Updated: Apr 22, 2022
This year my new year’s resolution is to write a number of blogs on the First Jewish Revolt that occurred in 66-73 CE. This first blog here is to give us the lay of the land. In the time of the First Jewish Revolt (66-73 CE) there was a Roman Province of Judaea. But within Judaea there was a smaller province the locals called Judea (see map below). I pronounce these JuDAYuh and JuDEEuh. It reminds me of the 20th century country of Yugoslavia that had internal provinces that had very different histories, religions, and ethnicities—held together tenuously by a government administration.
The subprovinces of the Roman Province of Judaea in the first century CE.
The local province of Judea included the important cities of Jerusalem and Caesarea, but its territory was a small portion of the entire Roman Judaean Province. Judaea in turn was a subprovince of the Roman province of Greater Syria. Syria had a governor (Cestius Gallus in 66 CE) whose headquarters were in Antioch. Judaea had only a procurator (Gessius Florus in 66 CE) whose headquarters was in Caesarea, and who answered to the governor in Antioch.
Judaea’s subdivisions were due to its history. The Province of Judaea at the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt had a Jewish puppet king—Agrippa II, who was a great-grandson of King Herod the Great. Although Agrippa was technically the King, he only had an apartment in Jerusalem, his main headquarters was in Caesaria Phillipi (which Agrippa renamed Neropolis—after you know who) and Scythopolis (see map below). Scythopolis is known today as Beit She’an in Israel, and is the site of Roman ruins. It was Agrippa’s great-grandfather King Herod that began the country’s transition from independence to Roman rule.
The northern region of the Roman Province of Judaea in the first century CE.
Judea had claimed its independence from the Greeks with the victories of the Maccabee brothers in the second century BCE. This started the Hasmonean dynasty of kings. But that independent Judean kingdom essentially ended when two warring Judean princes each invited Roman troops into the country to place them on the throne by force over their brother (see my earlier blog on how the Romans were invited in). The Roman general Pompey answered the call and laid a successful siege on Jerusalem in 63 BCE. Following that siege an Idumean name Antipater was in charge of the public affairs of Judea and had a close relationship with Julius Caesar. Antipater’s son, Herod, also had many powerful Roman ties, and this resulted in him being declared the King of Judea by the Rome Senate in 37 BCE. At this point King Herod was put in charge of all of the provinces in the region that had come under Roman influence—including Judea, Galilee, Samaria, Idumea, Perea, Decapolis, and Gaulinitis (Batanea). Herod’s kingdom became known as Judaea. Herod was able to keep a reign over the inhabitants without the use of Roman troops. He did this in part by employing tens of thousands of workers in his great building endeavors.
After Herod died in 4 BCE, things fell apart. He had several sons, none which were seen by the Romans as powerful enough or loyal enough to reign over all of Judaea, and so it was divided into four tetrarchs, or subprovinces. Roman governmental control was further installed—this included procurators and soldiers to extract taxes. Heavier and heavier handedness at tax collecting led to the First Jewish Revolt. The new provincial lines were still present at its onset. The peoples of these local provinces were very different. Greeks outnumbered the Jews around the edges of the territory—along the Mediterranean coastline from Syria into Caesarea and south, and in the Eastern provinces of Gaulinitis and Decapolis. Also the two largest cities in Galilee, Tiberius and Sepphoris, were predominantly Greek and pro-Roman. This Greek population had been there and growing since Alexander the Great had invaded the region and his general Seleucus I began the Greek Seleucid Empire.
Idumea in the south was populated mostly by former residents of the Kingdom of Edom, who were forced to convert to Judaism under the Hasmoneans. This led to them being seen as a lower class by those Jews in Judea, who saw themselves as the most pure descendants from the biblical Judah and Israel of former centuries. Many Judeans also saw themselves as better than the Galilean Jews. The latter tended to be less educated, and they could not as readily prove their genealogical ancestry when they returned from the Babylonian captivity with the rest of the Jewish population. And then there was Samaria, whose residents were an even lower class, mostly mixed Jewish blood descended from those who had remained behind during the Babylonian captivity. They held to what was considered a heretical form of Judaism that only honored the five books of Moses—the Pentateuch. They also had their own Temple at Mount Gerizim. This class warfare led to much tension and many factions during the First Jewish Revolt, including the main two factions that fought each other for control of Jerusalem right before general Titus arrived with his armies in 70 CE. I will hopefully discuss these two factional rebel leaders later this year.