Eagle Eyes on a Great Emperor; Sense of History: Hadrian's Life Is Pieced Together through Statues, Mummy Portraits (Left), Pots and Manuscripts

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Byline: ANDREW NEATHER

THE kind of historical detective work behind the Hadrian exhibition is impressive to any eye but especially to mine. Trained as a modern historian, I researched my PhD on the early 20th-century American labour movement with what, to any ancient historian, would be an unimaginable embarrassment of riches official records, correspondence, newspapers, magazines.

It still didn't seem enough. But Hadrian's life is pieced together here through statues, pots and occasional scraps of written evidence.

What's so impressive about it is the way life and the concerns of Hadrian's time, from war to hunting, are fleshed out through these artefacts and a few other clever tricks. Thus the olive oil amphorae, illustrating the wealth of the elite Hadrian grew up among in what is now southern Spain, stand next to projections of modern-day Seville province, olive trees still marching for miles across its parched hills.

While the reliefs and red satyr statue from Hadrian's lavish villa at Tivoli are splendid, the huge model of the complex, with shifting projections of the present-day ruins behind, dramatises its scale. …