Did ancient Rome know about America?

Rome: The ruined empire

When Trajan died in 117, the Roman Empire stretched from the Persian Gulf to Scotland. His adopted son Publius Aelius Hadrianus, a 41-year-old senator in Spain, self-proclaimed poet and builder, became Tajan's inheritance. The new emperor realized that the territory of this size could no longer be controlled. Other politicians and generals urged him to follow in his adoptive father's footsteps, but Hadrian recoiled. "His first decision was to give up the new provinces and thus limit the losses," says the English archaeologist Anthony Birley. "Hadrian was so clever to recognize that his predecessor had overdone himself."

The policy of the new emperor displeased an army that was used to attacking and fighting. Worse still: it contradicted Rome's self-image. The empire was called to rule the world. How could it accept that any areas were now out of its reach?

Hadrian may have simply realized that Rome's insatiable appetite was bringing in less and less returns. In the most lucrative provinces like Gaul and in Spain, where the emperor was born, there were many cities and productive agriculture. But Scotland, like the north of today's Germany, was sparsely populated. There were no roads or settlements worth mentioning and the products at most were wild honey, ox skins and wood.

"Economically and strategically, it was certainly right to avoid Germania," says Michael Meyer, archaeologist at the Free University of Berlin. “As a rule, you want good results with little effort. There was no infrastructure whatsoever in the Barbaricum - which streets should the troops have marched on? "

Even Hadrian's contemporaries knew that some efforts simply weren't worth it. "They already had the best areas on land and water," noted the historian Appian. "So it was a matter of prudence for them to preserve their empire, instead of extending their influence endlessly and indefinitely to impoverished and unprofitable barbarian tribes."

Hadrian benefited from the fact that his army showed him great respect. Appointed emperor, the former soldier had a beard, as was customary in the armed forces.

He was the first Roman emperor to be seen in official portraits. He spent more than half of his 21-year reign in the provinces. Large areas were abandoned during this period. The army holed up behind new, relocated borders. Walls were erected wherever Hadrian was. "A clear message," says Birley: "There will be no more wars of conquest."

When the restless Hadrian died in 138, the network of forts, camps and roads had become a border system stretching over thousands of kilometers. "An army stationed in fortified positions surrounds the civilized world like a bulwark," wrote the Greek speaker Aelius Aristides not long after Hadrian's death.