AN amazing bas-relief panel showing two Roman emperors in passionate embrace has been found at Nicomedia, the Bithynian capital city which Antinous and Hadrian visited during the first year of the final and fateful tour of the Eastern Empire.
Ancient Nicomedia, the most important capital of the eastern Roman empire during the Tetrarchy, now lies below the modern industrial city of İzmit in Turkey.
The panel is the most spectacular of more than 30 very large relief panels (average height 1.0 m by width. 1.5 m) discovered by archaeologists recently.
They are the only surviving examples of Late Roman state reliefs that have extensive paint preserved on them.
The panels illuminate multiple aspects of the art of the period, including the brightly colored costumes and the new and distinctive self-representation of the tetrarchic emperors and their administration.
The bas-relief panel with a representation of two emperors embracing is believed to be part of a larger adventus scene that shows the meeting of the two diarchs, Diocletian and Maximian, and thus dates from slightly before the onset of Tetrarchy in 293 AD.
In early 129 AD, after visiting Mt. Ida and the Phyrgian countryside the court of Hadrian entered Nicomedia, the ancient capital of the province of Bithynia, from which most of Asia was governed at that time. We commemorate this visit on March 6 each year.
Here is how Flamen Antonius Subia describes it at the online TEMPLE OF ANTINOUS:
"This is the triumphant return of Antinous to his homeland as the Imperial Favorite, and is symbolized as the return of the wandering Dionysus.
"It is said that Julius Caesar stayed as the guest of Nicomedes III, the last king of Bithynia, and that Caesar, when he was young, was the lover of Nicomedes. For the rest of his life, critics called Julius Caesar the Queen of Bithynia, a title that may have had some truth because when Nicomedes died without a son, and he left his kingdom to Rome in his will, or rather to his beloved Julius Caesar.
"This title of Queen of Bithynia would by inheritance fall to Hadrian, and it accentuates the homosexual liberty and voluptuousness of the Bithynians as a nation, the reputation of Nicomedia as a city where Kings loved beautiful males and gave them the throne for their beauty's sake, and this is the atmosphere which permeated the return of Antinous to his people.
"We celebrate the ancient openness and homoeros of the Bithynians."