Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other

Rome: Bridge of Aelius


Bust of Hadrian from Italica. Museo Arqueológico, Sevilla (Spain). Photo Jan van Vliet.
Bust of Hadrian from Italica. Museo Arqueológico, Sevilla.
Bridge of Aelius: the bridge that connected the Mausoleum of Hadrian to the city of Rome.

Hadrian(117-138) was one of the most "visible" of all Roman emperors. In many aspects, he tried to follow the example of the founder of the empire, Augustus. One of the emulations was the building of a large mausoleum near the Tiber. 

He was not unoriginal, however. There were striking differences between the two monuments. The most important of these was that the Mausoleum of Augustus was accessible from all sides, whereas the Mausoleum of Hadrian could only be reached by crossing the river Tiber.

Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Hadrian's bridge from the south. Photo Jona Lendering.
Hadrian's bridge from the south.

The bridge was called Pons Aelius, which can be translated as "Hadrian's bridge", because the full name of the emperor was Publius Aelius Hadrianus. Because one could approach the mausoleum only by walking across the bridge, the funeral monument looked splendidly symmetrical. For centuries, it served as the pope's castel and today, it is called the Castel Sant' Angelo. (The baroque statues of the angels were added in 1668 and were designed by Gianlorenzo Bernini.)
Hadrian's bridge from the southwest. Photo Jona Lendering.
Hadrian's bridge from the southwest.

Perhaps there was no need to build the Pons Aelius, because a mere 300 meters downstream, one could cross the Bridge of Nero. On the other hand, the district on the other bank of the Tiber appears to have become a popular place for burial (the apostle Peter was one of those who found his last resting place in this area) and it is possible that the capacity of the Pons Neronianus was insufficient. The third photo shows what the Bridge of Hadrian must have looked like from Nero's bridge. 
The piers of Hadrian's Bridge. Photo Jona Lendering.
The piers of Hadrian's Bridge.

Hadrian's Bridge and the Bridge of Fabricius are the only bridges of ancient Rome that have remained more or less intact for the past centuries. These piers are now almost eighteen centuries old. An inscription that was still visible in the eighth century (recorded by the "Anonymous of Einsiedeln") allows us to date the inauguration of the bridge to 134. It is unlikely that the emperor was present: he was probably in Judaea, fighting against Bar Kochba, a Jewish messianic claimant.
Hadrian's bridge from the southeast. Photo Jona Lendering.
Hadrian's bridge from the southeast.

During the Middle Ages, Hadrian's Bridge was the most important connection between the city of Rome and the Vatican. Over the centuries, the road bed and access ramps have been restored several times but still, the four piers and the three central arches are original.

A satellite photo can be found here, and another article is here.
© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2005
Revision: 14 Dec. 2008
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other