«Edited by Mladen Popović LEIDEN • BOSTON © 2012 Koninklijke Brill NV CONTENTS List of Figures and Tables Preface List of Contributors The Jewish ...»
Tommaso Leoni is completing a doctoral dissertation (History, York University) on this arch. In the meantime see F. Millar, “Last Year in Jerusalem: Monuments of the Jewish War in Rome,” in Flavius Josephus and Flavian Rome (ed. Edmondson, Mason, and Rives), 101–28.
Translation from P. R. Taylor, “Valerius’ Flavian Argonautica,” CQ 44 (1994), 212–35, who argues (213–16) that publication under Vespasian, though the author emphasizes the continuity of his dynasty through his sons with significant attention to Domitian, best suits the evidence of the text.
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account of the end had survived, it would be no surprise if he had portrayed Titus as keen to destroy the city and its fortress-temple. It has often been observed that the epitome of Cassius Dio has Titus eager to lead the charge, driving his superstitious troops forward into the temple (65/66.6.2). That is what a general must do at the moment of assault, maintaining unbroken morale for the fight, and such images of decisive strength fit what is known of the Flavian portrait.
But such inferences from the final outcome overlook the tangle of strategic and tactical issues facing commanders on a daily basis. The ancients did not make our common distinction between strategy and tactics, since the commander (stratēgos) was assumed to be on the scene of battle, not a remote planner. Everything that concerned him was called stratēgeia (the general’s sphere) and in particular he was expected to employ stratēgēmata—ruses, deceptions, tactics (Frontinus, Strat. 1 praef. 4).141 But like modern strategic and tactical thinking, all such planning was risk-averse by nature. It tries to achieve its objectives with minimal loss to one’s own resources, troops, and morale while inflicting maximal damage on those of the enemy—especially sapping their morale.142 These considerations influence Titus all the way of Josephus’ narrative. Shortly before the council he reflects that his initial instinct “to spare foreign sacred sites” has brought only death and injury for his troops, and that is why he orders the temple gates burned (B.J. 6.228).
When Josephus gives his reasons in the council for again wanting to avoid the temple’s destruction, they do not include religious or altruistic compunctions but again focus on Roman interests. His fight is with the enemy’s men, not their buildings. Destroying their morale or their physical existence is the key to ending this conflict, whereas if the temple burns the Romans will be the ones harmed the most (Ῥωμαίων γὰρ ἔσεσθαι τὴν βλάβην, 6.241)—whether because the empire will lose a great landmark, or because destruction will risk arousing the ire and animosity of Judaeans around the empire and in the Parthian See the handbook of Stratēgēmata compiled by Josephus’ contemporary in Rome, Sex. Iulius Frontinus. The fourth-century handbook by Vegetius, Epitoma rei militaris, gives particular attention to questions of morale. Cf. E. L. Wheeler, Stratagem and the Vocabulary of Military Trickery (Leiden: Brill, 1988).
See, e.g., B. H. Liddell Hart, Strategy: The Indirect Approach (3d rev. ed.; London:
Faber and Faber, 1954); E. Luttwak, Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace (rev. ed.;
Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 2001).
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world, or simply because of the immediate risk to his soldiers in fighting defenders willing to die in its defence (cf. Dio 65/66.6.2).
Josephus’ thematic description of Titus’ avoidance of unnecessary risk, in contrast to the death-defying style of the Judaean guerrillas fighting for survival in their homeland, seems a plausible reflection of reality. Just as Velleius Paterculus had said of Tiberius that “no opportunity for victory seemed to him timely for which he would have to pay with the sacrifice of his soldiers; always, the course that was safest seemed to him also the most glorious” (115.5), so Josephus makes the telling observation that, while each Judaean was risking life and limb (B.J.
Titus was taking precautions for the security of his soldiers no less than for their success. Saying that the thoughtless charge was an act of desperation, and that the only real valour was accompanied by forethought and not the manufacture of suffering, he directed his troops to show themselves men in ways that posed no risk to themselves.
Destroying the Jerusalem temple in close-quarter combat would unavoidably have been a high-risk operation, whereas if it remained it would be “an ornament of their imperium/power” (καὶ κόσμον τῆς ἡγεμονίας, 6.241), whatever that means exactly. According to Josephus, Titus had earlier tried to spare the whole city in the realization that it would be preserved or destroyed for himself as heir to the throne (5.360: Τίτος δὲ σώζεσθαί τε τὴν πόλιν καὶ ἀπόλλυσθαι εἰδὼς ἑαυτῷ).
Given that the Romans’ strategic aims should have included the post-war situation they wished to preside over, while their tactical aims would have required minimizing loss, and their soldiers, having sat outside Jerusalem through scorching summer months with little cover, were exhausted and may even have faced a dire water shortage (so Dio 65/66.4.5), it is not difficult to imagine that Titus would have been watching for the least costly path to victory.
What that path was could not have been clear to him on a day-today basis, for it depended largely on the Judaean leaders and their willingness to surrender. According to Josephus, Titus half-expected a general surrender at his first arrival outside the walls (B.J. 5.52–53), and he pulled out every carrot and stick in his suitcase to try to bring this about as time wore on. His measures were not all congenial, and again cannot reflect Josephus’ mere flattery of Titus. They included the crucifixion of badly beaten prisoners outside the walls, permitting the soldiers to invent creative postures as mockery, and cutting off the hands of many captives to prove that they were prisoners—
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all in order to intimidate the besieged and force an early capitulation (5.289, 446–459; cf. 348–356). Just as the repeated droves of refugees, which allegedly included leading aides to the Judaean commanders (6.229), could not have been predicted, so too John of Gischala and Simon bar Giora might—for all Titus knew—have decided to surrender much earlier than they did. Titus could not have had a fixed plan, therefore, impervious to developments on the ground. If a general surrender had come early, and he could then have garrisoned the city with a legion (as he would soon garrison the ruins with the Tenth), it is difficult to believe that he would have gone to the considerable and counterproductive effort of destroying the fortress Antonia or the adjacent temple complex.
As for councils and consultations, we should imagine that Titus was constantly consulting his general staff, who were always close by, as we see in the other case that Josephus mentions (above), which resulted in the construction of a circumvallation (B.J. 5.491). It is not surprising that Titus, still only thirty and with relatively little command experience, should seek the counsel of his senior colleagues, who would also play important parts in the Flavian regime. If a meeting such as Josephus describes really happened, it occurred at a specific moment in a rapidly changing scene, and its purpose was not to declare Titus’ policy to his commanders. Issuing orders did not require a council.
Councils were held for the airing of competent opinions from senior commanders so that a sound decision could be taken about what to do next.143 Notice Josephus’ language at the earlier consultation: after all opinions had been aired and justified, Titus had first to persuade his officers of his reasons and, after winning their agreement, he directed them to divide up the work among their forces (B.J. 5.502: Τούτοις πείσας τοὺς ἡγεμόνας διανέμειν ἐκέλευσε τὰς δυνάμεις ἐπὶ τὸ ἔργον).
Similarly, this later consilium is convened “to bring forward for discussion the question of the shrine” (6.238) and all views on the subject are expressed. In this case Titus persuades only three of the commanders, but it is enough. Again, debate and persuasion precede the execution of the newly consolidated plan (B.J. 6.242–243).
Even if we had a tape-recording of such a meeting on the temple’s fate, therefore, it would not tell us anything more than this is what Titus and his commanders expressed to each other that afternoon. It See already Thucydides 7.60, where the Athenian generals (stratēgoi), nearly trapped at Syracuse, hold a council to confer also with the commanders (taxiarchoi).
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would not necessarily tell us (a) what they really felt or (b) how long they had held, or would continue to support, the views they expressed in that moment. These opinions must have been in flux as the siege progressed, or no council would have been necessary. Josephus claims that Titus himself had already given up on sparing the temple as too costly for him and so ordered the fires lit (B.J. 6.228), but hardly a day later ordered the fires extinguished to facilitate a major assault. If three of Titus’ commanders instantly changed their minds upon hearing their general, how can we know that he too had not been changing course in response to developments or that he would not have adjusted course again the next day if events had not overtaken him?
Such a meeting of the consilium is not the place to look for policy.
Recognizing that Titus could not have known when or how the end would come shows the futility of imagining that we could gain a clear knowledge of his aims by declaring either Josephus’ or Severus’ version of the council-of-war story reliable. Titus’ views and actions might have taken many forms that are no longer recoverable; an uncontrollably large number of scenarios could explain what ended up in Josephus’ and Sulpicius’ accounts. We lack the independent evidence that alone would permit us to narrow the range of options. Perhaps he arrived in Judaea determined to destroy the temple, but then thought he might save it, or the reverse. Perhaps he was influenced more by Tiberius Iulius Alexander at some times, less at others. Perhaps there were personal conflicts or tensions among some of these offers (there must have been some because there always are). And what of King Agrippa and Berenice? We might suppose that they were committed to the temple’s survival: they reportedly visited Jerusalem often, where they relished the view of the sacred precincts from their upper city palace across the Tyropoeon Valley.144 Agrippa, who enjoyed the high privilege of appointing high priests, had served as local expert for both Cestius and Vespasian.145 He seems also to have remained Titus’ close associate (B.J. 4.498–500) and perhaps provided soldiers also for the final campaign (B.J. 5.42). At some point, Berenice notoriously became Titus’ lover (some years later joining him in Rome).146 Although Josephus found no reason to mention the royal pair in this part of his B.J. 2.2.310–314, 333–34, 405, 426, 595; A.J. 20.189–195.
B.J. 2.500–502; 3.29, 443; 4.14–15.
Suetonius, Tit. 7.1; Tacitus, Hist. 2.2; Cassius Dio 65/66.15.4, 18.1.
narrative, we must wonder what influence their counsel exercised on Titus.
My point is that any of these things might have happened in reality, and Josephus could still have written his story, which is at the very least shaped, worded, and situated by him for narrative reasons.
Whether it also obscures in some significant way what Titus said on that occasion, or (more or less) faithfully reports it we cannot know.
But in the end it does not matter, because even if we felt the confidence to declare the story a word-perfect transcript, it would tell us little about Titus’ general views or those of his commanders.
Part III. Summary and Conclusion
I have argued the general proposition that one’s view of history makes an enormous difference to the way in which one goes about it. Part I was devoted to developing a model of history that would accommodate the special problems of Roman-period Judaea and the events of the Great War. Namely, history is fundamentally a process of methodical and open-ended inquiry into the human past, which does not get its validity from its ability to produce confident conclusions. Part II comprises two case studies related to the Judaean-Roman war: Cestius Gallus’ Judaean campaign and Titus’ destruction of the temple. In both cases I sought to explore the differences between an approach to history that looked first for reliable narratives or authorities to guide us, on which we only exercised our critical skills, and one that began with the investigator’s own questions, whether or not these had ever been discussed by an ancient writer. I argued that if our goal is to re-imagine the real events of the past in all of their complexity, and the possibilities facing significant players, we must push to one side each piece of surviving evidence, including Josephus’ narratives, which could only ever throw a glancing light on the lost reality. In the course of our investigation, however, we will need to interpret and explain that evidence. The more independent evidence we have, the better chance we have of narrowing the range of possibilities. Where we have only one substantial account, as in the two cases we have considered, the number of possible scenarios prevents us from claiming much confidence about what really happened.
My conclusion is that explorers face perils, and they alone assume the attendant risks. Historians are intellectual and sometimes physical
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explorers. Not content with what tradition has laid at our door, all refined and soft and easy to manage, we undertake to explore in a methodical way certain problems of interest to us and our peers concerning the distant past. In doing so, however, we bear the risks. It seems that in the study of Roman Judaea we often do not see clearly that we are explorers, that everything depends on us. We often appear to want an air-conditioned ride, provided by poor old Josephus, through the forbidding landscape of Roman Palestine. When the terrain becomes impassible, the light fails, or we need to get out and put some effort into it, we act surprised, blaming our driver whom we have dragooned into service: he failed to provide what we were after or even suppressed it. We reduce our task to reading Josephus’ accounts and (albeit with the help of archaeology and other sources) rendering a verdict on his reliability.
If Josephus could recall his flesh in whatever Roman catacomb houses his bones, and raise himself on the one elbow for just sixty
seconds, I expect that he might tell us with a tired smile:
Chevrei, zeh lo baaya sheli: This is not my problem. I led a busy life and did my best, and wrote until I could write no more. I came through many dangers and exhausted myself explaining the tragedy of our war with Rome and the beauty of our ancestral laws and constitution. I wrote what I thought was most useful to make my impression, in the style of the time. Now you want to know all sorts of other things about our lives back then? Kol ha-kavod. Lehitraot. [More power to you. Goodbye!] To return to our starting point: historical method cannot change because we have the extraordinarily elaborate accounts of Josephus for first-century Judaea. We are in the same logical predicament as those who study the Josephusless provinces. Our advantages are that with Josephus we have a greater possibility of finding corroborative evidence for other literary and material evidence and that his narratives prompt many questions that we would not have known to ask if his writings had not survived. We may not be able to answer these questions, but the process of working through them is the essential part of historia.