Zealots and Sicarii in the Maelstrom of the First Jewish-Roman War

 

Perhaps no other war in the history of the Middle East was more motivated entirely by different religions and ideologies than the First Jewish-Roman War. The conflict, which erupted on the Palestinian territories in 66 AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, and ended either by the conquest of Jerusalem by the army of Titus, son of the new Emperor Vespasian, in the year of 70 AD, or by the suppression of the last remnants of resistance in the fortress of Massada in 73 AD, had profound historical roots. Overall, it was a vast uprising of some components of the Jewish nation, which stood opposed to the Roman discipline, organization and military strategies on the one hand, and a high number of people, boundless determination and also fanaticism stemming from helplessness of the Jews on the other hand. The result was a complete destruction of the Jerusalem and the Second Temple, which was never recovered, the disappearance of all of the Jewish religious groups and sects1.During the First Jewish-Roman War were killed all of the members of the Zealots and Sicarii – the groups that refused any compromise with the Roman dominion, as well as the Essenes – a group of pious Jews living an ascetic way of life. Moreover, the Sadducees also disappeared, the priesthood holders, with the demise of the Second Temple. apart from the Pharisees, who subsequently determined the later development of Judaism. Moreover, during the Jewish-Roman War over one million Jews were killed, after which the subsequent defeat of the uprising of Shimon Bar Kochba2.This anti-Roman rebellion led by pseudo-messiah Simon Bar Kochba is known as the Second Jewish-Roman War (132-135 AD). According to Roman historian Cassius Dion were slaughtered 580,000 Jews. practically meant the depopulation of the region of Judea and the surrounding area. 

The archaeological locality in the old town in Jerusalem. Photo: Barbora (Sajmovicova) Zelenkova, 2009.
The archaeological locality in the old town in Jerusalem. Photo: Barbora (Sajmovicova) Zelenkova

 

 

Critical evaluation of sources

Information about the events of the First Jewish-Roman War has been preserved from several sources. If we overlook fragmented data found in many writings, the Roman historian Tacitus describes to us the former events in his not quite extant work ´Historiae´. The Jewish historian Titus Flavius Josephus3.Flavius Josephus (Iosephus) is Roman form of the Joseph, son of Matias. The name Flavius is associated by the family´s and kinship´s name of the Emperor Vespasian. Basic information about Josephus´s life can be found in Antika: Josephus Flavius (Available at URL: 20. 7. 2016) also gives us a comprehensive picture of the whole war with historical overtones. His work ´The Jewish War´ is written in Greek and is divided into seven books. Flavius Josephus was a direct participant in the war and it follows that he used primarily his own diaries when he was compiling the books. ´As another source for the historical passages, Flavius Josephus used Historii from Nikola from Damascus, who was an advisor of Herod the Great´4.Josef Češka, an author of preface to the Válka židovská – Válečná předehra (The Jewish War – The Overture of the War), p. 29. In some passages Flavius Josephus also recalls stories from biblical books.

I have read all seven books of Flavius Josephus of the Jewish War, but after a few pages of the books I realized that it is necessary to take Flavius Josephus with a pinch of salt for its highly subjective attitudes. Although Flavius Josephus mentions several times his objectivity in his work I must conclude that his objectivity suffered greatly due to his direct involvement in the war. For example, among historical facts are passages, in which Flavius Josephus is trying, by using brightly coloured events, to justify his own actions.5.According to Jews at that time, Flavius Josephus was a traitor, who went pragmatically on the Roman side due to his personal lack of success. In fact, he was in some kind as a house arrest at the beginning. He attributes culpability of the war, and especially its tragic consequences only to certain groups of the population or even individuals and mythologises the acts of Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus.

Nowadays, modern historians are seeking information about the First Jewish-Roman War objectively organized by the replenishment of Flavius Josephus with other sources and also using knowledge from modern science, which deals with this historical period and region. In many ways, however, Flavius Josephus´s Jewish War is the only one source and therefore I will draw on this source by relying on mitigating inaccuracies and traces of Flavius Josephus´s subjective attitudes through numerous notes of modern translators, who work on converting texts from the ancient language.

 


 

The nation of Israel into the Seleucid government

Hebrew nomadic tribes began to penetrate the territory of Palestine in the 13th century BC. According to biblical sources, these tribes were earlier expelled from Egypt.6.Their expulsion was mostly attributed to the Pharaoh Merenptah. This event is described in the second Old Testament book of Exodus. The supposed federation of twelve tribes, called Israel, clashed in their new homeland with the original inhabitants of Kanaan and with the coastal Philistines.7.Who, according to one theory, might be descendants of the inhabitants of Crete, who arrived here after the destruction of the Minoan culture, which probably disappeared under the circumstances of several natural disasters. Gradually, after the struggles and mutual assimilation, the Israeli state was shaped during the reign of King Saul, David and Solomon. The kingdom was divided into North Israel and Southern Judea after the death of King Solomon. Israel was superseded in 722 BC by the Assyrian power, then by Judea in 587 BC during the second invasion by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II. During this crusade the first Jewish temple was demolished and the Jewish elite was dragged into exile.

The expansion of the Persian Empire caused the fall of Babylon in 539 BC. The Persian King Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and even provided financial support for the construction of the Second Temple.8.However, it was not completed until early of reign of Persian ruler Darius I, in 517 BC. The Second Temple was destroyed by Titus´s army in 70 AD. (More details about this period, see below). Two hundred years later, an epochal-making event in history, not only for Jews but also for most of the then known world, took place. The young Alexander the Great attacked the Persian Empire in 334 BC and over just eleven years built one of the largest empires in history. At this moment, the process of Hellenization and the Greek language becoming the lingua franca began, which even sacred scriptures were written in. After Alexander´s death, Palestine was associated with the Ptolemaic empire and in 198 BC Seleucids conquered this territory.9.Alexander III of Macedon died in 323 BC and his empire was divided between his generals, called Diadochi. It includes also Seleucus I Nicator and Ptolemy I Soter. They established their own royal dynasty and due to clashes of their interests it happened to the Wars of Diadochi.

 


 

Hasmonean dynasty

Already during the reign of the Seleucids, the first seeds of a future conflict with Western culture began to arise. The disputes between the orthodox Judaists and the Hellenists escalated during the government of the second Seleucid ruler, Antiochus IV.10.Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163). This ruler began to intervene in the role of the office of the high priest of Jerusalem. It follows that this led to the appointment of, not the pious people of priestly families, but wealthy candidates which promised obedience to Antiochus and also generous financial support. Moreover, the unbearable burden on the common people led to the emergence of banditry, with attacks on the members of the occupying troops. Therefore, Antiochus ransacked the Temple in Jerusalem and turned the cult of Yahve to a cult dedicated to the god Baal. Then began the process of the enforced Hellenization of Judea. In response was the Maccabean Revolt,11.To lead the uprising stood priest Matias, from the Hasmonean family. After his death, his son Judah Maccabee also with his brothers led the liberation struggle. After Judah´s death his brother Jonathan continued with this battle and then his brother Simon. The first independent ruler of the Hasmonean family became Simon´s son John Hyrkán (134-104 BC). which, at the end, resulted in the breaking and weakening of Seleucid rule.

The Jewish state was restored and the priestly ruler Simon, successfully completed the process of liberation and his son John Hyrkán already took charge of an independent state. Following John Hyrkán power passed on to his two sons. The first ruler was Aristobulos I, who strengthened his authority by taking the royal title, but after a short reign he became ill and died. Then his brother Alexander Jannaios gained power. Under his rule a fight developed between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the latter supported by Alexander. The situation resulted in a great uprising of followers of the Pharisees, who did not hesitate to call the troops of Seleucid King Demetrio III. Subsequently, Alexander was defeated militarily, but the Jewish people did not want to submit Judea again to be seized by the Seleucids and therefore most joined Alexander´s side. After that, the weakened Demetrius was forced to withdraw and Alexander was left with many Pharisees to chase.

An ease in the tense situation occurred during the reign of Salome Alexandra12.She was originally the wife of Aristobulos I, but then she married his brother Alexander Jannaia. She ruled from 76 to 67 BC., who was the only Hasmonean Queen. She reconciled with the Pharisees and was to hand over the power to her son Hyrkán II. She therefore appointed him as a Pharisaically minded priest in the highest position. However, Hyrkán II was a weak politician and lived in the shadow of his brother Aristóbulo II. Aristóbulo declared himself the rightful successor and thus unleashed a fraternal struggle for power. The weakened Hyrkán fled to the Nabateans and with their help tried to conquer Jerusalem. The siege was interrupted by the arrival of the Romans who feared excessive Nabatean activity in Judea and therefore the threat of the Nabateans were edged out of Jerusalem. At that time the Roman general Pompey the Great sensed an opportunity when things were very unstable in Judea and he himself marched into Jerusalem and wrenched the city from the hands of Aristóbulo. Subsequently, Hyrkán was appointed as High Priest and Judea was incorporated under the Syrian province of the Roman dominions.

To summarize, I can say that the government of Hasmonean dynasty was a period of constant intrigues and coups. The original goal of the Maccabee rebellion – the preservation and purification of the cult of Yahve – was converted to the pursuit of secular power. The rulers supported Sadduceean elements in society, who borrowed from Hellenic culture; some rulers even adopted the styles and wore them themselves. Therefore, the Pharisees and Essen gradually dropped out from the Hasmonean dynasty, groups which previously fought alongside Hasmoneans against Hellenization.

 


 

Herod´s intermezzo

In the following historical epoch that was adjourned until the First Jewish War, Judea was administered by Roman procurators or vassal kings, the most famous of who was the Idumaean13.The region of Idumaea was situated in the south of Judea. To the east was the asphalt lake – now the Dead Sea. Herod the Great. Herod came to power through his father, Antipater. He was a prominent aristocrat in the Royal court of Hyrkán II and also helped in the fight against Pompey.14.When Caesar defeated Pompey, he appointed the Antipater the King of Judea and Hyrkán II was confirmed in a priestly function. The Roman emperors were also strong allies of this son of Antipater´s, Herod.15.Herod legitimised his rule by marrying a Hasmonean woman Mariama. Herod fathered two sons with Mariama, who later were murdered together with her. Among his many deeds, in terms of this narrative, the only relevant action was his rebuilding of the Jewish Temple and leaving the building to incorporate the Hellenistic elements, such as the golden eagle, which led to renewed unrest. Following Herod´s death there occurred a succession struggle. The kingdom was divided between Herod´s relatives and due to the tyranny of his son Archelaus, Judea, Samaria and Idumea were again placed under a Roman procurator. Although, most of the former Jewish state was under Roman administration, some outlying (tetrarchy) still held in the hands of Herod´s sons. At that time, Tiberius succeeded to the throne of the Roman Emperor Augustus and right behind him was the grandson of Herod, Agrippa the Great16.Agrippa I (the Great) was the son of Aristobulos, who was murdered by his father Herod. He was the last ´independent´ reigning king of Palestine before the First Jewish War., with the desire of gaining power.

Agrippa´s bid for power was rejected and so he resorted to a high-ranking Roman man named Gaius, son of Germanicus. Then Agrippa prophesied to him that after the death of Tiberius he would take the throne. When Tiberius died, Gaius under the moniker Caligula, actually stood at the head of Rome and therefore made Agrippa the Tetrarch. After the short of reign of Caligula the army proclaimed as leader, Caesar Claudius, whom Agrippa had helped with this dangerous coup and for this service was appointed as vassal king of Palestine. When Agrippa died, his son Agrippa II was still too young and so Claudius again changed the status of Palestine to a Roman province. Once Agrippa II reached adulthood he became a puppet king of the Jews and in the following Jewish War he acted as an ally of the Roman legions against the Jewish insurgents.

 


 

Procurator Florus as the cause of the First Jewish-Roman War

Now it only remains to point out the dramatic events at the time when Roman procurators Albinus and Florus controlled Judea. The deliberate provocation for war can be attributed to Florus.17.Although I believe that the war was already inevitable based on very different cultural and religious beliefs and Florus actions only hastened this conflict. Albinus18.Lucceius Albinus was the Judean prosecutor in the years 62-64. From 64 Gessius Florus took this post and was the last prosecutor before the uprising. was appointed as procurator of Judea during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero.19.For Roman emperors acting in the period related to this historical described epoch see Halajcuk, P.: Roman Emperor (from Augustus to Titus). Albinus burdened the Jewish province with prohibitive taxes and he alone was enriched from the Jewish population by releasing criminals for a high ransom. At that time many bandits emerged that had been bribed by Albinus and thus had the freedom to own plunder.

However, the actions of Florus were even worse as he wanted to deliberately provoke the Jewish revolt and resulting chaos that would cover up his own crimes. In May, 66 AD, in the twelfth year of the government of Nero, the first unrest erupted. It happened after a disagreement between the Jews and the Greeks in Caesarea and when Florus imprisoned the Jews (who had actually been in the right). Florus then came to Jerusalem and stole part of the treasure from the Jewish Temple. This triggered a wave of opposition in Jerusalem and people started attacking the Roman soldiers. Florus retreated to Caesarea after heavy fighting in the streets. The message about the rebellion spread quickly and the investigation was taken by the administrator of Syria – Cestius. The Jewish King Agrippa II tried to appease the rebellion and for this purpose he unsuccessfully spoke to the people in Jerusalem.20.This speech has been preserved in the second book of Josephus (pp. 185-192). In my opinion, it is an idealized and fictional utterance, in which Josephus reflected his personal attitude towards the uprising. Then a group of Jews conquered the supposedly impregnable fortress of Masada and slaughtered the local Roman garrison. While the rebel leaders Eleazar, the son of the high priest Ananias, forbade receiving sacrificial tributes from foreigners, so, it follows that they also refused Caesar´s offering. The war was already inevitable.

 


 

The structure of Jewish society

In connection with the upcoming events we need to mention that not all Jews had participated in the rebellion. The uprising was performed primarily by some of the Sadducees and many aristocrats and other wealthy people, who feared losing their status and wealth. Furthermore, the revolt was not supported by a considerable amount of common people, because they were aware of the inevitable defeat. So, the insurgents consisted mostly of zealous youngsters. Some of these longed for a free country, others really hoped for the early arrival of the Messiah and they were convinced about the rapid defeat of the Romans. From these young men was formed a group, which we call the Zealots.21.The Zealots were a radical component of anti-Roman resistance that was established in 6 AD by Juda from Galilee. Juda was also the first teacher of the Zealots. This sect disappeared with the suicide of the last defender of the fortress of Masada in 73 AD. There were also people here who, through the wars, wanted to gain power and wealth. From this group of people can be included especially the leaders of various and small marauding bandits and some pseudo-messiahs.

Moreover, other warriors became Sicarii22.The Sicarii (the name derives from the Latin word sica, which means a dagger) was the most radical component of the insurgency. According to Josephus Flavius, they went through the cities among ordinary citizens with daggers hidden under the folds of their jackets and assassinated and murdered all who wanted to go to the Roman side. The Sicarii also often used terrorist practices against Romans. along with a considerable number of ordinary citizens of Judea, due to fears of looting of the conquered cities by the Romans. To sum up, we have pointed out the importance of Jewish disunity and fragmentation of their interests. These facts accelerated one of the most destructive wars in the history of the Jewish people.

 


 

The failure of military campaign of Cestius

First of all, we need to come back to Jerusalem. The man known as Eleazar controlled the so called lower part of the city and the Temple district. Others, like aristocrats and priests were fortified in the top of the city. The rebels under the command of Eleazar conquered the fortress of Antonia23.The Antonia was Jerusalem´s fortress located at the northwest corner of the Temple´s district. According to Flavius descriptions it is not entirely clear whether it was the local Roman garrison or royal garrison of Agrippa II. in Jerusalem after several days and the local garrison was murdered. At that time, a man named Manaimos24.Manaimos was the son of the funder of the Zealots, Juda of Galilee. also attacked Jerusalem. Firstly, he broke into the fortress of Masada opened the armoury of Herod and armed his people. Then, he broke down the walls and with this conquest of Jerusalem he massacred all of the Romans. After his successful coup, he was expelled from Jerusalem by Eleazar and even the general people. Those who escaped, fled to Masada.

In parallel with these events, occurred the murder of the local Jewish community in the city of Kaisarei and the same fate also befell the Jewish community in Alexandria. After these incidents, the insurgency spread over the whole of Palestine and then the Jews rose up even in major Syrian cities because they were afraid of the Roman purges. As mentioned above, Cestius performed the office of overseer for Syria. In a terrifying mood, and in fear of punishment from Nero for losing control of the situation, Cestius gathered the local Roman forces and, together with the Jewish King Agrippa II, and also the Syrian militia began to suppress the revolt by murdering the Jews. Firstly, these actions appeared to be highly effective until they came to Jerusalem. Here they faced problems. The rebels put up stiff resistance although they were not strong enough to sustain the city.  Secondly, Florus, the Roman procurator of Judea, took advantage of this situation – just before the final Roman attack that would surely break the power of the rebels and was able to end the uprising in its initial stage.

Certainly, he would not allow the rebellion to be suppressed and the Jews and Romans be reconciled because his previous sins against the Jewish population could surface. Florus bribed Roman officers in these fateful hours and so he delayed the assault. However, the situation for the rebels was still formidable. Jerusalem was besieged and inside the city rebels were fighting against the citizens, who wanted to give Jerusalem to Romans and thus end the war quickly. However, Cestius was not fully aware of these circumstances and when Jerusalem was almost captured, he left the city and retreated back. After that Roman blunder, almost the whole of Cestius´s army was massacred during their retreat and the Jews even seized Roman war machinery.25.Flavius Josephus estimated the loss of 5, 300 infantrymen of the Twelfth Roman legions and also their allied forces and 380 riders. Cestius was rescued in his escape and immediately reported about the situation to Emperor Nero. This event encourage the Jews and the rebellion has grew into a wider dimension. In the meantime, the leaders of the uprising were subsequently elected in Jerusalem, one for each particular area of Judea. We do not have enough space for every name, but we should mention Eleazar, the son of Simon, the leader of Jerusalem and at the same time the leader of the Zealots and further Josephus, the son of Matthias (Yosef Ben Matityahu). He was responsible for managing the region of Galilee.26.Josephus, son of Matthias, is important for us especially for the reason that he is the author of writings from which this work is drawn. The region of Galilee was the northernmost part of the former Jewish state.

 


 

The conquering of Galilee and Flavius´s fate

When the message about the defeat of the Roman soldiers came to Rome, Emperor Nero established Vespasian to suppress of this insurgency.27.For more details about Vespasian, the next Emperor of Rome, visit: Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus He sent his son Titus to Egyptian Alexandria for the preparation of the Fifteenth Roman legion to march into Judea. Vespasian went to collect troops from Syria. On the other hand, the Jews were also carefully preparing for another attack – Josephus had to fortify a number of towns in Galilee, where (as he thought) would be the next Roman action. Nevertheless, Josephus´s preparing was challenged by a number of rebellions and also by the new leaders of the Zealots, who robbed all over the country and become so-called autocrats in some cities.28.The events before the arrival of the Romans into Galilee and the subsequent conquest Josephus described in his Third book. The region of Galilee was quickly captured by the Roman army due to the lack of unity of local people and struggling between groups. Many cities voluntarily opened their gates to Vespasian, others had been weakened (as already mentioned) by internal disputes, and, therefore, they did not to put up too much resistance. We mention only the conquest of the city of Iótapata, whose leader was Josephus himself. The city was conquered after many difficulties and the last of the defenders fled with Josephus to a cave complex situated under the city. They all chose death and killed each other in this impasse.29.Suicide is strictly excluded in Judaism, so the defenders of Iótapata chose by lot who would kill each other. However, Flavius Josephus wanted to keep his life and thus he surrendered to the Romans. He justified this act before his nation in his book and, moreover, the reader from this manifestation can sense a bit of remorse. Flavius Josephus was, as one of the most prominent leaders of the uprising, brought before Vespasian and after that, he prophesied that Vespasian would soon become the Roman Emperor, so he was not punished.

The last strong resistance was put up by the citizens of Tarichaye, one of the most important cities of Galilee. The city was completely inaccessible – from one side it laid at the foot of the mountain and from the other side was surrounded by the Lake of Gennesaret30.Lake of Gennesaret, or Sea of Galilee or Lake Tiberias. Alongside this natural barrier was a strong fortification system, which was built by Josephus. The Zealots, who had escaped from the conquered towns or been expelled by the moderate citizens were also coming to this city. The son of Vespasian, Titus, received a task – to conquer this city. Although, Titus did not wait for his father´s reinforcements, he defeated the rebels before the city and immediately waded across the lake and conquered the city.31.Josephus´s Third book dealt with the conquest of this city. The rest of the defenders fled to the lake, where they were slaughtered by Romans. There were saved only by the indigenous population, others were sold into slavery by Titus and the infirm people were killed. Then followed the conquest of Gamala, a town situated on the steep of the slope. The Romans suffered great losses here. Meanwhile, the Roman general Pacidus crushed the last remnants of resistance in Galilee on the Mount of Itabyrion and the last major town in Galilee surrendered after Jan32.Jan, son of Levi (Jan from Gischala), was considered as one of the top three leaders of the Jewish revolt. (We will talk more about him in connection with defence of Jerusalem). The other leader was already mentioned Manaimos, son of Juda from Galilee, who conquered Jerusalem for a time, but at this time he was already dead and a third was Simon, son of Giór and about him later., son of Levi and leader of the town, ran away to Jerusalem.

 


 

The situation in Jerusalem

Jan deceptively talked about the lack of Roman power in Jerusalem and praised the Jewish courage, thus compelling another large number of people to fight. While Jan was encouraging people, the Zealots controlled the Jewish Temple and had conquered other fixed and strategic points. They murdered the aristocrats, who could possibly negotiate with Romans because of that position in Jewish society. Furthermore, the Zealots terrorized the local people and defiled the profaned space in the Temple by their presence. The priest Ananias led a wave of popular opposition against them and finally, the Zealots were forced to transform the Temple into a citadel. Surprisingly, Jan outwardly acted as Ananias´s ally, but in fact secretly informed the Zealot´s leader named Eleazar about the whole situation in Jerusalem. The Zealots, because they were encircled, decided to call the Idumaeans. So, they sent a letter to them, in which they mentioned the intention of Jerusalem´s citizens to submit the city to Romans.33.Idumaeans, formerly Edomites, were related to the Israelites and they derived their origin from the Biblical Esau (the older son of Isaac).

Flavius Josephus estimated the number of Idumaeans as 20, 000, who immediately marched to war. The Zealots dared to assault from the Temple and managed to open one of Jerusalem´s gates. The Idumaeans came into the city and together with the Zealots killed many citizens – even the high priest Ananias. In spite of this horrific event, the Idumaeans learned about the real situation in Jerusalem from the local people and about the Zealots’ crimes against citizens. They understand the distorted description of the information in the letter and through this, they released many citizens of Jerusalem. Moreover, most of the Idumaeans indignantly left the city. The Zealots then continued alone and killed other important persons and leaders. In the current situation, Jan achieved superiority among followers and became an autocrat of Jerusalem. The leader of the Zealots, Eleazar, was forced to pull back to the Temple for a second time. Nevertheless, according to Flavius Josephus, Jan tyrannised the population in the same way as Eleazar and due to their similar targets they avoided large and open struggles.

 


 

The false messiah Simon

Vespasian underwent, almost without fighting, the whole region of Samaria after plundering Galilee and now he quarried the surrounding areas of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was not united and the war could be ended faster if adverse events in the Roman Empire had not occured in the 68 AD. That year revolt erupted in Gaul and also the governor named Galba of Hispanie seceded from the Empire. Therefore, the supply of grain for Rome was threatened due this unrest in Africa. Finally, the Emperor Nero committed suicide under the weight of events.34.The chaotic situation in the Roman Empire is aptly described in this article – První krize.

At this point Simon, son of Giór, comes on the scene, probably the most powerful leader of the rebels, who was also described as a messiah. He initially initiated bandit raids with the Zealots from Masada against the surrounding villages. Over time, he had many supporters among whom were also Zealots and many aristocrats. So, he increased his power after a guerrilla war and conquered the land of Edom and especially the city of Hebron. The citizens of Jerusalem were concerned about the local disputes between John and Eleazar and therefore called for Simon to the town.

Then, Vespasian conquered almost all Idumea and he was proclaimed as Emperor of Rome by the Easter Legions in 69 AD. As we mention Josephus´ prediction, Josephus Flavius acted as the General Staff for Vespasian´s son Titus as a negotiator since the ´prophecy´ had been fulfilled. The generals of Vespasian conquered the Rome and defeated the rival Germanic Legions. The civil war was ended by Emperor Vitelliana´s death. The commander of Rome was appointed as Vespasian´s second son called Domitian (later Emperor). The new Emperor Vespasian left affairs in Judea to Titus and he went back to Rome. So, Titus immediately set about the siege of Jerusalem.

 


 

The fall of Jerusalem

Exactly on the day of Passover35.Passover (Pesach) is the Jewish feast during which is commemorated the liberation from Egyptian bondage., Jan seized the precinct of the temple through a ruse and the Zealots joined his side. According to Josephus Flavius, there were 6, 000 followers of Jan supported by 2, 400 Zealots. Simon had 10, 000 men at his disposition and under his command was included the corps of Idumaeans numbering 5, 000. It has to be said, that the armed forces were composed of only a certain part of local citizens. The people who refused to fight numbered much more. Titus allocated all three Legions to this conquest, the remnants of the formerly decimated Twelfth Legion and a number of auxiliary forces from Syrian aristocrats and also from King Agrippa II.36.There is not an exact number of allied forces mentioned in the Josephus Flavius book. On the other hand, it can be supposed that the force could have been up to 30, 000 men because one Roman Legion had approximately 6, 000 soldiers.

At the beginning, Simon fought against the besiegers himself and kept Jan´s supporters sealed in the inner part of the city. Later, Simon and Jan reconciled and divided the territory that they would defend. It should be noted, that the whole Roman siege was interrupted frequently by unexpected attacks from the Jewish side. The besiegers were repeatedly beaten and had to withdraw to their camp. For example, the Jews burned the siege towers and killed the crew of the war engines. However, we must add that even these initial successes claimed more victims on the Jewish side. The Zealots acted in a chaotic way and in their bold attacks, they were neither well equipped nor well trained. The only advantage was boundless courage supported by a strong belief in the fulfilment of their messianic ideas.

Over time, Titus conquered the first wall, captured the New Town and after passing the second wall37.After the Romans conquered the second wall, Titus made a mistake because he did not let to extend the breakthrough in the wall to allow the access to whole army. So, the Romans were pushed out from the narrow streets of the city and finally the wall was lost for Romans for a few days., he sent Josephus to negotiate with the last of the defenders of the last of the walls. Despite the concessions offered, the rebels refused to give the city and many of them still believed in salvation. Subsequently, a famine erupted, so the defenders began to rob the common people of their last food supplies. Many people tried to flee from Jerusalem to the Romans, who were letting them loose into the countryside, but most of them were killed by Zealots for their desertion.

The Romans decided to conquer the last wall by building embankments to overcome the defenses. In dealing with this situation, Jan excelled, because he dug an underground tunnel under the city to the Roman earthworks. The tunnel was supported by a wooden construction and after finishing the work, Jan set the tunnel on fire. It collapsed after the wood burnt and the entire Roman embankment fell into a pit. The second Roman embankment was destroyed by Simon´s soldiers. Titus was crushed. Moreover, there was not enough wood near Jerusalem for the construction of new embankments. So, after these successful actions, the Jews decided to launch a massive attack and drove the Romans back to their camps. Finally, even the Jews had to retreat back to Jerusalem.

The tragedy for Jerusalem occurred one night, when the third piece of the wall spontaneously crashed. (It had been shaken by longwall rams over the previous days and moreover, Jan´s countermine also led up underneath). At this point, events occurred in quick succession. The fortress of Antonia fell after a few days and the last of the defenders were imprisoned in the Temple district. The Romans gradually conquered more and more parts of the sacred area, so the Jews burned the lost spaces themselves and retreated back. The Romans did the same. On the tenth day of the month of Ióa (70 AD), the Roman soldiers, intoxicated by war, burned the Jewish Temple without the permission or command of generals.38.10th day of the month of Ióa = 29th of August. This date is generally considered as the day of the fall of Jerusalem. Titus could not stop the ravages of his army and then (at last) entered the room of the Holy of Holies with his highest generals to inspect the Temple treasures and also to loot some of these before they were lost to the flames.

Nevertheless, the Jews have attributed the destruction of the Temple to God´s punishment for what the Zealots did to the common people and also against God.39.For example, the Zealots desecrated the Temple by eating temple sacrifices during famine or using the sacred wood for defensive purposes. Furthermore, the population was tortured for desertion and their food was robbed. According to Josephus Flavius, the fall of the Temple was predicated by certain signs, such as the sudden lighting of an alter during the night or the reopening of the heavy Temple gate. After the destruction of the Temple, Jerusalem was plundered by the Roman army and many people were slaughtered. Whoever was useful or strong for the Romans was sold to the Egyptian mines or to Gladiatorial arenas. It should be noted that a huge number of deaths were caused by the fact that the city was besieged during the Jewish feast of Passover. So, there was a huge density of people from all over Judea, who came to Jerusalem to visit, and were finally closed in. To sum up, the plague broke out easily due to this overcrowding and was followed by a great famine.

Jan from Gischala was also arrested and sentenced to life in prison. Simon, son of Giór, hid in the Jerusalem underground and dug under the ruins of the Temple. He came out of the ground in a scarlet cloak as a messiah and bewildered hit the Romans, who were all around. Unfortunately, he was arrested and executed in Rome during the triumphal march of Titus. Additionally, the entire city was demolished and Titus only let three massive towers stand from the Herodian period in remembrance to former glory and the so called ´impregnability´ of Jerusalem. A large numbers of captive Jews were killed in fighting with exotic animals during Roman celebrations and there were smoothed Jewish communities in largest cities, such as Antioch. The surviving Jews had to pay tax for the Roman Capitol.

 

Rome and Jerusalem at War – The destruction of the Jewish Temple

 


 

The last of the last – the legendary Masada

After the conquest of the city, the command of the army in Judea was given to Lucilius Bassus. He broke the last parts of the resistance. Firstly, he arrested the leader of Machairús tower, causing his immediate release to Romans. Secondly, he encircled and subsequently massacred the Jewish defenders from Jerusalem in the Lardés forest, who had managed to escape through the underground tunnels.40.According to Josephus, 3, 000 of Jews were killed and only 12 Romans died. The later administration of Judea passed to Flavius Silva, who planned to finish the last rebel stronghold of Masada. It was the most famous fortress, which was held by the powerful Eleazar, a relative of Juda from Galilee. Masada was located on a ridge, near to the Dead Sea, with one side stretching to a height of nearly 500 metres. King Herod had rebuilt this fortress as his last place of refuge, in case of an Egyptian invasion or an internal coup. Therefore, the fortress was very well stocked with grain and other food. The grain was able to survive for several years even though the local climate is very dry and hot. Additionally, Masada was equipped with tanks for retaining rainwater. For these reasons, it was an almost impregnable stronghold.

The fact remained that the defences were not very strong due to their being settled only a tiny remnant of Sicarii at Masada. So, the Romans built embankments again beside the walls and used the rams to overcome them. Beyond this wall, the Sicarii were able to build a makeshift wall constructed from wooden planks and topped with earth. This pliable material should have prevented the reusing of Roman rams. However, the Romans set to fire beneath the wall and started to plan the final attack for the following day. At this point, Eleazar, along with his followers chose death over capture, so firstly every man killed his family, then they drew lots to choose the ten of them who would kill the others. Finally, the last ten chose the final man, who killed the other nine and then burned all of their possessions, the palace and eventually committed suicide. Thus these events were described by Josephus Flavius according to two women, who had remained hidden near this particular place and told the Romans about everything the next day.41.According to commentators of Josephus books, Masada was conquered in 73 AD. However, the numbers of internet sources argue that it was the beginning of the year 74 AD.

 

Jeffrey Worthington: Aerial View of Masada

 


 

The historical afterpiece

The last of the scattered remnants of the Sicarii after the fall of Masada were in the Palestine region and also in Egyptian Alexandria. The Sicarii were still trying to provoke a new anti-Roman rebellion, but no one had the will to continue fighting and no one could conceive of another resistance. It follows that the ordinary Jews would rather surrender to the Romans. Over the next few years, a large scale persecution of rich Jews took place, on which were placed false charges for supporting the unrest. So, in this way the Roman administrators enriched themselves freely with the Jewish possessions. Therefore, even after a complete suppression of the riots there was still a strong anti-Roman feeling.

The next rebellion occurred during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Finally, he decided to do away with the entire Jewish religion once and for all. At the beginning, Hadrian inflicted high taxes on the people and banned circumcision. However, the Emperor sparked a huge conflict with his statement about establishing the Temple of Jupiter on the particular place of the Jewish Temple. The Second Jewish War started as a result of this provocation and the Jews rose up once again. The Second Jewish-Roman War lasted for three years of bloody fighting and the Jews were eventually defeated, although their commander was the famous (self-proclaimed messiah) Simon Bar Kochba. The triumphant Emperor Hadrian renamed the depopulated Judea after the former Philistines, as he wanted to erase the memory of the former Jewish settlements. The region of Judea was also included in the Syrian-Palestinian Roman province and as the Capital was designated as Aelia Capitolina. Entrance to Aelia Capitolina, which was built on the ruins of Jerusalem, was strictly prohibited for Jews.

The imprint of the seal of the Tenth Roman Legion (Legio X Fratensis). The Roman garrisons remained in the area for almost 200 years after the conquest of Jerusalem. In times of peace, they were focused on establishing roads and other infrastructure in Colonia Aelia Capitolina.
The imprint of the seal of the Tenth Roman Legion (Legio X Fratensis). The Roman garrisons remained in the area for almost 200 years after the conquest of Jerusalem. In times of peace, they were focused on establishing roads and other infrastructure in Colonia Aelia Capitolina.

 


 

Conclusion

The purpose of this article, in addition to a brief description of the First Jewish-Roman War, is to clarify the historical causes of the occurrence of this conflict and to introduce two entirely different points of view and socio-religious discourse. The difference in opinion of the Romans and Jews was determined by the presence of two diverse religious and ideological attitudes and beliefs, which I have highlighted in the introduction.

The advantage of the Romans was their extremely rational and pragmatic considerations of the world. What, then, was the cause of the Romans extreme rationalization? Perhaps we can propose that religion did not play such a crucial role in the life of the Romans as it did with the Jews, where religion was the crucial determinant in everyday life, in every detail. In contrast, the Roman mythology included many gods, who had fought against each other (as had people) and from that point we can conclude that the Romans did not see them as omnipotent beings. Romans put more emphasis on the cult of the Emperor and on the prosperity of their Empire. Therefore, constant military successes and the subjugation of other nations and thus their gods led to the Roman belief that it is not gods who set the course of history, but the Romans. They constantly improved their strategies and from their side did not blame the gods but rather personal faults.

On the other hand, the Jews were significantly different from their Hellenistic surroundings. We can say that in the whole known world at that time there was no other religion whose followers worshipped, only one omnipotent and omnipresent God.42.It is, of course, possible to remember to Mazdaism, but for its distinctive dualistic elements there is still a discussion about whether this religion has strictly monotheistic form. The strong belief in being the chosen nation of Israel and the early arrival of the messiah, who broke the hardships of the Jews and gave the Jews many advantages against the Romans. For example, it was relatively easy for them to accept death and therefore gave them the consequent courage. Nevertheless, objectively we can say that this irrationality in the religion rather damaged the history of Jews.43.Such as the prohibition of any activity during the Sabbath, so the Roman army units proceeded at a tremendous speed during the war – as many Jewish defenders refused to fight. Finally, the Jews were defeated in both of the Jewish-Roman wars and, as a result of destruction of the whole of Jerusalem, the Second Temple was also demolished. Moreover, there were huge numbers of victims, which led to the depopulation of large parts of Judea.

The far-reaching consequences of the war are still evident today. The contemporary Rabbinic Judaism is a remnant of the group, which was the only one not destroyed in the Jewish-Roman Wars – the Pharisees. At the time of the First Jewish-Roman War was the emergence of synagogues, which replaced the institution of the Temple. Man can only see the former glory of the Temple in Jerusalem by looking upon the remains of the Wailing Wall today.

Jerusalem Wailing Wall. Photo: Barbora (Sajmovicova) Zelenkova, 2009.
Jerusalem Wailing Wall. Photo: Barbora (Sajmovicova) Zelenkova

 

Editorial Note: This article is based on author´s university essay for Department of Middle Eastern Studies.

 

 

Sources:

FLAVIUS, I.: Válka židovská (Peri tú Iúdaikú polémú).

Bible

ČEJKA, M.: Izrael a Palestina. Praha, Centrum strategických studií, 2008.

 

 

Internet sources:

CHLUBNÝ, J.: První krize (68 – 69). Antika, 2004.

CHLUBNÝ, J.; Tůma, R.: Hadrianus (117 – 138). Antika, 2004.

HALAJČUK, P.: Římští císaři.

KAPAVÍK, R.: Obléhání Jeruzaléma 70 n. l. Antika, 2004.

KOLOUCH, A.: Josephus Flavius. Antika, 2004.

Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus. Roman empire net.

 


 

Translator: Barbora Šajmovičová Zelenková

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1. During the First Jewish-Roman War were killed all of the members of the Zealots and Sicarii – the groups that refused any compromise with the Roman dominion, as well as the Essenes – a group of pious Jews living an ascetic way of life. Moreover, the Sadducees also disappeared, the priesthood holders, with the demise of the Second Temple.
2. This anti-Roman rebellion led by pseudo-messiah Simon Bar Kochba is known as the Second Jewish-Roman War (132-135 AD). According to Roman historian Cassius Dion were slaughtered 580,000 Jews.
3. Flavius Josephus (Iosephus) is Roman form of the Joseph, son of Matias. The name Flavius is associated by the family´s and kinship´s name of the Emperor Vespasian. Basic information about Josephus´s life can be found in Antika: Josephus Flavius (Available at URL: 20. 7. 2016)
4. Josef Češka, an author of preface to the Válka židovská – Válečná předehra (The Jewish War – The Overture of the War), p. 29.
5. According to Jews at that time, Flavius Josephus was a traitor, who went pragmatically on the Roman side due to his personal lack of success. In fact, he was in some kind as a house arrest at the beginning.
6. Their expulsion was mostly attributed to the Pharaoh Merenptah. This event is described in the second Old Testament book of Exodus.
7. Who, according to one theory, might be descendants of the inhabitants of Crete, who arrived here after the destruction of the Minoan culture, which probably disappeared under the circumstances of several natural disasters.
8. However, it was not completed until early of reign of Persian ruler Darius I, in 517 BC. The Second Temple was destroyed by Titus´s army in 70 AD. (More details about this period, see below).
9. Alexander III of Macedon died in 323 BC and his empire was divided between his generals, called Diadochi. It includes also Seleucus I Nicator and Ptolemy I Soter. They established their own royal dynasty and due to clashes of their interests it happened to the Wars of Diadochi.
10. Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163).
11. To lead the uprising stood priest Matias, from the Hasmonean family. After his death, his son Judah Maccabee also with his brothers led the liberation struggle. After Judah´s death his brother Jonathan continued with this battle and then his brother Simon. The first independent ruler of the Hasmonean family became Simon´s son John Hyrkán (134-104 BC).
12. She was originally the wife of Aristobulos I, but then she married his brother Alexander Jannaia. She ruled from 76 to 67 BC.
13. The region of Idumaea was situated in the south of Judea. To the east was the asphalt lake – now the Dead Sea.
14. When Caesar defeated Pompey, he appointed the Antipater the King of Judea and Hyrkán II was confirmed in a priestly function.
15. Herod legitimised his rule by marrying a Hasmonean woman Mariama. Herod fathered two sons with Mariama, who later were murdered together with her.
16. Agrippa I (the Great) was the son of Aristobulos, who was murdered by his father Herod. He was the last ´independent´ reigning king of Palestine before the First Jewish War.
17. Although I believe that the war was already inevitable based on very different cultural and religious beliefs and Florus actions only hastened this conflict.
18. Lucceius Albinus was the Judean prosecutor in the years 62-64. From 64 Gessius Florus took this post and was the last prosecutor before the uprising.
19. For Roman emperors acting in the period related to this historical described epoch see Halajcuk, P.: Roman Emperor (from Augustus to Titus).
20. This speech has been preserved in the second book of Josephus (pp. 185-192). In my opinion, it is an idealized and fictional utterance, in which Josephus reflected his personal attitude towards the uprising.
21. The Zealots were a radical component of anti-Roman resistance that was established in 6 AD by Juda from Galilee. Juda was also the first teacher of the Zealots. This sect disappeared with the suicide of the last defender of the fortress of Masada in 73 AD.
22. The Sicarii (the name derives from the Latin word sica, which means a dagger) was the most radical component of the insurgency. According to Josephus Flavius, they went through the cities among ordinary citizens with daggers hidden under the folds of their jackets and assassinated and murdered all who wanted to go to the Roman side. The Sicarii also often used terrorist practices against Romans.
23. The Antonia was Jerusalem´s fortress located at the northwest corner of the Temple´s district. According to Flavius descriptions it is not entirely clear whether it was the local Roman garrison or royal garrison of Agrippa II.
24. Manaimos was the son of the funder of the Zealots, Juda of Galilee.
25. Flavius Josephus estimated the loss of 5, 300 infantrymen of the Twelfth Roman legions and also their allied forces and 380 riders. Cestius was rescued in his escape and immediately reported about the situation to Emperor Nero.
26. Josephus, son of Matthias, is important for us especially for the reason that he is the author of writings from which this work is drawn. The region of Galilee was the northernmost part of the former Jewish state.
27. For more details about Vespasian, the next Emperor of Rome, visit: Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus
28. The events before the arrival of the Romans into Galilee and the subsequent conquest Josephus described in his Third book.
29. Suicide is strictly excluded in Judaism, so the defenders of Iótapata chose by lot who would kill each other.
30. Lake of Gennesaret, or Sea of Galilee or Lake Tiberias.
31. Josephus´s Third book dealt with the conquest of this city.
32. Jan, son of Levi (Jan from Gischala), was considered as one of the top three leaders of the Jewish revolt. (We will talk more about him in connection with defence of Jerusalem). The other leader was already mentioned Manaimos, son of Juda from Galilee, who conquered Jerusalem for a time, but at this time he was already dead and a third was Simon, son of Giór and about him later.
33. Idumaeans, formerly Edomites, were related to the Israelites and they derived their origin from the Biblical Esau (the older son of Isaac).
34. The chaotic situation in the Roman Empire is aptly described in this article – První krize.
35. Passover (Pesach) is the Jewish feast during which is commemorated the liberation from Egyptian bondage.
36. There is not an exact number of allied forces mentioned in the Josephus Flavius book. On the other hand, it can be supposed that the force could have been up to 30, 000 men because one Roman Legion had approximately 6, 000 soldiers.
37. After the Romans conquered the second wall, Titus made a mistake because he did not let to extend the breakthrough in the wall to allow the access to whole army. So, the Romans were pushed out from the narrow streets of the city and finally the wall was lost for Romans for a few days.
38. 10th day of the month of Ióa = 29th of August. This date is generally considered as the day of the fall of Jerusalem.
39. For example, the Zealots desecrated the Temple by eating temple sacrifices during famine or using the sacred wood for defensive purposes. Furthermore, the population was tortured for desertion and their food was robbed.
40. According to Josephus, 3, 000 of Jews were killed and only 12 Romans died.
41. According to commentators of Josephus books, Masada was conquered in 73 AD. However, the numbers of internet sources argue that it was the beginning of the year 74 AD.
42. It is, of course, possible to remember to Mazdaism, but for its distinctive dualistic elements there is still a discussion about whether this religion has strictly monotheistic form.
43. Such as the prohibition of any activity during the Sabbath, so the Roman army units proceeded at a tremendous speed during the war – as many Jewish defenders refused to fight.