• sulla80

Romans in Judaea


Ruins of Herod's Castle in Fortress Massada, Israel, used under license from Shutterstock.


Vespasian and his sons used their success in ending a rebellion in Judaea, 70 BCE, to promote their military prowess and strengthen their claim to lead the Roman Empire. The "Judaea Capta" coins of Vespasian are unusual in their use of "Capta" (captured) instead of "Recepta" (received/returned) in reference to a rebelling province. My coin of interest today comes from Judaea in 71 CE as Titus is returning to Rome victorius. Before getting to this coin, I will show a couple of Roman republican coins from an earlier clash between Judaea and Rome, 1st century BCE.

M. Aemilius Scaurus and Pub. Plautius Hypsaeus; 58 BCE; AR Denarius; Rome mint Obv: [M SCAVR] / AED CVR / EX - S C / REX ARETAS, Nabatean king Aretas kneeling to right, holding reins and olive branch before camel standing right

Rev: P HVPSAE / AED CVR / C HVPSAE COS / PREIVE / CAPTV, Jupiter, holding reins and hurling thunderbolt, driving quadriga left; scorpion below horses

Ref: Crawford 422/1b; Sydenham 913; Aemilia 8;


This coin was issued before Judaea was annexed as a province. This Roman republican denarius from 58 BCE, celebrates the surrender of King Aretas III of Nabataea to Marcus Scaurus. Scaurus accepted a bribe of several thousand talents of silver, in 62 BCE, to end a siege on Petra, capitol of Nabataea, and allow Aretas to continue to rule as a client king to Rome.


In a civil war between Hasmolean brothers, King Aretas supported Hyrcanus (older brother) against Aristobulus (younger brother). Both were sons of Alexander Jannaeus, High Priest and King of Judaea who reigned 103 – 76 BCE. The Romans got involved with pleas from both brothers. The brothers were backed by competing Jewish communities, the Pharisees supporting Hyrcanus and the Saduccees supporting Aristobulus. Although M. Aemilius Scarus initially supported Aristobulus, Pompey the Great eventually restored Hyrcanus as high priest and divided up administration of Judaea under Antipater, the first king of the Herodian dynasty, father of Herod the Great, and a puppet to Hyrcanus.


This coin of a later Nabataean King, Aretas IV (9/8 BCE to 39/40 CE) most likely related, but not a direct descendant of Aretas III.

Nabataea, Aretas IV, with Shuqailat I, circa 9/8 BCE-CE 40, Æ 18mm, Petra mint

Obv: Jugate, draped busts of Aretas and Shuqailat right

Rev: Crossed cornucopias


An article by Wallace-Hadrill reflecting on the meaning of obverse and reverse dies of coins of Augustus, highlights this Roman Republican denarius with two reverses. It is not the only example of the moneyer's, M. Aemilius Scaurus', apparent disregard for community values and norms.

"A new stage is reached with the 50s. Until this point a conventional contrast is normally sustained between 'heads' and 'tails': the obverse is occupied by the head of a god. This is important, for though the god may be chosen for particular relevance to the moneyer's family, and though some deities (like Concordia) are explicitly persuasive in a way that Roma is not, nevertheless a god represents an appeal to a value which might be common to the whole community. There is thus a sort of balance between the common value of the obverse and the 'private', family value frequent on the reverse. With the so this balance is disrupted, and a vivid sign of that is the increasing tendency to abandon the typological distinction of 'heads' and 'tails'. I draw attention to the extraordinary double-tailed issue of M. Aemilius Scaurus and P. Hypsaeus as aediles in 58: the kneeling camel on one face points to Scaurus' success in Nabataea, the triumphal chariot on the other with the gloss PREIVIR recalls the capture of Privernum by an ancestor of Hypsaeus (P1. II, i). This aedileship struck the elder Pliny as a turning point in the corruption of Roman morals: this coin seems to symbolize disregard for the common values of the community."
-Wallace-Hadrill, A. (1986). Image and Authority in the Coinage of Augustus. The Journal of Roman Studies, 76, 66–87. 

Marcus Aemelius Scaurus was the step-son of Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Sulla married Caecilia Metella, the widow of Scaurus' father. Another example of Scaurus' disregard for community norms is described by Pliny: a temporary theater built by M. Scaurus as quaestor, which is exceeded in opulence to the houses of Roman emperors Gaius (Caligula) and Nero.

The Temporary Theater of Marcus Saurus, Giacomo Lauro (1630), Antiquae urbis splendor, Public Domain Image via Archive.org

"I shall not allow these two birds of a feather, two Gaiuses or two Neros as you please, to enjoy unchallenged even renown such as this; and so I shall show that even their madness was outdone by the resources of a private individual, Marcus Scaurus, whose aedileship may perhaps have done more than58 b.c. anything to undermine morality, and whose powerful ascendancy may have been a more mischievous achievement on the part of his stepfather Sulla than the killing by proscription of so many thousands of people."
- Pliny, Natural History, Book XXXVI.113-114 

A. Plautius, 55 BCE, AR Denarius, Rome mint. Turreted

Obv: A. PLA(VTIVS) AED CVR S.C., head of Cybele right

Rev: BACCHIVS-IVDAEVS Bacchius Judaeus (Aristobulus II, High Priest and King of Judaea) kneeling right, holding reins and offering up olive branch; to left, camel standing right

Ref: Crawford 431/1; Sydenham 932; Plautia 13; RBW 1540


Michael Harlan has made a reasonable case for "Bacchius the Jew" in supplication on the reverse being the Judaean high priest Aristobulus II who near the time of this coin had been recaptured and returned to Rome around 56 BCE. Pompey the Great deposed Aristobulus after his siege of Jerusalem in 63 BCE and paraded him in his triumph. He may have been called "Bacchius" during his time in Rome or given the name based based on his religious practices. Aulus Plautius was supported of Pompey.


Vespasian & Titus


Suetonius tells a story of Jewish uprising:

"There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judaea to rule the world. This prediction, referring to the emperor of Rome, as afterwards appeared from the event, the people of Judaea took to themselves; accordingly they revolted and after killing their governor, they routed the consular ruler of Syria as well, when he came to the rescue, and took one of his eagles. Since to put down this rebellion required a considerable army with a leader of no little enterprise, yet one to whom so great power could be entrusted without risk, Vespasian was chosen for the task, both as a man of tried energy and as one in no wise to be feared because of the obscurity of his family and name."
-Suetonius, Life of Vespasian, 4.4 

Josephus tells the story of how the Jews were pushed to revolt by the Roman procurator of 66-64 BCE, Gessius Florus:


Gessius [Florus] did his unjust actions to the harm of the nation after a pompous manner: and, as though he had been sent as an executioner to punish condemned malefactors, he omitted no sort of rapine, or of vexation; where the case was really pitiable, he was most barbarous, and in things of the greatest turpitude he was most impudent. Nor could any one outdo him in disguising the truth, nor could any one contrive more subtle ways of deceit than he did.
-Josephus, Jewish Wars, 14.2

Florus further fanned the flames by taking 17 talents from the temple treasury.

Moreover, as to the citizens of Jerusalem, although they took this matter very ill, yet did they restrain their passion; but Florus acted herein as if he had been hired, and blew up the war into a flame, and sent some to take seventeen talents out of the sacred treasure, and pretended that Cæsar wanted them.
-Josephus, Jewish Wars, 14.6

The Jewish uprising started in 66 CE. In 67 CE, Vespasian was given the responsibility by Nero to end the rebellion in Judaea.


While this was underway, in 69 CE, there were four Roman emperors: Nero took his own life 9-Jun-68 after Galba was declared emperor and the Senate declared Nero a public enemy. Otho initially a supporter of Galba turned on him after he was not named as Galba's heir and killed him 15-Jan-69. Vitellius defeated Otho in battle and Otho killed himself on 19-Apr-69, at which point the Senate appointed Vitellius as emperor. This is when Vespasian joined the fray with his own bid to be emperor. Vitellius was killed 20-Dec-69, and this left Vespasian, who was acknowledge by the Senate on 21-Dec-69.


Vespasian returned to Rome and left his son, Titus, behind to finish the fight in Judaea, which he did with a long siege of Jerusalem in 70 April – 8 September 70 CE. The success in Judaea was a useful tool in reinforcing the new emperor's authority and establishing his dynasty. An oil painting entitled "The Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem" by Francesco Hayez from 1867 dramatizes the scene.


This next coin was issued in Caesarea Maritima, in the name of Titus and is often overlooked in the "Judaea Capta" series. For me, this coin is particularly interesting as it comes from the region of conflict. This CoinWeek article about Vespasian's Judaea Capta series of coins, doesn't mention the coin that attracted my interest this week.

A map showing the location of Caesarea Maritima - today a National Park in Israel.


This local 'Judaea Capta' type, minted in Caesarea Maritima, is a type IIb from the article by Barag. It does spark thought about the use of the environment in Caesarea for any remaining Jerwish population. Josephus reports that Caesarea blew up at the beginning of the rebellion and resulted in massacre.

"The calamities and slaughters that came upon the Jews.
Now the people of  Cesarea had slain the Jews that were among them on the very same day and  hour [when the soldiers were slain], which one would think must have  come to pass by the direction of Providence; insomuch, that in one  hour’s time above twenty thousand Jews were killed, and all Cesarea was emptied of its Jewish inhabitants; for Florus caught such as ran away, and sent them in bonds to the gallies." 
-Josephus, Jewish Wars, Book II 18.1  

Judaea, Titus, As Caesar 69-79 CE, Æ 21mm (7.26g, 12h), Caesarea Maritima, struck 71 CE

Obv: AYTOKP TITOC]KAIΣAP, laureate head to right

Rev: [IOYΔAIAC] [ЄA]ΛѠKYIAC, Victory standing to right, with foot on helmet, inscribing [AYT KAIΣ] on shield resting on knee; palm behind

Ref:RPC II 2311

22. the footnote references CM Kraay argument that this coin echoing the Roman issues would not have appeared until Autumn of 71

- D. Barag, The Numismatic Chronicle, 1978: 14–23


The First Jewish-Roman War dragged on after Titus returned to Rome in the spring of 71 CE. IT wasn't until 2 years later that a final siege of Massada ended with 960 people killing themselves rather than be subjected to Roman rule. Josephus relates the story in The Jewish War Book VII Chapter 9 "How the people that were in the fortress were prevailed on by the words of Eleazar, two women and five children only excepted; and all submitted to be killed by one another."


"While the Romans desire the contrary: and are afraid lest any of us should die before we are taken. Let us therefore make haste, and instead of affording them so much pleasure, as they hope for in getting us under their power; let us leave them an example which shall at once cause their astonishment at our death, and their admiration of our hardiness therein."
-Josephus, The Jewish War Book VII Chapter 9 

Massada one of the most popular tourist destinations in Israel today.


References in addition to those listed above in line



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