After the First Emperor comes the fourteenth. While Ying Zheng's terracotta warriors brought in 850,000 visitors, the British Museum will have high hopes but more modest expectations of Hadrian: Empire and Conflict. Compared with Qin Dynasty China, ancient Rome is familiar fare. The emperor Hadrian (AD 76-138), however, may be a more familiar type of potentate than his Oriental counterpart but he is no less fascinating a figure.
Born into a Spanish-Roman family of olive-oil barons, Hadrian was adopted by his father's cousin - and fellow Iberian - Trajan. After a distinguished career in the army and Rome's great offices of state he became emperor in AD 117. The prevailing image of Hadrian is as a cultured philhellene whose two passions were architecture and his epicene lover Antinous. This exhibition seeks to show a more complex character.
The author of the Historia Augusta, a late fourth-century work of imperial biography, was in no doubt as to the richness of Hadrian's personality: "He was, in the same person, austere and genial, dignified and playful, dilatory and quick to act, niggardly and generous, deceitful and straightforward, cruel and merciful, and always in all things changeable." Plenty to get one's teeth into, in other words.