by Evropa Soberana
‘The East wants to rebel and Judas
wants to take over world dominion’.
First Judeo-Roman war: The Great Jewish revolt (66-73 CE)
In the year 66, Florus arrived in Jerusalem, where he demanded a tribute of seventeen talents from the temple treasury. Eleazar ben Hanania, the son of the high priest, reacted by stopping the prayers and sacrifices in honour of the emperor of Rome, and ordered to attack the Roman garrison. The garrison responded by killing around 3,600 Jews, looting the market, entering homes, arresting many of the Jewish leaders, whipping them in public and make them crucified. The next day, however, the concentration of rebellious Jews had increased. A civil war was about to explode.
On August 8, 66 CE the Zealots and Sicarii struck a quick blow in Jerusalem: they murdered the Roman detachment and put all the Greeks to the sword. In a synchronized way, the Jews from all provinces and Roman colonies rose up. In Jerusalem a council was formed that sent sixty emissaries throughout the Empire with the goal to trigger the various Jewish quarters. Each one of these emissaries declared himself the Messiah and proclaimed the beginning of a sort of ‘new order’. Herod Agrippa, the ethnarch of Judea, in view of the fact that the popular masses were in full boiling, chose to take his suitcases and leave the province for a good season.
The outcome was the return of Jewish uprisings and, in reaction, more anti-Jewish pogroms in Caesarea, Damascus and Alexandria, not counting the intervention of the Roman legions, which harshly repressed the Jewish quarters of the aforementioned cities and also in Ashkelon, Hippos, Tire and Ptolemaida. The more moderate and sensible Jewish sectors advised to immediately reach an agreement with Rome, but the criterion that was going to prevail among Jewry was that of the Sicarii and Zealots who, fanatically, vowed to fight to the death, entrenching themselves in the impregnable fortresses of Jerusalem, fortifying the walls of the city and mobilizing the entire population.
Under the command of Nero, Cestius Gallus, the Roman legate in Syria, concentrated troops in Acre (a square that would be many centuries later an important strategic centre of the European Crusaders) with the aim of marching to Jerusalem, devastate the Jewish populations found on his way and crush the revolt. Gallus took the city of Jaffa, killing 8,400 Jews. Later the refugees would regroup in the city and devote themselves to banditry and piracy, attracting a second Roman intervention, in which the city would be definitely razed and another 2,400 Jews killed.
After encountering the solid fortifications of Jerusalem, Gallus’ forces withdrew, and were intercepted by the Jewish fanatics in an ambush directed by elements from the Zealots and the Sicarii, who massacred 6,000 Romans in the same place in which the Maccabees had defeated the Macedonians centuries before. The Jews, excited by the symbolic repetition of the event, formed a government led by the most fundamentalist elements, and minted coins with the inscription ‘Zion’s freedom’.
This tragic disaster undoubtedly moved the Roman authorities to take more seriously the rebellion’s operations. Nero put General Vespasian in charge of the repression. With four legions—the Legio V Macedonica, the Legio X Fretensis , the Legio XII Fulminata and the Legio XV Apollinaris, a total of 70,000 soldiers, that is to say, a formidable force, although it faced an enemy far superior in number—Vespasian quelled the Jewish revolt in the north of the province, re-conquering Galilee in the year 67, capturing there Josephus, the famous historian and Samaria and Idumea in 68.
The Jewish leaders John of Giscala (Zealot) and Simon bar Giora (Sicarii) fled to the fortified Jerusalem.