Antinous was Greek and born in Mantineum, a small place near the city of Bithynion-Claudiopolis (now northern Turkey). This bust originally belonged to a full-length statue, which was found in the eighteenth century, built into a wall on the Janiculum Hill in Rome.
It is known that the Roman emperor Hadrian passed through the area where Antinous was born in AD 123 and many scholars believe this was when they met. Later sources make it very clear that Hadrian and Antinous formed a homosexual relationship. Although we know little of their personal relationship, it is understood they shared a passion for hunting.
In AD 130 Hadrian visited Egypt with the imperial entourage, including his wife Sabina and Antinous. After an extended stay in Alexandria, they embarked on a voyage up the River Nile. On 24 October Antinous drowned in the river, on the same day the locals were commemorating the death, by drowning in the Nile, of the Egyptian god Osiris. Although Hadrian maintained Antinous’ death was an accident, malicious rumours soon spread. Some thought he had committed suicide or that he had been sacrificed. Others claimed Antinous sacrificed himself to prolong the life of the emperor.
For the Romans homosexual relationships were not unusual, but the intensity with which Hadrian mourned Antinous’ premature death and encouraged his cult in the eastern empire was without precedent.
The presence of an ivy wreath in this portrait links Antinous to the god Dionysus, the closest Greek equivalent to the Egyptian god Osiris. Roman aristocrats frequently incorporated fragments of classical statuary into the walls of their estates, but the rest of this statue has not been found.