The First Jewish Revolt: Archaeology, History, and Ideology

By Andrea M. Berlin; J. Andrew Overman | Go to book overview

13

The First Revolt and Flavian politics

J. Andrew Overman

The broader political and cultural context within which the Revolt and its first wave of interpreters existed is Flavian Rome. Whenever we are discussing the Revolt we are confronting Flavian writers, propagandists, and sources, all of whom were shaped by their particular political context. Outside of the archaeological evidence, what we know about the Revolt has been primarily refracted through the lens of Flavian policies and proclivities. This is as true of reports of the Revolt as of much of the literature-Roman, Rabbinic, and early Christian-that follows in its wake. This has been often overlooked, and it is understandably tempting to focus completely on the events in Judea around the time of the Revolt. Viewing the Revolt from the point of view of Flavian goals, problems, and propaganda, however, is revealing and instructive.

First, from the point of view of the Roman writers, the Revolt is mentioned in the larger context of Vespasian's activity in the east. The point is less the Revolt, and more Vespasian's preparations to move against Vitellius and his subsequent reception by the eastern troops as Caesar. While the siege of Jotopata/Yodefat is deservedly famous, and numbers among one of the most intense and longer narratives within the War, it is from Flavian writers other than Josephus that we learn of Vespasian being hailed as Emperor first in Egypt (Tacitus, Histories 2.79; Suetonius, Vespasian 2). Indeed, both Suetonius and Tacitus discuss Vespasian's ascension in the broader, and for them more critical context, of the eastern troops throwing their support to the Flavians over against Vitellius. The third legion, called “the Gallic” by Dio (64.14ff.), was not far behind and maybe even slightly ahead of Tiberias Alexander, prefect of Egypt. They strongly urged the troops of Moesia to put their support behind Vespasian after having wintered in Syria. Early on they marked their standards with Vespasian's name, replacing Vitellius'. Suetonius attempts to be precise by assigning July 1, 69 as the date Vespasian is sworn the oath in Alexandria, and July 11 as the date that the troops in Judea pledge allegiance in person (Vespasian 6). By July 15, according to Tacitus, all of Syria had hailed him as Emperor (Histories 2.81). The discussions about who hailed Vespasian as Emperor then is treated as virtually a single process where the resourceful and influential eastern provinces came, according to

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