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Antinoos

  1. Christopher Jones

Published Online: 26 OCT 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781444338386.wbeah18005

The Encyclopedia of Ancient History

How to Cite

Jones, C. 2012. Antinoos. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 OCT 2012

Antinoos, now mainly remembered as Hadrian (Traianus Hadrianus Augustus) young male companion and as the subject of portraits in stone and on coins, was born between 105 and 110 ce on the territory of Bithynion, a moderately sized city of Bithynia in northwestern Asia Minor. Nothing is known of his parents or social status, or of the date when he first met Hadrian. Antinoos appeared in the emperor's entourage and joined him in his favorite sport of hunting but is not recorded to have had any interaction with any other member of the court. Though Hadrian had strained relations with his wife, Sabina, there is no evidence that they were caused by his connection with Antinoos.

In 130 Antinoos drowned when the emperor and his party were traveling up the Nile. His mysterious death was explained as either an accident or an act of self-sacrifice. Whatever the true reason, the death caused immense grief to Hadrian, who is said to have wept for him “like a woman.” In his memory he founded a city at the place where Antinoos drowned, calling it “Antinoos' city” Antinoopolis Here, as on his Obelisk in Rome (see Figure 1), Antinoos was identified with the god Osiris who ruled the underworld after being killed by his brother Seth and being resurrected by his wife and sister, Isis (see Isis, Pharaonic Egypt).

In Egypt and the other parts of the empire, Hadrian promoted the posthumous cult of his dead favorite, though he never tried to introduce it into the official cult of Rome. There is very little trace of it in the Latin-speaking west, with the exception of Rome and its vicinity. In the Greek-speaking east, by contrast, cults of Antinoos were widespread. He is sometimes a god, but more often a “hero,” that is, a mortal who, though dead, could still move invisibly among the living to do good or harm. Christian writers held up the divinization or heroization of Hadrian's lover as a sign of pagan immorality, and some non-Christian writers take a similar view. Despite such criticism, the cult quickly acquired a life of its own. Poets composed poems in his honor, and he was believed to give oracles. Many of the huge number of surviving portraits must have served the purpose of worship. A late magical papyrus invokes Antinoos as a “spirit of the dead” (nekyodaimon), able to bind a woman to her lover. The monument of Antinoos seen by more people than any other, even if they do not know its function, is the granite obelisk now standing on the Pincio in Rome. As excavations at Hadrian's villa of Tibur have shown, the obelisk originally formed the centerpiece of an “Antinoeion,” or cult site, there. The inscription, written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, includes a text spoken by Antinoos. He is Osiris-Antinoos, the son of Re-Harakhte (one of the titles of Re), and invokes his father's blessings on Hadrian and Sabina. After his death, Antinoos as a cult figure eclipsed Antinoos the playmate of Hadrian.

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Figure 1. Antinoos depicted as Osiris, from Vatican City Museum collection. Vatican City, Rome. © Photo Scala, Florence.

References and Suggested Readings

  1. Top of page
  2. References and Suggested Readings
  • Jones, C. P. (2010) New heroes in antiquity: from Achilles to Antinoos. Cambridge.
  • Lambert, R. (1984) Beloved and God: the storyof Hadrian and Antinous. London.
  • Meyer, H. (1991) Antinoos: die archaologischen Denkmaler. Munich.
  • Meyer, H., ed. (1994) Der Obelisk des Antinoos: eine kommentierte Edition. Munich.
  • Vout, C. (2007) Power and eroticism in imperialRome. Cambridge.