«Edited by Mladen Popović LEIDEN • BOSTON © 2012 Koninklijke Brill NV CONTENTS List of Figures and Tables Preface List of Contributors The Jewish ...»
And now come many more questions, prompted by Josephus’ story (without our making any assumption that it reflects the real past). What was Cestius’ aim in undertaking this military campaign? How did his force configuration—the mix of infantry (about 11,000?), cavalry, and allied specialists such as archers—suit his strategy? Why did he choose the legions he did: the Twelfth along with 2,000-man contingents from each of “the others”? The Legio XII Fulminata had suffered enormous disgrace (along with the IIII Scythica) just three years earlier, under the command of L. Iunius Caesennius Paetus when he was Syrian legate—father or uncle of the Caesennius Gallus now commanding the Twelfth—and these legions had been disowned by Corbulo for running scared from the Parthians (Tacitus, Ann. 15.7–17). Further, who were the mysterious new recruits with little training whom Cestius picked up along the way? How were they supposed to serve the strategy and contribute with professional soldiers (2.502)?
Josephus does not explain anything we would like to know about these matters. The only motive he gives Cestius is that he could no longer remain idle (2.499). The legate had to act, but to what end? Was
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he planning to show force so as to strengthen the hand of Judaean and other local leaders, or to punish particular groups he had already deemed guilty? (If so, which ones?) What was his plan for Jerusalem?
A siege? Destruction? What would he do with such a large army (totalling about 35,000) inside the old walled city, which may have had a population of only 40,000–75,000? Or was the army mostly to be used elsewhere?
Josephus’ narrative of the campaign itself may be divided for convenience into three parts. First, the army marches rapidly and with brutal efficiency down the coast as far as Ioppa, thrusting inland against western Lower Galilee, Narbata, and points east toward Judaea. In some of these places his soldiers are in burn-and-pillage mode, but Cestius spares Sepphoris after trapping and dispatching hundreds of would-be rebels at Mt. Asamon. This section concludes, after a march inland up the Beit-Horon pass, with the establishment of camp at Gabaon (Givʿon, Gibeon), about 10 km north of Jerusalem (2.500–516).
The second phase comprises Cestius’ move from Gabaon to Jerusalem, his camping for several days on Mt. Scopus, and his apparent expectation of being admitted to the (western and upper-class) upper city—which very nearly happened (2.533–534, 538). When it did not happen, he had a small part of his force make a desultory effort against the northern wall of the temple, from which they quickly withdrew and headed back to Gabaon (2.517–544). Josephus repeatedly laments Cestius’ failure to take the city during this brief visit, whether by force or by missing chances to be let in, which would have ended the revolt and spared the temple (2.531–534, 538–541).
The third phase turns into complete disaster for Cestius and his troops, and a crucial early victory for the rebels that convinced them of divine support. Finding his army trapped in the camp at Gabaon, with an alarmingly large guerrilla force hiding in hills familiar to them (but not to him) all around, he abandons equipment and makes a run for the Beit-Horon pass, to reach the open plain as quickly as possible. Cestius’ forces had already suffered significant losses while ascending the Beit-Horon pass and in withdrawing from Jerusalem to Gabaon (2.517–19, 543–44). But now in this desperate rush to escape they are ambushed and, according to Josephus, lose another 5,800 men (2.555).
I have said that this account does not address the basic issues we need to know about for historical analysis. What it does, however, is contribute to the building tension of Josephus’ dramatic story, as we
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might expect, in his characteristic language. Major themes of the War are developed here, some of them for the first time in anticipation of the years-long conflict to come under Vespasian and Titus: a general mood of unavoidable tragic fate (if only Cestius had...); abrupt reversals of fortune (a powerful force destroyed); the thematized difference between highly trained and superbly equipped, disciplined Roman forces and Judaean irregulars, the former imposing and effective when fighting in formation but lacking versatility or personal resourcefulness, the latter unspeakably courageous, contemptuous of death, and resourceful with negligible resources; and the strength of Jerusalem’s walls, in which rebels will trust to the end (finally in vain). In particular, Josephus emphasizes Cestius’ alleged failure—to take Jerusalem when he had the chance. But such a lament obviously comes from his later perspective as writer. Did Cestius’ strategy really involve a military assault on Jerusalem? Josephus does not address that issue as such.
Before responding to that question, we should recognize that Josephus’ account brims with problems, if we set out to analyze it historically and geographically—in a way that he could not have expected his Roman audiences to do. Leaving aside its crucial omissions, we may also ask, of the narrative as it stands, such questions as these. At 2.516–521 Josephus describes the Judaeans, who are celebrating the Feast of Booths in Jerusalem, learning of the Roman advance only when the force reaches Gabaon. But how could they not have heard of the force’s arrival or the two weeks of massive destruction in Galilee and along the coast? How could a marching column of more than 30,000—10 km long if three abreast so as to manage the narrow passes, and counting infantry alone, perhaps 15 km long with cavalry and baggage train—simply be at one place or another, when Beit-Horon is only about 9 km from Gabaon? How could the Judaeans attack both frontally and at the rear (i.e., how did they get so quickly to the rear, 10 km away at Beit-Horon), as Josephus claims? And why would the Judaean guerrillas attack an extremely powerful Roman column frontally? Once he reached the interior, after such a relentless attack in the countryside, why did Cestius wait so long, both on Scopus and then outside the upper city, only to make a cursory assault—during one afternoon?—on the northern wall, which he must have known to be
impregnable (2.535–537)? What becomes of King Agrippa in all this:
Cestius’ knowledgeable guide and ally, who has quietly disappeared from the story? As for the disastrous return trip, Josephus’ description of the terrain has baffled interpreters, with Bezalel Bar-Kochva and
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Mordechai Gichon each proposing ways of relocating the ambush to better fit the actual topography, which does not boast the alpine features Josephus implies.
Minor criticisms aside, scholars have nevertheless taken Josephus’ narrative as a reliable starting place, even for military analysis. On that basis they agree that Cestius’ strategic aim must have been to capture Jerusalem, and that he failed in this key objective. S. G. F. Brandon (1970) saw Cestius as planning a decisive strike on the mother-city, delaying only to secure his supply lines along the way. But when he
got there he failed:
The crux of the problem lies in the legate’s decision to withdraw from the siege of Jerusalem. That this decision was sudden... rests on the statement of Josephus.... we can only accept it or reject it on grounds of our general evaluation of the testimony of Josephus and the internal probability of such a happening....110 Bar-Kochva saw Cestius assembling a larger force “to try and subdue the Jews,” but failing, and so withdrawing from Jerusalem suddenly “from logistic difficulties.”111 Gichon, in the most detailed assessment to date, declared that Cestius’ “aim obviously was to make a quick and direct move on Jerusalem,... to quench the uprising in its bud.” But “Instead of the swift move on Jerusalem demanded by the circumstances, Cestius interrupted his progress.” The reason for failure was that Cestius became too cautious and risk-averse. “The attack was called off, and to the astonishment of the besieged, Cestius decided on a general retreat.” Gichon finds much to admire in the early phase of Cestius’ campaign, but “The chief criticism... is that he was easily diverted from his primary objective [Jerusalem].”112 Finally, Adrian Goldsworthy also ponders realistic military reasons to explain Cestius’ abrupt withdrawal, in place of the religious ones given by Josephus, namely: he found he had unreliable troops in the new recruits of the Twelfth Legion and inadequate supplies. But surely Cestius knew all
that in advance? Echoing Josephus, Goldsworthy remarks:
S. G. F. Brandon, “The Defeat of Cestius Gallus, A. D. 66,” History Today 20 (Jan. 1970): 38–46 (44).
B. Bar-Kochva, “Seron and Cestius Gallus at Beith Horon,” PEQ 108 (1976):
M. Gichon, “Cestius Gallus’ Campaign in Galilee,” PEQ 113 (1981): 39–62 (42, 60).
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Although areas passed through en route were investigated briefly, the army marched straight to the head of the rebellion and country. If Jerusalem had fallen swiftly,... the revolt would have collapsed.113 Taking Josephus’ dramatic narrative as their starting point, then, scholars have tried to infer political and military strategy from it, while qualifying its areas of unreliability. The Judaeans were perceived to be in revolt and Cestius’ aim was to crush them. His objective was to reach and punish Jerusalem. What happened before Jerusalem was (or should have been) preliminary: to secure supply lines and destroy any possibility of fighting behind the lines.
I would point out, by contrast, that quite different scenarios might explain the evidence at least as well, though we can imagine these only in the context of a different kind of inquiry: one that begins with our own questions (as above) and does not regard Josephus’ story as our avenue to the real past. All the scenarios described here deal only with the expedition itself, ignoring everything that has gone before as well as the larger issues in Roman politics. If we took that earlier narrative seriously, with its implication of Cestius’ close relationship with Agrippa and receiving of intelligence from him, we might well conclude that the legate never had any intention of attacking Jerusalem. Even within the larger framework of Josephus’ narrative, Cestius had recently received letters from the Jerusalem leadership protesting about Florus, whom he may personally have been keen to remove if he could have done so with impunity—though at this sensitive point in Roman affairs that may have been impossible. He had been assured by his trusted tribune and the king together, as recently as two or three months earlier, that the city remained loyal and welcoming. At any rate, having visited Jerusalem himself at least once and observing its layers of walls, and having taken as much information as he needed from Agrippa and his tribune, it does not seem altogether plausible that he would have planned a siege of the fortress-like city to begin during Jerusalem’s harsh and wet winter (he reportedly arrived only in mid-October or so). There is nothing in Josephus’ story to suggest that he did plan a siege.
If we want to test hypotheses in response to our historical questions about Cestius’ aims (above), making the minimal assumption that his A. K. Goldsworthy, The Roman Army at War: 100 BC–AD 200 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 90.
mandate in Syria followed the standard lines for legates (keeping the province quiet and productive of revenue, liaising with local elites to ensure that this happened), and drawing in the other considerations mentioned concerning late Neronian politics, we might explain Josephus’ evidence rather as follows. (NB: I am not speaking of that account as an authority, but of evidence that needs to be explained by any hypothesis about the real past.) Cestius found himself in a predicament with Gessius Florus, whom he believed on the basis of trustworthy information from Agrippa, Berenice, and Jerusalem’s elite, to be the main aggravator. But his own position was too precarious, in the autumn of Corbulo’s recall,114 to allow a decisive move against Nero’s trusted agent. Cestius had to do something to deal with the unrest in the south, but even if he had reason to think that he could defeat the Judaean irregulars leading their side of the unrest he might not have desired a major military victory. A victorious Cestius might well be seen as a threat and too suitable for rule (capax imperii), like his contemporary Corbulo. After all, as we know, the Flavians would soon declare themselves fit for rule largely on the basis of a victory in Judaea. What was Cestius to do?
Since all diplomatic avenues were failing and the neighbouring Greek cities were becoming volatile, decisive action was necessary. But this should come with the lowest risk to his forces and himself, as well as minimal destruction for the Judaeans, especially for his allies among Jerusalem’s elite. His ultimate goal was to restore calm, not to create a festering sore. So he settled on a strategy that would combine various elements. He would begin with a highly visible march in force down the coast, with some exemplary burning and pillaging, even of villages and small towns that had shown no hint of an intention to revolt, such as the Judaeans’ only seaport at Joppa. He included a large allied cavalry contingent, with many archers, precisely for this phase: he wanted to range widely, rapidly, and visibly down the coastal plain.
This coastal campaign might serve two purposes at once. First, he would show the flag and dispel any notion that Judaea, though two weeks’ march from Antioch, was beyond his reach. Second, by inflicting a carefully circumscribed amount of wanton destruction on small population centres, he might hope to draw out anyone who was keen on fighting Romans. Once they came out into the open, as at Corbulo seems to have left Syria near the end of 66 c.e., arriving at Corinth’s port of Cenchraeae early in 67. See Vervaet, “Domitius Corbulo and the Senatorial Opposition,” 170.
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