The First Jewish Revolt: Archaeology, History, and Ideology

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

7

Sepphoris

City of peace

Eric M. Meyers

The role of Sepphoris in the Great Revolt of 66-73 C.E., or lack of one, is a point of special interest due to the city's decision to adopt a pro-Roman policy, official at least from the spring of 68 C.E. onwards, or just prior to the death of the emperor Nero on June 9, 68 C.E. (Meyers 1999). I speak of this short time span specifically since we have several coins minted in Sepphoris under Nero with the sobriquet Eirenopolis on its legend (“City of Peace”). Allowing the second largest Jewish city (after Jerusalem) to mint coins at so late a date is surely significant since even King Agrippa II ceased to mint coins during the Revolt, resuming only after it was suppressed in 73 C.E. (Meshorer 1996). But this is getting a bit ahead in our story.

Explaining what was going on at Sepphoris at this time has become a matter of urgent interpretive interest in view of the identification of a large complex on the western summit known as Unit I or 85.3 as a fort (Meyers, Meyers, and Hoglund 1996). 1 The fort, which is late Hellenistic in date, is completely covered by a huge, intentional earthen fill, in which the latest pottery is “late Herodian” in date (with a terminus ad quem of ca. 70 C.E.) and the latest object is a coin of Agrippa II, dated to 53 C.E. The filling activity itself therefore must have occurred between 53 and 70 C.E., but the circumstances leading up to that time are very complex, and I will attempt to describe a scenario for understanding the fill, which has to do with the most unusual behavior of the citizens of Sepphoris during the war.

While the exact nature of the community that occupied Sepphoris in the Hellenistic period is not known, the archaeological record nicely supplements the Josephan narrative of events there in this period. The city is known as a center of Galilee from Maccabean times onward. Josephus first mentions Sepphoris in the context of Ptolemy Lathyrus' unsuccessful attempt to capture Sepphoris in his pursuit of Alexander Jannaeus (Life 337-8). Lathyrus, son of Cleopatra III and then governor of Cyprus, lost many men at Sepphoris, and pursued Jannaeus down to the Jordan River (Weiss 1993; Meyers 1996; Meyers and Meyers 1997; Miller 1996; Weiss and Netzer 1996)

Sepphoris is subsequently incorporated as an administrative center in the aftermath of the Roman takeover of Palestine in 57 B.C.E. (Ant. 14.91), when Gabinius, the legate of Pompey in Syria, made it a council along with

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