The obelisk on the Pincio was commissioned by the emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138) to mark the death of his young friend and companion Antinous (c. 111-130), who, in October 130, drowned in the river Nile under mysterious circumstances.
Soon after the youth’s death (accident, suicide, sacrifice?), Hadrian had Antinous deified and in both Egypt and Rome temples were built in his honour. Hadrian also announced that a city would be built on the site of his death, to be called Antinopolis. The obelisk was erected outside the temple in Rome. In the third century it was moved to the Circus Varianus, which lay in the northern part of Rome. At an unknown date it fell or was felled.
The obelisk (9.25 m) was later acquired by several persons and travelled to various locations before it was bought by Pope Clement XIV (r.1769-1771), who had it set up in the Vatican. In 1822 it was moved to its present site by order of Pope Pius VII (r.1800-1822).
Little is known about Antinous's life, but we do know that he was born in the Roman province of Bithynia around the year 111. By 128 he had joined Hadrian's personal retinue and was accompanying the emperor on a tour of the provinces.