Hadrian’s Heart Condition

Roman emperor Hadrian in Greek dress offers a ...
Image via Wikipedia

Yes, my skeptical alarm went off when I read this incipit to a piece in the Daily Mail:

For years, centuries even, there have been anecdotes linking diagonal creases across the earlobes to heart disease. One of the earliest ‘cases’ was the Emperor Hadrian, most famous for building a wall to mark the northern extent of Roman occupation in Britain.Hadrian, who lived to the age of 62, is believed to have died of heart failure. As several sculptures of him show obvious diagonal creases across both his earlobes, many believe Hadrian is the first recorded evidence for this link with heart disease.

… but then I poked around and found this interesting article in the Western Journal of Medicine from back in 1980 … here’s the abstract:

Classical writings suggest that the Roman emperor Hadrian died from congestive heart failure resulting from hypertension and coronary atherosclerosis. This diagnosis is supported by the identification of bilateral diagonal ear creases on sculptures of several busts of Hadrian as well as literary evidence of behavior pattern A.


The whole article is available (for free!) online and is an interesting read. I still can’t comment on the crease-heart attack link, obviously (and if you look in the right margin on the link page you can see the point has been debated for a long time), but it’s an interesting bit of research …

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