Nero and The Jewish Revolt

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The Jewish Revolt Against Roman Domination

In 66 A.D. the Jews rebelled against Rome. Nero had sent Mucianus to govern Syria, and he detached the current governor whose name was Vespasian to the south to put out this great rebellion in Israel.

Nero’s Foolish Mistake

It is important to mention that at this time Nero made a foolish mistake, he departed for Greece to tour the country and compete in the games. He made another foolish mistake by ordering his competent eastern general Corbulo and two popular governors of Germany to commit suicide. This Sparked much bitterness in Rome and among the praetorian guard. In the spring of 68 A.D., one of the Gallic governors, Caius Julius Vindex, marched an army against Nero in Spain, and Clodius Macer in Africa. Vindex and his army were put down by Verginius Rufus, the loyal governor of Germany, but the praetorian guard in Rome was loyal to Galba and on June 9, 68 A.D. Nero committed suicide. His last words were "Qualis artifex Pereo" which means "what an artist dies in me"? This has been the subject of much speculation.

The Jewish War

As previously mentioned Nero did not seem to be very concerned about all the troubles there were happening within the empire, especially within the hot region of the province of Judea. Ever since the time of Tiberias, the Jews in israel had to deal with corrupted governors and they were losing patience. By 66 A.D. the Jews had began to rebel against Rome, in particular the Roman Procurator of Judea - Gessius Florus who’s wife Cleopatra had been a friend of Poppaea, Nero’s wife. A delegation of Jews protested against a pagan sacrifice that was set deliberately in front of a synagogue in Caesarea. Gessius Florus arrested them and later extracted money from the Temple treasury. He then ordered his troops to raid the markets in Jerusalem, and 3600 men, women and children were slaughtered. The Jews around Judea took up arms against the Romans, with the Zealots leading them. For the most part, the Jews and especially their leaders had wanted to maintain peace with the Romans, but the Zealots and the Sicarii (a group of secret assassins) took control of the revolt.

The Rebels

Herod Agrippa II sent 2000 riders to help out the Jewish leaders in the upper city from the rebels, the lower city was already under rebel control. When Herod's Calvary arrived they were driven out and the archives were set on fire. Apparently setting the archives on fire would encourage the common people to join in a rebellion. They also captured and set fire to the Antonia fortress. It wasn't long before all of Jerusalem was under rebel control. At the end of summer during this rebellion Cestius Gallus, the Syrian governor, dispatched the 12th Legion from Antioch to deal with the rebellion in Jerusalem. When they arrived the Jews, being outnumbered, somehow managed to overcome them and forced them to retreat. The Jews chased after them and slaughtered his entire rear guard, which consisted of about 400 men. It is interesting that at this time the Jews, feeling very triumphant, minted their own coins.

Nero Hears Of the Rebellion

When Nero heard about the bitter defeat of the 12th Legion, he dispatched his most able commander, General Titus Flavius Vespasian, to put down the rebellion. Titus Vespasian was a very skilled military strategist and planned his attack starting with Galilee. He arrived with three legions and wiped out the Jewish forces in Galilee. It is interesting that the fortresses had been built by Josephus, who was captured by the Romans and later, as a prisoner, wrote the history of the remainder of the war.

Titus then marched his legions down the coast and then moved inward toward Jerusalem. By 68 A.D. Jerusalem was under siege. Nero had committed suicide on June 9th, 68 A.D. and Titus Vespasian was awaiting orders. At this time three emperors came to power and left the throne almost as quickly. Finally Titus Vespasian was named head of the realm. In 70 A.D. he sailed for Rome and left the final siege of Jerusalem in the hands of his son Titus. Titus arrived to the city border at the head of 80,000 soldiers, he brought so many because Jerusalem was a difficult city to capture and heavily fortified. On three sides it is nearly impossible to attack the city which leaves only the North side for the troops to attack, the North contained the heavy fortifications, with their high walls and towers. Titus strategically planned his attack and after a two-week siege, according to Josephus, his troops "became masters of the first wall." Five days later came down the second wall and the legions marched in, but "the Jews, constantly growing in numbers and greatly at an advantage through their knowledge of the streets, wounded multitudes of the enemy."

The Jewish victory would not last, for Titus sealed off the city by building a five-mile wall and then killed anyone that touched it. The Jews inside quickly ran short on supplies and became ridden with disease and starvation. Dead corpses filled the city and were finally thrown over the walls. After a month the Roman soldiers had reached the Temple and Titus made an offer to the Jews, he would spare the Temple if the rebels would come out and fight, but they resisted his offer. In fact they even set fire to portions of the Temple rather than allow the enemy entrance. The Roman troops fueled the fires, desiring to see the whole Temple in ashes, this was done against Titus' orders and they could not be stopped. The Temple was destroyed and set on fire never again to be rebuilt.

Josephus said:

"As the flames shot up, a cry, as poignant as the tragedy, arose from the Jews, who flock to the rescue,"


he also added:

"lost to all thought of self-preservation, all husbanding of strength, now that the object of all their past vigilance was vanishing."

The entire city was leveled except for three pillars in the northwest corner. Whoever was not killed was carried off into slavery. When Titus returned to Rome he marched triumphantly through the city bearing the Golden Menorah from the Temple, with hundreds of Jewish captives following behind.

Herod's two strong fortresses, Herodium and Machaerus, were also captured. Only Masada was left, the last stronghold of the Zealots, who had captured it in 66 AD. This is where they made their final stand. The new procurator of Judea was Flavius Silva, and he came up with a plan, he built a wall around the base of the mountain and then ordered his troops to build a massive ramp, slowly but surely, until it reached the top of the 300 ft. plateau where the fortress stood. The Romans brought a huge battering ram and rolled up the ramp to crush the outer wall. They then lit a fire which doomed those who were inside. All of the Jews inside committed suicide (about 960 men, women and children) except for two women and five children. The seven-year war had finally come to an end and the Jews lost the Temple, and whoever was left alive was taken into slavery.
 

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"I began to hate you, when, after murdering mother and wife, you turned out to be a jockey, a mountebank, and an incendiary." (Tacitus ann. 15:67).

Nero - A Devotional Message

Primary Sources for the Study of the Emperor Nero are: Tacitus, Dio Cassius, Suetonius, Christian and Jewish Tradition, and Archaeology.

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The 5th Emperor (Princeps) of Rome (54-68 A.D.)

Map of the Roman Mediterranean

Background

The Roman Empire beyond Italy was divided into about 40 provinces (territories), with each province having its own governor who kept order and collected taxes for Rome. He was either appointed by the emperor or named by the Senate.

During the first century A.D. the Roman Empire was near its peak with a population of 50-60 million. This was more than 1/5 of the world's population at that time. Jesus lived and died during the period known in Roman history as the Pax Romana or the "Peace of Rome".

It was an amazing time in history when the risen Jesus empowered His church to go into all the world to preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact the apostles journeyed throughout the Mediterranean world which was part of the Roman Empire. They traveled through Roman cities on Roman roads and everywhere that they traveled they came into contact with Rome.

Julius Caesar had a dream for Rome but he was assassinated before he could see it fulfilled. The big problem was who would become the next emperor after his assassination. Very few had expected the young Octavian (Augustus) to become the chief heir and new emperor after Julius Caesar, but it was Augustus who turned out to be the most important emperor in all of Roman history.

Augustus was very aware of what had happened with Julius Caesar, and desired to avoid the same problems with the Roman Senate. He wanted his stepson Tiberius to be emperor after his death and to make sure that this would happen he began to share his power with Tiberius. When Augustus died in 14 A.D. Tiberius was easily accepted as emperor. In fact this became the new way that emperors would be chosen. Each emperor would choose a successor from among his family or he would adopt someone who he thought would be fit to rule after him.

During the 200 years after the death of Augustus, four dynasties (family lines) ruled the Roman Empire. Some of the emperors in each dynasty were somewhat moral emperors and others were horribly cruel. Each of the four dynasties ended with a violent overthrow of an unfit emperor.

Augustus’ family line ended in disgrace in 68 A.D. with the Emperor Nero, who came to power when he was a young boy at the age of 17. Nero Claudius Caesar was born in December of 37 A.D. at Antium and reigned as the fifth emperor (Princeps) of Rome, from 54-68 A.D. under the political system created by Augustus after Civil War had finally put an end to the Roman Republic.

Throughout the early years of his rule Nero was directed by his tutors (including the famous writer Seneca) and there was peace throughout the Empire. The Emperor Nero loved performing in the Theatre, races and games. He was not respected by the senators or the army. He was criticized by the people of Rome for being more interested in entertaining himself than in governing the empire. However, when his main advisors had either retired, or were dead, Nero revealed his true character. It did not take long for the people to realize that Nero was a tyrant. In 59 A.D. Nero executed his mother, his wife, Claudius’s son Britannicus, and several of his advisors and anyone that opposed him was executed.

In 64 A.D. a devastating fire swept through Rome destroying everything in its path. Everyone thought that Nero had started the fire so that he could rebuild a more beautiful city, including his Golden House. According to the Roman historian Suetonius, Nero sang and played the lyre while Rome burned. When Nero felt that the rumor had turned everyone against him he found some scapegoats to bare the blame for the fire, the Christians. He punished them severely and had many of them burned alive or torn apart by wild beasts. It is believed that the apostles Paul and Peter were martyred during this persecution.

There were many who sought Nero’s death and in 68 A.D. his own army rebelled against him and various military commanders attempted to seize the throne. The Emperor Nero was forced to flee from Rome and soon afterward he committed suicide. He was the last emperor who was of the dynasty of Augustus (Julio-Claudian dynasty).


The main people involved in the life of Nero were:

- Nero Himself - Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus

- Agrippina - Nero's dominating mother

- Claudius - The emperor before Nero

- Octavia - Claudius' daughter and Nero's first wife

- Britannicus - Claudius' son and rightful heir to the throne

- Seneca and Burrus - Nero's trusted tutors

- Poppaea - Nero's second wife

- Galba - General in Spain and the next emperor of Rome


Important events that happened during the life of Nero:

- The Great Fire of Rome – 64 A.D.

- The First Imperial 'Persecution' of Christians – 64 A.D.

- The first Jewish Revolt Against Rome – 66 A.D.


The main historical sources about the life of Nero were:


- Tacitus Tacitus Publius Cornelius (55-120 A.D. approx.)

- Suetonius Svetonius Tranquillus (70-140 A.D. approx.)

- Cassius Dio Dion Cassius Cocceianus (155-235 A.D. approx.)

- Jewish and Christian Tradition

- Archaeology: inscriptions, coins, written text.

Bibliography on the Emperor Nero

Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Scarre, 240 Pages, Pub. 2012
 

 

Nero, Emperor of Rome

Bible History Online


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