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Jewish revolt

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Jewish revolt

First Jewish-Roman War
Part of the Jewish-Roman wars

Judaea and Galilee in the first century
Date 66–73 CE
Location Judaea (Roman province)
Result Roman victory, destruction of the Temple
Roman Empire Judean rebels:

Supported by:

Radical factions:
Commanders and leaders
Agrippa II Ananus ben Ananus 
Eliezar ben Hanania 
Yosef ben Matityahu (POW)
Yosef ben Gurion
Simon Bar-Giora
Yohanan of Gush Halav (POW)
Eleazar ben Simon >

Menahem ben Yehuda 
Eleazer ben Ya'ir 

Roman guard (3,000) in early stage
Syrian Legion (30,000) in Beth Horon;
5 Legions (60,000–80,000) at Jerusalem siege
10,000 under Ananus
15,000 under Bar-Giora
500 Adiabene warriors
6,000 under John
2,400 under Eleazar
20,000 Idumeans
Several hundred Sicarii
Casualties and losses
20,000 soldiers killed 25,000-30,000 10,000-20,000
Total killed: 250,000[1] – 1.1[2] million Jewish militants and civilians killed;97,000[2] enslaved

The First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE), sometimes called The Great Revolt (Hebrew: המרד הגדול‎, ha-Mered Ha-Gadol, Latin: Primum Iudæorum Romani Bellum), was the first of three major rebellions by the Jews of Judaea Province (Iudaea) against the Roman Empire. The second was the Kitos War in 115–117, and the third was Bar Kokhba's revolt of 132–135.

The Great Revolt began in the year 66 CE, originating in the Greek and Jewish religious tensions. The crisis escalated due to anti-taxation protests and attacks upon Roman citizens.[3] The Romans responded by plundering the Second Jewish Temple and executing up to 6,000 Jews in Jerusalem, prompting a full-scale rebellion. The Roman military garrison of Judaea was quickly overrun by rebels, while the pro-Roman king Agrippa II, together with Roman officials, fled Jerusalem. As it became clear the rebellion was getting out of control, Cestius Gallus, the legate of Syria, brought in the Syrian army, based on XII Fulminata and reinforced by auxiliary troops, to restore order and quell the revolt. Despite initial advances and conquest of Jaffa, the Syrian Legion was ambushed and defeated by Jewish rebels at the Battle of Beth Horon with 6,000 Romans massacred and the Legion's aquila lost - a result that shocked the Roman leadership.

Later, in Jerusalem, an attempt by Sicarii leader Menahem ben Yehuda to take control of the city failed. He was executed and the remaining of the Sicarii were ejected from the city. A charismatic, but radical peasant leader Simon bar Giora was also expelled by the new Judean government, and Ananus ben Ananus began reinforcing the city. Yosef ben Matityahu was appointed the rebel commander in the Galilee and Elazar ben Hananiya in Edom.

The experienced and unassuming general Vespasian was given the task of crushing the rebellion in Judaea province. His son Titus was appointed as second-in-command. Given four legions and assisted by forces of King Agrippa II Vespasian invaded Galilee in 67. Avoiding a direct attack on the reinforced city of Jerusalem, which was defended by the main rebel force, the Romans launched a persistent campaign of terror to eradicate rebel strongholds and punish the population. Within several months Vespasian and Titus took over the major Jewish strongholds of Galilee and finally overran Jodapatha, which was under the command of Yosef ben Matitiyahu, after a 47 day siege. Driven from Galilee, Zealot rebels and thousands of refugees arrived in Judea, creating political turmoil in Jerusalem. Confrontation between the mainly Sadducee Jerusalemites and the mainly Zealot factions of the Northern Revolt under the command of John of Giscala and Eleazar ben Simon, erupted into bloody violence. With Edomites entering the city and fighting by the side of the Zealots, Ananus ben Ananus was killed and his faction suffered severe casualties. Bar-Giora, commanding 15,000 troops, was then invited into Jerusalem by the Sadducee leaders to stand against the Zealots, and quickly took control over much of the city. Bitter infighting between factions of Bar-Giora, John and Eleazar followed through the year 69.

After a lull in the military operations, owing to civil war and political turmoil in Rome, Vespasian was called to Rome and appointed as Emperor in 69. With Vespasian's departure, Titus moved to besiege the center of rebel resistance in Jerusalem in early 70. The first two walls of Jerusalem were breached within three weeks, but a stubborn rebel standoff prevented the Roman Army from breaking the third and thickest wall. Following a brutal seven-month siege, during which Zealot infighting resulted in burning of the entire food supplies of the city, the Romans finally succeeded in breaching the defenses of the weakened Jewish forces in the summer of 70. Following the fall of Jerusalem, Titus left for Rome, leaving Legion X Fretensis to defeat the remaining Jewish strongholds, finalizing the Roman campaign in Masada in 73 – 74.


Further information: Alexandrian riots, Jacob and Simon uprising and Hellenistic Judaism

Following increasing Roman domination of the Eastern Mediterranean, the initially semi-independent Herodian dynasty was officially merged into the Roman Empire in the year 6 CE. The transition of the client kingdom into a Roman province brought a great deal of tension and a Jewish uprising by Judas of Galilee erupted as a response to the Census of Quirinius. This revolt was quickly put down by the Romans.

The years 7-26 were relatively calm, but after 37 the province again began to be a source of trouble for Emperor Caligula. The cause of tensions in the east of the Empire was complicated, involving the spread of Greek culture, Roman Law and the rights of Jews in the empire. Caligula did not trust the prefect of Egypt, Aulus Avilius Flaccus. Flaccus had been loyal to Tiberius, had conspired against Caligula's mother and had connections with Egyptian separatists.[4] In 38, Caligula sent Agrippa to Alexandria unannounced to check on Flaccus.[5] According to Philo, the visit was met with jeers from the Greek population, who saw Agrippa as the king of the Jews.[6] Flaccus tried to placate both the Greek population and Caligula by having statues of the emperor placed in Jewish synagogues.[7]

As a result, extensive religious riots broke out in the city.[8] Caligula responded by removing Flaccus from his position and executing him.[9] In 39, Agrippa accused Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, of planning a rebellion against Roman rule with the help of Parthia. Herod Antipas confessed and Caligula exiled him. Agrippa was rewarded with his territories.[10]

Riots again erupted in Alexandria in 40 between Jews and Greeks.[11] Jews were accused of not honoring the emperor.[11] Disputes occurred also in the city of Jamnia.[12] Jews were angered by the erection of a clay altar and destroyed it.[12] In response, Caligula ordered the erection of a statue of himself in the Jewish Temple of Jerusalem,[13] The governor of Syria, Publius Petronius, fearing civil war if the order were carried out, delayed implementing it for nearly a year.[14] Agrippa finally convinced Caligula to reverse the order.[11]

In 46 an insurrection by the Jews broke out in Judeaea province. The Jacob and Simon uprising was instigated by two brothers Jacob and Simon and lasted between 46-48. The revolt, which concentrated in the Galilee, began as sporadic insurgency and in 48 was put down by Roman authorities and both brothers executed.


Outbreak of the rebellion

According to Josephus, the violence which began at Caesarea in 66 was provoked by Greeks sacrificing birds in front of a local synagogue.[15] The Roman garrison did not intervene and the long-standing Hellenistic and Jewish religious tensions took a downward spiral. In reaction, one of the Jewish Temple clerks Eliezar ben Hanania ceased prayers and sacrifices for the Roman Emperor at the Temple. Protests over taxation joined the list of grievances and random attacks on Roman citizens and perceived 'traitors' occurred in Jerusalem. The Jewish Temple was then breached by Roman troops at the order of Roman governor Gessius Florus, having seventeen talents removed from the treasury of the Temple, claiming the money was for the Emperor. In response to this action, the city fell into unrest and some of the Jewish population began to openly mock Florus by passing a basket around to collect money as if Florus was poor.[16] Florus reacted to the unrest by sending soldiers into Jerusalem the next day to raid the city and arrest a number of the city leaders, who were later whipped and crucified, despite many of them being Roman citizens.[17] Shortly, outraged Judean nationalist factions took up arms and the Roman military garrison of Jerusalem was quickly overrun by rebels. Fearing the worst, the pro-Roman king Agrippa II and his sister Berenice fled Jerusalem to Galilee. Judean militias later moved upon Roman citizens of Judaea and pro-Roman officials, cleansing the country of any Roman symbols.

In response to the unrest in Judaea, Cestius Gallus, the legate of Syria, assembled the Syrian legion XII Fulminata and auxiliary troops as reinforcements, a total of 30,000 soldiers, in order to restore order in the neighbouring province. Gallus first reached Acre in Western Galilee, and then marched on Caesarea and Jaffa, where he massacred some 8,400 people. The Syrian legion captured Narbata and also took Sipporis, which surrendered with no fight. The Judean rebels, who withdrew from Sipporis, took refuge at Atzmon hill, but were defeated following a short siege. Continuing his military campaign, Gallus took Lydda and Afeq and engaged Jerusalemite rebels in Geva, where he lost 500 Roman troops to Judean rebels under Simon bar Giora, reinforced by ally volunteers from Adiabene.

The Syrian legion then invested Jerusalem, but for uncertain reasons and despite initial gains, withdrew back towards the coast, where it was ambushed and defeated by Judean rebels at the Battle of Beth Horon - a result that shocked the Roman Empire leadership. The defeat of the Romans in Beth Horon is considered one of the worst military defeats of the Roman Empire by a rebel province throughout its history. Some 6,000 Roman troops were killed and many more wounded in the battle, with Legio XII Fulminata losing its aquila, as Gallus abandoned his troops in disarray fleeing to Syria.

The Roman response

Main articles: Siege of Yodfat and Siege of Gamla

Emperor Nero appointed general Vespasian, instead of Gallus to crush the rebellion. Vespasian, along with legions X Fretensis and V Macedonica, landed at Ptolemais in April 67. There he was joined by his son Titus, who arrived from Alexandria at the head of Legio XV Apollinaris, as well as by the armies of various local allies including that of king Agrippa II. Fielding more than 60,000 soldiers, Vespasian began operations by subjugating Galilee.[18] Many towns gave up without a fight, although others had to be taken by force. Of these, Josephus provides detailed accounts of the sieges of Yodfat and Gamla. By the year 68, Jewish resistance in the north had been crushed, and Vespasian made Caesarea Maritima his headquarters and methodically proceeded to cleanse the coastline of the country, avoiding direct confrontation with the rebels at Jerusalem.

Regrouping and civil war

Main article: Zealot Temple Siege

Jews, who were driven out of Galilee rebuilt Joppa (Jaffa), which had been destroyed earlier by Cestius Gallus. Surrounded and cut off by the Romans, they rebuilt the city walls, and used a light flotilla to demoralize commerce and interrupt the grain supply to Rome from Alexandria.[19]

In his The Jewish War Josephus wrote:

They also built themselves a great many piratical ships, and turned pirates upon the seas near to Syria, and Phoenicia, and Egypt, and made those seas unnavigable to all men.[20]

The leaders of the collapsed Northern revolt, John of Giscala and Simon Bar Giora, managed to escape to Jerusalem. Packed with militants of many factions and largely cut off by Roman forces, Jerusalem quickly descended into anarchy, with the radicals taking control of large parts of the fortified city. Brutal civil war then erupted, with the Zealots and the fanatical Sicarii executing anyone advocating surrender, and by 68 the entire leadership of the southern revolt was assassinated in the infighting, some at the notorious Zealot Temple Siege.

New Emperor

While the war in Judea was in progress, great events were occurring in Rome. In the middle of 68, the emperor Nero's increasingly erratic behavior finally lost him all support for his position. The Roman Senate, the Praetorian Guard and several prominent army commanders conspired for his removal. When the senate declared Nero an Enemy of the people, he fled Rome and committed suicide with the help of a secretary. The newly installed emperor, the former Governor of Spain Galba, was murdered after just a few months by Otho - a rival, triggering a civil war that came to be known as the Year of the Four Emperors. In 69, though previously uninvolved, the popular Vespasian was also hailed emperor by the legions under his command. He decided, upon gaining further widespread support, to return to Rome to claim the throne from the usurper Vitellius, Otho having killed himself, leaving his son Titus to finish the war in Judea.

With departure of Vespasian, who had opposed an open siege upon Jerusalem, fearing to lose many troops against the fortified city, Titus advanced Roman legions upon the capital of the rebellious province. Conquering town after town, Titus quickly advanced on the hill country, while the outcry of the brutal suppression created an immense wave of Judean refugees, seeking shelter in fortified Jerusalem. The Judean rebels avoided direct confrontation with the Roman troops, as multiple factions were mostly interested in their own control and survival, rather than Roman defeat. Weakened by the brutal civil war within the city, the victorious Zealot factions could still field a significant number of troops to oppose an immediate Roman conquest of the capital.

Fall of Jerusalem

The siege of Jerusalem, the fortified capital city of the province, quickly turned into a stalemate. Unable to breach the city's defenses, the Roman armies established a permanent camp just outside the city, digging a trench around the circumference of its walls and building a wall as high as the city walls themselves around Jerusalem. Anyone caught in the trench, attempting to flee the city would be captured, crucified, and placed in lines on top of the dirt wall facing into Jerusalem. The two Zealot leaders, John of Gischala and Simon Bar Giora, only ceased hostilities and joined forces to defend the city when the Romans began to construct ramparts for the siege. Those attempting to escape the city were crucified, with as many as five hundred crucifixions occurring in a day.[21]

During the infighting inside the city walls, a stockpiled supply of dry food was intentionally burned by the Zealots to induce the defenders to fight against the siege, instead of negotiating peace; as a result many city dwellers and soldiers died of starvation during the siege. Tacitus, a historian of the time, notes that those, who were besieged in Jerusalem amounted to no fewer than six hundred thousand, that men and women alike and every age engaged in armed resistance, everyone who could pick up a weapon did, both sexes showed equal determination, preferring death to a life that involved expulsion from their country.[22] Josephus puts the number of the besieged at near 1 million.

Following a seven-month siege, Titus Flavius, Vespasian's son, eventually used the collapse of several of the city walls to breach Jerusalem. By the summer of 70, the Romans had breached the walls of Jerusalem, ransacking and burning nearly the entire city. The Romans began by attacking the weakest spot: the third wall. It was built shortly before the siege so it did not have as much time invested in its protection. They succeeded towards the end of May and shortly afterwards broke through the more important second wall. During the final stages of the Roman attack, Zealots under John of Giscala still held the Temple, while the Sicarii, led by Simon Bar Giora, held the upper city. The Second Temple (the renovated Herod's Temple), one of the last fortified bastions of the rebellion, was destroyed on Tisha B'Av (29 or 30 July 70).

All three walls of Jerusalem were eventually destroyed as well as the Temple and the citadels; the city was then put to the torch, with most survivors taken into slavery; some of those overturned stones and their place of impact can still be seen. John of Giscala surrendered at Agrippa II's fortress of Jotapata and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The famous Arch of Titus in Rome depicts Roman legionaries carrying the Temple of Jerusalem's treasuries, including the Menorah, during Titus's triumphal procession in Rome.[23] With the fall of Jerusalem, some insurrection still continued in isolated locations in Judea, lasting as long as 73.

Last strongholds

Main article: Siege of Masada

During the spring of 71, Titus set sail for Rome. A new military governor was then appointed from Rome, Lucilius Bassus, whose assigned task was to undertake the "mopping-up" operations in Judea. He used X Fretensis to besiege and capture the few remaining fortresses that still resisted. Bassus took Herodium, and then crossed the Jordan to capture the fortress of Machaerus on the shore of the Dead Sea. Because of illness, Bassus did not live to complete his mission. Lucius Flavius Silva replaced him, and moved against the last Judean stronghold, Masada, in the autumn of 72. He used Legio X, auxiliary troops, and thousands of Jewish prisoners, for a total of 10,000 soldiers. After his orders for surrender were rejected, Silva established several base camps and circumvallated the fortress. According to Josephus, when the Romans finally broke through the walls of this citadel in 73, they discovered that 960 of the 967 defenders had committed suicide.

The outcome

The defeat of the Jewish revolt altered the Jewish diaspora, as many of the Jewish rebels were scattered or sold into slavery. Josephus claims that 1,100,000 people were killed during the siege, a sizeable portion of these were at Jewish hands and due to illnesses brought about by hunger. "A pestilential destruction upon them, and soon afterward such a famine, as destroyed them more suddenly."[2] On the order of 97,000 were captured and enslaved and many others fled to areas around the Mediterranean.[2]

The Jewish Encyclopedia article on the Hebrew Alphabet states: "Not until the revolts against Nero and against Hadrian did the Jews return to the use of the old Hebrew script on their coins, which they did from motives similar to those which had governed them two or three centuries previously; both times, it is true, only for a brief period."[25]

Titus reportedly refused to accept a wreath of victory,[26] claiming that he had "lent his arms to God."

Before Vespasian's departure, the Pharisaic sage and Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai obtained his permission to establish a Judaic school at Yavne. Zakkai was smuggled away from Jerusalem in a coffin by his students. Later this school became a major center of Talmudic study (see Mishnah).


The main account of the revolt comes from Josephus, the former Jewish commander of Galilee who, after capture by the Romans after the Siege of Yodfat, attempted to end the rebellion by negotiating with the Judeans on Titus's behalf. Josephus and Titus became close friends, and later Josephus was granted Roman citizenship and a pension. He never returned to his homeland after the fall of Jerusalem, living in Rome as a historian under the patronage of Vespasian and Titus.

He wrote two works, The Jewish War (c. 75) and Jewish Antiquities (c. 94) which, on occasion, are contradictory. These are the only surviving source materials containing information on specific events occurring during the fighting. The material has been questioned because of claims that cannot be verified by secondary sources and because of Josephus' potential bias as a client of the Romans and defender of the Roman cause. Only since the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls has some solid confirmation been given to the events he describes.

See also


External links

  • The works of Josephus at Gutenberg

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