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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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BAND.—A Roman legion, the full strength of which was about 6000 men, was divided into ten cohorts (600), and each cohort into three maniples (200). Greek writers use the word σπεῖρα, rendered ‘band’ in our versions, sometimes for maniple but usually for cohort; hence (Revised Version margin) has regularly ‘cohort.’ The troops in Judaea, however, as in other provinces governed by a procurator, consisted simply of auxiliaries, not Roman citizens, but provincials; these were not formed into legions, but merely into cohorts, of strength varying from 500 to 1000, sometimes consisting purely of infantry, sometimes including cavalry also. The forces in Palestine seem to have been originally Herod’s troops, taken over by the Romans; they were recruited in the Greek cities in or around the country, such as Caesarea, Ascalon, Sebaste. One such cohort formed the garrison of Jerusalem, stationed in the fortress of Antonia, adjoining the Temple, under a chiliarch or tribune (‘the chief captain of the band,’ Acts 21:31). From the account of the force at the disposal of Lysias (Acts 23:23), his cohort must have been a cohors miliaria equestris, consisting of 760 infantry and 240 cavalry; but this may not have been the case in our Lord’s time, some 30 years earlier. This Roman force was probably granted by Pilate to effect our Lord’s arrest (John 18:3; John 18:12, where ‘the band’ under its ‘chief captain’ [ Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885] seems distinguished from ‘the officers of the Jews,’ i.e. the Temple police; see Westcott, ad loc.). Of course, only a portion of the whole cohort would be needed. In Matthew 27:27 || Mark 15:16, the soldiers gather together ‘the whole band’ to mock our Lord; obviously all who were at hand and not on duty.

Literature.—Grimm-Thayer, s.v. στεῖρα; Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] i. ii. 49–56; Marquardt, Romische Staatsverwaltung (1884), ii. 468 ff., 534 ff.

Harold Smith.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Band'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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