though it provides various confirmatory evidence for the males, it is amazingly silent about the women: not a name, not a rumour, not an anecdote is given. Origen, writing in about 249 AD, and doing his best to make Antinous, recently compared to Jesus, seem an ineffective nullity even in his specialty of perverted sex, sneers that, 'he did not even keep the man [Hadrian] from a morbid lust for women. Dio Cassius twice reports the gossip of his father that Plotina was in love with Hadrian, but not, it should be carefully observed, that Hadrian was in love with her."
Hadrian may have been bisexual, but there is a paucity of evidence from history to suggest aldulterous affairs with the opposite sex. Hadrian's relationship to Trajan's wife Plotina seems to be of a mother/son nature. In fact in modern day terms Hadrian would be thought of as seeking a mother substitute, even though his real mother Domitia Paulina lived to be in her sixties during her son's reign. He was very appreciative of the support he received from the women in his life at crucial times, but even here, especially in regards to Plotina's crucial support for him throughout his life, he did not bestow the type of honors and memorials upon her passing that even came close to his memorializations and tributes to the men in his life who he was close to that died.
Hadrian's relationhip with his wife, Sabina, appeared to have been strained if not outright hostile to say the least. There was a complete lack of mutual interests between the two and they had very different temperments. Sabina must have felt deep feelings of sexual and emotional rejection by Hadrian. She must have been extremely aggravated that as Hadrian pursued the young men he lusted after, he had rejected any men from his court who might have had an interest in Sabina. Only Sabina's female admirer's such as Balbilla were left to admire 'the amiable beauty of our queen'. I think Hadrian's only sexual interest in Sabina was to sire an heir to the throne. Sabina is said to have taken measures to prevent becoming pregnant by Hadrian out of spite-who could blame her? Maybe she took one of the sterility inducing drugs mentioned by Juvenal, a Roman poet active in the first century and early second century, who wrote the Satires.
Sabina must have felt extremely lonely and frustrated in her thirty-six years of marriage to Hadrian. A marriage without love or sexual fulfillment. She was publicly humiliated by Hadrian's affairs, who had no thoughts of keeping his dalliances with young males without scandal, as Trajan had spared Plotina from humiliation by keeping his love for some of the same sex in the background and without scandal. For a long time Sabina was denied the official title of Augusta during her marriage and was also denied coinage and other commemorations that other Emperors had bestowed upon their wives. When archaeologists began exploring Hadrian's Villa Adriana, twenty-two sculptures of Antinous were found and only two of Sabina.
I have come away from my studies of Sabina feeling sorry for her, she appears to have been an elegant and intelligent woman, who had the misfortune of a bad marriage and having to go through the many humiliations and to have endured the gossip of the day. In an upcoming post we will see however that maybe Sabina should not have felt so bad about her rejection by Hadrian-who was perhaps one of those people in history who are truly only capable of loving themselves. The next post in this series is written and I want to do just one or two things before putting it up, so it should be here in a day or two.