69 A.D: The Year of Four Emperors

By Gwyn Morgan | Go to book overview

Appendix 1:
The Principal Sources for 68/69

Rather than clutter the main narrative with details on the background of the ancient literary sources for the Year of the Four Emperors, I have tried to include in this appendix enough material to enable readers to orient themselves, should they wish to pursue questions of fact or interpretation raised by my handling of these writers. The five surviving sources—Josephus, Plutarch, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dio—are discussed in the chronological order in which they wrote. I have added brief remarks on two lost accounts, the so-called common source, and the memoir by Vipstanus Messalla.


Josephus

Most of our information on Joseph ben Matthias (Titus Flavius Josephus) derives from his own writings, and on sensitive issues they are as equivocal as was his behavior at the time. He was born in Jerusalem in 37/38, about a year after Tiberius recalled Pontius Pilate from Judaea. The son of a priest and, on his mother's side, of royal blood too, he was given a thorough grounding in his religion, at the end of which he threw in with the Pharisees. In 64 he traveled to Rome for the first time, to help some priests who had been sent for trial before Nero, but the main effect of his mission was to convince him of Rome's might. So when the Jewish Revolt broke out in 66, he tried at first to persuade his compatriots not to rebel and, when that failed, to take part in such a way as to control and guide their fanaticism (his words). Hence he commanded a rebel force in Galilee in the first half of 67. When Vespasian advanced, most of the troops deserted, and Josephus and the others willing to stand their ground took refuge in Jotapata. The town fell in July, after a 47-day siege, and Josephus was made prisoner. Taken before Vespasian, he prophesied that the Roman would “soon” become master of the world. The story appears also in Suetonius and Dio, but Josephus adds that Vespasian was unimpressed at first. Only after he had been proclaimed emperor in July

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