«Edited by Mladen Popović LEIDEN • BOSTON © 2012 Koninklijke Brill NV CONTENTS List of Figures and Tables Preface List of Contributors The Jewish ...»
To understand the legate’s Judaean expedition, for example, we should first like to know something about the man, his relationship with the princeps who had sent him to this important province in 63 c.e. or the next year, his ambitions and senatorial connections, and especially his connection with Cn. Domitius Corbulo. This hero of the Parthian settlement was active around Syria until the end of 66, when he was recalled by Nero. In spite of (or because of ) his historic achievement, the loyal 70-year-old was summoned by Nero to Cenchraeae, where he obviated execution by suicide.107 Corbulo’s special command On the political context see for example J.-P. Rey-Coquais, “Syrie Romaine, de Pompé à Dioclétien,” JRS 68 (1978): 44–73; J. Nicols, Vespasian and the Partes Flavianae (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1978); K. R. Bradley, “The Chronology of Nero’s Visit to Greece A.D. 66/67,” Latomus 37 (1978): 61–72; idem, “Nero’s Retinue in Greece, A.D. 66/67,” Illinois Classical Studies 4 (1979): 152–57; R. Syme, “Governors Dying in Syria,” ZPE 41 (1981): 125–44; V. Rudich, Political Dissidence under Nero: The Price of Dissimulation (London: Routledge, 1993); F. J. Vervaet, “Domitius Corbulo and the Senatorial Opposition to the Reign of Nero,” Ancient Society 32 (2002): 135–93; idem,
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in the east had subsumed Cestius and his legions until perhaps 65.108 At least, Cestius’ apparent independence of military action throughout 66 suggests that Corbulo’s power had been reduced by then, since the commander of proven toughness and effectiveness might have been the logical choice to deal with the eruption in the south. And he must have remained a towering presence, for the troops and others, as long as he remained in the region—until about the time of Cestius’ failed campaign, it seems.
From a wide range of independent evidence it appears that 65 to 66 c.e. was a period of extreme turbulence in high Roman politics, as the failed Pisonian conspiracy of 65 and the energetically loyal actions of Nero’s Praetorian Prefect, Ofonius Tigellinus, produced dozens of high-ranking victims and then morphed into the obscure Vinicianian conspiracy of August 66. This later conspiracy is normally connected, on the basis of the name Suetonius gives it (Ner. 36.1), with Corbulo’s son-in-law Annius Vinicianus. Annius was in Rome that summer because he had accompanied the Armenian king-designate Tiridates as he received his diadem from Nero, under an agreement that promised detente between Rome and Parthia after the century of struggle over Armenia.
Since late 66 was also the time when Nero was recalling the apparently loyal legates of upper and lower Germany, the Scribonii brothers, on charges levelled by a senatorial informer (Tacitus, Hist. 4.41;
Cassius Dio 63.17), Cestius as legate of the greatest eastern province could not have been an island of unconcern. Having been suffect consul in 42, just seven years after his father’s consulship (apparently), he must have been nearly the same age as Corbulo (born 3 b.c.e.– 1 c.e.)—perhaps in his late 60s. He held one of the empire’s most prestigious commands, with four legions, perhaps two dozen auxiliary cohorts, and (de facto) the forces of several allied kings in the region, under his command.
Although we would need to know a good deal about Cestius’ political context to understand his interests and actions, we know virtually nothing. Josephus says not a single word about Corbulo, about events “Domitius Corbulo and the Rise of the Flavian Dynasty,” Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 52 (2003): 436–64.
Tacitus, Ann. 15.25–27. Cf. F. J. Vervaet, “Tacitus, Ann. 15.25.3: A Revision of Corbulo’s So-called imperium maius (AD 63–65?),” in Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History (ed. C. Deroux; Brussels: Latomus, 2000), 260–98.
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in northern Syria, about Cestius’ relationship with Nero or Tigellinus or possibly suspect senators or groups, or indeed about the whole momentous Parthian settlement. He surely knew about this last, for he alludes to the settlement in the speech he writes for Agrippa II (B.J. 2.388–389), but his Roman audiences also knew about it, having recently witnessed the grand spectacle built around Tiridates’ presence (May of 66 c.e.), and so he had no need to rehash it.
A second swath of contextual information that remains uncertain, though we have many partly conflicting clues, concerns the structural relationship between Syria and Judaea. This is a complicated matter.
Suffice it to say here that in the War, where the story of Cestius’ expedition reposes, Josephus usually writes as though Judaea were a distinct province from 6 c.e., with an independent equestrian governor based in Caesarea (2.118, 220). In the Antiquities, by contrast (17.355;
18.1–2), he claims that Judaea was annexed to Syria after Archelaus’ incompetent rule. Tacitus is under the impression that Judaea became a province only under Claudius, after Agrippa I (Hist. 5.9). The language of “province” (provincia, ἐπαρχεία) allows a fair bit of slippage, and it is increasingly clear that Roman administrative arrangements were messier than textbooks would prefer. I share the view of several scholars that, although we cannot be sure, the range of available evidence (including particular episodes in both the War and the Antiquities, Strabo’s description of the area, and roughly parallel situations elsewhere) is most adequately explained on the hypothesis that Judaea became an independent province only in 44, 67, or 70/71, of which I incline toward the last possibility.109 It matters for a historical understanding of Cestius’ involvement in Judaea—and of the dynamics among the legate, the procurator, King Agrippa II, and the Jerusalem elite—whether he was entering someone else’s province under an emergency provision, with either standing or special instructions from Nero, or whether he was normally responsible for Judaea’s peacefulness because it lay within his province of Syria.
See M. Ghiretti, “Lo ‘Status’ della Giudea dall’età Augustea all’età Claudia,” Latomus 54 (1985): 751–66; H. M. Cotton, “Some Aspects of the Roman Administration of Judaea/Syria-Palaestina,” in Lokale Autonomie und römische Ordnungsmacht in den kaiserzeitlichen Provinzen vom 1. bis 3. Jahrhundert (ed. W. Eck; Munich: Oldenbourg, 1999), 75–92; Bernett, Der Kaiserkult in Judäa, 188–89; W.
Eck, Rom und Judaea:
Fünf Vorträge zur römischen Herrschaft in Palaestina (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), 1–52.
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Related to both of these, a third kind of missing contextual information concerns Cestius’ relationship with the varied elements of leadership in Judaea: the equestrian governor Gessius Florus, King Agrippa II, who had significant responsibilities for Jerusalem (he reportedly kept a palace there, visited often with his sister Berenice, and had also sent troops to suppress the revolt [2.421]), and Jerusalem’s aristocratic elite, including the likes of Josephus. Agrippa reportedly went to Cestius in Antioch to plan the expedition (B.J. 2.481). The most intriguing part may be Cestius’ relationship with Gessius Florus and related personal-social connections. According to A.J. 20.252–253 Florus had received his posting to Caesarea because of his wife’s friendship with Poppaea Sabina, by now dead (65 c.e.)—according to hostile reporters from a violent act by Nero. Many questions arise. For example, did Nero’s alleged remorse and longing for Poppaea have any effect on his view of her former friends?
More importantly, did Nero have a particularly strong bond with his equestrian governors in these years—over against an increasingly obstructive senatorial class—as men who would more reliably do his bidding, especially in raising needed funds? In the early empire many senators had felt offended by the growing power of lower ranks, even freedmen, under the principes. But in the 60s the relationship between young Nero (still only 21 in 59 c.e.) and the Senate seems to have come under great strain (cf. Dio 63.15). There are indications that Nero was instructing his procurators to extract all the funds they could from the provinces to remedy a treasury crisis. In Britain it was reportedly the procurator Catus Decianus’ ruthless exactions, on the premise that Claudius’ earlier lavish gifts to the tribal chiefs were actually loans repayable immediately, that inspired Boudica’s ferocious revolt, after her royal husband’s estate was seized (Dio 62.2). Seneca had recalled his extensive personal loans on an immediate basis. Whatever financial need Nero had by the early 60s could only have been exacerbated by the fire of 64 and the construction of his massive Golden House. Tacitus describes the emperor’s dispatch of agents at just this time, including freedmen, across Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor, to seize whatever assets they could, even if this involved the plundering of temples and their costly divine images (Ann. 15.45.1–2).
There is evidence that at least some of Nero’s procurators were protected by Nero as they worked independently of his senatorial legates. Catus and his successor Iulius Classicianus in Britain, and then those of the western empire, against whom Plutarch reports that the
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patrician legate (and future emperor) S. Sulpicius Galba felt powerless to intervene (Galb. 4.1), offer suggestive parallels with Nero’s reputed temple-robber Gessius Florus in Judaea.
We know to ask such questions only by thinking about reported events outside Judaea at about the same time as Cestius’ problems in southern Syria, and by imagining that he could not have remained unaffected. If we wish to recapture some slice of past reality involving Cestius Gallus and his actions in relation to Gessius Florus and the Judaeans, we need to know the answers to these and many related questions. Alas, we know none of those answers, and Josephus shows not the slightest interest in discussing them. What does he discuss, then?
In recounting the build-up to war, for his own narrative purposes, Josephus offers a few items suggestive of the Syrian legate’s relationship with Judaea. These assume that Cestius indeed felt personally responsible for the south, notwithstanding Florus’ presence there.
We first meet the legate in Josephus when he visits Jerusalem for Passover of 66 c.e. on the standard chronology. Already then, with Florus at his side, Josephus alleges that three million (!) people surrounded Cestius and shouted complaints about Florus’ rapacious ways (B.J. 2.280–282). Interesting here is Cestius’ alleged promise to ensure Florus’ restraint in the future (2.281). It was the most basic task of senatorial governors to maintain the peace in their provinces, by building a political consensus with local elites. In the past, Syria’s Roman governors had placed a premium on this relationship, most notably Petronius in the affair of Gaius’ statue. Other legates had dispatched Pilate and Cumanus to Rome, to give an account of themselves after complaints from both Judaeans and Samarians. The question that imposes itself here, then—a problem ignored by Josephus—is why Cestius, though energetic enough to cultivate relations with the Judaean elite through visits to Jerusalem, should be unable or unwilling to restrain Florus—if indeed he was recognized as a problem, as both Josephus and Tacitus declare.
Cestius’ second reported intervention comes after both the Judaean leadership and Florus write to him, each complaining of the other.
According to Josephus, and in keeping with the caution we expect of senatorial legates, Cestius rejected the advice of his legionary commanders to march on Judaea, punishing offenders if there were such or securing the situation if not (2.334). Instead he sent a trustworthy tribune named Neapolitanus on a reconnaissance mission. He did not send a senatorial colleague, perhaps because (in the story’s
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narrative logic) the legionary legates had already played their hand.
One of them might have provoked incidents or reported the situation in a skewed way. The tribune, however, met up with Agrippa and they toured the city together. They satisfied themselves that the populace, though enraged at Florus, was committed to peace with Rome and with Cestius (2.336–341). But after the tribune’s departure the masses demanded from King Agrippa an embassy to Nero, to insist on their loyalty and to accuse Florus (2.342). The king, unable to oblige, responded with a brilliant if irrelevant speech on the folly of undertaking war with Rome (2.344–404).
Some false moves by Agrippa, however, forced him to flee the city and send back an elite cavalry force, to suppress those now becoming openly rebellious (2.421). Things rapidly go from bad to worse, when this force is trapped along with the regular auxiliary garrison (the hated Florus’ military muscle) by newly confident rebels. At the very moment when the rebels massacre this garrison, Josephus claims dramatically, the Judaeans of Caesarea—as a result of a separate and long-standing dispute—are slaughtered by the majority gentile population. That event ignites Judaean retaliatory raids against many Greek cities, whose citizens in turn act against their internal Judaean populations, viewed as a fifth column, and all hell breaks loose in southern Syria. It is at this point that Cestius launches his expedition.