The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Emperor of Rome from 69 to 79; founder of the Flavian dynasty. The defeat of Cestius Gallus convinced Nero that the Jewish uprising was a serious matter, and he transferred the command of his army to the veteran Flavius Vespasianus, who had already fought courageously against the Britons. In the winter of 67 Vespasian made his preparations for war in Antioch, and in the following spring marched on Ptolemais. After joining his son Titus, who had advanced with an army from Alexandria, Vespasian found himself in command of a powerful force, consisting of the fifth, tenth, and fifteenth legions, twenty-three auxiliary cohorts, and six squadrons of horse, in addition to the troops of the native vassals, of the Jewish King Agrippa II., and of the kings of Commagene, Emesa, and Arabia (Josephus, "B. J." 3:7, § 1). The entire Roman army must have mustered at least 60,000 men.
Gadara and Jotapata Surrender.
The first aim was the conquest of Galilee, a wealthy and populous district of Palestine, which was defended by Josephus. Upon the approach of Vespasian, however, the protecting army fled in confusion, and the city of Gadara fell into the hands of the Romans. All its inhabitants were put to the sword by order of Vespasian, and Gadara and the neighboring towns and villages were burned (ib. 3:7, § 1). These events were followed by the reduction of Jotapata in a siege which is described in detail by Josephus, who found himself compelled to surrender. Vespasian, like his son Titus, treated the captive as a friend. The operations were now interrupted by a brief truce, while the conqueror marched through Ptolemais to Cæsarea, where he rested his troops (ib. 3:9, § 1). Vespasian himself went to Cæsarea Philippi, Agrippa's capital, where festivities in his honor were celebrated for twenty days. He then led his army against Tiberias, which willingly surrendered, and also against Taricheæ, which fell into his hands in the beginning of the month of Elul.
A terrible punishment awaited the conquered. Galilee was entirely depopulated; 6,000 youths were sent to Nero to work on the isthmus of Corinth; 1,200 old men were killed; and the remaining Jews, more than 30,400 in number, were sold as slaves, servitude being also the fate of those who were given to Agrippa (ib. 3:10, § 10). There now remained only the fortress of Gamala, whose defenders repulsed the Romans so disastrously that Vespasian in person had to urge his soldiers on. The fortress was reduced at last, however, and the Romans massacred 4,000 Jews, the rest preferring death by their own hands. In the meantime the fort of Itabyrion at Tabor had surrendered, while the city of Giscala was reduced by Titus, so that Galilee was entirely subdued by Vespasian.
The simplest procedure would now have been an attack upon Jerusalem, as was desired by the Roman lieutenants, but Vespasian decided to leave the city to itself, knowing that Jewish factional strife would gradually weaken it (ib. 4:6, §§ 2, 3). Notwithstanding the heavy rains, he advanced toward Perea, and occupied the Hellenistic city of Gadara, while Placidus, his second in command, was engaged in subduing the remainder of the district. Once more Vespasian marched from Cæsarea, and occupied in turn the cities of Antipatris, Lydda, Jamnia, and Emmaus, leaving the fifth legion in the last-named city, after which he scoured Edom, returning to Emmaus, and finally marching northward in the direction of Jerusalem through the district of Samaria. He met with little resistance in any of these places, even Jericho and Adida being easily taken by the Roman soldiers. Gerasa alone had to be conquered and destroyed by one of his generals (ib. 4:9, § 1); this, however, can not have been the great Gerasa, which was a Hellenistic city.
Prolongs War for Political Reasons.
Vespasian doubtless desired to prolong the campaign in Judea, since this left him in command of a large army, which was desirable in view of the imperial succession. When he heard, however, that Simeon bar Giora had invaded and ravaged southern Palestine with his Jewish hordes, he determined to restore orderthere, and accordingly invaded and subdued the districts of Gophna and Acrobata in the month of Siwan, 69. He likewise captured the cities of Bethel and Ephraim, while Hebron was taken by his tribune Cerealis (ib. 4:9, § 9). The Romans now had free access to Jerusalem from all sides, although some places, such as Emmaus, Herodium, Masada, and Machærus, still remained in the hands of the Jews.
In the meantime the imperial throne of Rome had been filled successively by Galba, Otho, and Vitellius; and the Oriental legions, following the example of the army of the Rhine, gave an emperor to Rome in the person of Vespasian. This event, which was to prove important for the history of the world, was doubtless planned in Palestine, where, according to Josephus, the proclamation was issued, although Tacitus and Suetonius assert that the Egyptian legions were the first to hail Vespasian emperor, on July 1, 69. Two personages of Jewish descent were particularly active in connection with this event—Berenice, the mistress of Titus, and Tiberius Julius Alexander, governor of Egypt. Josephus boasts that he foretold Vespasian's election to Vespasian himself and received his freedom as well as permission to accompany the emperor to Alexandria as a reward for his prophecy. According to Talmudic sources, however, Johanan ben Zakkai was the first to predict Vespasian's elevation to the imperial throne. The statement that he was unable to draw on one of his shoes for joy (Giṭ. 56b) may be explained by the fact that the phrase "calceos mutare" (to change the shoes) was used also to denote promotion to a higher rank ("Monatsschrift," 1904, p. 277). The fact that the proclamation of Vespasian was issued from Judea led Josephus, followed herein by Tacitus ("Hist." 5:13) and Suetonius ("Vespasianus," § 4), to interpret an ancient oracle foretelling that a ruler from Judea should acquire dominion over the entire world as an allusion to Vespasian (Josephus, c. 6:5, § 4). The new emperor left his son TITUS in command of the army, while he himself hurried to Rome to take possession of the throne.
The Judean Triumph and Medals.
In the eyes of the Roman people Vespasian and Titus shared in the glory of the subjugation of Palestine, yet neither of them assumed the title "Judaicus," probably because this term referred to the religion as well as to the nationality of the Jews. In addition to the honors bestowed on Titus by the Senate, and the memorials erected to his praise, several decrees and monuments refer to Vespasian. The coins bearing the legend "victoria navalis" probably commemorate his pursuit of the Jews at Tarichæa on rafts, and the same circumstance doubtless explains why Titus brought a large number of ships with him when he entered Rome in triumph (ib. 7:5, § 5). Together with his sons Titus and Domitian, Vespasian celebrated his own triumph in the year 71 (ib. 7:5, § 7; Dio Cassius, 66:7). In addition to the triumphal arch erected in honor of Titus, which still stands near the Roman Forum, another arch of Titus existed, until the fifteenth century, in the Circus Maximus, which bore an inscription expressly stating that Titus had conquered the Jewish people at the command and counsel of his father, and under his auspices ("C. I. L." , No. 944; "R. E. J." 1:35). All three Flavian emperors struck coins with such legends as Ἰουδαίας ἐαδωκυίας "Iudæa devicta," or "Iudæa capta" (Madden, "Coins of the Jews," pp. 207-229), and numerous inscriptions furnish material for an exact determination of the names of the legions and officers that took part in the war; such lists have been compiled by Arsène Darmesteter and Joseph Offord.
The sacred vessels from the Temple at Jerusalem were deposited in the Temple of the Goddess of Peace, erected by Vespasian in commemoration of his victory, but destroyed by fire in 191; and other trophies were preserved in the imperial palace (Josephus, c. 7:5, § 7; Jerome, "Comm. on Isaiah," 29:1). The Circus Maximus still exists, stained with the blood of Jewish martyrs. Vespasian instituted also the FISCUS JUDAICUS, and did not hesitate to claim all Judea as his property (Josephus, c. 6:6, § 6). A papyrus from the Egyptian province of Arsinoe, preserved partly in London and partly in Vienna, gives detailed information concerning a special impost levied on the Jews in addition to the customary poll-tax. This papyrus is dated in the fifth year of Vespasian's reign, and shows that the tax was payable by every Jew and Jewess over three years of age. The annual amount of the special Jewish assessment was 8 drachmæ 2 oboles per individual, and to this was added an extra income tax of 1 drachma. The poll-tax itself amounted to 40 drachmæ, so that the Jews were heavily burdened, at least throughout Egypt. Christian sources further state that Vespasian caused all Jews of the house of David to be executed, and thus instigated a great persecution (Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl." 3:12, based on Hegesippus). He also closed the Temple of Onias, in 73, and enlarged the pomerium of the city of Rome, which might be done only by an imperator who had increased the territories of the empire.
Vespasian is frequently mentioned in rabbinical literature, the war, with which certain mourning customs were associated, being called "polemos shel Aspasyanos" (Soṭah 9:14), and "Vespasian and his comrades" (e., his sons) being accused of enriching themselves from the treasures of Israel (Midr. Teh. 17:2). When Vespasian came to Jerusalem he encamped outside the wall and made propositions of peace to the Jews which were rejected. According to Ab. R. N., Recension B, § 6, certain Jews in the city communicated treacherously with Vespasian by means of arrows; but this statement confuses Vespasian with Titus, while other passages confound him with Hadrian, or even with Nebuchadnezzar. "One of these will destroy the holy Temple, and that one is the miscreant Vespasian" (Midrash ha-Gadol on Genesis 25:23, ed. Schechter; in Gen. R. the name of Hadrian is substituted). The passage "I have not despised them" was interpreted as meaning, "I have not despised them in the days of Vespasian" (Sifra, 26:44; Esth. R., beginning); and it is clear from a statement of Jerome on Joel 3:3 that several haggadicpassages were likewise regarded as allusions to Vespasian. Various legends concerning this emperor appear in rabbinical literature, the first one being told by Josephus ("Ant." 8:2, § 5), who relates how a Jewish exorcist displayed his skill to Vespasian. The shiploads of captive Jews are generally, and correctly, associated with the name of Titus; but according to a later legend (Buxtorf, "Synagoga Judaica," 9:231; "J. Q. R." 15:664), which apparently sought to attribute to Vespasian all the evils that befell the Jews, the future emperor guided three vessels filled with Hebrew prisoners to Lavanda, Arlada, and Bardeli.
Vespasian collected his memoirs of the Jewish war; and these were mentioned, and probably also used, by Josephus ("Vita," § 65; comp. "Contra Ap." , § 10).
- Grätz, Gesch. 4th ed., 3:494 et seq.;
- Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., 1:610 et seq. (where further sources are given);
- Vogelstein and Rieger, Gesch. der Juden in 1:23;
- Mommsen, Römische Gesch. vol.;
- Darmesteter, in R. E. J. 1:44-56;
- Offord, in Proc. Soc. Bibl. Arch. 1902, 24:325;
- Newton, The Epigraphal Evidence for the Reign of Vespasian and Titus, Ithaca, New York, 1901;
- Wessely, Die Epikrisis und das Ἰομδαίων τέδεσμα Unter Vespasian, in Studien zur Paleographie und Papyruskunde, Leipsic, 1901.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Vespasian'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/v/vespasian.html. 1901.