13. The First Jewish War
The First Jewish War (66 - 70 CE)
Showcase 13: The First Jewish War (66 - 70 CE)

There were many factors that led to the outbreak of the First Jewish War in the autumn of 66 CE. The direct trigger, as already mentioned, was the plunder of the Temple treasury by the Roman procurator Gessius Florus and the subsequent assaults on the rebelling Jerusalem populace. The people refused to deliver a group of young men who had publicly ridiculed Florus for being an indigent procurator, with such financial woes that he was forced to plunder the Temple treasury (Flavius Josephus, De bello Iudaico 2,295). Gessius Florus was unable to carry out his plans for revenge, however; he was obliged to leave Jerusalem and return to his headquarters at Caesarea Maritima. As an immediate consequence, the daily sacrifices in the Jewish Temple which were to be made by order of the Roman emperor were halted, the equivalent of an open break with Rome, and intolerable from a Roman perspective. Following the defeat of Roman troops under Cestius Gallus, the governor of Syria, in 67 CE, Vespasian with his son Titus, on the orders of Nero, began an offensive on Jerusalem in the spring of 68 CE. The cities in Judea shifted sides following brief sieges, and a ring of fortifications could soon be laid around Jerusalem. Shortly before the attack, Vespasian received the news of the death of the emperor Nero. While he awaited orders from the new emperor Galba, the latter was murdered.

Jerusalem meanwhile sank into civil war. Simultaneous with the Roman offensive, the struggle between factions within the Jewish population had reached a highpoint. The radical Zealot movement took action against the moderate, pro-Roman elite, murdering the high priests, and a reign of terror ensued under the Zealots’ leader John of Giscala. The situation in the city worsened from the third year of the war, as rivalries erupted among the Zealots and Simon bar Giora founded his own party. In Jerusalem, the Zealot movement was now divided into two warring camps, one on the Temple Mount and the other in the Upper City (City Map). Outside of Jerusalem, resistance against the Romans progressed in only in a few locations, among them the city of Gamla (Fig. B.) and the fortress Masada, which would enter history as a symbol of the Jewish resistance.

  • City Map: Jerusalem (contested city areas)

A: City Map: Jerusalem (contested city areas) (©: University of Vienna)

  • Gamla

B. Gamla (©: Zev Radovan)

  • Cameo: Portrait of Titus (©: KHM, ANSA IXa 98)

C. Cameo: Portrait of Titus (©: KHM, ANSA IXa 98)

  • LEG X F Inscription

D. LEG X F Inscription (©: Israel Museum)

  • E. Silom Hoard (©: Israel Museum)

E. Silom Hoard (©: Israel Museum)