Updated: Oct 12, 2022
Ruthless leaders have been with us for thousands of years—those who are willing to start wars and kill thousands to satisfy their own greed. Whether that greed is for power, glory, or to fill their own coffers, they all have no empathy for human suffering. Brutality is their tool for getting what they want. Brutality creates fear which leads to compliance.
We have been shocked this month to see the level of brutality and killing of innocents that Vladimir Putin is willing to engage in to get compliance. But the empires of past millennia had the same type of leaders. During the first century Emperor Nero showed such tendencies—he was interested in promoting his own glory and satisfying personal desires—at any cost. The governor of Judaea at the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt, Gessius Florus, was of similar mind. Although he was not a supreme leader like Putin or Nero at the top of the food chain, he was willing to sacrifice thousands of innocents in pursuit of personal gain.
In spite of their lack of morality, these leaders find they do need to pacify the judgments of others who might object enough to cause them problems. Putin, like most aggressive despots, feels the need to create false flags, or appear to make the other side the villain, so he can start a conflict that will make his own aggression seem justified.
Gessius Florus, as the governor of Judaea, was given wide latitude by Rome to profit from his office, but not so wide that complaints from his subjects reached the emperor. Governors needed to keep the peace, and Roman citizens could appeal to Caesar when they felt they had been wronged. Florus had no respect for Jews but had a great interest in the large amount of gold and silver kept in their Temple vaults. He could not just attack the Temple without provocation lest that start a rebellion that cost Roman lives as well. So, his approach was to goad the Jews in to attacking first. He would create a small provocation that induced a physical backlash and then he could escalate.
The foundations of Herod’s Palace in Jerusalem, destroyed by the Romans.
In the year 66 in Caesarea there was dispute between the Greeks and Jews. The Greeks were given superior rights to the Jews, and the former began interfering with the Synagogue practices there. Florus demanded a large bribe from the local rabbis to settle the issue, but then kept the gold without settling it. This started an uproar in Jerusalem, and Florus went there with soldiers to calm the crowd. There he demanded the leading protesters be turned over to the Roman authorities, but the Jews humbly apologized and said his request was not feasible. Unsatisfied, Florus unleashed his soldiers upon the city, where they killed over 3,000 civilians. Florus then attempted to storm the Temple and its treasury but was thwarted.
The Syrian governor was called in to settle the dispute, but it only created a pause in the turmoil. Florus had successfully goaded the Jewish rebels into starting a major revolt. King Agrippa was called in to talk some reason into the Jews—arguing that taking on Rome in outright war was suicide. It was to no avail. During a feast that soon followed thousands of rebels launched an assault on Fortress Antonia and killed most of the Roman garrison. The remaining soldiers managed to find refuge in Herod’s palace, but that was laid siege to as well. Those trapped inside were convinced to surrender in exchange for safe passage, but the rebels simply killed them once they had given up their weapons.
Florus had successfully escalated the conflict into open warfare. He knew that once the Jews were defeated, he could abscond with part of the Temple treasure. It mattered not how many others died in the process. An entire legion of Roman soldiers was sent from Antioch to lay siege to Jerusalem to defeat the rebels. But the Romans underestimated the number and determination of the Jews. After the siege failed, the Romans were routed on their way back to Antioch—a most humiliating defeat for Rome. The rebels were jubilant at the first victory, but it was a loss that the Romans could not tolerate. They doubled down and brought in four legions who completely destroyed the Temple and the City.
What started as one man’s lust for treasure, escalated to the point where nearly one million Jews died, most of whom were refugees seeking safety behind Jerusalem’s walls. The tactics used back then are still being used today. Pick a fight, and then bring in the full army. Surround the capital city, and if it is too well defended, then send in projectiles or missiles to terrorize the inhabitants. Don’t let in any food or resources until the inhabitants are starved into submission. From Jerusalem to Ukraine, with countless other places in between, history continues to repeat itself.
Cry For Jerusalem is a series of historical fiction books covering the seven years leading up to the burning of Herod’s Temple and the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE.
Author Ward Sanford gives this period of history new depth in Cry For Jerusalem and showcasing the works of eyewitness historian Flavius Josephus in a new way with this fictional yet fact-based dramatization.
In the CFJ blog section Ward covers subjects to do with the vast amount of research that went into the CFJ novel series, including Ancient Jerusalem, the Roman Empire, and Biblical topics and the writings of Josephus.