First Jewish–Roman War

Dimitris Stamatios | May 11, 2023


The First Jewish War was fought between the Roman Empire and rebellious Jews. It began with a rebellion by the Jews in 66, who managed to inflict a heavy defeat on the Romans, and continued until 70, when Titus’ legions entered Jerusalem after a long siege, which ended with the destruction of the Second Temple. The last episode connected with the war was the siege of Masada, a Jewish stronghold that fell into Roman hands only in 73.

Relations between the Romans and Jews began to sour in 40: in that year, according to Philo of Alexandria, Emperor Caligula allegedly attempted to have a statue with his likeness placed in the Temple in Jerusalem, claiming to be a god and demanding to be worshipped; those who objected would be sent to death. The imperial order would have been opposed by the Jews, informing the legate of Syria that Caligula would have to annihilate the entire people-since law and custom forbade placing images of gods in the Temple.

Caligula’s death in 41 followed; later works, such as the Fourth Book of Maccabees, spoke of civil and unarmed resistance to oppression. After 44, according to Josephus Flavius, there were other causes: the misrule of Roman prefects, such as Lucius Albinus and Gessius Florus, and the growing aversion to the increasingly corrupt secular and priestly aristocracy. Such conditions would have increased the certainty that they were in the pre-messianic tribulation period (see Book of Daniel especially) with the manifestation of numerous prophets believed to be mendacious.

Casus belli: the revolt (66)

In 66, the procurator Augusti of Roman Judea, Gessio Floro, demanded that seventeen talents be taken from the Temple and, finding strong opposition from the Jews, sent forward his own soldiers, who caused the deaths of 3,600 people. Later Florus, under the pretext of having a show of loyalty from the Jews, ordered that they welcome two cohorts of the Roman army who were on their way to Jerusalem from Caesarea. The cohorts were ordered to attack the crowd if it insulted Florus, which it did, provoking another action against the people; the cohorts, making use of force to reach the Antonia fortress, the Jerusalem fort near the Temple, were attacked by the people, so Florus, having quelled the agitation, said he would leave Jerusalem to go to Caesarea, leaving a garrison at the Antonia.

Florus, in the presence of the governor of Syria Gaius Cestius Gallus, declared that it was the Jews who had started the riots. After a visit to Jerusalem by Cestius’ inspectors, who agreed with the Jews, the situation seemed to relax, but the more radical Jewish bangs started the war by occupying Masada, exterminating its Roman garrison, while Eleazar ben Simon, priest of the Temple, forbade performing the customary sacrifices on behalf of the Romans and occupied the Temple. Florus sent two thousand horsemen to quell the revolt, which had spread throughout the upper city. The rioters, led by one Menahem, set fire to Roman buildings, while the Temple’s high priest, Ananias, was assassinated outside the city. Menahem was killed in turn when he was joined by Eleazar’s men, and the few escaped followers fled to Masada.

In Caesarea Florus had all the Jews in the city, about ten thousand, killed, a fact that caused the rebellion to spread to all of northern Judea, where Jews and Syrians mercilessly slaughtered each other. More riots broke out in Alexandria, but Tiberius Alexander, governor of the city, quelled them violently. Finally Cestius intervened in person with the 12th legion; starting from Ptolemais he sacked several areas of Judea and, when he reached Seffori, confronted a group of rioters, defeating them. From here he made his way to Jerusalem, where the Feast of Huts was taking place; the rioters won the first confrontation but were defeated in the second, so Cestius was able to conquer some parts of Jerusalem. Because of Cestius’s delay, many Jews came from the surrounding regions to help the rioters and forced him to retreat hastily; a few days later Cestius’s army was almost completely destroyed between Bethoron and Antipatrides, and Cestius was saved with difficulty.

The rioters then gave Eleazar the leadership of the revolt, who organized the defense and management of the various regions, entrusted to his most loyal men. In this period emerges the figure of John of Giscala, leader of a new faction of insurgents, who plots against Joseph ben Matthias (later to become Josephus Flavius) to wrest from him control of Galilee, entrusted to him by Eleazar.


At the beginning of the military campaign (in 67), Vespasian could already count on an impressive army:

The total was thus as many as 60,000 armed men deployed by Vespasian.

End of 66

In 66, when Nero was informed of the defeat suffered in Judea by his legatus Augusti pro praetore of Syria, Gaius Cestius Gallus, seized with great anguish and fear, found that Vespasian alone would be up to the task, and thus capable of conducting such an important war victoriously.

And so Vespasian was charged with the conduct of the war in Judea, which threatened to expand to the entire East. Vespasian, who was in Greece following Nero, sent his son Titus to Alexandria, Egypt, to take over Legio XV Apollinaris, while he himself crossed the Hellespont, reaching Syria by land, where he concentrated Roman forces and numerous auxiliary contingents of client kings (including those of Herod Agrippa II

In Antioch of Syria, Vespasian, concentrated and strengthened the Syriac army (legio X Fretensis), adding two legions (legio V Macedonica and legio XV Apollinaris, which had arrived from Egypt), eight wings of cavalry and ten auxiliary cohorts, while he awaited the arrival of his son Titus, appointed his deputy (Meanwhile, the Jews disastrously besieged Ascalon, still loyal to the Romans, who began the campaign by occupying Seffori.

Year 67

Vespasian moved from Antioch to Ptolemais (winter, early 67). He was met by the inhabitants of Zippori, the largest city in Galilee, who had also proved loyal to Cestius Gallus and who received, for this reason, new Roman armies for their protection (one thousand horsemen and six thousand infantrymen), under the command of the tribunus militum Julius Placidus. The city was in fact considered to be of fundamental strategic importance, apt to guard the entire region.

Julius Placidus, after taking up his position, divided his troops: the foot soldiers were sent into the city, while the horsemen remained in the camp, nearby. He arranged, therefore, to conduct continuous raids into the surrounding enemy territory, in order not to allow them to organize, inflicting heavy human losses on them, as well as devastating all the territories bordering the cities where the Galileans had taken refuge. Josephus, at the head of the rebel Galilean troops, would have liked to retake the city of Zippori, but he himself had previously fortified it, making it impregnable even for the Romans. His incursion caused, however, only an escalation of the war in the region, as the Romans intensified their attacks and continued, both by night and day, to ravage and pillage their plains, killing all able-bodied men at arms and dragging the weaker ones into slavery.

Meanwhile, Titus, son of Vespasian, joined his father at Ptolemais, coming from Alexandria and bringing with him legio XV Apollinaris (winter, early 67), as well as several contingents provided by other local kings. The Roman army turned out to consist of three legions and eighteen auxiliary cohorts, to which were added five more cohorts and a cavalry wing (from Maritime Caesarea), as well as five cavalry wings from Syria. Added to all this were 15,000 armed men of the “client” kings, Antiochus IV of Commagene, Herod Agrippa II, Gaius Julius Soaemo, and Malchus II king of the Nabataeans. This was a massive army of 60,000 armed men.

Vespasian, together with Titus, stayed in Ptolemais for some time to complete the preparation of the army, while Placidus continued with his raids throughout Galilee, putting most of the prisoners to death. Seeing then that those capable of fighting always succeeded in taking refuge in the cities fortified by Josephus, Placidus decided to march against the best-defended one, Iotapata, believing that he could occupy it, thus gaining fame and glory for himself before his commanders, as well as inducing the other cities to surrender once the strongest had fallen. But his calculations proved wrong. The Iotapathians, in fact, having been informed of his arrival, preferred to wait for him in front of the city walls, and as soon as the Romans arrived in the vicinity, they hurled themselves vehemently, exploiting the element of surprise. And since the iotapathens turned out to be more numerous, as well as determined to protect their endangered city, their wives and children, they were able to defeat them quickly, so much so that Placidus, seeing that he was too weak to assault the city, preferred to retreat.

So it was that Vespasian decided to invade Galilee himself, marching his troops out of Ptolemais in good order. When he reached the borders of Galilee, he set up camp, keeping his soldiers in check, eager to fight, but putting his forces on display to frighten his enemies, with the hope that they would change their minds and give up the war. Josephus, who was encamped not far from Seffori (at Garis), seeing that the terror the Romans were instilling in his own had generated many defections, with the few who remained took refuge in Tiberias.

The military campaign continued. Vespasian conquered at the first assault the city of Gabara, which had been left without good men for its defense. Meanwhile, Josephus, having arrived in Tiberias, decided to write to the rulers in Jerusalem, trying to set out the situation as objectively as possible. In case they had decided to come to terms with the Romans, they would inform him as quickly as possible; in case they had decided to continue the war, they would send him adequate reinforcements so that he could stop the Roman advance.

And while Josephus was waiting to hear back from the Judean rulers, Vespasian continued his advance in the direction of Iotapata, a well-fortified city stocked with provisions.

Here he met fierce resistance and received a foot wound, but eventually Iotapata fell: the dead numbered 40,000 and the survivors 1,200, including the commander of the stronghold, Joseph ben Matthias. In June 67, Legio V Macedonica, under the command of Sextus Vettulenus Ceriale, was sent to Mount Garizim to suppress a Samaritan rebellion, while Vespasian’s legate Marcus Ulpius Trajan conquered Iafa, killing 12,000 defenders.

When the news of the fall of Iotapata reached Jerusalem, it generated in the Jews not only great sorrow for the victims who had fallen in the long siege but also fright at the Romans and anger against Josephus, who according to some eyewitnesses who had escaped the massacre, was not as dead as initially believed.

On the fourth day of the month of Panemus (present-day June), Vespasian arrived with his army at Ptolemais and then from there to Caesarea Marittima, one of the largest cities in Judea, where the inhabitants were mostly Greeks. They welcomed the Roman army with great demonstrations of jubilation, because of their sympathy for the Romans, but even more in hatred of the vanquished, so much so that they clamored for Josephus’ death. Vespasian, however, paid them no mind and dropped their demand into thin air. Soon after, the Roman commander wintered the legions V Macedonica and X Fretensis in Caesarea, while XV Apollinaris sent it to Scythopolis so as not to burden Caesarea with the whole army.

During the winter the Jews had gathered and taken refuge in Joppe (present-day Jaffa), which was destroyed in 66 by Gaius Cestius Gallus. The city was rebuilt and became the base for the Jews’ many piracy actions in the following period, but the Romans conquered it by taking advantage of a storm that had destroyed the pirate fleet. Soon after, Herod Agrippa II invited the Roman commander with his army to restore order through their help in some territories that had turned against him. Vespasian then moved from Caesarea Marittima and reached Caesarea Philippi. Here he spent twenty days, where he rested his army, entertaining himself at numerous feasts and making offerings to the gods for the successes achieved up to that point. When, however, it was reported to him that Tiberias was already thinking of rebelling against Roman power and that Tarichee had already risen up (both were part of Agrippa’s kingdom), Vespasian prepared to undertake a punitive expedition against these two cities, partly to thank Agrippa for having welcomed him. He decided, therefore, to send his son Titus to Caesarea Marittima with the charge of bringing new forces from there to Scythopolis (the largest city in the Decapolis, not far from Tiberias). He then marched himself to this city to rejoin his son and, together with the usual three legions, encamped thirty stadia from Tiberias at Sennabris. Shortly afterwards he sent the decurion Valerian with fifty horsemen to make peace overtures to the inhabitants, trying to persuade them to negotiate, having learned from other sources that the people were eager for peace, forced into war only by a minority. When Valerian arrived in the vicinity of the walls, he dismounted from his horse with his men, not wanting to appear as the one coming to attack the city. Before parliamentary action began, a group of troublemakers among the rebels were immediately upon him, arms drawn. They were led by a certain Jesus, son of Safat, who was at the head of that band of brigands. Valerian, deeming it imprudent to attack battle, moreover in contravention of what his commander had arranged, preferred to flee on foot with his armed men, leaving the enemy to seize his horses, which Jesus’ men carried, soon after, triumphantly into the city.

Concerned by this, the elders and notables rushed into the Roman camp and, asking their king Agrippa for help, threw themselves at the feet of Vespasian in supplication, begging him to forgive the city’s population and not to think that the folly of a few was shared by the entire city. They proposed that the Roman commander punish those responsible for the revolt. To these prayers the general listened to them, also seeing how much the city mattered to Agrippa. Having obtained these assurances for the people, the men of Jesus saw fit that it was no longer prudent to remain in Tiberias and fled to Tarichee. The following day Vespasian sent the legatus legionis Marcus Ulpius Trajan with a mounted contingent to the heights to see if indeed the people harbored feelings of peace. When he was told that everyone agreed with those who had come to plead with him, he marched with the army and advanced toward the city. The inhabitants threw open their gates and came to him jubilantly, acclaiming him their savior. Vespasian gave orders to refrain from looting and acts of violence, and, to please the allied king, he spared the city walls, as Agrippa vouched for the loyalty of the inhabitants.

Vespasian then continued on his march and set up camp between Tiberias and Tarichee, fortifying it more than planned in anticipation of the future siege. Much of the mass of insurgents had gathered in Tarichee, relying on the city’s fortifications and the nearby Lake Gennesar. Before long Tarichee was conquered by Titus, who pursued and destroyed the defenders who fled on rafts into the Sea of Galilee. Meanwhile, Vespasian, who had occupied Tiberias, arranged to sell 30,400 slaves made from the city of Tarichee. He then sent six thousand slaves to Nero to cut a canal in the Isthmus of Corinth.

The Galileans who still remained rebellious to Rome, after the expulsion of Iotapata and the defeat of Tarichee, accepted submission to the Roman commander, who arranged to occupy all their fortresses. Only the cities of Giscala and the forces that had occupied Mount Tabor remained rebellious. The city of Gamala, located on the opposite side of the lake from Tarichee and belonging to Agrippa’s assigned territory, also sided with them, as did the cities of Sogane and Seleucia (near Lake Semeconitide), both cities in Gaulantide. And if the inhabitants of Sogane and Seleucia, Agrippa had managed to convince them to come to terms from the very beginning of the revolt, Gamala had never submitted, relying, even more than Iotapata, on its natural defenses. Vespasian, while leading the harsh siege against Gamala, sent his own tribunus militum Julius Placidus to conquer Tabor, which he did with ease. The siege of Gamala proved very difficult because of the extremely advantageous position of the city and the resistance of its inhabitants, but after numerous assaults the Romans prevailed, and the slaughter that followed the taking of the city was survived by only two women out of more than nine thousand inhabitants.

Not subservient to Roman power remained only Giscala, a small town in Galilee, where its inhabitants, though peaceful, being mostly peasants intent only on their harvest work, had been ruined by the arrival of a band of brigands, who had persuaded them to resist Rome. They were commanded by a certain John, son of a certain Levi, described by Josephus Flavius as “a devious charlatan.” Against them, Vespasian sent his son Titus with 1,000 horsemen, while legio X Fretensis was sent to Scythopolis and the other two legions (legio V Macedonica and legio XV Apollinaris) returned to Caesarea Maritima, to set up winter quarters (hiberna) there and give the soldiers a well-deserved rest in preparation for future military actions. Vespasian knew that he was left with a difficult task of securing the surrender of Jerusalem, since it was not only the city of kings as well as the most important of the entire Jewish people, but also because large forces were gathering there from among all those who had fled the war. This city was in a favorable strategic position, not only because of the nature of the place, but also because of the imposing defensive works and the tenacious and courageous nature of its inhabitants. For these reasons, he duly prepared his soldiers for the entire winter, as if they were “athletes preparing for a race.”

Meanwhile, Titus, having arrived with his horsemen in front of Giscala, could have stormed it, needlessly exterminating the population of that small town. He preferred, now satiated with slaughter and pitying the population that would be forced to follow the rebels, to come to terms. He argued to the inhabitants that he wondered with wonder how they could think of resisting, the Romans having occupied every surrounding town and resisting, now, only them to the Roman legions. He reminded them that much larger cities with greater defensive works had been besieged and then occupied, while those who had allied themselves with Rome could now quietly enjoy their possessions. This was what he wanted to offer the inhabitants of Giscala, avoiding the need to punish them, arguing that:

In the unfortunate event that they did not give in to Titus’ offers of peace and clemency, they would be assaulted and realize the Roman ruthlessness and the ease with which Roman war machines would demolish their walls. John himself responded by saying that he adhered to the Roman commander’s proposals and would make the inhabitants accept them. He had to let that day pass, however, which was on the Sabbath, when according to Judean law, one could neither fight nor negotiate peace. Titus agreed and camped at Cidasa, while John prepared to flee, worried that he would be captured as soon as the city fell.

The next night John managed to escape toward Jerusalem together with his armed men and also several commoners with their families, who, however, during the difficult march fell behind and perished “in the struggle to get ahead of the others.” It was mostly women and children who met a pitiful end. The next day Titus appeared before the walls to conclude the negotiations. The citizens then opened their doors wide to him and recognized him as their benefactor and liberator of the city, informing him of John’s escape and asking for clemency for the citizens, not instead of the few revolutionaries still remaining in the city. Titus, deeming their demands to be of secondary importance at the time, sent a portion of the cavalry in pursuit of John, who once again managed to escape capture, eventually reaching Jerusalem. The Romans killed as many as 6,000 of his fellow escapees, while they surrounded and brought back just under 3,000 women and children. The Roman commander, certainly displeased with John’s escape, seemed to be pleased with the large number of prisoners and killings. He arranged, therefore, to have his soldiers tear down a section of the walls as a sign of taking possession and struck down the city’s agitators mainly with threats, to avoid involving any innocents in the punishment. Eventually Titus established a garrison there to prevent them from rebelling again. Thus the subjugation of Galilee was completed, in preparation for the final attack on Jerusalem the following year.

In the meantime John reached Jerusalem, where a huge crowd came to listen to him to learn what the progress of the war was. John knew that it would be useless to expose themselves to grave risks for Giscala alone or for other and insignificant cities, while, on the contrary, it was necessary to concentrate, with all their strength and arms, on the defense of the capital. John, without fearing judgment for those he had abandoned, went around inciting the people to war, making them believe that they had hopes of victory, presenting the Romans’ position as weak, instead extolling their own strength, claiming that “not even if they had put on wings, the Romans could never have overcome the walls of Jerusalem.”

And while Titus was returning to Caesarea Marittima, the revolt in Jerusalem was taking its start from the people of the countryside. At the same time Vespasian went to Iamnia and Nitrogen, subdued them and placed a garrison there, and then returned to Caesarea with a large number of Jews who had come to terms. There was then great confusion among the Jews: as soon as they obtained truce from the Romans, they fought among themselves, some in favor of peace and some in favor of war. It also happened that some gang leaders, now satiated with plundering the land, gathered together in a large army made up of brigands and managed to penetrate Jerusalem. The city did not, in fact, possess its own military command and, by tradition, was unreservedly open to every Jew, especially at that time, when people arrived driven by the desire to find in the capital a common defense. This was also the cause of the city’s ruin, as that useless and idle mass consumed all the food reserves that could have sustained the fighters, drawing internal riots and starvation on the city in addition to war. Coming from the countryside, other brigands finally entered the city, who, joining those already present, did not limit themselves to theft and robbery, but also to murder beginning with the most eminent people. They began by imprisoning Antipas, one of the members of the royal family, who had been entrusted with the public treasury; then it was the turn of Levia, one of the notables, and Syphas son of Aregetes, also of royal lineage, in addition to all those who held important positions. Many of these were then put to death to prevent their numerous lineages from retaliating and the people from rising up against such iniquity. They had succeeded in countering the power and ancient traditions of the high priests. They called themselves Zealots and made the great Temple their headquarters. But this did not last long, as the people, incited by Gorion son of Joseph, Simeon son of Gamaliel, and the most influential of the high priests (including Jesus son of Gamaliel and Ananus son of Ananus), rose up against their tyranny. This led to the inevitable clash between the more numerous people of Jerusalem and the better trained and armed Zealots.

Josephus Flavius relates that the subsequent events saw the people of Jerusalem, placed under the high command of the high priest Ananus, call for help from the Romans (or perhaps it was just a rumor put into circulation by John of Giscala), while the Zealots, called for help from the Idumeans, who were able to muster as many as 20,000 armed men, under the command of John, James son of Sosa, Simon son of Tacea, and Phineas son of Clusoth. And so, once the Idumeans arrived, the Zealots found themselves besieged by the people of Jerusalem, who in turn were besieged by the Idumeans. The latter, as night fell and thanks to a providential thunderstorm, managed to sneak inside the city walls, reaching the great Temple, where the Zealots awaited them. Together they rushed through the streets of Jerusalem, ready to slaughter the population. The ensuing battle saw the people initially succeed in repelling the foreign allied forces, but then tragically succumb to the better military preparedness of the two allies.

Josephus Flavius again tells of the terrible massacre that followed:

And after this massacre, the Idumeans, regretting having been involved in this way by the Zealots, fearing moreover the reaction of the Romans, preferred to set at liberty about two thousand imprisoned citizens, who promptly fled from the city reaching Simon, while, soon after, they withdrew from Jerusalem returning to their territories. Their departure did not, however, produce a cessation of hostilities between the people and the Zealots, who, on the contrary, continued to commit terrible crimes with lightning speed. Their victims were mostly brave and noble men.

Year 68

And while these things were going on in Jerusalem, many Roman officers, considering the dissension that had broken out among the enemies as unexpected good fortune, were in favor of marching on the city, inciting their commander-in-chief, Vespasian, to intervene as quickly as possible. But Vespasian replied that, these were not the arguments to be made, for if he moved against the city at once, he would induce the two Jewish factions to come to an agreement and conciliate; otherwise, if he knew how to wait, he would find them reduced in numbers because of the civil war. This is what Vespasian told his officers:

And so, as the enemy ranks thinned, Vespasian would have been able to use a stronger army because of the opportunity to be able to avoid fighting and, thus, unnecessary fatigue. The Jews, in fact, were not trying to manufacture new weapons or consolidate their walls or gather allies, so much so that a postponement of the clash, in that case, would have been detrimental to the Romans, but, consumed by civil war and discord, they were suffering greater losses on a daily basis than the Romans could have inflicted on them. It was convenient, therefore, to let them exterminate each other. The officers eventually recognized the validity of Vespasian’s arguments, not least because large numbers of deserters began arriving daily, evading the Zealots’ vigilance at great inconvenience and risk.

Meanwhile John, aspired to absolute dominance among the Zealots, impatient as he was to have equal dignity with his peers. He always contravened the orders issued by others, while he became inflexible and demanded absolute compliance with those issued by himself. While he managed to gain the sympathy of many, there remained a large number of those hostile to him, who feared John might establish his own monarchical regime once he seized power. And so John began to behave like an enemy king toward his opponents, albeit not openly. On the contrary, the two factions limited themselves to mutual control. Their rivalry vented itself on the people, almost competing to see who could harass them the most, so much so that the people if they could have chosen the lesser of two evils, between war, oppression and factional fighting, would certainly have chosen war. This led on the part of many to seek refuge with foreign peoples, including the Romans.

Fate did not seem to smile on the Jews. Not far from Jerusalem was a fortified fortress, named Masada, built by King Herod the Great between 37 and 31 B.C. to hide his treasures there, sheltered in case of war. This fortress was occupied by a band called the Sicarii, who until then had limited themselves to plundering the neighboring territory, stealing only the bare essentials to live on, as fear contained their desire to extend their robberies. However, when they learned that the Roman army was not moving and that Jerusalem was being torn apart by civil war, they decided to take wider-ranging action.

On the day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which the Jews celebrated in remembrance of the liberation from slavery in Egypt, raiders from Masada stormed a town named Engadde, carrying out a terrible massacre, where as many as seven hundred women and children lost their lives. They then emptied the houses and seized the ripest agricultural produce, transporting all the loot to Masada. Then it was the turn of many other villages in the vicinity of the fortress, which were stormed, as the ranks of these brigands swelled with the continued arrival of all kinds of scum. This also provoked in other regions of Judea the rise of many other gangs, which up to that time had remained quiet. And so the civil war made it possible for the brigands to carry out all kinds of robbery or pillage with great speed, without anyone being able to stop or punish them. Indeed, there was no territory in Judea that had not been devastated, as was, for other reasons, that of its capital, Jerusalem.

Of this situation Vespasian was informed by the deserters, who often took refuge with the Romans, inciting them to move to succor Jerusalem. Thus it was that Vespasian set out, rather than to besiege the city, to free it from the siege of the Zealots. First, however, it was necessary to subdue the rest of the country, without letting any city stand in the way of the siege. Arriving in front of Gadara, the capital of Perea, on the fourth day of the month of Distro (the present month of February), he entered the city, after the notables, desirous of peace, had surrendered, letting the negotiations with the Romans remain secret from their opponents. The latter, having learned when there would now be no hope of being able to take control of the city, decided to flee, not without taking revenge by killing those responsible for the agreement. They captured, therefore, Doleso, first among the citizens in dignity and nobility and the inspirer of the negotiations, and killed him, making havoc of the corpse. When the Roman army arrived, therefore, the people of Gadara welcomed Vespasian with joyous acclamations, obtaining from the Roman commander sufficient guarantees and an adequate garrison of horsemen and foot soldiers to defend the city. Josephus Flavius adds that the city walls, were torn down by the citizens themselves, even before the Romans asked for it, thus confirming their desire for peace.

Against the rebels who had fled Gadara, Vespasian sent Julius Placidus with 500 horsemen and 3,000 infantrymen, while he himself with the rest of the troops returned to Caesarea Marittima. The fugitives were intercepted shortly thereafter near a village named Bethennabris and attacked by Roman troops, who managed to penetrate inside the village, sacking, burning and putting to flight, not only the rebels but also the inhabitants of the small town, who took the road to Jericho. Placidus, emboldened by his previous success, began the pursuit as far as the Jordan River, near which he carried out a veritable massacre, where as many as 15,000 Jews lost their lives. The prisoners, on the other hand, amounted to 2,200. The Roman tribune, taking advantage of his success, turned against the nearby towns and villages. He occupied, therefore, Abila, Julias, Besimoth and many others as far as Lake Asphaltite, then placed in each of these a garrison consisting of the most trusted deserters. He finally embarked the men and captured those who had taken refuge on the lake. Thus all of Perea as far as Macherunte was placed under Roman rule.

Meanwhile, rumors arrived about the revolt in Gaul, which saw Vindice together with the notables of his people rising up against Emperor Nero. These reports, according to what Josephus Flavius tells us, prompted Vespasian to speed up war operations, as he foresaw a new civil war on the horizon. He, in fact, as long as the winter lasted, placed within each village a garrison headed by a decurion (ten men) and within each town a centurion (one hundred men), for the maintenance of order. In addition to this he proceeded to rebuild many places previously devastated by war.

When spring came, he gathered most of the army and led it from Caesarea to Antipatrides. Here he spent two days arranging the last things, then on the third day continued the march ravaging the entire surrounding territory. Having then subdued the environs of the toparchy of Thamna, he advanced toward Lydda and Iamnia, both of which had been subdued earlier, and then moved into the territory of Emmaus. He built an encampment, where he stationed Legio V Macedonica, while with the rest of the forces he advanced into the toparchy of Bethleptenfa, ravaging its territories along with the extreme edges of Idumea. Here, too, he placed garrisons in the most strategically valuable places. He occupied the two most central villages of Idumea, Bethabris and Caperrob (not far from Hebron), where he killed more than 10,000 men, taking more than 1,000 prisoners, forcing the others to flee. Here he placed two garrisons that could control the surrounding territories and the nearby mountainous region, with continuous attacks. With the rest of the army he returned to Emmaus, from where, through Samaria and the city of (Flavia) Neapolis (called Mabartha by the locals), he descended to Corea (east of Nablus), setting up camp there on the second day of the month of Desius (present-day May). The next day he reached Jericho, where he reunited his forces with the legatus legionis Trajan, who came from Perea, since by then the territory beyond the Jordan River was subdued. Most of the population had fled Jericho to the mountains near Jerusalem. All those, however, who remained behind were exterminated, while the city on the arrival of the Romans was deserted.

Vespasian now preparing to attack Jerusalem from all sides, set his camps at both Jericho and Adida, placing both Roman and allied troops there. He sent, therefore, against Jerash, Lucius Annius together with a contingent of cavalry and numerous foot soldiers, who attacked the city, killing a thousand young men, taking women and children prisoners, and allowing the soldiers to plunder everything. Set fire to dwellings, he carried out other acts of devastation on nearby villages. Meanwhile in Jerusalem, its inhabitants saw all exit routes blocked, as those on the Roman side were unable to escape the city because of the Zealots’ surveillance, while those who were not pro-Roman faced the imminent arrival of Roman legions ready to lay siege to the city.

And as Vespasian was preparing to march with all his forces against Jerusalem, having returned once more to Caesarea, news reached him that Nero had taken his own life, after a reign of thirteen years, eight months, and eight days. The Roman commander then preferred to postpone his march on Jerusalem, waiting to learn who had been acclaimed emperor. When he learned that Galba had been elected, he preferred to remain in Caesarea, waiting to receive instructions about the war. He thus decided to send his own son, Titus, to pay homage to him and to get instructions about the war in Judea. Accompanying Titus was King Agrippa. And while these were crossing overland into Achaia, news came of the killing of Galba (after only seven months and seven days of his reign), and the acclamation as emperor of his rival Oton. And if Agrippa decided to continue on to Rome, without worrying about the intervening change, Titus, by divine inspiration, returned to Syria, joining his father in Caesarea. Not knowing what to do, given the outbreak of civil war, they preferred to suspend military operations against the Jews, waiting to know what the developments in Rome would be.

At the same time, Josephus Flavius relates that a new misfortune was coming upon Jerusalem. There was a certain Simon, the son of Ghiora, a native of Gerasa, a young man who in cunning was second only to John of Giscala, who, as seen above, held sway in the city. He was, however, superior in strength and boldness. Removed by the high priest Ananus from the toparchy of Acrabatene, he had joined the brigands who occupied Masada. Here he grew in esteem and in time was allowed to participate in their raids, which devastated the surrounding territories. Unsuccessful in persuading the brigands to take wider action, he preferred with a faithful few to retreat among the mountains and, promising freedom to the slaves and rewards to the freemen, gathered from all sides a great mass of brigands. The army he gathered went, in time, gradually increasing, encompassing even ordinary citizens and exercising power over them as if he were their ruler; while his range of action expanded at the same rate, bringing devastation not only on the toparchy of Acrabatene, but also on all the territories as far as Idumea, which in the following months he placed under his rule. It was evident to all that he trained his men with the sole objective of attacking and occupying Jerusalem itself.

Year 69

A revolt broke out in Jerusalem among John of Giscala’s forces, where all the Idumeans rose up, envious of the tyrant’s power and killed a large number of Zealots, forcing the latter to take refuge in the royal palace. But even from here they were driven to the temple, then giving themselves over to looting the treasures of John, who had inhabited the palace. The Zealots, including those who were in the city at the time of the attack, gathered in the temple, ready to strike the people and the Idumeans. But these gathered in council with the high priests to determine how to defend themselves against the impending Zealot blind fury. They resorted to a remedy that proved worse than the condition they were already in: to get rid of John they decided to bring in Simon bar Giora. The high priest Matthias was sent asking Simon to enter the city. Simon agreed and made his entry, as if he were the city’s liberator from the Zealots, hailed by the people as if he were their savior and protector. When he was then inside with his army he thought of nothing but his own power, considering all those who had invited him to enter, on a par with those against whom he was to fight. Thus on the month of Xanthicus (present-day March) in the third year of the war, Simon became lord of Jerusalem, while John and the Zealots, forced to barricade themselves in the temple, began to fear for their fate.

And while Vespasian had remained virtually inactive during the second part of the year 68, waiting to better understand what the developments in the civil war in Rome were (which saw alternating after Galba’s death on January 15, 69, first Oton and then from April 16 Vitellius alone), he learned that Simon bar Giora, with his 40,000 armed men, had besieged and then occupied Jerusalem itself.

Vespasian, then, on the fifth of the month of Desius (early May), set out from Caesarea aiming to occupy the remaining unsubdued territories of Judea. He first subjugated the two toparishes of Gophna and Acrabetta, then the towns of Bethela and Ephraim, where he placed a garrison, finally pushing on with cavalry alone as far as Jerusalem on patrol, everywhere making great slaughter and capturing numerous prisoners. In the meantime Sextus Vettulenus Ceriale, legatus legionis of Legio V Macedonica, at the command of horsemen and foot soldiers, ravaged the region of Upper Idumea, where he occupied and set fire to the city of Cafethra; next he attacked Caperabis, laying siege to it, but the inhabitants made things easier for him than expected, opening the gates and advancing with olive branches, making an act of submission; he aimed, finally, at the city of Hebron, and forcibly penetrated it, exterminating all the young men he found and setting fire to the houses. Still remaining free were the cities or fortresses of Erodion, Masada, and Macherunte, which were now in the hands of brigands. Vespasian’s goal was now clear: he was aiming straight at Jerusalem.

Returning, once again to Caesarea, after devastating the region near Jerusalem, he received news of the chaotic situation in Rome and Vitellius’ acclamation as emperor. And although Vespasian was good at both obeying and commanding, he was outraged at how Vitellius had seized power in Rome. Plagued by so many and such thoughts about what to do, he could not think about the war he was waging against the Jews. The officials, moreover, incited him to seize power and accept acclamation as emperor, arguing that:

The soldiers all gathered together and, taking courage from one another, acclaimed Vespasian their emperor, begging him to save the Res publica. At his initial refusal, as Josephus Flavius tells us, it seems that even the generals began to insist, as the soldiers approached him with swords in their fists, as if laying siege to him, they began to threaten to kill him if he did not agree. And if Vespasian at first expounded his reasons for refusing the imperial purple, eventually failing to convince them, he accepted acclamation as imperator.

Vespasian, who considered it of paramount importance to gain Egypt’s support for his cause, decided to write to Tiberius Alexander, governor of Egypt and Alexandria, informing him that he had been acclaimed imperator by the troops in Judea and that he counted on his cooperation and help. Alexander then, after publicly reading Vespasian’s message, requested that the legions and people swear allegiance to the new emperor (July 1). Thereafter Alexander devoted himself to preparations to welcome Vespasian, as the news spread throughout the Roman East and every city celebrated the happy news, making sacrifices for the new emperor.

Even the legions of Mesia and Pannonia, which had long since shown signs of impatience with Vitellius’ power, eagerly swore their allegiance to Vespasian, who moved from Caesarea to Beritus. Here he was joined by numerous ambassadors from the province of Syria and other eastern provinces who brought him gifts and gratulatory decrees. Mucianus, governor of Syria, also arrived to tribute him with his support and oath of allegiance, along with that of the entire provincial population.

Now that fortune was on his side and indulged all his wishes, Vespasian reflected on the just fate of being made ruler of the world. Among the many omens he received from all quarters predicting his empire, he remembered the words of Josephus, who had dared to call him emperor while Nero was still alive. Knowing that Josephus was still in prison, he summoned Mucianus together with other generals and friends and, after reminding them of his military expertise in the siege of Iotapata, mentioned his predictions, which at the time he had underestimated, but which time and facts had proved to be good and of divine origin.

Having said this, he had Joseph led before him and gave orders to remove his shackles. Titus, who was witnessing the scene at his father’s side, suggested:

Vespasian granted his son’s request and the chain was broken with an axe. Thus Josephus, having received his freedom, was able to enjoy the credit of prophet. The new emperor, after assigning the various commands in the eastern provinces loyal to him and dismissing the ambassadors, moved to Antioch of Syria, where he took advice with his most trusted associates on what to do, believing that it was important to reach Rome as soon as possible. So it was that, once he had entrusted a strong contingent of cavalry and infantry to Mucianus, he sent it to Italy by land, through Cappadocia and Phrygia, since the winter season carried a high risk of shipwreck. At the same time, Antony Prime, commanding the Legio III Gallica stationed in Mesia (of which, according to Josephus Flavius, he was governor at the time), also headed to Italy to confront Vitellius.

The decisive clash between the pro-Vespasian troops and those of the Vitellians took place in northern Italy. Here Antony Prime’s troops defeated Vitellius’ army near Bedriaco. and were able to advance to Rome, where Flavius Sabinus, Vespasian’s brother and son Domitian, awaited them. But because most of the soldiers and people objected to Vitellius relinquishing power, he attacked Flavius Sabinus and put him to death. Vespasian’s young son Domitian, who was with his uncle, managed to escape the massacre. Shortly afterward, the troops of Antony the First, having entered Rome victoriously, found Vitellius in the imperial palaces and led him to the Roman Forum, where he was slaughtered in the streets of Rome after eight months and five days of his reign. On December 21, the day after Antony the First’s troops entered Rome and Vitellius was killed, the Senate proclaimed Vespasian emperor and consul with his son Titus, while his second son Domitian was elected praetor with consular power.

At the same time in Jerusalem, the war between the factions had turned into a three-way struggle as one side split and now fought independently. It is reported that Eleazar son of Simon, who had initially divided the Zealots from the people by allowing them to penetrate the temple, feigning outrage at John’s behavior because he suffered from having to submit to a younger tyrant, broke away from the others and took a number of notables with him, including Judah son of Chelchia, Simon son of Esron and Hezekiah son of Chobaris, as well as a fair number of Zealots. They then took possession of the innermost part of the temple, where they piled up large quantities of provisions to form safe reserves for future clashes. Being then outnumbered by the other factions, they avoided moving from their position. John, on the other hand, while superior in number of armed men, was inferior in position, since he was below Eleazar. The clashes that ensued between the two factions were bloody and relentless, where the temple turned out to be desecrated by the constant slaughter on both sides.

Simon son of Ghiora, whom the people had chosen as their tyrant, hoping for his help, controlled the upper city and part of the lower city. He decided to attack more violently John’s troops, who were also subjected to attacks from above. Indeed, the latter found himself in the situation of having to fight on two fronts; and if he was at a disadvantage against Eleazar’s men because of his inferior position, he was compensated by the advantage of his superior position against Simon’s. And so the civil war raged between the three factions in the city: the men of Eleazar, who occupied the temple and who took it up mainly against John, who stripped the people and fought against Simon, who in turn used other means from the city to fight against his two opponents. The environs of the temple were then destroyed by fire and the city turned into a terrible battlefield, where the flames devoured all the grain, which would prove useful for the next siege against the Romans and which would form an important supply reserve of several years.

John went so far as to employ lumber that was instead intended for sacred uses, to build war machines. These were beams that had come from Lebanon, large and straight. John had them cut to make towers that he placed behind the inner forecourt, facing the western side of the exedra, the only side from which he could make the assault.

Year 70

Meanwhile, Vespasian, who had arrived in Alexandria, was reached by the news that Vitellius had died and that the Senate and people of Rome had proclaimed him emperor (early January 70). Thereupon, numerous ambassadors arrived to congratulate him from all parts of the world that had now become his. Vespasian, anxious to set sail for the capital as soon as the winter was over, settled things in Egypt and dispatched his son Titus with large forces to conquer Jerusalem and end the war in Judea.

Titus moved by land to Nicopolis, which is only twenty stadia from Alexandria, and from here he embarked with the army on warships and sailed up the course of the Nile to the city of Thmuis. From here he continued on foot and encamped near the city of Tanis. Then on the second day he marched to Heracleopolis, on the third to Pelusium where he rested for two days. On the sixth day he passed the mouths of the Nile and, after a day’s march through the desert, set up camp at the shrine of Jupiter Casio, and the next day reached Ostracine. The next stop where he rested was Rinocorura, and from here he continued to Rafia, along the Syrian border. New stop was Gaza, then Ascalon, Jamnia, Joppe, and finally Caesarea Marittima, a place he elected as his headquarters, where he gathered all the troops before departing for Jerusalem.

And while John, hoped to put an end to the other two factions inside Jerusalem, after he had succeeded in building large siege machines to give them the assault, the Romans prepared to reach the Judean capital. Titus, in fact, having gathered with him most of the Roman army, and arranging for all other units to join him in Jerusalem, set out from Caesarea. He had at his orders the three legions, which had fought in Judea with his father in previous years, as well as legio XII Fulminata, which at the beginning of the war, under the command of Gaius Cestius Gallus, had been defeated by the rebel troops and wished, more than any other, to take revenge. He commanded, therefore, the legio V Macedonica to join him by way of Emmaus, the legio X Fretensis to pass through Jericho, while he himself set out with the other two (the XII Fulminata and the XV Apollinaris) and a much larger number of allied troops supplied by the client kings, as well as a good number of Syriac auxiliaries.

The gaps left in the four legions, by those units that Vespasian had sent along with Mucianus to Italy, were filled by troops led by Titus. He had in fact arrived from Alexandria with 2,000 legionaries chosen from the troops stationed in Egypt, in addition to summoning another 3,000 from the Syrian guarinigions along the Euphrates. In his retinue, the most important person in terms of loyalty and ability was Tiberius Alexander, who as governor of Egypt had supported Vespasian’s bid for the imperial purple. He assisted Titus with his advice on how to conduct the war.

Titus led the army in good order, proceeding through Samaria to Gophna (where there was a Roman garrison). After lodging here for a night, he resumed his march and at the end of the day’s march set up camp at the place the Jews call the “Valley of Thorns” near the village named Gabath Saul (meaning Hill of Saul), about thirty stadia from Jerusalem. From here, having chosen 600 horsemen, he proceeded on reconnaissance toward the city, to examine its fortifications and better assess the intentions of the Jews, should they, intimidated at seeing the Roman army, prefer to surrender. Titus had indeed heard, that the people longed for peace, but did not have the courage to rebel against the three factions of brigands in the city.

By now close to the city walls, not far from the so-called “Women’s Towers,” suddenly a very large number of enemies appeared, coming out of the gate facing the monuments of Helen, and wedged themselves in the midst of the Roman cavalry, dividing it into two parts and thus cutting Titus off with a few others. Unable to turn back among his own, because of the large number of enemies that stood in the way, considering that many of his own had fled without knowing anything of the danger that loomed over their commander, he opted for the only chance he had to save himself: he turned his horse and shouting to his comrades to follow him, he launched himself into the midst of the enemies, forcibly opening the passage to reach the bulk of the Roman cavalry. His comrades held tightly to Titus, receiving blows from behind and on the flanks, knowing that their only chance to save themselves was to stick together with their commander, trying not to be surrounded. This was how Titus managed to get to safety, reaching the Roman camp.

Once reached in the night by the legion from Emmaus (Legio V Macedonica), the following day, Titus removed the encampment and approached the city further until he reached the locality of Scopos (Mount Scopus), from where it was possible to see the city and the great shining bulk of the Temple: this is a rise that with its slopes reaches the northern part of the city. Here, at the distance of seven stadia from the city, he commanded an encampment to be placed for two legions, while the Macedonian V quartered three stadia behind those, as they were more tired from the night march and deserved more protection. Soon afterwards the fourth legion, Legio X Fretensis, also arrived, coming from Jericho, where some vexillationes had been left to guard the passes previously occupied by Vespasian. The latter legion was ordered to encamp six stadia from Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, which faces the eastern part of the city, from which a deep ravine called Cedron (Cedron Valley) divides it.

For the first time, the struggle between the factions within the city, stopped due to the arrival of the Roman army. Watching the construction of the three encampments from the city walls, the Jews laid the foundation for an internal alliance. Hence began the siege of the city. It was March 70. After fifteen days of fighting, on May 25, 70, the Romans took the first of the three walls surrounding Jerusalem, tore it down, and penetrated the Bezeta quarter. Then Titus placed his command in the Gareb and built a wall three meters high and 7,300 meters long all around the city.

Meanwhile, inside the city, Eleazar ben Simon, leader of the Zealots occupying the Temple, let pilgrims into the precinct for Passover, who turned out to actually be followers of John of Gamalah. After a fierce struggle these prevailed, so that only the supporters of John and those of Simon bar Giora (the Sicarii) remained in the city.

A few days later Titus attacked the Antonia fortress and, in order to have easier access to the Temple esplanade, razed it to the ground. Rich rewards were promised to those who made relevant deeds of valor, so much so that it created some extreme episodes of individualism. The Temple’s turn came: Titus initially promised the defenders that he would not touch the Temple (although the fourth-fifth-century historian Sulpicius Severus argues otherwise) but, because of the constant affronts he received, he set fire to the Temple on August 9, 70, and the banner of the legionaries was raised over the Eastern Gate. Sextus Julius Frontinus records that the last defensive bulwark of the Jews was defeated during the Jewish holiday of Shabbat. On this occasion Titus was proclaimed imperator, and he was granted triumph in Rome, where in 71 he paraded 700 prisoners, Simon, John and the Temple furnishings.

Josephus Flavius relates that at the end of the siege, the total number of prisoners captured during the entire war was 97,000, the dead amounting to 1,100,000. Most were Jews, not from Jerusalem, who had come from all parts of the country for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the overcrowding generated first pestilence and then the scourge of starvation. The number of victims turned out to be greater than in any other extermination before that time, according to Josephus Flavius. John, leader of one of the rebel factions, who was destroyed by starvation in the dungeon together with his brothers, insistently asked to be granted a pardon, which had been refused several times in the past, while Simon (leader of another rebel faction) surrendered after a long struggle. The latter was given the death penalty after parading in triumph in Rome; John, on the other hand, was sentenced to life imprisonment. Finally, the Romans burned down to the outskirts of the city and tore down the entire circle of walls in Jerusalem.

When the siege was over, Titus arranged that, with the exception of legio X Fretensis, which he left to garrison Jerusalem, the rest of the army should be sent to the established locations. Legio XII Fulminata was removed from Syria and, while previously encamped at Raphana, he sent it to the city called Melitene positioned near the Euphrates, along the border between the kingdom of Armenia and the province of Cappadocia. The other two legions, Legio V Macedonica and Legio XV Apollinaris, followed him to Egypt. Then he marched with his army to Caesarea Marittima, where he secured the enormous booty and placed the great mass of prisoners under guard, partly because winter prevented him from taking the sea to Italy.

He departed from Caesarea by the sea and moved to Caesarea Philippi, where he stayed for a long time, offering the people all kinds of spectacles. Here many of the prisoners found death: some thrown to the beasts, others forced to fight each other in groups. Then Titus was joined by the news that Simon son of Ghiora had also finally been captured. With the capture of Simon, the Romans in the following days discovered a large number of other rebels in the underground tunnels of Jerusalem. When Caesar returned to Caesarea Marittima, Simon was brought to him in chains, and Caesar gave orders to reserve him for the triumph he would soon celebrate in Rome.

While in this city, Titus celebrated the birthday of his brother Domitian, who was in Rome (Oct. 24, 70), by initiating a series of spectacles in which more than 2,500 Jews perished, either in fighting against the beasts, dueling with each other or even being burned alive. Then Titus Caesar moved to Berytus (a Roman colony in Phoenicia, whose full name was colonia Iulia Augusta Felix Berytus), and stayed there for a longer period, celebrating his father Vespasian’s birthday (November 17, 70) with greater sumptuousness, and putting to death many other prisoners on this occasion as well, in addition to granting new liberalities. And also during this period it happened that the surviving Jews of Antioch of Syria were unjustly blamed, running the danger of being exterminated by the Antiochians themselves, partly because of an earlier episode in 67, which had generated discontent among the city’s population.

Year 71

Titus Caesar, after staying in Berito for a while (winter of 70

Then the Antiochens made a second request, that they remove the bronze tablets where the rights of the Jews were contained. And this time, too, Titus denied them this concession and went on to Egypt. He passed through Jerusalem again and, comparing that sad vision of desolation to the ancient splendor of the city, was moved by the devastation. He continued on until he reached Alexandria, Egypt. Here, before embarking for Italy, he sent the two legions that had accompanied him, Legio V Macedonica in Mesia and Legio XV Apollinaris in Pannonia, to their places of origin. As for the prisoners, he arranged to send immediately to Italy the two leaders, Simon and John, along with 700 others, chosen for stature and physical prowess, to drag them in chains in triumph. The sea voyage was a happy one, and Rome gave him an enthusiastic welcome as had happened in the past to his father, Vespasian, who awaited him in the capital with his brother, Domitian. A few days later, Vespasian arranged to celebrate a single triumph, although the senate had decreed one for each. Once notified of the date of the triumphal ceremony, the immense population of Rome went out to take seats wherever they could stand, leaving only the passageway free for the procession to parade.

Sextus Lucilius Bassus, who had been sent to Judea as legatus Augusti pro praetore, receiving the deliveries from Sextus Vettulenus Ceriale, after taking the fortress of Herodion with the entire garrison, gathered together with the legio X Fretensis also the auxiliary forces that were detached in various forts and blockhouses in the area, and decided to march against Macheronte. It was, in fact, absolutely necessary to conquer this fortress in order to prevent a new revolt. After a brief resistance, the fortress capitulated in Roman hands thanks to a stratagem. A brave young man from Macheronte had been taken prisoner by the Romans. After giving orders to strip him naked and inflict scourging on him, Bassus noticed that the Jews were deeply troubled by the young man’s fate, moaning and groaning over that misfortune. Upon noticing this, the Roman commander wanted to bring their grief to exasperation so as to force them to surrender the fortress in exchange for pardoning the young man, so much so that his hopes were not disappointed:

Having settled these things, Bassus led the army to the forest known as the forest of Iardes, where it seems many of those who had escaped the siege of Jerusalem and the siege of Macheron had gathered. Arriving at the site, he had the cavalry surround the place to prevent the Jews from escaping, while he ordered the infantry to cut down the forest. The Jews were forced to make a valiant move, hoping to break through the Roman forces, but they were surrounded on all sides. They attempted, then, to put up a strenuous resistance, but in the end of the Romans only twelve men died, and few were wounded, while among the Jews all perished, numbering no less than three thousand, including their leader, Judah son of Ari.

And while these events were taking place, the emperor Vespasian ordered Sextus Lucilius Bassus (legatus Augusti pro praetore) and Laberius Maximus, who was the procurator Augusti, to subject the entire territory of Judea to the tenancy-lease regime. The emperor did not establish any cities, arranging that region to be like his own private property. To only 800 soldiers sent on leave he allowed a colony to be established in the locality called Emmaus (30 stadia from Jerusalem). He finally imposed on all Jews, wherever they resided, a tax of two drachmas each to be paid annually to the Capitol, in place of that paid to the temple in Jerusalem (Fiscus iudaicus). This was the arrangement that was given to Judea.

Years 72-73

In the fourth year of Vespasian’s reign (from July 72), Antiochus, king of Commagene, was implicated in such events that he had to renounce the throne of the “client” kingdom of Commagene in favor of Roman annexation. Josephus Flavius relates that the governor of Syria, Lucius Caesenius Peto, we do not know whether in good or bad faith with regard to Antiochus, sent a letter to Vespasian accusing the ruler himself, together with his son Epiphanes, of wanting to rebel against the Romans and of having already made arrangements with the Parthian king. It was necessary to forestall them in order to avoid a war involving the Roman empire.

Having received such a denunciation, the emperor could not disregard it, especially since the city of Samosata, the largest in Commagene, lies on the Euphrates, from where the Parthians could have crossed the river and easily entered within the imperial borders. Thus Peto was authorized to act in the most expedient manner. The Roman commander then, without Antiochus and his men expecting it, invaded Commagene at the head of Legio VI Ferrata together with a number of cohorts and wings of auxiliary cavalry, as well as a contingent of allies of King Aristobulus of Chalkis and Soemo of Emesa.

The invasion took place without a blow, as no one opposed the Roman advance or resisted. Once he learned of the news, Antiochus did not think of waging war against the Romans; on the contrary, he preferred to abandon the kingdom, sneaking away in a chariot with his wife and children. Reaching one hundred and twenty stadia from the city toward the plain, he set up camp.

Meanwhile, Peto sent a detachment to occupy Samosata with a garrison, while with the rest of the army he went in search of Antiochus. The king’s sons, Epiphanes and Callinicus, who were not resigned to losing the kingdom, preferred to take up arms, and attempted to stop the Roman army. The battle raged violently for an entire day; but even after this clash with an uncertain outcome, Antiochus preferred to flee with his wife and daughters to Cilicia. Having abandoned his sons and subjects to their fate generated such a disconcertment in the morale of his troops that in the end the Commageni soldiers preferred to surrender to the Romans. Instead, his son Epiphanes, accompanied by a dozen mounted soldiers, crossed the Euphrates and took refuge with the Parthian king Vologese, who received him with full honors.

Antiochus reached Tarsus in Cilicia, but here he was captured by a centurion sent by Peto to find him. Arrested he was sent to Rome in chains. Vespasian, however, not wanting to see him in that condition, as well as being respectful of the ancient friendship, during the voyage ordered that he be freed from his chains and had him stopped in Sparta. There he granted him substantial annuities in order to be able to maintain a kingly standard of living. When this information reached his son, Epiphanes, who had feared for his father’s fate, felt relieved of a heavy burden and began to hope that he could be reconciled with the emperor. He therefore asked Vologese if he could write to him to plead his own and his brother’s cause. Epiphanes and Callinicus, while being treated well, could not adjust to living outside the Roman empire. Vespasian generously allowed them to move without fear to Rome with their father, who would be treated with every consideration.

The government of Judea was succeeded by Lucius Flavius Silva, since Sextus Lucilius Bassus had died suddenly (in 72). The new governor, having observed that all the rest of the country had been subdued except for a single fortress still in rebel hands, gathered his army from the surrounding region and marched on it. This was Masada. It had been occupied by the Sicarii, who had elected as their leader a certain Eleazar Ben Yair, a powerful man, a descendant of that Judah who had persuaded many Jews to evade the census taken in 6-7 A.D. by Publius Sulpicius Quirinius in Judea.

We know that at that time, the Sicarii hatched a conspiracy against those who were willing to submit to the Romans, fighting them as if they were enemies, looting them of their possessions and livestock, and setting fire to their homes. They claimed there was no difference between them and the foreigners, since they had now resigned themselves to losing their freedom for which the Jews had fought so hard. In fact, while they initially joined the Jews in rebellion, taking an active part in the war against the Romans, they later used terrible atrocities against those who denounced their misdeeds.

The Roman commander moved against Eleazar and his band of assassins occupying Masada, first securing control of the entire surrounding region by establishing garrisons there in the most opportune places. Immediately afterward he erected a wall all around the fortress, so that none of the besieged could escape, and posted sentries there. He then set up camp to conduct the siege operations, where the sheer walls of the fortress turned out to be closest to the nearby mountain, although it turned out to be in an inconvenient position for supplies. For here provisions and water had to be transported from afar, much to the distress of the Jews assigned to this work, since there was not even a spring at the site. Having arranged all this, Silva devoted himself to the siege, requiring great strategic skill and not inconsiderable effort because of the extraordinary solidity of the fortress.

Masada stood on a steep plateau and had abundant supplies of water and food. The Roman siege, undertaken by Lucius Flavius Silva lasted several months. Eventually the Romans, having built an iron-clad tower 30 meters high over a huge embankment, were close to entering the fortress. Realizing the now imminent defeat, the Zealot leader Eleazar Ben Yair, having no intention of escaping or allowing any of his people to do so, imagined what the Romans would do to them, their sons and wives, and considered that the only option for them was collective suicide. Determined to make such a gesture, he managed to convince his men to help him in this sad endeavor, reminding them of the immortality of the soul. Those present then, prompted by Eleazar’s words, in a motto of incitement as invaders, tried one to precede the other to prove their courage and not to be among the last to die, killing wives, children and themselves.

In the end, only two women and five children were saved by hiding in underground tunnels carrying drinking water. The total number of victims was 960, including women and children. The date of the massacre was the fifteenth of the month of Xanthico (March 73).

When the Romans threw themselves into the final attack at dawn, throwing up catwalks to advance from the rampart, they were astonished at the lack of resistance. Once they climbed over the walls they found the fortress desolate and the buildings in flames, not understanding what had really happened. Eventually the two women came out of hiding and told the Romans all the details of what had happened. The Romans, who were incredulous before such fortitude, when they saw that immense expanse of corpses, felt not exultation at having annihilated the enemy, but admiration for the noble deed. Having occupied the fortress of Masada, the Roman commander, Lucius Flavius Silva left a garrison there, while with the rest of the army he returned to Caesarea Marittima. There was no enemy left in the country. It had been completely subdued in the course of the long war, although many Jews living in other Roman provinces were exposed to the danger of unrest. Indeed, Josephus Flavius relates that some time later many Jews found death in Alexandria, Egypt. Those who had managed to escape the revolt of the sycarii resumed plotting inciting many to undertake the struggle for freedom against the Roman invader. Thwarted by some notables of the Jewish community, they assassinated those who continued to incite the revolt. They were then denounced, guilty of all past disasters and their constant attempt to incite revolt.

And so the Alexandrian populace, in order to show their loyalty to the Romans, considering the gravity of the situation, went on a furious rampage against the sicarii, all of whom were thrown into prison. Six hundred were captured immediately. Those who sought refuge inside Egypt, particularly in Thebes, were arrested and brought back shortly thereafter. But when every form of torture was devised against them so that they would say that they recognized Caesar as their master, no one gave in, not even the youngest. They thus gave proof of extreme courage, enduring the torments and fire with their bodies, so much so that they appeared insensible.

At that time there was governor of Egypt and Alexandria, a certain Tiberius Julius Wolf, who immediately informed Caesar of these first stirrings of revolt. The emperor, fearing new revolutionary tendencies of the Jews and that they would again gather in force, ordered Wolf to destroy the Jewish temple in the so-called district of Onias, which was located 170 stadia (27-30 km) away from Memphis, in the nomo called Heliopolithianus. Wolf then, having received the emperor’s letter, reached the temple and, after removing the votive gifts from it, closed it. Wolf died shortly afterwards (in 73), his successor, Valerius Paulinus, stripped the temple of all votive gifts, forbade entry into the sanctuary to those who wished to perform worship ceremonies, and made the temple completely inaccessible (after 343 years since its construction).

Meanwhile, other hired assassins also infected the cities around Cyrene with their purposes of revolt. Here a certain Jonathan had come, who, after attracting many of the most wretched of the populace, promised them wonders and appearances. Once again the most notable among the Jews of Cyrene reported his plans to Catullus, the governor of the Libyan pentapolis. He sent a body of horsemen and foot soldiers, who soon afterwards got the better of those poor wretches. Many were killed; others were captured and brought before Catullus. Jonathan, at first managed to escape, but then was captured and, dragged before the del governor, devised a way to have his life saved by falsely declaring that it was the richest of the Jews who had forced him to revolt. The governor welcomed these slanders, magnifying the situation and making it much more dramatic than it really was, to make it appear that he was facing a new Jewish war of immense proportions. Worst of all was that Catullus induced Jonathan to denounce a Jew named Alexander, with whom he had once come into collision, putting him to death; shortly afterwards the Roman governor made all the richest Jews, three thousand in number, suffer the same fate, then incorporating their possessions into the imperial treasury. To avoid then being unmasked, he persuaded Jonathan and others, to denounce as conspirators the most important Jewish figures in Alexandria and Rome, including Josephus Flavius himself. Eventually Catullus was unmasked when he came to Rome, bringing Jonathan’s gang with him in chains. Here Vespasian and Titus had suspicions and promoted investigations that led to the groundlessness of the charges against the accused. Jonathan was then, first tortured and then burned alive. Catullus initially suffered a simple rebuke from the two emperors, but not long afterward, stricken with an incurable disease, he died a horrible death.

The immediate effects of the war were the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, a building that would never be rebuilt, and the enslavement of 97,000 Jews, who were dispersed throughout the empire. This was the beginning of the diaspora. After these events and the fall of the Temple priesthood, the Pharisees established themselves religiously in the Jewish world through the work accomplished by Jochanan Ben Zakkai.

Immediate reactions

The vast majority of the news is first-hand, having been provided by the Jewish historian Josephus, who was one of the revolt leaders. He, when the revolt broke out, took an active part by being commissioned to lead the resistance against the Romans in northern Galilee. There, after holding out for 47 days at Iotapata, he surrendered to the troops of Titus and Vespasian. Once before them, he predicted that they would be emperors, which secured their protection; he was released and assumed their praenomen of Flavius. Flavius Josephus will for this reason always be very positive in his judgments toward the two caesars. Flavius ascribes the revolt to the insanity of the rebels, especially the more extreme bangs, without being silent about the misrule of the Roman prefects; but if he is silent about the latter, however, he saves the empire as an institution. The sins of the rebels had caused God to abandon Israel for Rome; God had abandoned the rebels who did not realize the absurdity of pitting themselves against the world power. Josephus states that Daniel had been the greatest of prophets and had predicted the misfortunes of 66-70.

Thus, the conviction of the impermanence of the Roman empire and its identification with the messianic kingdom shines through; what distinguished Josephus from the rebels was the assessment of when the war between good and evil would take place.

Impact on history

The main source available to us to reconstruct the events of the First Jewish War is the Jewish War of Flavius Josephus, a former commander of the Jewish revolt who surrendered to the Roman general Titus at the end of the siege of Iotapata. Josephus later obtained Roman citizenship when Titus became emperor, becoming a historian of Judaism in Rome. Other important sources on the revolt come from Tacitus’s Historiae, Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars, and Frontinus’s Strategemata: while not as detailed as Flavius Josephus, they provide a valuable assessment of the war from the Roman point of view.

A History of the Jewish War was written by the Galilean historian Justus of Tiberias, but it has been lost and survives only in quotations from Flavius Josephus, St. Jerome. Apparently, that work was severely critical of Flavius Josephus’ Jewish War, provoking a harsh response from Josephus in his autobiographical work Life.

Another account of the revolt comes from a fourth-century CE chronicle written in Latin by an anonymous author, formerly identified with Aegesippus and thus known as Pseudo-Egesippus. That work, however, is largely a rewriting of Flavius Josephus’s Jewish War, with notable anti-Jewish and pro-Christian additions, thus making it largely unreliable.


  1. Prima guerra giudaica
  2. First Jewish–Roman War
  3. ^ a b Giuseppe Flavio, La guerra giudaica, III, 1.1.
  4. ^ a b Giuseppe Flavio, La guerra giudaica, III, 1.2.
  5. ^ a b Cassio Dione Cocceiano, Storia romana, LXIII, 22.1a.
  6. ^ a b Giuseppe Flavio, La guerra giudaica, III, 1.3.
  7. ^ a b c d Svetonio, Vita di Vespasiano, 4.
  8. ^ White, Matthew (2012), The Great Big Book of Horrible Things, Norton, p. 52
  9. ^ Grant, R. G. (2017). 1001 Battles That Changed the Course of History. Book Sales. pp. 85–. ISBN 978-0-7858-3553-0.
  10. ^ שטרן, מנחם (1984). ההיסטוריה של ארץ ישראל: התקופה הרומית-ביזנטית – שלטון רומי מהכיבוש ועד מלחמת בן כוסבה (63 לפני הספירה – 135 לספירה) (in Hebrew). בית הוצאה כתר – ירושלים; יד יצחק בן צבי. p. 297.
  11. ^ Josephus, De Bello Judaico (Wars of the Jews), book iv, chapter i, § 1
  12. ^ Cohen, Shaye. “Roman Domination: The Jewish Revolt and the Destruction of the Second Temple” in Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, ed. Hershel Shanks (Prentice Hall, Biblical Archeology Society), 269.
  13. Werner Eck: Herrschaft, Widerstand, Kooperation: Rom und das Judentum in Judaea / Palaestina vor dem 4. Jh. n. Chr. Frankfurt/Main u. a. 2016, S. 32–34.
  14. Peter Schäfer: Geschichte der Juden in der Antike, Tübingen 2010, S. 127.
  15. Peter Schäfer: Geschichte der Juden in der Antike, Tübingen 2010, S. 129.
  16. Peter Schäfer: Geschichte der Juden in der Antike, Tübingen 2010, S. 130 f.
  17. Ιώσηπος Ιστορία του Ιουδαϊκού πολέμου προς Ρωμαίους.Βιβλιο Β ΧIV.2.[277]-[279] σελ 107
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