The prominence of Athens in Hadrian’s world and the emperor’s personal outlook was unquestioned–it was where he centered his Panhellenic League, and where he carried out extensive restorations. Thus, it should come as no surprise that his devotion to Athena is prominent, not only as Athena, and in the Roman form of Minerva, but also in some of her other syncretized forms in Egypt, as evidenced by coin reverses issued during Hadrian’s principate.
Hadrian was put in command of the Legio I Minervia in 105 CE during some of Trajan’s campaigns against the Dacians, Pannonians, and Moesians. The legion was founded by the emperor Domitian, who took Minerva as his patron goddess. No doubt, therefore, the wise warrior woman Minerva would have been prominent in Hadrian’s military life during that period; perhaps this feminine divine presence in battle shaped his devotion to and attention toward Disciplina in later life as well.
Athena was one of several deities born from Zeus’ body, the other prominent one being Dionysos. She had an ambivalent relationship with male deities, including repulsing an attempted rape by Hephaistos, which resulted in the birth of Erichthonios and the eventual foundation of Athens. If one visits the replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee, one can see next to the gigantic statue of Athena between her feet and her shield a large golden snake, which represents Erichthonios. She appears in many myths, including as an advisor to Odysseus and his family in Homer’s epic.
Minerva was one of the Capitoline Triad of deities in Rome, the other two being Jupiter and Juno Regina; however, this grouping came about under Etruscan influence, as the original triad would have been Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus. Minerva had an Etruscan origin in the goddess Menerva. The Capitoline Games were held yearly for Jupiter Capitolinus on October 15, and are mysterious in terms of their content and purpose, but possibly could have included some acknowledgment of Minerva and Juno as well. She had various temples in Rome, including one on the Aventine that had a festival on March 19, the Quinquatrus, which was celebrated for five days with the first day being considered Minerva’s dies natalis. There was also a temple founded by Nerva, the predecessor to Trajan and thus Hadrian’s adoptive grandfather (whom he often includes in his titulature) in Nerva’s Forum. (Indeed, the name “Nerva” seems to point toward a connection to Minerva.) A temple of Minerva Capta existed at the foot of the Caelian Hill, Minerva Medica (patroness of doctors) on the Esquiline Hill, and she was also syncretized to a Dalmatian goddess Flanona as Minerva Flanatica. In the decades and century after Hadrian, people in northern Britannia gave Minerval attributes to their goddess Brigantia.
During Hadrian’s principate, two Egyptian goddesses are also syncretized to Athena/Minerva on coin reverses: Thoeris (also known as Taweret), a goddess of childbirth who is often of a mixed theriomorphic in form nature, and Neith, an androgynous goddess of warfare who is sometimes thought of as a primal creatrix.
As a goddess of skilled warfare and also handicrafts, under her various Greek and Roman names she would certainly have been an appealing divine figure with whom to ally oneself, and Hadrian’s connections to her militarily and socially/philosophically in his travels therefore are quite sensible. As the time spent in Athens with Hadrian and Antinous was likely to be very enjoyable and enriching, we can imagine that Athena’s patronage, particularly of their philosophical activities and learning, would have been prominent in their lives.
Khaire Athena! Ave Minerva! Ave Hadriane! Ave Ave Antinoe!