The Military in Early Roman Palestine – Timeline


Though there was a nominal treaty between Rome and Hasmonaean Judaea, the first phase of meaningful Roman-Judaean relations began midst the general Pompey’s campaign in the Near East. As Seleucia faded from the scene of Near Eastern politics, the kingdom of Pontus quickly expanded under Mithridates VI, to the extent that that it comprised nearly the whole of Asia Minor.  This growth was deemed threatening to others in the region, most significantly Rome’s ally Nicomedes IV in Bithynia.  The relationship between Bithynian royalty and the Roman Senate had been unusually close, to the point where Nicomedes bequeathed his kingdom to Rome upon his death in 74 BCE. Mithridates had no reason to honour Nicomedes’s will and so invaded Bithynia after Nicomedes’s passing, despite the fact that it had been Roman province by that time, thus inaugurating the Third Mithridatic War (74-63 BCE). The Roman general Lucullus eventually repelled Pontic forces, but instead of pursuing the enemy king, Lucullus opted to conquer the whole of Pontus, leaving the king to seek refuge among his allies in Armenia.  War soon ensued between Rome and the Armenian king Tigranes II.  Lucullus had modest success in conquering Armenia, but his authority over his troops quickly waned thanks to major loss of life in battle, failure to capture either Mithridates or Tigranes, his inability to grant his troops plunder, and active attempts by the Roman general Pompey and his surrogates to sew dissension. By 66 BCE, it seems that troops were unwilling to obey Lucullus, so the Senate placed Pompey in command of the region. Pompey proved more successful than Lucullus in taking Pontus. In 63 BCE, Mithridates committed suicide, bringing this particular war to an end. This, however, was far from the end of Rome’s campaign in the eastern Mediterranean.

Syria was immediately south of Pontus and Armenia. Though the Seleucid dynasty had functionally ended, rival Seleucid claimants were midst a civil war despite controlling only a little land surrounding Damascus. Pompey intervened in the civil war by annexing Syria as a province. Judaea was also in the middle of a civil war at the time:  Hyrcanus II was the high priest who claimed the throne, though his brother Aristobulus II, who controlled the Jerusalem treasury and had the support of Pompey’s legate Aemilius Scaurus, sought it as well.[1]  Pompey was greeted by delegates from both brothers when he arrived in Damascus.  Pompey stalled on settling the matter and instead ventured into Nabataea, apparently free of any diplomatic pretext for the invasion.[2] Aristobulus evidently encouraged a revolt against his brother, which Pompey deemed impudent enough that he backtracked to Palestine. Pompey to laid siege to Aristobulus’s stronghold in Jerusalem: the temple. Josephus alleges, though this certainly literarily foreshadows the historian’s depiction of the Judaean War, that Rome took advantage of Jewish forces’s observance of the Sabbath to build in preparation for battle.[3] After a siege with some help from Hyrcanus’s men, Pompey emerged victorious, though his entrance into the temple – even the Holy of Holies – did little to make him popular in Jerusalem.

Thanks to Pompey’s campaigns, Rome’s power now encompassed the land from Bithynia to Judaea in the east. Perhaps aware that it would stretch the Republic’s resources and influence to administer Judaea directly, Hyrcanus was affirmed as high priest and ethnarch. Client rulers such as Hyrcanus were often effective at unifying small populations where Roman legitimacy could not be taken for granted. Such client states were usually found on the periphery of Roman reach, places where local power structures were too strong to be reoriented to Roman interests as is, though malleable enough that involvement in regional disputes could cultivate favourable relationships among those powerful.  Judaea was considerably larger than most of these districts and much less unified as well – the settler colonialism and forced assimilation of the Hasmonaean conquests still sat poorly with many of those outside the region of Judaea.  Pompey consequently reduced the size of Judaea significantly, emancipating several cities (most famously those of the Decapolis, but also Gaza, Ascalon, Jamnia, and Caesarea Maritima) and conquered regions (presumably Galilee, Samaria, Idumaea, the Transjordan) from the rule of the Hasmonaean priests. Despite Hyrcanus’s nominal autonomy over the drastically reduced Judaea, Pompey kept two legions in Palestine to safeguard interests in the region in addition to Hyrcanus’s own forces.

Hyrcanus’s reign of Judaea was interrupted in 57 BCE, when Gabinius a former legate of Pompey and now proconsul of Syria formalized the divisions of the Palestine by appointing a council to administer each of five newly-created regions: Amathus in Peraea, Sepphoris in Galilee, Jericho in Judaea, Jerusalem unto itself, and Gazara in Samaria. Roman Syria provided the primary point of unified oversight of these regions, understandably irritating Hasmonaeans. Aristobulus’s son Alexander was especially vexed with this move and raised an army to remove Hyrcanus from the priesthood and Rome from administrative command.  Hyrcanus and his ally Antipater the Idumaean were unable to contain the threat of Alexander, who had begun refortifying a number of Judaean cities, so Gabinius intervened to restore his interests. While Josephus wants to imagine that this administrative experimentation was a sort of golden age (A.J. 14.90-91; J.W. 1.169-170), it was evidently regarded as a failure by Rome. Hyrcanus soon returned to an unknown position of authority in a somewhat-reunified Judaea, albeit with severely limited power.

Shortly after this, 49-45 BCE, the Roman Senate was in the midst of civil war of its own between Pompey, Brutus, and Julius Caesar.  When Pompey died, the precarious situation of the Judaean and other Eastern royalty became apparent and the kings proffered aid to Caesar in his Alexandrian campaign in hopes of currying favor. This shift in alliance was fortuitous, as Caesar was ultimately victorious and generous to his opportunistic allies.  As a reward for his newfound friends, Caesar supplemented a few Samaritan cities to Judaea and reinstated Hyrancus as ethnarch in 47 BCE. Hyrcanus, however, was required to cede most of his power to the new Judaean procurator Antipater and his two sons, Phasael the governor of Jerusalem and Herod the governor of Galilee – each of whom controlled their own army. Most importantly for the study of the military in the Levant, Caesar exempted Palestinians from mandatory service in the Roman military (Josephus, A.J. 14.204) and the Senate permitted Jerusalem to be refortified. This privilege of non-conscription is situated midst other benefits that emphasize the autonomy of Hyrcanus and his ethnarchy of Judaea. Diaspora Jews, however, were under the protection of Caesar, not Hyrcanus, and Josephus preserves a few letters to local leaders ensuring they had similar rights.[4] Josephus has no interest in confirming whether Samaritans or other Palestinian locals were afforded similar privileges in diaspora.

Caesar, who had done much to unify Judaea, was assassinated shortly thereafter in March of 44 BCE, marking a transitional period in both Roman and Palestinian politics. Gaius Cassius Longinus went to Syria in order to incorporate the legion garrisoned in Apamea into his army, but demanded considerable taxes from Judaea as well.  Antipater and his sons, likely aware that Caesar’s influence in the East was effectively gone and seeking to ingratiate themselves to a new senatorial ally, collected the sum. The extraction of some 700 talents (so Josephus, A.J. 14.272) was poorly received by influential persons of Judaea, leading to Antipater’s assassination in 43 BCE. Herod and Phasael proved resilient after the death of their patriarch, with Phasael’s area of governance expanding from Jerusalem to the larger region of Judaea.  This apparently fueled elite resentment of the Antipatrid/Herodian family and support for the Hasmonaeans; as soon as Cassius withdrew his forces from Syria, Hyrcanus supported the efforts of a certain Felix – who had forces at his disposal – to oust Phasael.  While Felix had managed to wrest some of Judaea from Phasael’s control, his coup d’état was unsuccessful and indicated Hyrcanus’s weakness among Hasmonaean supporters. The resulting disfavor was rendered obvious when Aristobulus’s son Antigonus II Matthias soon after made a similar attempt on the throne with the aid of the client rulers of Tyre and Ituraea.  Antigonus marched successfully in Galilee, but Herod was able to dissuade the Tyrian troops from proceeding into Judaea. Herod then defeated Antigonus in battle and exiled him.

The streak of luck that had benefited Herod and Phasael concluded when their Roman backer Cassius died in the Battle of Philippi, leading them to find a new Roman advocate in Marc Antony, whom they had befriended through Cassius. Antony quickly displayed a favourable attitude to the two, promoting them to tetrarch, restoring to them the land conquered by Tyre, freeing Jewish slaves, and soon after issued a decree continuing the Jewish exemption from conscription.  The peculiar arrangement of Hyrcanus as an ethnarch with two tetrarchs under him indicates that Rome had not yet developed a coherent policy with regards to its client states, as it is difficult to know what this configuration meant in practice. Antony was strongly disposed in favor of client kings, and would have returned the province of Syria to the status of a kingdom, had he not died midst his Parthian expedition (Plutarch, Ant. 54.4). While this was obviously beneficial to the Idumaean brothers at the time, the bull’s-eye on their backs only increased in size and when Parthia invaded the Roman East in 40 BCE; they became the obvious targets of a considerably more powerful opponent of Roman interests.  With disgruntled Roman aid, the Parthian prince Labienus invaded Syria.  The invading forces separated, with the Parthian general Barzapharnes heading south toward Judaea.  His men managed to capture virtually all of the cities down to Ptolemais in Galilee. Antigonus was aware of the opportunity at hand and made a bid for Parthian support with the aid of the new heir to the tetrarchy of Ituraea, Lysanias.  After some initial skirmishes Judaea, Phasael and Hyrcanus went personally to negotiate with Barzapharnes, but were taken prisoner. Unbeknownst to Herod, Hyrcanus had been mutilated by Antigonus – thereby disqualifying him from the priesthood – and Phasael committed suicide. Herod and his army fled to the fortress in Masada, leaving the throne open for Antigonus to seize. Masada was unable to hold his forces, so he dismissed all but a modest contingent of his men and decided to seek the aid of Antony via sea travel.

Rome’s policy was usually to continue client states’s leadership via lineage, though Antony and Octavian opted to instate Herod as the head of the Judaean state; he thus became the first Judaean king of the Roman era, with all its concentration of power that Hyrcanus never attained, though without the priestly authority. This promotion had little practical implication at the time other than to legitimize his ventures as far as Rome was concerned: Judaeans already had Antigonus as their Parthian-appointed king in Jerusalem.  By the time Herod returned to the Levant, the general Publius Venditius Bassus had forced Parthia to withdraw its forces from Syria.  He was prepared to join Herod in his quest to (re)claim Judaea.  Herod raised an army of Idumaeans and Gentiles, accumulating more soldiers as he continued his campaign. Antigonus refused to abdicate when they reached Jerusalem, but rather than siege that city, Herod opted to make excursions elsewhere, since winter approached. The next year the Parthians were nearly ousted from the Roman East, freeing up some of the forces to aid Herod, but any hopes of advancement were stymied when one of Herod’s generals attacked Jerusalem prematurely, which set back their gains in some northern regions of the kingdom.  These were recaptured the following year, 37 BCE, whereupon Herod and his allies took Jerusalem and Antigonus was promptly executed.

In the meantime, Cleopatra VII Philopater queen of Egypt saw her own largess increase in the Roman East.  In her attempts to expand the Egyptian kingdom to that of the Ptolemaic kingdom at its fullest extent, she made several requests to Antony for additional land, some of which he granted.  Antony was loyal to Herod in comparison to some of the less fortunate client kings of the East, despite bestowing the entire Judaean coast and the Decapolis to Cleopatra.  Matters became more complex in 32 BCE, when relations between Octavian and Antony, as well as Herod and the Nabataean king Malichus I, dissolved to the point where war was inevitable. Herod won an initial victory against the Nabataean king; seeing that Herod’s position was stronger than anticipated, Cleopatra’s governor of the Decapolis then sent aid to Malichus, tilting the scales in the latter’s favor until the next year, when Herod had a decisive victory, even conquering parts of Nabataea.

More fortunate for Herod than this victory was how he managed to avoid sending troops to support Antony at the Battle of Actium, which proved disastrous for Antony and allied forces. As with other client kings allied with Antony, Herod was once again required to justify himself to the Romans and so met with Octavian in Rhodes. Octavian proved merciful to most of the client kings by affirming their rule, even instating Zenodorus as tetrarch of Ituraea, despite his previous subservience to Cleopatra.  Herod’s lost territories were restored to him upon Cleopatra’s death in 30 BCE. While there were few attempted coups (e.g., by his daughter Alexandra, his Idumaean governor Costobarus), Herod’s position was more secure than it had been previously: his neighbors were less hostile, there was no one in Judaea who could feasibly usurp the throne, Roman leadership seemed to be stable, and Roman leadership was in a position to enforce stability among its client states. Herod took the opportunity to fortify existing cities (e.g., Masada, Jerusalem, Strato’s Tower/Caesarea, Samaria/Sebaste), installed a few towers, and set up military colonies in Gaba, Hesbonitis, Sebaste, and Caesarea. He was also able to proffer aid to the Egyptian prefect Aelius Gallus on his campaign in southern Arabia, committing a cohort to the cause in 25 BCE. When Octavian received the princeps in 23 BCE, he apparently granted portions of Zenodorus’s Ituraea to Herod; when Zenodorus died in 20 BCE, Herod received the remainder of his tetrarchy.

There were some noteworthy policy changes under Augustus, however.  While Rome had previously banned the conscription of Jews into the Roman army, this policy was not renewed under Augustus.[5] To be sure, the emperors beginning with Augustus in general respected the nominal sovereignty of the client rulers of Palestine and their authority to raise their own troops.  Judaeans living outside of Palestine, however, were no longer exempt from conscription. Augustus therefore conscripted thousands of Jews living in Rome to suppress the brigands in Sardinia in 19 BCE, since Italian recruits were not forthcoming. Moreover, this marks a period when unified military leadership began in Rome: troops were loyal foremost to the emperor, rather than a triumvir or regional general.  This concentrated military leadership seems to have trickled down to client states as well, as evidence indicates that Herodian dynasts held strong authority over their forces.

Aside from explosive familial tensions – occasionally resulting the in the execution of his own offspring – Herod’s soldiers did not operate in combat missions for several years.  In 12 BCE, however, residents of newly-annexed Trachonitis revolted unsuccessfully. Syllaeus, the chief officer of the Nabataean king Obadas III, provided the rebels – who were reputed to be brigands – amnesty and a base of operation, much to Herod’s chagrin.  Herod invaded Nabataea, installed a military colony of Idumaeans in Trachonitis, and eventually placed a Babylonian Jewish cavalry colony in Bathyra. Augustus held little sympathy for armed conflict between his client states and Herod, as the invading party, bore the brunt of his frustration, cooling the favour that he had garnered hitherto.[6]

Herod died in 4 BCE and Augustus had granted him authority to name his own successor, albeit with the approval of the Senate.  Tensions within Herod’s family resulted in several different wills, and after considerable debate his kingdom was divided into three primary units, with a son governing each: Archelaus inherited the greatest share as ethnarch of Judaea, Antipas as tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, and Philip as tetrarch of Batanaea. Archelaus’s position was only tentative, should his reign fit Rome’s standard, he would be promoted to king; while Herod’s will apparently claimed Antipas and Philip should be subordinate to Archelaus, Augustus decided that they should be loyal to the emperor.  In addition, Herod’s sister Salome I was instated as toparch of Jamnia, though it appears she had little autonomy in this position and was ultimately subject to the Judaean ruler; additionally, a handful of Hellenistic cities – Gaza, Ascalon, Gadara, and Hippos – were freed from Judaean authority. Archelaus intended to go to Rome to confirm the will and placed a large number of troops to the Jerusalem temple to ensure peace during Passover.  Josephus depicts the succession as a chaos, which he also makes as a running theme of Archelaus’s tenure. While Archelaus was away, the legate of Syria, Publius Quinctilius Varus, transferred a legion to form a Jerusalem garrison. When Pentecost was to be celebrated, the pilgrims were better prepared for confrontation with Roman soldiers than they were at Passover.  Conflict soon broke out, though most of the Herodian soldiers defected to the civilian side and Roman forces saw heavy losses.

Matters were hardly more favourable for Rome and the Herodians outside Jerusalem. The power vacuum attending to succession disputes had given rise to a number of claimants throughout Palestine.[7] Unfortunately, Josephus’s testimony as to what occurred in the Levant begins to slim down around this point, as his literary source Nicolaus of Damascus retired from historiographical writing around this time. Even so, Josephus reports that many of the insurgents rose to armed conflict with Roman forces and the Herodian troops that remained loyal; even Herod’s veterans sided against the Judaean powers that be. Varus eventually intervened with a massive force including armies of some client kings. He was able to quell the rebellions, going so far as to enslave some insurgents in Sepphoris and crucify others. Archelaus was thus able to establish something resembling authority in his ethnarchy, though Varus left a legion in Jerusalem ensure the transition into his governance proceeded more smoothly. This evidently did not occur as Augustus deposed Archelaus and exiled him to Gaul in 6 CE.

Rather than appointing a new prince from the house of Herod to rule Judaea, Rome opted to annex Judaea as a component of Syria and treat it as a subunit of the Syrian province. Rome appointed a prefect holding equestrian status to govern Judaea; these men were typically military functionaries with little experience in civilian administration. This move was significant for a number of reasons, but especially so with respect to the military history of Palestine. This shift in administration meant the army that garrisoned within the territory now answered to Rome and so was reconfigured along Roman lines; Judaean had previously answered to the Herodian head of state, who ran his own autonomous army. After Judaea was annexed, soldiers were incorporated into the Roman army as auxiliaries.[8] Auxiliaries were employed by Rome, but were distinct from legionaries, mostly notably with respect to the former’s lack of Roman citizenship and the types of provinces they garrisoned. Auxiliaries typically served a minimum of 25 years, after which they were awarded a diploma that granted them Roman citizenship.[9] Augustus formed the first auxiliary regiments in 27 BCE, though the soldiers in Judaea only attained that status when it was annexed to Syria.  As to which type of soldiers were located where: soldiers were uncommon in senatorial provinces, auxiliaries and legionaries garrisoned in major imperial provinces with senatorial or consular governors (e.g., Syria), but imperial provinces with equestrian governors only stationed auxiliaries.[10] Judaea fell into the last of these categories, meaning that legions were only deployed in states of exception, such as war or insurrection. The governor assigned to the province of Judaea before the War – whether his office was prefect or procurator – was commander of its auxilia. The Judaean governor, however, was expected to defer this authority to the legate of Syria in situations of sustained combat; Syria garrisoned no less than four legions, should matters have gotten too far out of hand.  It was typical for auxiliary units to be homogeneous in region of origin and stationed in their home province until the Flavians came to power, after which there was no consistent correlation between these matters.  There were three main types of auxiliary units: alae of cavalry, cohortes of light infantry, and cohortes equitatae where cavalry and infantry served side-by-side. While the auxiliaries in Judaea were “Roman” with respect to employment, they neither held Roman citizenship nor were these particular auxiliaries stationed outside their native province, so it would inaccurate to imagine the pre-War Judaean garrison as comprising Roman Italians or even foreign legionaries.

Herod and Archelaus had largely drawn their soldiers from the cities of Caesarea Maritima and Sebaste, a tradition that continued through the Judaean War, as will be discussed at greater length in Chapter Three.  It is sufficient at the moment to note that under Herod, Archelaus, and Rome, the main force probably comprised six units: five infantry cohorts and a single cavalry unit. Antipas and Philip, however, retained the right to raise their own forces independently of Rome.  Even with the loss of Judaean military autonomy, Rome rarely conscripted Jewish Palestinian civilians in into military service, though they were free to join on their own accord.  Philip was known to have a large cavalry, as the colonies of Babylonian Jews in Bathyra and the Idumaeans in Trachonitis both flourished.  Evidence regarding Antipas’s forces is scantier, but one assumes that his standing army was proportionate to the size of his dominion.

Shortly after its annexation, Judaea was submitted to a census in order to ensure the regularity of the provincial taxes.  According to Josephus, Judas the Galilean sparked a strain of Jewish nationalism marked by resistance to anything perceived to be Roman, in this case, the census. An insurrection occurred and this entailed intermittent garrisons of a Syrian legion in Jerusalem over the next few months until resistance dissipated.  Josephus sees Judas of Galilee’s excessive zeal and influence as commencing type of rebellion that led to the downfall of Jewish flourishing, a melodramatic diagnosis that is difficult to take seriously. In 10 CE Salome died and her toparchy was removed from Herodian control and given to Augustus’s wife Livia, who administered the region until her death in 29 CE, after which it remained under the reigning emperor.

Again, Josephus’s testimony during this period is sparse, but the next military conflict dates to 26 CE. There had long been a garrison in Jerusalem at the Antonia Fortress, though until Pilate the prefects had avoided using equipment with explicit reference to the emperor.  Pilate undid this policy, frustrating certain Jews that soon sent a delegation to Caesarea to request a return to the previous policy.  Pilate initially refused, but eventually relented and transferred the offending equipment to Caesarea.[11]  Pilate at some later point took money from the temple treasury in order to build an aqueduct to Jerusalem. Jewish protestors held a demonstration in Pilate’s midst and when they refused to leave, Josephus reports that undercover soldiers proceeded to beat them, sparking a bloody riot.  Finally, Josephus relates a story where a group of Samaritans fought with the Judaean soldiers at Mt. Gerizim, resulting in another bloodbath.  Since Pilate was a major player in the event, a Samaritan delegation approached the Syrian legate Lucius Vitellius for redress; Vitellius complied and sent Pilate to Rome. Pilate managed to avoid punishment, as Tiberius while died en route.  Pilate was nevertheless relieved of his duties in 36 CE.  These episodes fit too neatly with the Josephus’s narrative of Judaean administrative decline under Pilate to be accepted at face value, however violent his rule may have been.[12]  Josephus also generalizes the protestors in both instances to “the Jews,” complicating efforts to discern the parties whose interests were at stake in either case.

Military matters were underway at the same time within the Herodian tetrarchies.  Philip had died in 34 CE; with no heirs, his territory was annexed to Syria for three years.  Tiberius planned to return the kingdom to a Herodian ruler and so kept the region’s taxes separate as a part of Philip’s estate.  In 37 CE this plan was brought to fruition when Agrippa I was instated as king of Philip’s Batanaea as well as Ituraea by his friend and new emperor, Gaius.  Agrippa’s uncle Antipas had recently been brought to arms with the Nabataean king Aretas IV because Antipas had divorced the latter’s daughter.  Relations between the neighboring client states soured and when war broke out in 36 CE, the Galilean forces were utterly destroyed.  Antipas, who did not concede defeat, petitioned Tiberius, who in turn offered the aid of Vitellius.  But when Tiberius died, Antipas’s permission to engage in war required renewal.  He did not seek this permission and so the war was brought to an end.  When the conflict was over, Antipas saw an opportunity to have his authority upgraded from tetrarch to king, aware that Agrippa had been instated with this more prestigious title.  In 39 CE, Gaius removed Antipas from power, exiled him, and gave his dominion to Agrippa.  Gaius, despite his scandalous reputation in literary sources, was generous with respect to the restoration of provinces to kingdoms: in addition to Agrippa, he renewed the eastern kingdoms of Commagene and Bosporus and some minor dynasts were upgraded to full monarch.

Gaius’s reputation of arrogance comes forth in an event occurring later that year.  A group in Jamnia, part of a Palestinian toparchy under Gaius’s direct control, built an altar to the emperor that was soon demolished by a group of local Jews – likely due to the prohibitions on idol worship.  Gaius sought retribution by way of converting the Jerusalem temple into an imperial temple.  Gaius told Petronius, the Syrian legate, to bring two legions and corresponding auxiliaries to impose this decision.  Demonstrations and protests were reported throughout Palestine, culminating in a series of embassies to Petronius and Gaius.  Petronius and Agrippa eventually wrote to Gaius in an attempt to dissuade him and stalled as best they could; the emperor relented, though his memory is now virtually inseparable from the event.

Gaius was assassinated in 41 CE, which Agrippa took as an opportunity to enamor Claudius to himself; Josephus probably exaggerates the importance of Agrippa’s advocacy on behalf of Claudius, but the transition between governments played out to Agrippa’s advantage.  The new emperor unified affixed Judaea to Agrippa’s kingdom, now approaching the extent of Herod’s kingdom.  This is significant on many levels, but its relevance for the military deserves special attention.  The auxiliary soldiers had expected Roman citizenship upon retirement under Roman authority.  Agrippa, however, had no authority to grant Roman citizenship, and so his mere presence eliminated one of the most appealing benefits of military service. The formerly Roman auxiliary soldiers were understandably disgruntled and when Agrippa passed away in 44 CE, they proceeded to celebrate with offerings to Charon and engaged in frottage with statues of his young daughters. Claudius reverted Agrippa’s entire kingdom to Roman territory, probably still part of Syria. Claudius was prone to annex kingdoms if there was unrest; Thrace, Arqa, and Bosporus were also annexed within the first years of Claudius’s reign, each marked by internal military conflict. At this point, Josephus begins describing the governors not as military prefects, but as procurators; what the corresponding reality to Josephus’s terminology is unclear, as there is no evidence change in the epigraphic data (nor any explanation of the change in Josephus’s works), leading many historians to doubt that such a change occurred.  It would seem noteworthy to Josephus to bring this to his audience’s attention if this were a political reality, as it would have entailed a formal change of Judaea into a province wholly independent from Syria. Even if the subsequent governors were procurators, it is not evident that this resulted in a substantial difference in their administrative activities. This shift of governor may merely reflect Claudius’s decision to grant procurators magisterial authority. Regardless, Claudius also required the new Roman governor Cuspius Fadus to punish the auxiliaries by dismissing them to a garrison in Pontus – well away from their homeland – and replacing them with Syrian auxiliaries. A delegation from the Judaean auxilia pleaded otherwise and Claudius relented.  Returning to the Roman employment as auxiliaries, they could once again expect the benefits of Roman employment. Moreover, Steve Mason has persuasively argued that around this time soldiers increasingly serve a role in Josephus’s narrative of ethnic conflict as well, being Syrian partisans in Josephus’s “realist-regional” mode of historiography.[13]

Josephus’s account of the events after Agrippa I but before the Judaean War is one of a steady breakdown of Palestinian society, with incompetent governors and wild-eyed radicals receiving the brunt of Josephus’s blame.  Consequently, it is not easy to distill the underlying historical events from Josephus’s interpretation, framing, and depiction of the events that certainly did lead to a catastrophic war. This schematic depiction of the decline of Judaean stability is clear right from Fadus: he needed to dispel a brewing conflict between Peraeans and Philadelphians, banditry in Idumaea and Judaea required his forces’s attention, a contingent of the Judaean ala slaughtered sectarians of a certain Theudas, and the Syrian legate nearly sent a contingent of his legion to Jerusalem to prevent unrest from cultic partisans.  Fadus’s governorship was followed by that of Tiberius Julius Alexander, an Alexandrian Jew. Little is known about his tenure of 46-48 CE, but it seems that the sons of Judas the Galilean had revolted and Alexander was able to quash it.  Around this same time Herod of Chalcis – who ruled the minor principality of his namesake in Syria – died and his realm was shortly thereafter bequeathed to Agrippa II, son of Agrippa I.  Agrippa II would soon play a major role in the events of the Judaean War, even though his present territory was a modest distance from Palestine.

Alexander was succeeded by Ventidius Cumanus, under whom events went from bad to worse according to Josephus.  Most egregious is an instance when a soldier exposed himself to Passover attendees, resulting in a riot that was all the worse because of the number of people present. One of Claudius’s slaves was robbed in the countryside, leading Cumanus to send some auxiliaries to seek retribution upon the perpetrators.  In the ensuing chaos, a soldier publicly destroyed a Torah scroll. As one would expect, matters went from bad to worse.  To make amends, Cumanus executed the responsible soldier, temporarily easing tensions.  In 51 CE, violence broke out between Jewish Galilean pilgrims and Samaritans. Cumanus failed to mediate the dispute and when news reached Judaea, a number of Jewish partisans pillaged Samaritan villages.  Cumanus finally intervened, albeit on behalf of the Samaritan population, bringing nearly all of his forces to end the controversy. Emissaries from the Samaritans and the Galileans were sent to the Syrian legate Quadratus, who upon investigation, held both parties responsible and executed men on both sides.  Word of the episode even reached Claudius via Agrippa II; the emperor saw to it that more Samaritans were executed and Cumanus was exiled, leaving Antonius Felix to govern Judaea.

Agrippa II himself saw a considerable upgrade to his status in 53 CE, as he was given the region comprising the former tetrarchy of Philip along with Arca and Ituraea.  Chalcis, however, was removed from his command. Agrippa’s kingdom of Batanaea already had troops of considerable size, as the Babylonian Jewish cavalry of Bashan were still active – comprising no less than half of Agrippa’s army.  Claudius died in 54 CE, but within a year Nero made use of Agrippa’s and army in an aborted campaign against Parthia. As a reward Nero added a handful of Galilean and Peraean villages to Agrippa’s kingdom and gave his cousin Aristobulus the crown as king of Lesser Armenia.[14]   These two client states were in close proximity to Parthia and one assumes that such generosity attempted to garner loyalty in a precarious region.

The final procurators of Judaea dealt with increases in banditry, riots, and sectarian groups that they deemed necessary to disperse, according to Josephus.  From here to the outbreak of the War, Josephus’s redactional themes are so intrusive in his narrative that one has difficulty saying much with confidence.  Felix, for instance, attacked the followers of an Egyptian prophet on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and intervened militarily in inter-ethnic violence in Caesarea. This latter conflict continued under the following procurator (Nero himself sided with the Syrian population of Caesarea), Festus, and the infamous Jewish sicarii are recorded as first organizing whilst he was governor.  Matters descended even more under Albinus and Florus, the latter expending no effort to stop regional brigandage and rebellion, though few specifics are known.  The Syrian legate Caius Cestus Gallus visited Jerusalem during Passover and issued a report to Rome; Florus assured Gallus that he would be more proactive in dispersing seditious activity.

Following this, Caesarean Syrians made an effort to obstruct access to a local synagogue; the attendees bribed Florus to prevent further obstructions and while he placed Jucundus, the commander of the Judaean ala, to watch over the situation.  Jucundus failed to do so and the brewing tensions and occasional violence in the city led to a full-blown riot. A delegation was sent to Florus, who responded with arrests; he had no intent to honor the bribe.  Florus soon after informed Jerusalem that more money was required for administration; some locals staged a mockery of Florus as a beggar in protest, thereby incurring his wrath.  Florus attempted retribution, but Jerusalem leadership declined to inform him of the responsible parties and so an additional cohort was sent to Jerusalem for pressure.  Chaos ensued, with a number of locals were crucified – including Roman citizens who were legally permitted a trial.  Two additional cohorts were sent to Jerusalem and, in a series of strange events surrounding their processional arrival, fueling resentment to the point where a massive riot broke out.  A certain group believed the new cohorts were merely a pretext to forcible removal of the aforementioned funds from the temple and consequently did their best to prevent military access to the temple, even destroying a great deal of property.  Florus responded by removing one of the cohorts and elites made appeals to the Jewish population for peace, which apparently led to a temporary respite from the violence for a few months of 66 CE.  While the military action in this preceding period of Palestinian history is striking, it was not atypical of Julio-Claudian provincial governors to single out interest groups that they deemed a threat; Eliezer Paltiel notes that similar interventions occurred in Thrace, Pontus, Bosporus, and Lesser Armenia.[15]

When sacrifices on behalf of Gentiles ceased – including those for the emperor – war became inevitable.  A number of excellent books have been written on the Judaean War in recent years, to which the reader should refer for greater detail in the events that followed.[16]  I offer here only a broad summarization of its constituent events.  Violence occurred throughout the province and in response Cestius Gallus transferred legio XII Fulminata, auxiliaries, as well as forces contributed by Agrippa, Antiochus IV of Commagene, and Sohaemus of Emesa. The Romans and their allies saw success in their initial incursions to Galilee, but met considerable resistance when he encountered Simon bar Giora and allied forces from Adiabene.  When Gallus proceeded to Jerusalem, but despite nearly taking the city, he withdrew his forces to Caesarea; this led to an ambush that resulted in the slaughter of Roman and allied forces, as well as Gallus’s desertion of his own forces. Nero was perturbed by Gallus’s actions and placed Vespasian in charge of the task, bringing with him legiones V Macedonica and X Fretensis to Ptolemais. The aforementioned client states rejoined the conflict alongside Vespasian’s son Titus, who commanded legio XV Apollinaris.  Vespasian began again in Galilee, which was subjugated fairly easily with the notable exceptions of Jotapata and Gamla.  The following year, 68 CE, Vespasian worked his way along the coast circumventing more devastating conflict with Jerusalem as it was the rebels’s stronghold.  In Jerusalem, the insurrectionary leaders – recently joined by escapees from Judaea’s north – were in constant conflict with one another, leading to the death of many.

Meanwhile in Rome, Nero committed suicide, leading to the Year of the Four Emperors. Vespasian was soon hailed as emperor by his legions and consequently he departed for Rome and left Judaea for Titus to finish off.  Titus opted for a siege on Jerusalem – a move that Vespasian had consciously avoided.  Titus created a walled camp near Jerusalem and executed anyone caught escaping the city. Additional legions were brought in: XII Fulminata and vexillations of III Cyrenaica and XXII Deiotariana.  The siege itself lasted seven months and when a weakness in the walls of Jerusalem was exploitable, the Romans capitalized on the situation and razed nearly the whole of the city.  The inhabitants reportedly all fought in the combat, regardless of age and gender, leading Rome to enslave those surviving the city’s sacking.  Any privileges that had been granted to Jews were now a matter of the past. The temple itself was pillaged and destroyed 29 or 30 July 70 CE. Legio X Fretensis garrisoned in the remaining parts of Jerusalem, while Titus dismissed legio XII Fulminata to Syria. Aside from sporadic sites of resistance, the War was functionally won by the Romans.  Titus himself departed the province, leaving his subordinates to finish the conflict.  The new governors succeeded in the task that Titus had left them, albeit with the exception of Masada.  Legio X Fretensis, auxiliaries, and conscripted Jerusalem slaves surrounded the city; the War came to a final conclusion with the capture of Masada in 73 or 74 CE.

It was argued in Chapter Two that the Gospel of Mark was probably composed in the wake of these events. The role of the destruction of the temple on subsequent developments in Judaism is often framed in a typically Christian supersessionist manner: the destruction of the temple permitted a renewal of stale Judaism that eventually allowed Christianity to flourish.  This narrative is deeply problematic and should be rejected, though the differences between pre- and post-temple Judaism seem significant enough that they cannot be simply dismissed.  In favour of the supersessionist narrative, two points seem most potent in explaining the developments within Judaism: 1) major administrative changes in Judaea and Palestine had a significant effect on social life for provincial denizens and 2) the fall of the temple provided an opportunity to rework patterns of group legitimation and myths of foundation.  The rise of the rabbis and certain Christian social formations, as well as the decline of the Sadducees, Herodians, and other groups should be understood in this light.

Vespasian restored some of the destroyed regions upon ascension to the princeps, including fortresses, villages, and cities. But with a permanent legionary garrison in Jerusalem and the trauma of a difficult war, conditions of life changed significantly in the province. Unfortunately, Josephus’s surviving testimony ends after this point and no contemporaneous literary sources attest a contiguous Judaean history of the following period.  A few items indicate the Roman efforts to keep its military superiority in the fore of Jewish minds – whether in Palestine or in the diaspora – in the period.  The Arch of Titus, for example, was constructed in Rome in 82 CE and depicted legionaries plundering the temple, including the menorah.  The Judaea Capta coinage circulated throughout the empire and was minted 70-96 CE; these depicted a legionary standing victoriously over a despondent woman personified as Judaea.[17]  Vespasian also constructed a Temple of Peace to commemorate the victory. Most famously, the spoils from the Jerusalem temple were used to fund the Coliseum in Rome.  The Caesarean and Sebastene auxiliaries that had long been in the province were transferred out, part of a Flavian policy mirrored in the Roman west, since Gallic and Rhineland troops had deserted rather than battle their countrymen in the revolt of the Batavi. After 70 CE, maintenance of ethnic and regional homogeneity among auxiliary units became a peripheral concern across the empire, as it was evident that local loyalties could counter officers’s military goals. The Judaean auxilia thus transferred to Syria and a variety of foreign auxiliary forces replaced them, as is evident from the military diplomas found in Palestine; these auxiliary units may have fought in the Judaean War.[18]  While there were four legions in the Levant, only one had a permanent garrison: legio X Fretensis in Jerusalem.  The province of Judaea was governed by a legate as of 70 CE, no longer with an equestrian governor subordinate to Syria but a Senator who was a peer to the Syrian legate.  Vespasian seized some property in Judaea, much of which he sold; he settled some 800 veterans settling at Motza and leased out the remainder to those who could afford it. Agrippa II died in 96 CE, bringing an end to the Herodian dynasty.  Having no heirs, his kingdom was divided, portions of it annexed to Judaea but the vast majority affixed to Syria. Support of client states became ever less popular, as the fairly large territories of Commagene were annexed in 72 CE, Emesa around the same time, the Decapolis around 90 CE, Chalcis in 92 CE, and both Dacia and Nabataea in 106 CE.  It seems that the Roman military began major efforts at paving Judaean roads under Nerva and Trajan, though the milestone evidence is spotty until Hadrian’s reign (§§297315, 364).

The absence of consistent evidence provides no evidence of significant military conflict in Judaea or with Jews more generally until the War of Quietus in 115-117 CE, when Jewish populations of Cyrenaica, Egypt, Cyprus, and Mesopotamia revolted under Trajan.[19]  Reliable evidence concerning Palestine in particular is scanty and depends mostly on a debated passage in the unreliable Historia Augusta (Hadrian 5.2).  There is no direct evidence of military conflict in Palestine during this period.  Even so, when legio X Fretensis temporarily left to engage Parthia and III Cyrenaica replaced it in the interim; there is also some evidence to suggest increased military presence at the time, particularly another garrison – legio II Traiani – in Caparcotna to mediate travel between Judaea and Galilee that remained in the region. With this increased legionary presence necessitated the Judaean governor hold the status of consul, with a corresponding upgrade to the province’s status.[20] Any revolt in Judaea must have been small in comparison to those Quietus dealt with in other parts of the Empire. It is easier to infer that the increased military presence in Judaea was simply pre-emptive given the other conflicts with Jews in the Empire.

Trajan was succeeded by Hadrian who was much more lenient with his eastern peoples, restoring the kingdom of Osroene and treated gave other subject populations tokens of respect.  It is not clear if a similar display of respect was given to Judaea, as he is reported to have banned circumcision and re-establishing Jerusalem as a Roman colony under the name Aelia Capitolina.  The inconsistent sources make it difficult to confirm if these were the cause or consequence of the Bar Kokhba War.[21] Legio X Fretensis was busy at the time, building numerous roads and also an aqueduct for Caesarea under Hadrian  and legio VI Ferrata garrisoned Legio (formerly Caparcotna) in 120 CE.  In 132 CE Simon Bar Kokhba (née Kosiba) led a revolt against Roman rule of the province and was hailed as the messiah by many, including a few rabbinic leaders.  Bar Kokhba and his fellow rebels apparently conquered most of the province, with the exception of Jerusalem, in a short time.  Tineius Rufus, the Judaean governor, was unable to disperse the revolt with the forces garrisoned in his province and called upon Publius Marcellus, the Syrian governor, for aid. The rebels avoided direct conflict with Roman forces and instead opted to fortify their positions.  When it became clear that the Jewish population held a stronger position than previously understood (notably after what may have been the complete destruction of legio XXII Deiotariana), Rome opted to cut Jewish supply lines to starve out the rebels before attacking.  Even so, Jews opted to participate in small skirmishes, a mode of combat to which the Roman forces were largely unaccustomed and one that rendered higher Roman command impotent.  This tactic of attrition slowly worked, culminating in a battle at Bar Kokhba’s headquarters in Bethar in 136 CE.  Rome ultimately won, though there were heavy losses on both sides.  The province was renamed Syria-Palaestina, Aelia Capitolina was colonized by the veterans of legio V Macedonica, many cities and villages were abandoned, and Jews were forbidden from entering the city of their fallen temple – reminders of Rome’s irresistible might to Jews and others contemplating revolt.


The role of the military in Palestine that emerges from this brief overview is marked by turmoil.  This picture, however, is deeply skewed.  The modes of historiography, as noted in the introduction to this appendix, are heavily oriented to elite interests, with little interest in how the military functioned on the level of daily life.  Indeed, most of the conflicts noted above – as numerous as they were – were highly localized and many probably had little effect beyond those immediately involved.  It is thus curious that when scholars seek to describe Mark’s understanding of the Empire (especially vis-à-vis soldiers), recourse is often made to precisely these sorts of documents and their narratives.  If we are to understand Mark as an instance of “civilian” discourse on the Empire, then one should begin not with the depictions of soldiers in aristocratic histories (as useful as they may be for situating such interactions within a larger historical narrative of imperial politics), but with primary sources representing civilian interactions with the military. Andrew Gardner phrases the issue well, albeit with respect to the province of Britannia:

This is not to say that there is no truth at all in this grand narrative, but merely that it fails to account satisfactorily for change in Roman Britain because it pays insufficient attention to the details of how particular institutions intersect with the lives of individuals at any point in the region’s history. Instead, we see the political and cultural currents of the empire—manifest in organisations such as the military of in more nebulous forces such as Romanisation—wash over the people of Britain, with only celebrated historical characters like Claudius … or generalized classes of individuals like the native elites being ascribed much in the way of situated agency in dealing with these.[22]

In short, the patterns of interaction that Josephus and others aristocratic writers found most noteworthy (e.g., tone of political administration, battles led by important men), were not the most salient component of military-civilian interactions for most Palestinians.


[1] Daniel Schwartz cautions against credulously accepting Josephus’s preferred objects of blame for the civil war and its outcome; see (Schwartz 1994).

[2] (Sartre 1979).

[3] A.J. 14.6-14; J.W. 1.145-147; contrast J.W. 1.456, 517 on the Judaean War.

[4] For an in-depth discussion of these letters, see (Pucci Ben Zeev 1998).

[5] (Rocca 2010); see the confirmation of Jewish rights of 2 CE in Josephus, A.J. 16.160. Rocca’s work, however, works on the highly questionable assumption that Josephus’s records of Jewish rights are recorded nearly verbatim from his sources.  Josephus demonstrably rewrote legal documents to suit his literary purposes.

[6] The Gospel of Matthew reports that Herod used his army to slaughter a number of children near the end of his life, though there is every reason to regard Matthew’s testimony as unhistorical.

[7] The best known work dealing with the topic is (Horsley and Hanson 1985), but see the critical comments on the romanticized account of Palestinian banditry in (Kloppenborg 2009). Banditry is addressed at greater length in Chapter Four.

[8] In a supremely confusing move, Josephus used the word σπεῖρα with disparate military meanings.  While it is most commonly associated with Roman auxiliaries discussed above (e.g., J.W. 1. 323), he also used it in reference to the combined forces of Rome’s client kings while serving under a Roman general (A.J. 17.286), groupings of Herodian heavy infantry (J.W. 1.301), client kings’s forces in general (A.J. 14.127), the foreign mercenaries that Jewish rulers commanded (J.W. 1.41), and Herodian infantry as a unit-type (J.W. 2.11).  I will only use “auxiliary” and cognate terms (e.g., auxilia) in reference to non-citizen auxiliary units (i.e., distinct from legions and client kings’s forces) or auxiliaries of the Roman infantry (i.e., distinct from auxiliary cavalry).

[9] Grants of citizenship were not guaranteed, however, until the reign of Claudius. There were a number of “citizen” auxiliary cohorts with the appellation civium Romanorum, but these were the exception to the rule.

[10] Hannah Cotton explains reasoning behind the latter two distinctions: “Special circumstances—like distrust of the local elites or some structural anomalies from the Roman perspective—called for the presence of a special functionary between the Syrian governor and the local [military] units.” (Cotton 2006: 394)

[11] It seems that Josephus (A.J. 18.55-59; J.W. 2.169-174) presents a highly dramatized version of an episode that Philo (Leg. 299-305) relates in more sober terms and with much greater proximity to the events themselves.  This is not surprising, as the Judaean auxiliaries are significant characters in his narrative from here to the War.  While the stories contradict one another, it nevertheless appears that the same episode underlies the two narratives. See (Crossan 1992: 129), but contrast (Smallwood 1987: 126-127).

[12] Steve Mason observes that Philo of Alexandria’s depiction of Pilate serves a similar purpose in that the prefect is a foil for the goodly Emperor Tiberius (Mason 2003: 168).

[13] (Mason 2014); Mason, however, understands soldiers to be Samaritan partisans for reasons that are entirely unclear.  Though they hail from Sebaste (formerly Samaria), Josephus repeatedly emphasizes their primarily Syrian or Hellenistic demographic.

[14] It is worth noting that the Herodian dynasty played a significant role in politics outside of Palestine as well.  Tigranes V was king of Armenia 6-12 CE, Tigranes VI was king of Armenia 58-63, Gaius Julius Alexander ruled Cetis 58-72 (possibly longer), Aristobulus was king of Lesser Armenia 55-71 before ruling Chalcis 71-92, and Berenice of Cilicia was toparch of certain portions of Syria.  Herodian women also married Judaean governors (e.g., Tiberius Julius Alexander, Antonius Felix), politicians (e.g., Marcus Plancius Varus, Gaius Julius Cornutus Tertullus) and other client kings (e.g., Polemon II of Pontus, Azizus of Emesa).  Since Josephus displays little interest in the Herodian family members peripheral to Palestinian politics, one could assume that there were other Herodian toparchs and minor ethnarchs (i.e., civil administrators of Jewish enclaves in a given diaspora city) of which all evidence has been lost.

[15] (Paltiel 1991: 264); cf. (Paltiel 1991: 227-258).

[16] E.g., (Aberbach and Aberbach 2000; Berlin and Overman 2002; Bloom 2010; Faulkner 2012; Goodman 2007); cf. Brill Josephus Project volumes on the Judaean War and Life.

[17] This image had been previously used on coinage by Antony after the defeat of Antigonus in 37 BCE; (Brin 1986: 9; Hart 1952: 180).

[18] On the post-War movement of the Sebastene units, see §§225245, Josephus A.J. 19.366. On their replacements in Judaea, see §§202223. CSee also the extensive but dated analysis in (Mor 1986). Josephus makes a passing mention of “certain alae of cavalry and units of infantry” with no further specification (J.W. 7.5). It was typical for invading regiments to serve as the garrison force after conquest throughout the empire.

[19] However, Epictetus (Arrian, Epict. diss. 4.7.6) may imply that Galileans revolted under Domitian.

[20] See (Eck 1984; Schürer 1973: 518-519).

[21] Some have argued that Hadrian instituted a general ban on genital mutilation – intended to protect slaves from their masters and directed more broadly against eastern cults perceived to be cruel. This ban was simply perceived differently in Judaea where the practice was more significant for ethnic identification practices, especially after the fall of the temple.  That is, the policy was not directed specifically against Jews (like a similar policy regarding castration beginning under Domitian), despite the understandable Jewish reaction. See (Abusch 2003; Oppenheimer 2003).  That said, Dio Cassius, Hist. rom. 15.12 indicates that Hadrian singled out the Samaritan holy site of Mt. Gerizim to be re-established as a temple to Zeus, suggesting some intentional antagonism against Judaeans or at least further warrant for Jewish suspicion of his policies.

[22] (Gardner 2007: 59)


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