Thursday, December 18, 2008

Trajan and the Jewish Revolt on Cyprus

An interesting reference to Roman clashes with the Jews on Cyprus during Trajan's reign:

[Photo: My image of a bust of Trajan at the Capitoline Museum in Rome. All of my images are freely available for noncommercial use with attribution on Flickr]

"Under Roman rule Cyprus remained in peace or "pax romana" as it was known for over three hundred years until 115 AD. At this time the Jews inspired by a belief that the coming of their Messiah was imminent started a revolt against Rome on the Island. They were led by a man called Atermion a Jew who had taken a Greek name as was the custom at the time. There were hardly any Roman troops stationed in Cyprus at this time which explains why the revolt grew so quickly. The Roman emporer Trajan dispatched one of his generals to the Island and the rebellion was quelled. Historians say that 24,000 Jews were massacred on the Island by this roman army but there is a likelyhood that the actual numbers were significantly less. Following the revolt a decree was issued that Rome would forbid any Jew to ever set foot in Cyprus ever again even if shipwrecked." - Destinations gives us much more details:

The revolt started in Cyrene, where one Lukuas -sometimes called Andreas- ordered the Jews to destroy the pagan temples of Apollo, Artemis, Hecate, Demeter, Isis and Pluto, and to assail the worshippers. The latter fled to Alexandria, where they captured and killed many Jews. (With a population of some 150,000 Jews, Alexandria was Judaism's largest city.) In 116, the Jews organized themselves and had their revenge. The temples of gods like Nemesis, Hecate and Apollo were destroyed; the same fate befell the tomb of Pompey, the Roman general who had captured Jerusalem almost two centuries before.

Meanwhile, the Cyrenaican Jews plundered the Egyptian countryside, reaching Thebes, six hundred kilometers upstream. The future historian Appian of Alexandria records that he made a providential escape from a party of Jews pursuing him in the Nile marshes (more...). There was nothing the Roman governor Marcus Rutilius Lupus could do, although he sent a legion (III Cyrenaica or XXII Deiotariana) to protect the inhabitants of Memphis.

Trajan sent out two expeditionary forces. One, consisting of VII Claudia, restored order on Cyprus; the other was to attack Lukuas' rebels and was commanded by Quintus Marcius Turbo. The Roman general sailed to Alexandria, defeated the Jews in several pitched battles and killed thousands of enemies, not only those in Egypt but also those of Cyrene. It is unclear what became of Lukuas, except for the fact that according to our Greek source Eusebius he had styled himself 'king' (= Messiah?). After this war, much of northern Africa had to be repopulated. The emperor Trajan and his successor Hadrian confiscated Jewish property to pay for the reconstruction of the destroyed temples.

Trajan was afraid that this revolt would spread to the Jews in the rebellious eastern provinces. Perhaps, there was some cause for his anxiousness. After the end of the revolt in Mesopotamia, someone had written the Book of Elchasai, in which the end of the world was predicted within three years. Of course, Trajan did not read this book, but he may have sensed that the Jews remained restless.

Therefore, he ordered the commander of his Mauritanian auxiliaries, Lusius Quietus, to clean the suspects out of these regions. Quietus organized a force and killed many Cypriote, Mesopotamian and Syrian Jews - in effect wiping them out; as a reward, he was appointed governor of Judaea. (He is one of the few blacks known to have made a career in Roman service.) He was responsible for a forced policy of hellenization; in response, the rabbis ordered the Jewish fathers not to teach their sons Greek (Mishna Sota 9.14).

Meanwhile, Trajan had reached his military aims and returned home. On his way back, he fell ill, and not much later, he died (8 August 117). His successor Hadrian gave up the newly conquered countries and dismissed Lusius Quietus, who was killed in the Summer of 118."

We are supplied with the following sources:

The revolt against Trajan is the subject of a book by Marina Pucci, La rivolta Ebraica al tempo di Traiano (1981 Pisa). Another discussion of this rebellions can be found in Gedaliah Alon's The Jews in their land in the Talmudic age (1980 Harvard).

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