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160 C.E. ― 230 C.E. Cassius Dio

Coin of HadrianJulius Caesar, Pompey, Hadrian

Judaism, Mathius Antigonus, Jewish Proselytizing, Syria Palestine

Temple Mount, Sabbath, The Jewish God, Jews in Rome

The references made by Cassius Dio to Jews and Judaism in his Roman History are of no slight interest. His views reflect the social and cultural milieu of the Greek cities of Asia Minor at the end of the second century C.E., places with old-established contacts between Greeks and Jews. Dio also attained high positions in the Roman administration from the time of Septimius Severus to that of Alexander Severus, including the important military governorship of Pannonia Superior. Some passages in his account constitute the most important literary source for crucial events of Jewish history in the Roman period, namely, the Jewish revolts under Trajan and Hadrian (Nos. 438, 440). They are also of value for supplementing the accounts of Josephus and the other sources for the history of the Jewish war against Rome (No. 430). Whatever may have been his sources and the extent of his dependence on them in regard to the facts, Dio frequently colours his history by his own views and experience, especially when the subject is of interest to him, and, while relating the past, he does not lose sight of contemporary situations and implications.

The capture of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 B.C.E. afforded Dio a suitable occasion for a description of the main features of the Jewish religion (No. 406). He states that the Jews are distinguished from the rest of mankind in practically every detail of life. Significantly, however, in contrast to earlier writers, he makes no attempt to explain Jewish separatism by misanthropy. Dio was acquainted with the monotheistic principle of the Jewish religion, and knew that the Jews had never set up a statue of their God, who is ineffable. This is also emphasized by Dio’s presumed source for the history of the late Roman republic, (i.e. the History of Livy (No. 133). Two expressions of Jewish worship are especially mentioned by Dio, the large and beautiful Temple, and the dedication of the Day of Saturn (e.g. Sabbath) to the Deity. Dio notes that the Jews keep many peculiar observances and engage in no serious occupations on that day. However, he neither considers the Sabbath a fast day nor confuses it with the Day of Atonement, unlike many of his pagan predecessors.

Although Dio emphasizes the military disadvantage suffered by the defenders of the Temple of Jerusalem as a result of the strict observance of the Sabbath, he refrains from making carping remarks about Jewish superstition. On one occasion he even speaks in a respectful tone of the devotion to their religion of the Jews serving in the forces of Mathius Antigonus (No. 414). As a contemporary of the Severi, he does not omit to mention that, though the Jews had often been repressed (in former times), they had won their right to freedom of religious observance (No. 406). On the other hand, he also states that the Jewish race is very bitter when aroused to anger, and his account of the Jewish revolt under Trajan includes a tale of atrocities perpetrated by Jews (No. 437). He records without comment that Vespasian and Titus did not assume the title of “Iudaicus” after their victory over the Jews (No. 430).

Dio was alert to the phenomenon of proselytism. He states that the name “Jews” applied also to aliens who followed Jewish customs (No. 406), and gives as reason for the anti-Jewish measures introduced by Tiberius in 19 C.E. the success of Jewish religious propaganda (No. 419). He is the sole source to record that some Roman soldiers taking part in the siege of Jerusalem thought that the city was impregnable and deserted to the Jews (No. 430). In connection with the Jewish revolt under Hadrian, Dio remarks that many foreign nations joined the Jewish rebels, though he adduces desire for gain and not sympathy with Judaism as their reason for doing so (No. 440).

Historia Romana, XXXVII, 15: 2 – 17: 4

Hebrew God, Sabbath, Temple Mount, Jerusalem

63 B.C.E.

 (15 :2) Pompey (e.g. the Great) accordingly marched against him [scil. Aretas] and his neighbours, and, overcoming them without effort, left them in charge of a garrison. Thence he proceeded against Syria Palaestina, because its inhabitants had ravaged Phoenicia. Their rulers were two brothers, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, who were quarreling themselves, as it chanced, and were creating factions in the cities on account of the priesthood (for so they called their kingdom) of their god, whoever he is. (3) Pompey immediately won over Hyrcanus without a battle, since the latter had no force worthy of note; and by shutting up Aristobulus in a certain place he compelled him to come to terms, and when he would surrender neither the money nor the garrison, he threw them into chains. After this he more easily overcame the rest, but had trouble in besieging Jerusalem.

(16:1) Most of the city, to be sure, he took without any trouble, as he was received by the party of Hyrcanus; but the temple itself, which the other party had occupied, he captured only with difficulty. (2) For it was on high ground and was fortified by a wall of its own, and if they had continued defending it on all days alike, he could not have got possession of it. As it was, they made an exception of what are called the days of Saturn (e.g. Sabbath), and by doing no work at all on those days afforded the Romans an opportunity in this interval to batter down the wall. (3) The latter, on learning of this superstitious awe of theirs, made no serious attempts the rest of the time, but on those days, when they came round in succession, assaulted most vigorously. (4) Thus the defenders were captured on the day of Saturn, without making any defence, and all the wealth was plundered.

(17:1) I do not know how this title (e.g. Jews) came to be given them, but it applies also to all the rest of mankind, although of alien race, who affect their customs. This class exists even among the Romans, and though often repressed has increased to a very great extent and has won its way to the right of freedom it its observances. (2) They are distinguished from the rest of mankind in practically every detail of life, and especially by the fact that they do not honour any of the usual gods, but show extreme reverence for one particular divinity. They never had any statue of him even in Jerusalem itself, but believing him to be unnamable and invisible, they worship him in the most extravagant fashion on earth. (3) They built to him a Temple that was extremely large and beautiful, except in so far as it was open and roofless, and likewise dedicated to him the day called the day of Saturn, on which, among many other most peculiar observances, they undertake no serious occupation. (4) Now as for him (e.g. God), who he is and why he has been so honoured, and how they got their superstitious awe of him, accounts have been given by many, and moreover these matters have naught to do with this history.

Julius Caesar

Crucifixion of Mathius Antigonus, The Temple Mount, Sabbath

Historia Romana, XLIX, 22:3-23:1

37 B.C.E.

(22: 3) And Gaius Sosius received from him the governorship of Syria and Cilicia. This officer subdued the Aradii, who had been besieged up to this time and had been reduced to hard straits by famine and disease, and also conquered in battle Antigonus (e.g. Mathius Antigonus ― the last Jewish King), who had put to death the Roman guards that were with him, and reduced him by siege when he took refuge in Jerusalem. (4) The Jews, indeed, had done much injury to the Romans, for the race is very bitter when aroused to anger, but they suffered far more themselves. The first of them to be captured were those who were fighting for the precinct of their God, and then the rest on the day even then called the day of Saturn. (5) And so excessive were they in their devotion to religion that the first set of prisoners, those who had been captured along with the temple, obtained leave from Sosius, when the day of Saturn came round again, and went up into the temple, and there performed all the customary rites, together with the rest of the people. (6) These people Antony (e.g. Marc) entrusted to a certain Herod to govern; but Antigonus he bound to a cross and flogged ― a punishment no other king had suffered at the hands of the Romans ― and afterwards he slew him.

The Jews Proselytizing

Histora Romana, LVII, 18:5a

19 C.E.

As the Jews flocked to Rome in great numbers and were converting many of the natives to their ways, he [scil. Tiberius] banished most of them.

Jews in Rome

Historia Romana, LX, 6:6

49 C.E.

As for the Jews, who had again increased so greatly that by reason of their multitude it would have been hard without raising a tumult to bar them from the city (e.g. Rome), he [scil. Claudius] did not drive them out, but ordered them, while continuing their traditional mode of life, not to hold meetings.

Nero, Vespasian, The Jewish Revolt (66―73 C.E.)

Historia Romana, LXIII, 22:1a, apud: Zonaras

66 C.E.

While Nero was still in Greece, the Jews revolted openly, and he sent Vespasian against them.

Historia Romana, LXVI, 1: 1-4, apud: Xiphilinus

Josephus Predicted Vespasian world become Emperor

68 C.E.

(1) The consular office was assumed by Vespasian and Titus while the former was in Egypt and the latter in Palestine. (2) Now portents and dreams had come to Vespasian pointing to the sovereignty long beforehand … (3) and Nero himself in his dreams once thought that he had brought the car of Jupiter to Vespasian’s house. (4) These portents needed interpretation; but not so the saying of a Jew named Josephus; he, having earlier been captured by Vespasian and imprisoned, laughed and said: “You may imprison me now, but a year from now, when you have become emperor, you will release me.

Destruction of the Temple, Tish b’ Av, Fiscus Judaicus, Jews of Babylon, Bar Gioras Executed in Rome

Vespasian and Titus become Emperor

City of David

Historia Romana, LXVI, 4-7

August – 70 C.E.

(4:1) Titus, who had been assigned to the war against the Jews, undertook to win them over by certain representations and promises; but, as they would not yield, he now proceeded to wage war upon them. The first battles he fought were indecisive; then he got the upper hand and proceeded to besiege Jerusalem. This city had three walls, including one that surrounded the Temple. (2) The Romans, accordingly, heaped up mounds against the outer wall, brought up their engines, joined battle with all who sailed forth to fight, and repulsed them, and with their slings and arrows kept back all the defenders of the wall; for they had many slingers and bowmen that had been sent by some of the barbarian kings. (3) The Jews also were assisted by many of their countrymen from the region about and by many who professed the same religion, not only from the Roman Empire but also from beyond the Euphrates; and these, also, kept hurling missiles and stones with (4) no little force on account of their higher position, some being flung by the hand and some hurled by means of engines. They also made sallies both night and day, whenever occasion offered, set fire to the siege engines, slew many of their assailants, and undermined the Romans’ mounds by removing the earth through tunnels driven under the wall. As for the battering rams, sometimes they threw ropes around them and broke them off, sometimes they pulled them up with hooks, and again they used thick planks fastened together and strengthened with iron, which they let down in front of the wall and thus fended off the blows of still others. (5) But the Romans suffered most hardship from the lack of water; for their supply was of poor quality and had to be brought from a distance. The Jews found in their underground passages a source of strength; for they had had these tunnels dug from inside the city and extending out under the walls to distant points in the country, and going out through them, they would attack the Romans’ water-carriers and harass any scattered detachments. But Titus stopped up all these passages. (5:1) In the course of these operations many on both sides were wounded and killed. Titus himself was struck on the left shoulder by a stone, and as a result of this accident that arm was always weaker. (2) In time, however, the Romans scaled the outside wall, and then, pitching their camp between this and the second circuit, proceeded to assault the latter. But here they found the conditions of fighting different; for now that all the besieged had retired behind the second wall, its defence proved an easier matter because its circuit was shorter. (3) Titus therefore once more made a proclamation offering them immunity. But even then they held out and those of them that were taken captive or deserted kept secretly destroying the Romans’ water supply and slaying any troops that they could isolate and cut off from the rest; hence Titus would no longer receive any Jewish deserters. (4) Meanwhile some of the Romans, too, becoming disheartened, as often happens in a protracted siege, and suspecting, furthermore, that the city was really impregnable, as was commonly reported, went over to the other side. The Jews, even though they were short of food, treated these recruits kindly, in order to be able to show that there were deserters to their side also. (6:1) Though a breach was made in the wall by means of engines, nevertheless, the capture of the place did not immediately follow even then, On the contrary, the defenders killed great number that tried to crowd through the opening, and they also set fire to some of the buildings near by, hoping thus to check the further progress of the Romans, even though they should gain possession of the wall. In this way they not only damaged the wall but at the same time unintentionally burned down the barrier around the sacred precinct, so that the entrance to the temple was now laid open to the Romans. (2) Nevertheless, the soldiers because of their superstition did not immediately rush in, but at last, under compulsion from Titus, they made their way inside. Then the Jews defended themselves much more vigorously than before, as if they had discovered a piece of rare good fortune in being able to fight near the Temple and fall in its defence. The populace was stationed below in the court, the councilors on the steps, and the priests in the sanctuary itself. (3) And though they were but a handful fighting against a far superior force, they were not conquered until a part of the temple was set on fire. Then they met death willingly, some throwing themselves on the swords of the Romans, some slaying one another, others taking their own lives, and still others leaping into the flames. And it seemed to everybody, and especially to them, that so far from being destruction, it was victory and salvation and happiness to them that they perished along with the temple. (7:1) Yet even under these conditions many captives were taken, among them Bar Gioras, their leader (e.g. Simon Bar Gioras); and he was the only one to be executed in connection with a triumphal celebration (e.g. In Rome). (2) Thus was Jerusalem destroyed on the very day of Saturn, the day which even now the Jews reverence most. From that time forth it was ordered that the Jews who continued to observe their ancestral customs should pay an annual tribute (e.g. Fiscus Judaicus) of two denarii to Jupiter Capitolinus. In consequence of this success both generals received the title of imperator, but neither got that of Judaicus, although all other honours that were fitting on the occasion of so magnificent a victory, including triumphal arches, were voted to them.

Jewish Proselytizing

Historia Romana, LXVII, 14: 1-3, apud: Xiphilinus

81 C.E.

(1) And the same year Domitian slew, along with many others, Flavius Clemens the consul, although he was a cousin and had to wife Flavia Domitlla, who was also a relative of the emperor. (2) The charge brought against them both was that of atheism, a charge on which many others who drifted into Jewish ways were condemned. Some of these were put to death, and the rest were at least deprived of their property.

Jewish Revolt against Emperor Trajan in Cyrene, Egypt, Cyprus

Historia Romana, LXVIII, 32: 1-3, apud: Xiphilinus

115 – 117 C.E.

Trajan therefore departed thence, and a little later began to fail in health. Meanwhile the Jews in the region of Cyrene had but a certain Andreas at their head, and were destroying both the Romans and the Greeks. In all two hundred and twenty thousand persons perished. In Egypt, too, they perpetrated many similar outrages and in Cyprus under the leadership pf a certain Artemion. There, also, two hundred and forty thousand perished, (3) and for this reason no Jew may set foot on this island, but if one of them is driven upon its shores by a storm he is put to death.

Hadrian and Judaea

Historia Romana, LXIX, 11:1, apud: Xiphilinus

130 C.E.

After this he [scil/ Hadrian] passed through Judaea into Egypt and offered sacrifice to Pompey.

Emperor Hadrian in Jerusalem in 130, Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem), Temple Mount/ Temple of Jupiter with Statue of Hadrian

132 – 135 C.E. Bar Kokhba Revolt

Historia Romana, LXIX, 12:1-14:3; 15:1, apud: Xiphilinus

(12:1) At Jerusalem he [scil. Hadrian] founded a city in place of the one which had been razed to the ground, naming it Aelia Capitolina, and on the site of the Temple of the God he raised a new Temple to Jupiter. This brought on a war of no slight importance nor of brief duration, (2) for the Jews deemed it intolerable that foreign races should be settled in their city and foreign religious rites planted there. So long indeed as Hadrian was close by in Egypt and again in Syria, they remained quiet, save in so far as they purposely made of poor quality such weapons as they were called upon to furnish, in order that the Romans might reject them and that they themselves might thus have the use of them; but when he went farther away, they openly revolted. (3) To be sure, they did not dare try conclusions with the Romans in the open field, but they occupied the advantageous positions in the country and strengthened them with mines and walls, in order that they might have places of refuge whenever they should be hard pressed, and might meet together unobserved under ground; and they pierced these subterranean passages from above at intervals to let in air and light. (13:1) At first the Romans took no account of them. Soon, however, Judaea had been stirred up, and the Jews everywhere were showing signs of disturbance, were gathering together, and giving evidence of great hostility to the Romans, partly by secret and partly by overt acts; (2) many outside nations, too, were joining them through eagerness for gain, and the whole earth, one might almost say, was being stirred up over the matter. Then, indeed, Hadrian sent against them his best generals. First of these was Julius Severus, who was dispatched from Britain, where he was governor, against the Jews. (3) Severus did not venture to attack his opponents in the open at any one point, in view of their numbers and their desperation, but by intercepting small groups, thanks to the number of his soldiers and his under-officers, and by depriving them of food and shutting them up, he was able, rather slowly, to be sure, but with comparatively little danger, to crush, exhaust and exterminate them. (14:1) Very few of them in fact survived. Fifty of their most important outposts and nine hundred and eighty-five of their most famous villages were razed to the ground. Five hundred and eighty thousand (580,000) men were slain in the various raids and battles, and the number of those that perished by famine, disease and fire was past finding out. (2) Thus nearly the whole of Judaea was made desolate, a result of which the people had had forewarning before the war. For the tomb of Solomon, which the Jews regard as an object of veneration, fell to pieces of itself and collapsed, and many wolves and hyenas rushed howling into their cities. (3) Many Romans, moreover, perished in this war. Therefore Hadrian in writing to the Senate did not employ the opening phrase commonly affected by the emperors, “If you and your children are in health, it is well; I and the legions are in health…” (15:1) This, then, was the end of the war with the Jews.

Source: Menahem, Stern. Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, Volume II (# 406, 409, 410, 412, 414, 419, 422, 426, 429, 430, 435, 437, 439, 440)

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