BY WHOM should government be run? How much did Romans and Jews agree on the qualities required of their political leaders? Just as Romans generally lacked doubts about the morality of imperialist wars, so successful leadership in war against a perceived national enemy was the surest route to political prestige in Roman society. The heroes of the distant past were soldiers, distinguished for their courage, whose exploits fill the pages of the history of early Rome composed by Livy in the time of Augustus, like the mythical story of the young Roman noble Gaius Mucius, whose willingness to die to free Rome was narrated through his stirring speech when brought captive before the Etruscan enemy in 508 BCE : “I am a Roman citizen … I am your enemy, and as an enemy I would have slain you; I can die as resolutely as I could kill: both to do and to endure valiantly is the Roman way.” The wily politician Cicero, fiercely opposed to the ambitions of Julius Caesar which were to overthrow the constitution of the Republic, could yet appeal in the Senate to general admiration for Caesar's conquest of Gaul, “for he [Caesar] believed not only that it was necessary to wage war against those who he saw were already in arms against the Roman people, but also that all Gaul must be subjected to our sway, and so he has fought with the fiercest peoples, in gigantic battles against the Germans and Helvetians, with the greatest success. He has terrified, confined and subdued the rest, and accustomed them to submit to the rule of the Roman people.” Augustus' Res Gestae, published after his death, lists his military achievements not just by regions and peoples conquered but by numbers of victories acclaimed. Even the least militarily inclined of emperors, like Claudius, might feel himself impelled to present an image of himself as warrior in the conquest of Britain in order to justify his tenure of power.1
By contrast, the attitude of the Jews to their national warrior heroes was ambivalent. The biblical narrative provided many instances of military prowess: Saul, David, Jonathan. David's rise to fame and his struggle with Saul were encapsulated in the song of the women as they returned from battle against the Philistines: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” According to the story, the phrase became a commonplace at the time and Saul feared for his kingdom: “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands: and what more can he have but the rule?” Jews thus believed that there had once been a Jewish society ruled by a warrior elite. But by the early Roman period this was no longer the case. Most of the surviving literature from the late Second Temple period has little to say about contemporary military leaders, and not much comment on the great biblical warriors as fighters. Josephus, in his rewriting of biblical history in his Antiquities, stresses the courage and military prowess of ancient Jewish heroes, from Moses, conqueror of Ethiopia, to Joshua and David, but his emphasis may have been stimulated less by general Jewish traditions than by the requirements of Greek historiography, in which politics and war always took pride of place, and by the apologetic need to present Jews as disciplined fighters: Josephus reports that the Greek orator Apollonius Molon, who came from Asia Minor in the first century BCE, had attacked the Jews, “in one place … reproaching us as cowards, whereas elsewhere, on the contrary, he accuses us of temerity and reckless madness.” The rabbinic tradition put less emphasis on the prowess of the warrior and more on the power of divine intervention as a response to piety. Great feats of valour could be achieved only through God's help. The festival of Hanukkah, whose origins were discussed in Chapter i, was celebrated in rabbinic tradition not for the achievements of the warrior Judas Maccabee but as the occasion of divine intervention for the rededication of the Temple: the pure oil, sufficient to keep the candelabrum in the Temple alight only for one day, lasted miraculously for eight. The rabbis were almost wholly silent about the leaders of the armies of the Jewish state in 66—70, including the eventual commander-in-chief, Simon son of Gio-ras. About Simon's military career, the rabbis, who knew about the war against the Romans as a whole, must certainly have known something. For the Roman historian Cassius Dio, in the early third century, “Bargioras,” as he called him, was the Jews' leader: “and he was the only one to be executed in connection with the triumphal celebration.” For Josephus, although he was writing about a political opponent, Simon was a vicious and bloodthirsty tyrant, but he was impressive for his physical strength and daring. By contrast, Simon figured not at all in rabbinic memory.2
Rabbinic views of war may of course have been jaundiced by the defeat suffered by the Jews in 70, but even before then, if the surviving fragments are a good guide, the biblical stories that Jews chose to retell in this period were not the narratives of battle and heroism which they could have found in abundance in the sacred texts. In the detailed depiction of conflict provided by the War Scroll found at Qumran, the human participants are mere numbers and formations. The only hero is the divine warrior, God:
For the battle is yours! Their bodies are crushed by the might of your hand and there is no man to bury them. You did deliver Goliath of Gath, the mighty warrior, into the hands of David your servant, because in place of the sword and in place of the spear he put his trust in your great name; for yours is the battle. Many times, by your great name, did he triumph over the Philistines. Many times have you also delivered us by the hand of our kings through your loving-kindness, and not in accordance with our works, by which we have done evil, nor according to our rebellious deeds. For the battle is yours and the power is from you! It is not ours. Our strength and the power of our hands accomplish no mighty deed except by your power and by the might of your great valour.3
Jews did not ascribe glamour to war, as Romans did.
IN MANY RESPECTS both Roman society and Jewish society were open, providing opportunities for the ambitious from any background, but in both cultures there were areas of life where ancestry alone mattered, and some others for which, by common consent, good ancestry was not essential but could be important. Where they differed was in their understanding of what sort of ancestry was worth boasting about.
Whenever someone from the ranks of the illustrious dies, as a part of his funeral procession out of the city he is carried into the forum to the socalled rostra. Usually his body is conspicuous in an upright pose; more rarely, he is lying down. When all the people are standing round, a grown-up son, if the deceased has left one and if he happens to be present, or, if not, some other relative mounts the rostra and speaks about the virtues and lifetime achievements of the deceased … After they have buried him and performed the customary rites, a wax image of the deceased is placed in a very conspicuous spot in the house, in a wooden shrine. This image is a mask made strikingly similar to the facial features and expression of the deceased. The family puts these images on display on the occasion of public sacrifices, decorating them with great care. When any illustrious family member dies, the family takes them to the funeral, putting them on men who seem to be most similar in height and size to the original … When the speaker who delivers the oration for the man to be buried has finished his speech about him, he then mentions the achievements and accomplishments of each of those other men whose masks are present, beginning with the most ancient.
Politicians in Rome were expected to extol the glory of their forefathers whenever it reflected well on them. Polybius in this passage was writing about the funerary customs of the upper class in the mid-second century BCE, but reverence for noble ancestry persisted into the imperial period, as in Tacitus' account of the appeal to Tiberius by Marcus Hortensius Hor-talus, a young noble who, as a grandson of the famous orator Quintus Hortensius, had been persuaded by a grant from Augustus to marry and have children, to prevent the extinction of his famous family: “I married, because the emperor told me to. Behold the stock and offspring of so many consuls, so many dictators! I say this in no competitive spirit but to arouse your compassion. Under your glorious rule, Caesar, they will win whatever honours you choose to give. Meanwhile I beg you to save from destitution the great-grandsons of Quintus Hortensius, the fosterlings of the deified Augustus.” The speech will have been Tacitus' invention, but not the occasion or the sentiment, and in fact Tiberius made a grant of two hundred thousand sesterces to each of Hortalus' male children. Significant is the assumption by Hortalus, and Tacitus, that the merits of a greatgrandfather should ensure the financial well-being of boys as yet too young to have achieved anything for themselves.4
The most impressive formal family status in Rome was that of patrician. In the earliest centuries of Rome's history as a city, the patricians had provided the governing aristocracy who ruled over the rest of the Roman population, the plebeians. During most of the Republican period, patrician status was defined by descent alone, but from the time of Julius Caesar onwards, and under the emperors, the status might also be conferred on favoured individuals as a privilege. By this time, however, the status meant little, since by the end of the Republic, the distinction between patricians and plebeians had lost almost all political and social significance: rich plebeians had long exercised political power as magistrates, and plebeian and patrician families had long intermarried. In formal terms, the small number of patricians still left had only a few privileges, such as the right of some of them to be part of the company of Salii, who processed through Rome in March and October, performing elaborate ritual dances at specified places on the route, beating their shields with staves and singing a special song in unintelligible Saturnian verse in honour of Mars. But the status still brought prestige: it was his patrician origin that encouraged Galba to seize power as emperor in the coup in 68 CE which brought down Nero and ended finally the long domination of the Roman state by the descendants of Julius Caesar.
Less formal than the patriciate was the label of nobilitas applied by common consent in the early empire to descendants of those who had been consul either in the Republic or in the triumviral period which had preceded the decisive victory of Octavian at Actium in 31 BCE. The families ofnohiles, “known men,” had dominated the top magistracies of the state for centuries to the time of Cicero, not because such birth was a necessary qualification for these posts but simply as a matter of custom. The snobbery inherent in such attitudes continued to have an effect on the politics of the early empire, despite the transfer of power into the hands of one man. Emperors who wished to show their respect for the Senate and its traditions tended to contrive that descendants of such prestigious families were favoured when it came to the election of the first pair of consuls for each year, in whose name the year's date was recorded for posterity throughout the Roman world.
The prejudice that political status could and should be inherited emerged even more blatantly in the transfer of power from one emperor to the next. When Julius Caesar died in 44 BCE his great-nephew Octavian, the future emperor Augustus, made great play of his relationship to the murdered dictator, calling himself “Caesar” even before the right to bear the name as Julius' adopted son was formally bestowed upon him by the Senate, and encouraging the issue of coins which proclaimed him DIVI FILIUS, “son of a god.” The role of hereditary factors in the succession to Augustus himself on his death in 14 CE was complicated by the fact that the new emperor, Tiberius, his adopted son, was in any case by far the most important politician in Rome by that date, not least by virtue of his military feats. But on Tiberius' own death in 37 there was nothing to be said for the young and vicious Gaius apart from the popularity once accorded to his natural father Germanicus, whose death in 19 CE had caused such widespread grief, and the fact that Tiberius had adopted him as his son. Gaius' relationship to both fathers, natural and adoptive, was essentially a private matter, but in practice both were treated by the Roman public as legitimation of the transfer of supreme power. By 37 the empire was, in effect, though never formally, a hereditary monarchy, until the power of the dynasty which had begun with Julius Caesar was broken by the uprisings of 68.5
The importance of ancestry could not be more vividly exemplified, but Rome was not in the end a caste-based society. Those, like Cicero, born into the “wrong” family could assert vehemently their superiority based on their qualities as “new men”: “I have not the same privileges as men of noble birth, who sit still and see the honours our nation bestows land at their feet; the present conditions of political life oblige me to behave far otherwise … We are aware with what jealousy, with what dislike, the merit and energy of new men are regarded by certain of the nobles …” Some could even acquire a new, fictitious, identity, like the rich ex-slaves given the right by the emperor to wear a gold ring as a mark of their (pretended) free birth. An ancestral line insufficiently distinguished by famous forebears could be much enhanced by the adoption of a god or goddess at the top of the family tree, as the Julii claimed Venus to have been founder of their line. In an unusual act of reverse legalistic mendacity (rather like renouncing a hereditary peerage in order to stay in the House of Commons), the patrician Pub-lius Clodius Pulcher had himself adopted into a plebeian gens in 59 BCE in order to facilitate his election to the post of plebeian tribune, which was closed to those of patrician birth and had proved in the preceding decades an effective platform for those with exceptional political ambitions.6
By contrast, Josephus' self-description in his autobiography neatly encapsulates the two very different lineages that brought high status in Jewish society. He could boast an impressive ancestry both priestly and royal:
My family is not insignificant, tracing its descent far back to priestly ancestors. Different societies base their claim to good birth on various grounds; with us a connection with the priesthood is the hallmark of an illustrious line. Not only, however, were my ancestors priests, but they belonged to the first of the twenty-four courses—a peculiar distinction—and to the most eminent of its constituent clans. Moreover, on my mother's side I am of royal family; for the posterity of Asamo-naeus, from whom she sprang, for a very considerable period were kings, as well as High Priests, of our nation … With such a pedigree, which I cite as I find it recorded in the public registers, I can take leave of the would-be detractors of my family.7
The Jewish priesthood was a quasi-caste, defined by descent from Aaron through the male line. Priests, kohanim, were a sub-group from within the tribe of Levi; other Levites had lesser privileges. Hence the importance of archival proof of the family tree in the continuous records preserved in the public registers, although priests were not restricted to other priestly families in their choice of marriage partner, and many non-priests might thus have priest relations. To the male priests were reserved the most important functions in the Temple in Jerusalem, above all the performance of sacrifices and other offerings in the special court next to the Holy of Holies which was reserved for their use. The knowledge that priests came, or could come on those occasions they served in the Temple, so much closer to the Holy of Holies than other Israelites gave them a special aura. It must have helped that in the land of Israel many people would know which men were priests and which not, not because they wore special clothing outside the Temple but because they were recipients of tithes. A proportion of all agricultural produce was payable by non-priests to priests. It did not matter which priest was selected for the gift, so in the nature of things most Israelites will have handed over their tithes to the priests in their neighbourhood, although more powerful priests, like Jose-phus when he was rebel commander in Galilee in 66 CE, might be offered more than their fair share. In protesting his integrity, Josephus notes that “I even declined to accept from those who brought them the tithes which were due to me as a priest.” By contrast, the colleagues sent with him from Jerusalem had wanted to return home right at the beginning of their mission, “having amassed a large sum of money from the tithes which they accepted as their priestly due.”8
Restrictions on permissible marriage partners for male priests ensured care in the preservation of records of the lineage also of non-priests, as Josephus also boasts:
Not only did our ancestors in the first instance set over this business men of the highest character, devoted to the service of God, but they took precautions to ensure that the priests' lineage should be kept unadulterated and pure. A member of the priestly order must, to beget a family, marry a woman of his own race, without regard to her wealth or other distinctions; but he must investigate her pedigree, obtaining the genealogy from the archives and producing witnesses. And we practise this not only in Judaea itself, but wherever there is a Jewish community, there too a strict account is kept by the priests of their marriages; I allude to the Jews in Egypt and Babylon and other parts of the world in which any of the priestly order are living in dispersion. A statement is drawn up by them and sent to Jerusalem, showing the names of the bride and her father and more remote ancestors, together with the names of the witnesses.9
Priests were forbidden to marry any woman, such as a divorcee, whose offspring might just possibly prove not to be his and thus might sully the purity of priestly descent. A naive reading of the list of permitted marriages found in the Mishnah might suggest that Jewish society was entirely based on caste restrictions of this kind: “Ten genealogies went from Babylon: the priestly, Levitic, and the Israelitish; the impaired priestly; the proselyte, freedman, bastard and nathin [Temple servant] … The priestly, Levitic and Israelitish may intermarry … the proselyte, freedman, bastard, nathin … may all intermarry.”10 However, many of the “genealogies” to which the Mishnah referred were fairly theoretical, deduced from interpretation of the Bible. Thus the nathin would be a descendant of the Gibeonites whom Joshua was said to have made into Temple slaves far back in antiquity. The only categorizations of Jews by birth to appear regularly in all the Jewish evidence, including the Dead Sea scrolls, were the priests, Levites, proselytes and “Israel,” that is, ordinary Jews. The Levites were defined simply as those members of the tribe of Levi who were not descendants of Aaron, whose limited task of caring for the Temple and singing psalms sometimes led to tension with the priests.
The prevailing sentiment that what mattered was to belong to the “right” family had political consequences in competition for the position of High Priest. There seems to have been no formal restriction in eligibility for the High Priesthood beyond the requirement that the person appointed must come from unimpeachable priestly origins—thus Herod appointed as High Priest in 37 BCE a certain Ananel from Babylonia, described by Jose-phus in one place as “of a high priestly family” but elsewhere as deliberately selected because he came from an “undistinguished” background. In theory, it seems, any priest could become High Priest, but during the early Second Temple period the custom had arisen of appointing to this most prestigious position only those who could claim descent from Zadok, who had been the High Priest in the time of Solomon and whose line had been treated by Ezekiel as alone fit to “offer the fat and the blood” before God. The reluctance of the first of the Maccabees, Judas, to arrogate the High Priesthood to himself after the purification of the Temple in 164 BCE following its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes (see Chapter 1), seems to have been connected to his recognition of the popular view that he did not deserve appointment to the position because he was not of Zadokite stock, and the opposition to the later Hasmonaeans by the sectarians who wrote the Dead Sea scrolls was based on their view that these Hasmonaeans were invalid High Priests, unlike their own priestly leaders, who sometimes called themselves specifically “sons of Zadok.” By the first century CE the Zadokite line had probably become more mythical than actual, but the general notion that High Priestly ancestry brought social prestige continued, albeit for new families. Thus Josephus complained that the appointment of the rustic Phannias by the Zealots in 67 or 68 “abrogated the claims of those families from which the High Priests had been designated in turn,” and the questioning of Peter and John was carried out, according to Acts, by (among others) “Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of high priestly stock.” It is clear from Josephus' detailed narrative of the political struggles in Jerusalem before 66 CE that relationship to any High Priest, past or present, was an instant guarantee of considerable social status.11
Royal origins, such as Josephus boasted, were naturally rare, and it may be doubted whether his ability to trace his family tree back two and a half centuries, to the time of the Hasmonaean High Priest Jonathan, could be emulated by many Jews. Nor, indeed, is it likely that he could have filled in the gaps in his family tree where his ancestors were less distinguished— even the names that he does give are chronologically confused. But it does seem clear that asserting royal Hasmonaean ancestry could be expected to gain respect in first-century Jerusalem. The same seems to have been true of those who could claim a relationship to the Herodian royal family— hence, according to Josephus, the successful if criminal careers of two brothers, Costobar and Saul, who “were of royal lineage and found favour because of their kinship with Agrippa” and took a leading role in urban violence in Jerusalem in the early 60s CE. Most prestigious of all, but difficult to prove, would be descent from the royal line which had been sanctioned by God, that of David. It seems impossible that anyone could then provide the sort of documentary evidence for Davidic ancestry that Josephus claimed for his, but it is clear that claims of such ancestry were made: the Church historian Eusebius, who obtained his information from the second-century Christian author Hegesippus, probably a native of Palestine and, according to Eusebius, a converted Jew, reports that “Vespasian, after the capture of Jerusalem, ordered a search to be made for all who were of the family of David, that there might be left among the Jews no one of the royal family.” Hegesippus' story may well be a Christian legend, since no other source refers to the “great persecution of the Jews” which he states arose as a result, and the same author refers to searches for descendants of David “from the royal tribe of the Jews” also under both Domi-tian and Trajan. More certain is the ascription, most probably indeed by invention, of Davidic ancestry to individuals seen as exceptional for other reasons. In the early third century CE, if not earlier, the family of Rabbi Judah haNasi, compiler of the Mishnah, was alleged to be descended from King David. And, of course, in the first century the same was claimed of Jesus, “the son of David, the son of Abraham,” although the genealogies supplied for Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are very different. For Luke, the lineage was not incidental to the story of Jesus, because it explained the special circumstances of the nativity: “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.” The conflict between ascription of Davidic origins to Jesus, inherited through Joseph, Mary's husband, and the story of the virgin birth does not seem to have troubled Luke (unlike some other early Christians), even though both Luke and Matthew specifically note that Joseph was not really Jesus' father. Jesus' Davidic ancestry was stressed also by Paul and by the author of Revelation. Matthew stresses that Joseph accepted Mary as his wife, but any notion that this could constitute adoption of a child not his own seems to have been alien to Jewish custom, as we have seen.12
ROMANS COULD NOT imagine entrusting political authority to anyone who was not rich. It was impossible to be a senator without being worth a sizeable fortune. Prestige from wealth was reinforced by ostentatious munificence for the benefit of the wider community, like the trust fund for a town in Italy, set up by his daughter Procula in the mid-first century CE in memory of a certain Titus Helvius Basila, son of Titus, “aedile, praetor, proconsul, legate of Caesar Augustus, who bequeathed to the people of Atina four hundred thousand sesterces, so that out of the income their children are to be given grain until they reach maturity, and thereafter one thousand sesterces each.” In the city of Rome during the Republic, and in the municipalities of Italy and the provinces still in the imperial period, the rich competed in currying favour from the populace by conspicuous expenditure on spectacles such as gladiatorial games or on buildings for public use or on other acts of very public philanthropy. Hundreds of surviving inscriptions record such gifts, which were both offered voluntarily and at the same time were expected, as the younger Pliny intimated in a congratulatory letter to his friend Maximus about a gladiatorial show he had put on
for our people of Verona, who have long shown their affection and admiration for you and have given you many honours. Verona was also the home town of the excellent wife you loved so dearly, whose memory you owe some public building or show, and this kind of spectacle is particularly suitable for a funeral tribute. Moreover, the request came from so many people that a refusal would have been judged obstinate rather than resolute on your part. You have also done admirably in giving the show so readily and on such a lavish scale, for a great soul is seen even through actions of this kind. I am sorry the African panthers you had bought in such large quantities did not turn up on the appointed day, but you deserve the credit although the weather prevented their arriving in time; it was not your fault that you could not exhibit them.
In the city of Rome itself, under the rule and patronage of emperors all grand donations to the public good were naturally made by the emperors themselves, whose wealth far outstripped all others. The provision of bread and circuses, derided by the satirist Juvenal as the only things which interested the city mob, was not just bribery to achieve political quiescence (although it also served that function). The display of wealth also confirmed fitness to rule.13
For wealth as prerequisite of status, it did not matter much how the wealth had been acquired. Roman senators in the Republic entertained inhibitions about admitting to over-involvement in commerce, but this was primarily because some commercial activities, in particular the collection of taxes for the state, might produce a conflict of interest with the senator's role as politician seeking the best policy for Roman society as a whole. In the early empire there is in fact much evidence of senators maximizing their income by setting up potteries and brick kilns and taking up shares in shipping companies. In a society that could appreciate so openly the value of public uses of private wealth, philosophical objections to excessive interest in the accumulation of material possessions should not be taken too seriously. The younger Seneca wrote that “the wise man cannot suffer loss, because he keeps all within himself and trusts nothing to fortune. He has goods which are secure because he finds contentment in virtue, which does not depend on chance events and can therefore be neither enlarged nor diminished.” Seneca may well have been sincere, but he was also one of the richest men in the Roman empire of his day.14
It should not be inferred that possession of wealth by itself conferred prestige in Roman society. Wealth was a necessary but not a sufficient condition, as is all too clear from the disparaging portrayal in Petronius' Satyri-con of the nouveau-riche ex-slave Trimalchio, who “does not even know how much he has, he is so wealthy.” Trimalchio's own description of his rise to wealth after he built (and lost) a series of ships laden with cargo was intended both to amuse and to disgust the reader: “What the gods want, quickly happens. In one trip, I made a clear ten million. I bought back all the estates which had belonged to my former owner. I built a house. I bought slaves and cattle. Whatever I touched grew like a honeycomb. Once I began to own more than the whole of my own country, I quit. I retired from active work and began to lend money to freedmen.”15 The tradition that antique Romans had once lived simple peasant lives led to some inevitable inconsistency about the value of displaying conspicuous wealth. Julius Caesar tried through state action to check extravagance in meals and buildings, as did Augustus, although Tiberius declined to intervene on the grounds that prohibiting such indulgence was futile.16
Among Jews, by contrast, the possession and expenditure of wealth were almost irrelevant to social status. In the sixteenth book of his Antiquities, Josephus describes the magnificent benefactions conferred by Herod on the cities of Syria and Greece, and the lavish generosity with which he celebrated his building projects within his own kingdom of Judaea. Some people, writes Josephus, think that such generosity must have been at war with Herod's evil tendency to extort wealth from his subjects, but he (Josephus) thinks that the two tendencies belong together: “These excesses he committed because of his wish to be uniquely honoured.” In other words, Herod expected his gifts to bring him renown: “I can cite what was done by him in honour of Caesar and Agrippa and his other friends: for the very same attentions which he showed to his superiors he expected to have shown to himself by his subjects, and what he believed to be the most excellent gift that he could give another he showed a desire to obtain similarly for himself.” But, unfortunately for Herod, the Jewish people from whom he sought honour were unimpressed, as Josephus states explicitly:
As it happens, the Jewish nation is by law opposed to all such things and is accustomed to admire righteousness rather than glory. It was therefore not in his [Herod's] good graces, because it found it impossible to flatter the king's ambition with statues or temples or such tokens. And this seems to me to have been the reason for Herod's bad treatment of his own people and his counsellors, and of his beneficence towards foreigners and those who were unattached to him.
The public display of wealth on behalf of the community did not in itself bring social status in Judaean society.17
One effect of this strikingly different attitude was that rich people could be more private in the enjoyment of their wealth in Jerusalem than in Rome. The existence of some very wealthy families in first-century Judaea is confirmed by the excavation of luxurious houses close to the Temple site, but such people had no incentive, beyond the moral imperative of giving charity to the poor, to spend their wealth on the public. Money expended on public buildings, including the Temple itself, came not from rich Judaeans seeking public recognition but either from the public purse or from Herodian rulers (which sometimes came to much the same thing) or, in a few cases, from diaspora Jews motivated by piety rather than a desire to gain prestige in Jerusalem. Thus, according to the Mishnah, important gifts to the Temple were made by the proselyte royal family of Adiabene: “King Monobaz made of gold all the handles for the vessels used on the Day of Atonement. His mother Helena set a golden candlestick over the door of the Sanctuary. She also made a golden tablet on which was written the paragraph of the Suspected Adulteress.” Similarly, the bronze gates given by a certain Nicanor had come from Alexandria and had been transported by a miracle:
When Nicanor was bringing them from Alexandria of Egypt, a gale rose in the sea and threatened to drown them. They took one of them and threw it into the sea, and they wanted to throw in the other but Nicanor would not let them. He said to them, “If you throw in the second one, throw me in with it.” He was distressed all the way to the wharf at Yafo [Joppe]. Once they reached the wharf at Yafo, the other door popped up from underneath the boat. And there are those who say one of the beasts of the sea swallowed it, and when Nicanor came to the wharf at Yafo, it brought it up and tossed it onto land.
Because of the miracles associated with his gates, Nicanor's name “was kept in honour,” but his expenditure did not make him a powerful figure in Jerusalem society.18
Jews, unlike Romans, could ascribe high social status and authority to those without wealth. According to Josephus, the teachings of the Sad-ducees appealed only to those who were well off, but he does not suggest that those rich Sadducees controlled religious life in Judaea. On the contrary, “the Sadducees have the confidence of the wealthy alone but no following among the populace, while the Pharisees have the support of the masses” and are “extremely influential among the townsfolk; and all prayers and sacred rites of divine worship are performed according to their exposition.” Some priests were immensely rich but others were so very poor that, when they were deprived by the violence of slaves sent by the High Priests from collecting the tithes due to them at the threshing floors, they “starved to death,” but such poverty would not debar them from their priestly duties in the Temple and the prestige it conferred upon them. It would be hard to argue from the value assigned by Josephus to the asceticism of his teacher Bannus or John the Baptist, or to the simple lifestyle adopted by Essenes and Pharisees, that Jews ascribed a positive value to poverty itself. An ascetic lifestyle is impressive only when it is adopted by those with the economic means not to have chosen it. But the influence wielded by some ascetics, such as John the Baptist, does at least show that being rich was not essential for social prestige in first-century Jerusalem.19
BOTH ROMANS and Jews assumed that those who are older should in general be accorded both deference and authority, and in this respect the differences between the two societies were less than in their attitudes to wealth. The assembly of middle-aged and old men which constituted the bulk of the Roman Senate in the early empire was reinforced by regular recruits in their twenties, but the Latin term senatus means “a council of elders.” For politicians, the honour paid to increasing age was a concomitant of the notion of a career, the passage of a successful individual through the “course of honours,” the cursus honorum, for the main stages of which eligibility was, at least since the early second century BCE, in principle dependent on having passed a certain minimum age. Thus from the time of Sulla in 81 BCE a quaestor had to be at least twenty-nine, a praetor thirty-nine, and a consul forty-two. In the late Republic these age limits were frequently breached by ambitious politicians, including the emperor Augustus himself in his early career, who through force of personality, influence of friends or family or threat of violence achieved these positions before the legal minimum, and in the early empire flouting the rules was standard for the emperor's favourite close relatives, but the privilege they enjoyed was effective only because the standard age restrictions were so generally accepted for others.
Such reverence for elders is in marked contrast to the emphasis on youth in other cultures, where greying hair is seen as detrimental in a search for political authority. In Greek cities in the Hellenistic period and early Roman empire, young men were treated as an important group in society, with their own association, the ephebate, to represent them to their fellow citizens: ephebes underwent a cultural education somewhat on the lines of a privileged university student today, and inscriptions record the efforts of city authorities to keep them under control while recognizing their role. There was no directly parallel institution in Rome, but the need to avoid disaffection among more aristocratic teenagers and channel their ambitions towards the new regime led Augustus to give to the iuvenes, “youth,” of Rome, boys of equestrian rank aged between fourteen and seventeen, a novel form of public recognition. These select young men paraded in the great festivals and held their own special games, the younger boys competing in the public “Troy Game,” while the older teenagers participated in more serious athletics and sat in sections of the theatres specially designated for the young. All of this constituted recognition of a kind, and Augustus may have been uneasily aware that his own violent rise to power had begun when he was a teenager, but the function of recognition was to encourage patience: by setting up such institutions, the state implicitly recognized the right of these young men to positions of status— but only in due course, when they were old enough.
By contrast, there seems to have been no retirement age for those in positions of power. Old men (and women) were not always held in awe for their wisdom; the bald, dribbling, toothless, senile, irritable, loquacious bore was a standard figure for mockery by satirists, a fact which elicited some thoughtful literary reflections on ageing by some such as Cicero. Nonetheless, emperors ruled until their death: the first emperor to vacate his position, in the vain hope of ensuring an orderly succession, was Diocletian in 305 CE. Vacancies in the prestigious state priesthoods filled by senators arose only when a priest died. Senators could and did attend the Senate at an advanced age unless they became too frail. Precisely because of their seniority their views carried authority: in the Senate those called upon to speak were the members whose tenure of the consulate had been longest ago. The prestige of the very old was enhanced by their rarity. Probably in the second century CE, someone—the work is preserved under the name of Lucian, but he was not its author—composed in Italy a whole treatise in the Greek language on the topic of the long-lived. The dry list consists mostly of individuals from Greek myth and history, with a brief mention of the more exotic “philosophical” lifestyles of religious experts in Egypt, India, “among the Assyrians and Arabs,” and in other barbarian places. The author has little to say about Rome beyond the advanced ages reached by the antique kings of the city: Numa Pompilius and Servius Tul-lius lived beyond eighty; Tarquin, exiled to Cumae, lived beyond ninety. Further information about Rome and Italy is promised in another work, which does not survive, although the author does relate the sad death of Asander, “whom the divine Augustus named king of Bosphorus after being ethnarch”: still unbeaten in battle on horseback and on foot at the age of about ninety, when he saw his people passing over to a rival, he renounced all food and starved himself to death at the age of ninety-three.20
Age markers were less clear among the Jews than in Roman society, but a passage inserted after the original redaction of the text into some manuscripts of the Mishnah has a thoughtful analysis of the stages of life:
At five years old [one is fit] for Scripture, at ten years for Mishnah, at thirteen for [the fulfilling of] the commandments, at fifteen for Talmud, at eighteen for the bride-chamber, at twenty for pursuing [a calling], at thirty for strength, at forty for discernment, at fifty for counsel, at sixty to be an elder, at seventy for grey hairs, at eighty for special strength, at ninety for bowed back, and at a hundred a man is as one that has died and passed away and ceased from the world.
Early rabbinic law distinguished the dependent boy from the responsible adult, but this change in status was not celebrated by any ceremony: the Bar Mitzvah ritual, in which a boy affirmed his new status as a responsible adult at the age of thirteen and a day by reading in public from the Torah, was not introduced into Jewish liturgy until the Middle Ages. There was no category for teenagers and young men to correspond to the Roman concept of iuvenes, nor any equivalent to the Roman rite of passage at the first shaving of the beard (if only because Jews did not go clean-shaven). There is little evidence of any minimum age for status and authority once a boy had become a man although, according to the Bible, there were minimum ages for service by the Levites in the Temple, given variously as twenty, twenty-five or thirty. It is uncertain whether there was also a minimum age for the High Priest. Josephus notes that when Herod won power in Jerusalem in 37 BCE he passed over for the High Priesthood the Hasmo-naean prince Aristobulus III, who was then sixteen, “because he was a mere lad” although his youth cannot have disbarred him automatically, since Josephus writes that Aristobulus' mother was so “disturbed and aggrieved by the indignity offered her son” that she invoked the aid of Cleopatra in Egypt to ask Mark Antony to obtain the post for him and he was appointed the next year at the age of seventeen. Youth, it seems, was no bar to authority. Josephus writes with pride of his own reputation in his teenage years when “while still a mere boy, about fourteen years old, I won universal applause for my love of letters, insomuch that the chief priests and the leading men of the city used constantly to come to me for precise information on some particular in our ordinances.” A similar story of precocity was told of Jesus at the age of twelve, when his parents left him behind by mistake in Jerusalem after celebrating the Passover there, and “it came to pass that after three days they found him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.”21
Nonetheless, the Bible, not least the Pentateuch, took for granted the authority of “the elders,” those who sit in the gates and act as judges. “With the aged is wisdom, and in length of days understanding,” as Job remarked to his friends. As often, the difficulty is to separate the moralizing ideal from the standard reality. Philo noted among the virtues of the Essene communities the fact that “the aged … are surrounded with respect and care: they are like parents whose children lend them a helping hand in their old age with perfect generosity and surround them with a thousand attentions,” although the elderly patriarch lacked anything like the Roman patria potestas to give him institutionalized legal authority over the lives and property of his descendants. However, Jews, unlike Romans, envisaged fixed retirement ages from prestigious positions. The biblical book of Numbers laid down a maximum age for the Levites who served in the Temple: “From the age of fifty years they shall withdraw from the work of the service, and shall serve no more, but shall minister to their brethren in the tent of the meeting, to keep the charge, and shall do no service.” In the Damascus Document found among the Dead Sea scrolls, not only was a retirement age stipulated for judges, but its rationale, the danger of senility, was made explicit: “No man over the age of sixty shall hold office as Judge of the Congregation,” for “because man sinned his days have been shortened, and in the heat of His anger against the inhabitants of the earth God ordained that their understanding should depart even before their days are completed.” In practice, Jewish priests must also have retired perforce from their work in the Temple, since the infirmity of old age would make it impossible for them to carry out the physically demanding tasks which involved, above all, animal slaughter—unlike Roman state priests, who could devolve the hard work to specially trained slaves. On the other hand, there does not seem to have been a mandatory retirement age for High Priests. Josephus notes that it is unlawful to deprive anyone of this office once he has assumed it (although he also immediately notes some cases when this has been done). The barbaric treatment of Hyrcanus II by his nephew Antigonus, who (as we have seen) cut off his ears, thus taking care that the High Priesthood should never come to him another time (because he was now mutilated, and “the law requires that this office should belong only to those who are sound of body”), only made sense if Hyrcanus, who by then was over sixty, could nonetheless have hoped for reinstatement.22
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER, but the views of professors do not carry weight in all societies. Scholarship and philosophy were acceptable attributes among members of the political elite in Rome, but they were neither necessary accoutrements nor particularly helpful in establishing a politician's authority. Both were products of the leisure time to which the rich professed to aspire, but they could also be done equally well, if not better, by professionals, including ex-slaves, further down the social scale. The future emperor Claudius had turned to intellectual pursuits precisely because he was excluded from politics by Augustus and Tiberius, writing about Carthage and the Etruscans and protected by his reputation for inoffensive antiquarian pedantry from the dangerous scheming of his predecessors in the imperial court. The only aspect of educational accomplishment generally acknowledged as prestigious for Roman politicians was the art of rhetoric. During the late Republic, when public life was conducted in an open arena before fellow politicians and a wider citizen audience, oratorical ability had provided an important route to political success, particularly for those deprived by lack of opportunity or talent of the rewards of military prowess, but political debate in the imperial period was less visible, with many decisions taken behind the doors of the emperor's palace. A belief that rhetorical expertise was desirable for their public lives remained part of the senators' self-image, but in practice display speeches were now generally confined either to praise of the emperor or to battles in the civil courts, only very occasionally enlivened by the criminal trial of a politician for extortion or some other misdemeanour. The learning of scholars, philosophers and orators further down the social scale might bring renown but could not guarantee status and authority any more than the reputations of modern celebrities.
By contrast, a reputation for learning carried more prestige among Jews, if only because all Jews lived by a written text which required interpretation. Parchment and papyrus copies of the Bible were precious objects, hence the deposition of many scriptural texts for safe-keeping in the great storage jars hidden in the caves above the site of Qumran, and Josephus' boast that he received a gift of sacred books after the destruction of Jerusalem through the kindness of Titus, a favour he recorded along with the release of fellow countrymen from captivity and crucifixion.23 Those who could write, read and explain texts of such significance were bound to be accorded respect. Thus, according to the Gospels, among the prestigious Jewish groups with whom Jesus came into contact, and sometimes conflict, in Galilee and Judaea were the scribes “who love to go around in long robes, and salutations in the marketplaces, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the first seats at feasts; who eat up the property of widows, and for a pretence make long prayers.”24 It is something of a puzzle that scribes do not similarly appear as a social group in other ancient texts written in or about late Second Temple society; they are not, for example, an identifiable group in the writings of Philo or in Josephus, for whom a “village scribe” is a lowly royal official and “sacred scribes” (hiero-grammateis) interpreters of omens. Since the prime function of a scribe is, by definition, to write, the use of the term in the Gospels may be best understood as a reference to those who wrote out scrolls of the Law. Among Jews who reverenced every word of that Law, and had no printed Bible with which to check the accuracy of the text read out to them in synagogues, great trust had to be given to the scholar who had copied the text and to the scholar—not, of course, necessarily the same person—who read it aloud. The significance of this latter function in establishing the meaning of the words was much increased by the lack of vowels and punctuation in the words as written on the scroll. As the extant ancient translations into Greek and Aramaic testify, there was much room for idiosyncratic interpretation. It is perhaps odd that testimony to the important public role of readers of the Torah scrolls is not found alongside the references to the significance of scribes. Philo, in praising Jews' knowledge of their laws, writes that “some priest who is present or one of the elders reads the holy laws to them and expounds them point by point.” Elsewhere he ascribes this teaching role in the synagogue to “one of the most experienced.”25 In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is portrayed as teaching in this fashion in the Nazareth synagogues when, “as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And there was delivered to him the book of the prophet Isaiah.”26 It seems obvious that pious Jews would recognize the authority of those they trusted to interpret correctly the complex laws by which, they believed, God had required them to live their lives.
In principle one might expect even greater status to be accorded to those individuals who did not just interpret divine law but who enjoyed direct communication with the divine realm. Both Jews and Romans took for granted that the gods can sometimes speak to or through humans, and that this had occurred in the past, but they were reluctant to rely in their own day on the leadership of those who claimed such divine inspiration. Thus Romans believed that the gods communicate with men through oracles, but that this did not imply that there was anything special about the oracular seer. The Sibylline prophetess at Cumae, in Campania south of Rome, was said by Vergil to have made her ecstatic utterances under the inspiration of Apollo, and coins minted at Cumae commemorate the Sibyl of the city, but nothing is known about the women themselves who performed this role. Each was simply the mouthpiece of the god. Augurs and other interpreters of divine signs on behalf of the Roman state were at most religious technicians, entrusted with the application of traditional methods of divination. There was nothing religiously special about the many priests who presided over the communal sacrifices to the gods. They represented men to the gods, not the gods to men.
For Jews, that God could speak directly to men was obvious, since the Torah had been vouchsafed in this way to Moses, who alone had conversed with God “face to face.” God had spoken to prophets in ancient times. Even the role of Jewish priests differed from that of Roman priests as a result: where Romans saw their tasks as the continuation of human traditions in providing to the gods the offerings that earlier priests believed the gods to desire, Jewish priests believed themselves to be interpreting the rules and regulations which God himself had stipulated through Moses. However, first-century Jews believed that the direct divine communication once vouchsafed to the prophets of old had come to an end by their day. The author of I Maccabees refers to the difficulties created by the lack of prophets to teach Israel how to act: when Judas Maccabee cleansed the defiled sanctuary in Jerusalem after defeating the forces of Antiochus Epiphanes, he “laid up the [defiled] stones in the mountain of the Temple in a convenient place, until there should come a prophet to show what should be done with them.” His brother Simon was appointed by the Jews “their leader and High Priest for ever, until there should arise a faithful prophet.” But to some extent such assertions can be treated as little more than nostalgia, for Josephus could still imagine God speaking directly to some special individuals in more recent times. The Hasmonaean ruler John Hyrcanus, son of Simon Maccabee, “was the only man to unite in his person three of the highest privileges: the supreme command of the nation, the High Priesthood, and the gift of prophecy. For so closely was he in touch with the Deity, that he was never ignorant of the future. Thus he foresaw and predicted that his two elder sons would not remain at the head of affairs …” Josephus seems to have assigned to John's time the last use of the oracle of the Urim and Thummim, the devices on the High Priest's breastplate which revealed, by means now unknown, the divine will. This oracle, writes Josephus, “ceased to shine two hundred years before I composed this work because of God's displeasure at the transgression of the laws.” According to the Mishnah, the Urim and Thummim had ceased rather earlier, “when the first prophets died.”27
Josephus seems then to have assumed that prophets of his own day did not quite reach the standard of those whose inspired sayings were preserved in the Bible. Nonetheless, he was certain that God sent messages to privileged men, since he believed himself to be one such. When he was havering whether to surrender to the Romans rather than commit suicide alongside his companions in Jotapata in 67 CE, “suddenly there came back into his mind those nightly dreams, in which God had foretold to him the impending fate of the Jews and the destinies of the Roman sovereigns. He was an interpreter of dreams and skilled in divining the meaning of ambiguous utterances of the Deity; a priest himself and of priestly descent, he was not ignorant of the prophecies in the sacred books.” It seems that God's will was revealed both directly in dreams and indirectly through study of Scripture, but in either case Josephus emerged as a trustworthy prophet, as was demonstrated after his surrender, when, so he claimed, he forecast accurately to Vespasian and Titus their future glory as emperors. The centrality of this episode in Josephus' life makes it all the more significant that he never described himself as “prophet,” and that his expertise in foretelling the future through contact with the divine did not feature in his self-presentation in his autobiography. There do seem to have been individuals who gathered followers in first-century Judaea by presenting themselves as prophets, but Josephus criticizes them as false prophets, and as “impostors and deceivers”; such a man was the Egyptian “who declared that he was a prophet and advised the masses of the common people to go out with him to the mountain called the Mount of Olives, which lies opposite the city at a distance of five furlongs, for he asserted that he wished to demonstrate from there that at his command Jerusalem's walls would fall down, through which he promised to provide them an entrance into the city.” The Egyptian was attacked by the Romans and defeated, and he disappeared.28
It thus seems that in the first century CE an ordinary Jew who claimed to have heard voices or seen visions could not expect automatically to be treated as a recipient of divine inspiration. Scepticism was comparable, perhaps, to that of most modern Christians and Jews: it is axiomatic that revelation is possible and has been known in the past, but it is not to be expected that it will actually occur to ordinary people now. Such general scepticism may explain the trend by authors of apocalyptic writings in the Second Temple period to present the accounts of these visions in the person of an ancient biblical figure such as Enoch, Baruch or Ezra, unless the apocalypticist felt himself to be the ancient sage reincarnated (as is possible). If such visions were believed to have come to men of old, they were more likely to be treated with the reverence for which the authors of the apocalypticist texts undoubtedly hoped.29
IN ROME, political status derived primarily from wealth, noble ancestry, age and (above all) military glory. In Jerusalem, what mattered was lineage (priestly or royal), learning in the law and (occasionally) a claim to divine inspiration. But in many societies the focus of power is to be found less within formal institutions or among those accorded public status and respect than among those who can capitalize on informal access, insider knowledge and contacts to influence events, and the same was true in first-century Rome and Jerusalem. The exercise of power in the shadows is necessarily harder to reveal than the public face of government, but what can be reported are the rumours, often hostile and not infrequently titillating, which circulated especially among those excluded from the inner circles of influence. It is rarely possible to verify the truth of such rumours even in the contemporary world, let alone across the span of two millennia, but the rumours themselves are historical facts which reveal much about the way that Romans and Jews believed themselves to be governed.
IN PRINCIPLE, authority in Rome was shared between the rich male aristocrats who were elected by the people to the magistracies of the city and who sat in the Senate, which acted as an advisory body to the consuls and the other executives of the state, but in practice all power in imperial Rome derived ultimately from the emperor as autocrat. Despite the theoretical restraints of constitutional and legal safeguards and the danger of moral disapprobation, an emperor could do more or less exactly what he wanted—and, it seems, many of them did exactly that. Thus Augustus was notorious for the seduction of the wives of fellow senators: according to his biographer Suetonius, “Mark Antony accused him … of taking the wife of an ex-consul from her husband's dining room before his very eyes into a bed-chamber, and bringing her back to the table with her hair in disorder and her ears glowing,” behaviour that Augustus' friends were said to have excused “as committed not from passion but from policy, the more readily to keep track of his adversaries' designs through their women.” Tiberius, bored by the burdens of government, retired for the last twelve years of his life to seclusion on the island of Capri. Gaius was believed to have lived incestuously with all three of his sisters and to have so revelled in his absolute power that “at one of his more sumptuous banquets he suddenly burst into a fit of laughter, and when the consuls, who were reclining next to him, politely enquired at what he was laughing, he replied: ‘What, except that at my one nod each of the two of you could have your throat cut on the spot?’” The historians and biographers who relate such anecdotes, in each case naturally only after the emperor's demise, do so with a mixture of fascination, horror and disgust at such manifestations of unchecked power. The autocrat could do whatever he wished unless and until he was unseated by a coup, which would lead inexorably to the loss of his life along with his power.30
Such a coup could never have been effected by the great mass of the emperor's subjects who lived in the provinces. Not even the most successful provincial uprising, like that of Arminius in Germany in 9 CE, could deprive the emperor of his power—the autocrat could always ensure that someone else shouldered the blame. Nor did the institutions in Roman society from which the emperor derived his legal and moral authority, the people and the Senate, have the means to engineer his removal. The will of the people, expressed through the enactment of laws, could do little more than recognize the reality of imperial power. Thus in January 70 CE, after Vespasian had already defeated his rivals in civil war, the people declared not only that “he shall have the right and power, just as the deified Augustus and Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus and Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus had, to transact and do whatever things divine, human, public and private he deems to serve the advantage and the majesty of the state,” but also that “whatever was done, executed, decreed or ordered before the enactment of this law by the emperor Caesar Vespasian Augustus, or by anyone at his order or command, shall be as fully binding and valid as if they had been done by order of the people or plebs.” In other words, the bronze tablet simply recorded that the Senate and people had accepted a fait accompli. The popular will was sometimes evident in less formal public arenas, such as the circus or other public entertainments where a crowd might give voice to discontent, secure in the knowledge that the emperor was unlikely to punish so many, but few issues of policy could engender sufficient unanimity for mass demonstrations to be effective— and no spontaneous uprisings of the Roman populace in fact occurred. To counteract the greater danger of hostility from senators, sensible emperors took great care to present an image of themselves to their fellow aristocrats as first among equals in the Senate: as Augustus expressed it in his posthumous Res Gestae, “I took precedence over all in rank, but I possessed no more power than the others who were my colleagues in each magistracy.” The image of the emperor as “just” another senator served a useful purpose in preserving the amour-propre of ordinary senators and hence a healthy supply of rich Romans prepared to dedicate themselves to a senatorial career and the command of armies which could win glory for the emperor. But the Senate as a body had almost no power and, in fact, almost nothing to do. What in the Republic had been the engine room of Roman government became under the emperors a sterile debating chamber. Decisions on important issues were taken elsewhere, by the emperor and his advisers. It would be a grave mistake to envisage the relationship of Senate to emperor as analogous to that of a United States president to Congress. In theory, senators could speak in the house against an imperial decision or seek to arraign the emperor before a court as they could other magistrates. In practice, no one would be so stupid: not just the careers and fortunes of all senators, but their lives, could be forfeit at the emperor's whim.31
The basis of this overwhelming power wielded by the emperor was his control of the armies. Some emperors, including Augustus, came to the purple through military victories over their political opponents, but even those other emperors whose rule had started in more peaceful circumstances could still rely on the latent threat of force. Usually, the threat sufficed. Augustus had retained a standing army of enormous size in order to ensure that any potential rival would start from a military disadvantage— or, preferably, not start at all. The emperor had at his disposal in the early first century CE about a quarter of a million soldiers stationed around the empire. Only a small proportion was required for fighting against external enemies of the state. Dispersal of forces facilitated rapid responses to low-level hostilities on the empire's frontiers but—and this was probably more important for the emperor's peace of mind—it also discouraged conspiracies between army commanders, who would find it difficult to coordinate opposition to the emperor across such wide distances. When the governor of Dalmatia, Lucius Arruntius Furius Camillus Scribonianus, rebelled against Claudius in 42 CE with the backing of the two legions he commanded, his attempt to win power for himself foundered as soon as it became clear that other provincial commanders were not prepared to throw their lot in with him. Two legions had no chance when faced by the prospect of opposition from the rest of the army. Scribonianus' troops deserted him and “his rebellion was put down within five days, since the legions which had changed their allegiance were turned from their purpose by superstitious fear; for when the order was given to march to their new commander, by some providential chance the eagles could not be adorned nor the standards pulled up and moved.” Even if the legionary commanders might be prepared to risk all, lured by the prize to be won from victory, their troops were likely to be more cautious.32
Such reasons for caution applied rather less to the small force of elite troops stationed on the outskirts of Rome, since, if they turned disloyal to the emperor while he was in the city, they could act before he had time to summon the rest of his armies to his aid. The nine praetorian cohorts, nearly five and a half thousand heavily armed soldiers, were permanently encamped from the time of Augustus on the edge of Rome. Their official role was to protect the headquarters, the praetorium, of the emperor, since his constitutional position, by virtue of which he commanded armies, was that of a general on campaign, with the special privilege that he could conduct those campaigns, by use of subordinates, from the comfort of Rome. The praetorians were the only major military presence in Rome, far outclassing the much lighter armed vigiles, watchmen, who operated more like a police force and fire brigade. The power of the praetorians came from their physical proximity to the autocrat. As Gaius discovered on 24 January 41 CE, trapped in a narrow exit from the arena for the Palatine games, his personal German bodyguard was useless once the praetorians struck.33
Most powerful of all the praetorians was their prefect, to whose command the soldiers owed allegiance in addition to their oath of loyalty to the emperor as commander-in-chief. The emperor needed to put full confidence in the man selected for this crucial role. It was not easy. To avoid praetorian prefects seeking supreme power for themselves, two were generally appointed at any one time in the hope that, as with the shared power of the consuls in the Republic, the influence of one might be checked by the other. For the same reason praetorian prefects were selected from those of equestrian rather than senatorial rank, and the honours voted to them were carefully graded on the one hand to keep them loyal, on the other to keep ambition under control.
The dangers faced by emperors from a praetorian prefect of dubious loyalty first became evident through the career of Lucius Aelius Seianus (“Sejanus”) under Tiberius. Sejanus was made joint prefect with his father Lucius Seius Strabo at the beginning of Tiberius' rule in 14 CE, but when Strabo was appointed prefect of Egypt, he was placed in sole command. A man with influential connections in the Senate—his mother's brother had been consul in 10 CE—he capitalized on the emperor's age and increasing reluctance to be drawn into political intrigue in order to concentrate power into his own hands. In 30 CE the historian Velleius Paterculus described him in extravagant terms, as “one who claims no honours for himself and so acquires all honours, whose estimate of himself is always below the estimate of others, calm in expression and in his life, though his mind is sleep-lessly alert. In the value set upon the character of this man, the judgement of the whole state has long vied with that of the emperor”; but just the following year, after he had been elected consul in recognition of his merits, he was dragged to his death from the Senate House in Rome, having been denounced, through an intermediary, by Tiberius, who was ensconced, old and unarmed, on Capri. Tiberius' problems in procuring the demise of his subordinate had been largely practical. The only fully armed troops in the vicinity of Capri were praetorians, and he could not know if they would side with him or Sejanus if he required them to decide. Sejanus made regular visits to Capri as part of his duties. As prefect he was expected to wear a sword in the emperor's presence. To dispatch Tiberius, dressed in his toga or tunic, would take only moments at a private audience, and Sejanus might reasonably calculate that the praetorians would find the choice easier once the emperor was dead. Their livelihoods, with pay levels well in excess of those earned by ordinary legionaries and a comfortable existence away from the privations of the frontiers for most of their careers, depended on there being an emperor to protect, but it did not much matter which emperor it was, provided that he paid them their due, and they could as easily have promoted the consul Sejanus in 31 as they were to push forward the elderly Claudius ten years later.34
The crux of Sejanus' power, physical proximity to the emperor, was shared by others whose lack of formal status left them more in the shadows except when they were caught up in conspiracies. Many in the imperial household—the emperor's barber, butler, valet, and all his other personal attendants—had the ability to do him harm. For the same reasons, they had considerable power, for all that they were slaves or ex-slaves, to do good for other people by dropping a word into the emperor's ear at the right time. Hence the reports of the immense influence of Narcissus, Pallas and other freedmen under Claudius and Nero. Their influence was resented because it was overt, but “good” emperors necessarily relied just as much as “bad” on the services and advice of their freedman secretaries, who wrote their letters, managed their accounts and organized their personal diaries. So Augustus, who left at his death “a summary of the condition of the whole empire: how many soldiers there were in active service in all parts of it, how much money there was in the public treasury and in the imperial treasuries, and what revenues were in arrears,” also added, according to Suetonius, “the names of the freedmen and slaves from whom the details could be demanded.” The only difference between Augustus and some of his successors was that Augustus was careful to emphasize the social gulf between high-status Romans and these low-status, but powerful, servants. His will, drawn up in two notebooks in the year before his death, had been written “in part in his own hand and in part in that of his freedmen Po-lybius and Hilarion.” These two ex-slaves must have wielded immense influence, but nothing whatever is known about them: like civil servants, they were kept out of the limelight.35
The power of some of the women in the imperial family could be advertised rather more publicly than that of freedmen, once the general taboo against formal recognition of female power had been effectively broken by Augustus' treatment of his wife Livia, who as early as 35 BCE received, along with her sister-in-law Octavia, the sacrosanctity of a tribune of the people and freedom of financial action, so that she entered the male political world in her own right: she recorded in her own name, not that of Augustus, her role in rebuilding appropriate shrines such as the temple of Fortuna Muliebris (“Fortune of women”), which stood four miles from Rome on the Via Latina. Livia's public prominence was exceptional for a woman in the early empire, although there was a partial parallel in the power flaunted by her great-granddaughter, Julia Agrippina, niece and wife of the emperor Claudius and mother of Nero. Nonetheless, even if they might receive public recognition, women could not hold magistracies or command armies, and any control they could exercise over policy was necessarily through men; and in this respect the wives and daughters of emperors benefited as a matter of course from the opportunities provided by access to the autocrat.
In a society unabashed at the overt role of patronage, there was no embarrassment in approaching the emperor through his wife, as Josephus did when, as we have seen in Chapter 2, he visited Rome to try to help his Jerusalem friends who had been sent to Rome in bonds by Felix, governor of Judaea, “on a slight and trifling charge”: Josephus made friends with a Jewish actor, Aliturus, and “through him I was introduced to Poppaea, Caesar's consort, and took the earliest opportunity of soliciting her aid to secure the liberation of the priests.” Poppaea's influence depended entirely on her ability to allure the autocratic Nero. She had become mistress to Nero in the late 50s CE while she was married to the future emperor Otho, who, out of prudence or sympathy for his immoral tastes (so Tacitus alleged), abandoned her to the emperor. Her influence was sufficient, it was alleged, for her to have encouraged Nero to free himself from stifling maternal influence by the drastic means of murdering his mother, Agrip-pina, in March 59. Soon Otho conveniently divorced her. Nero was persuaded to divorce his wife Claudia Octavia, daughter of the emperor Claudius, on the pretext that she was sterile, and Poppaea became the emperor's wife. Power thus acquired was dangerous for its possessor. In 63 Poppaea produced a daughter for Nero, but the baby died after a few months. As evidence of imperial favour Poppaea was given the name Augusta—a title for which Livia, earlier in the century, had been required to wait until the death of her husband Augustus in 14 CE. But Nero was not a comfortable person with whom to be at close quarters. In 65, when Poppaea was pregnant again, her husband kicked her “in a chance fit of anger.” Tacitus notes that some writers record that she was poisoned, “but this sounds malevolent rather than truthful, and I do not believe it—for Nero wanted children and love for his wife was an addiction.” Certainly he treated her well after death. “Her body was not cremated in the Roman fashion, but was stuffed with spices and embalmed in the manner of foreign royalty.” She was buried in the mausoleum of Augustus.36
Equivalent to the emperor in Rome as the source of all real power in Jerusalem was the single individual to whom the province was entrusted by the Roman state: from 37 to 4 BCE, Herod the Great; from 4 BCE to 6 CE, his son Archelaus; from 6 to 41, and from 44 to 66, the Roman governor; from 41 to 44, Herod's grandson, Agrippa I. In his description of political events in Jerusalem before the great revolt which broke out against Rome in early summer 66 CE, Josephus had frequent recourse to periphrases in describing the Jews who wielded, or tried to wield, power in the city. Decisions and actions were taken by “the principal citizens,” “the leading citizens,” “those in authority,” “the powerful,” “the rulers,” “the notables,” or others described by similar phrases. Quite who was meant by these descriptions emerges from his narrative only when specific individuals or particular groups, such as the entourage of a High Priest, are named. The concentration of influence in Jerusalem, as in Rome, was located not in institutions or status but among those who could gain access to the ultimate source of brute power—in 66, the Roman governor, who commanded troops and, if really pressed, could summon to his aid the legions from Syria. In the province of Judaea the governors listened above all to the scions of the Herodian family and to the relatives of those appointed— either by Herodians or by governors themselves—to the High Priesthood; but, beyond that, there was also a penumbra of rich Jews, both priestly and lay, who were trusted by the Roman authorities simply because they belonged to a type of wealthy landowner that Romans recognized as a natural aristocracy. It was to such people, the “magistrates and councillors” or “the magistrates with the powerful,” that Rome could turn for the collection of imperial taxes in Jerusalem and the rest of the country. For Rome to delegate power to the local rich was standard practice in provincial administration: the rich had the most to gain from settled prosperity, and the most to lose from disorder.37
A ruling class thus defined had no correlation in Jewish categories of status nor in local institutions. A role for formal institutions as the loci of political decisions, like the assembly and Senate in Republican Rome, is rarely attested in first-century Jerusalem. Under the rule of Herod, a popular assembly was convened by the king in 12 BCE to present to the people his three sons as heirs to his throne, but such an assembly was not a forum for debate. As in contemporary Rome, the Jerusalem crowd was a blunt political instrument. The fate of the last Hasmonaean High Priest, the young Aristobulus III, was sealed when a public demonstration in 35 BCE revealed widespread regret at his exclusion from political power and, “on the occasion of a festival, when the lad approached the altar, clad in the priestly vestments, the multitude with one accord burst into tears. He was, consequently, sent by night to Jericho, and there, in accordance with instructions [from Herod], plunged into a swimming bath … and drowned.” It is clear from such stories that the populace was not conceived as wielding formal political powers: it could only protest and cajole. Similarly the ruling class under Roman rule, unless it resorted to calling on the use of force by the governor, had to rely on persuasion to control the passions of the city crowd: when in c. 52 CE the Jewish masses took up arms against the Samaritans in intercommunal violence begun after the murder of a Galilean pilgrim,
those in authority tried to mollify them and reduce the disorder, and offered to induce Cumanus [the Roman governor] to punish the murderers. The masses, however, paid no heed to them, but, taking up arms … fired and sacked certain villages of the Samaritans. When the affair came to Cumanus' ears, he … marched out against the Jews and, in an encounter, slew many, but took more alive. Thereupon those who were by honour and birth the leaders of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, when they saw to what depth of calamity they had come, changed their robes for sackcloth and defiled their heads with ashes and went to all lengths entreating the rebels.
There was probably rather greater formality about the proceedings of the Sanhedrin, but it would be a mistake to imagine it as a legally constituted body with the sense of collective responsibility so apparent in the references to itself made by the Roman Senate, or as a parliament divided into competing parties. So far as is known, there were no elections to its membership. In the end, the Sanhedrin's power to achieve its goals depended entirely on the authority of its president, whether High Priest or king, and that, in turn, depended on the extent of his influence with the local representatives of Rome.38
Well integrated into the network of “the powerful” in Jerusalem were members of the Herodian family. For some Herodians, of course, this power was formally delegated to them by Rome as king, ethnarch or tetrarch, or as custodian of the Temple, but even those Herodians who held no official position could still wield much power in the city. As in Rome, the ambiguous nature of this informal power was most noticeable when it was wielded by women. Thus Berenice, sister of Agrippa II and daughter of Agrippa I, tried hard and very publicly to stave off the rebellion of 66 when provocation by the governor Florus was at its height and the city was in uproar. Josephus may have exaggerated her importance in order to flatter, but not her general role, when she “constantly sent her cavalry-commanders and body-guards to Florus to implore him to put a stop to the carnage, but he, regarding neither the number of the slain nor the exalted rank of his suppliant, but only the profit accruing from the plunder, turned a deaf ear to her prayers … and she would come barefoot before the tribunal and make supplication to Florus, without any respect being shown to her, and even at the peril of her life.” In this case, of course, the princess's intervention failed, but it is significant that she believed herself entitled to intervene, although a fully accurate picture of her influence and motivation in such stressful times is elusive because all the extant evidence about her life was written down during or after her notorious love affair with the future emperor Titus, and evaluation of her colourful earlier career was inevitably affected by knowledge of this later liaison. Jose-phus' frankness will have been inhibited even more, at least in the 70s CE when he was writing his Jewish War, by the need to rely on the patronage in Rome of Agrippa II, although by the time that Josephus wrote the last book of his Antiquities, in the early 90s, he was sufficiently independent of the royal brother and sister to feel free to mention the rumour that the two of them had an incestuous relationship. It is possible that by this date Agrippa was dead, or at any rate out of favour. In the 90s, or the years following, the satirist Juvenal could allude in passing to the scandal, describing “a diamond of great renown, made precious by the finger of Berenice. It was given as a present long ago by the barbarian Agrippa to his incestuous sister, in that country where kings celebrate festal Sabbaths with bare feet, and where a long-established clemency suffers pigs to attain old age.” Nonetheless it is clear that in Jerusalem in the 60s, long before she could yet dream of her life in Rome as Titus' mistress, Berenice had been a powerful figure on the local stage. Her great wealth and her connections inevitably gave her power within Jewish society. Josephus mentions in passing in his autobiography the crucial intervention she made to her brother Agrippa to save the life of his future secretary, Justus of Tiberias, when Justus was convicted of leading raids at the beginning of the war in 66 against gentile cities on the borders of Galilee.39
The position of Berenice's brother Agrippa II in Jerusalem during these same years was more officially recognized by Rome, but in practice his ability to control the volatile politics of Jerusalem was similarly dependent on a combination of royal prestige, massive wealth, patronage and influence in the imperial court. As king of lands north and east of Judaea, he had access to troops, but his soldiers were normally stationed not in Jerusalem but in his sovereign territories (by the mid-50s comprising much of Galilee and parts of Transjordan as well as land east of the Sea of Galilee). This anomalous arrangement, by which a king with territory some considerable distance away was expected to take responsibility for the care of the Temple and its operations, seems to have been a novel idea of Herod of Chalcis in reaction to the furore provoked by the governor Cus-pius Fadus, whose period of rule in 44–6, following the death of Agrippa I, was marred by his insistence that the ritual clothes of the High Priest should be left in the custody of the Romans rather than the priests themselves. A delegation of Jews to Rome succeeded in persuading the emperor to reverse Fadus' directive, and Claudius evidently felt that delegating all such issues to Herod of Chalcis would be a sensible devolution of responsibility while ensuring that the Jewish shrine was managed with greater sensitivity than Fadus had achieved. This contrived and unique solution to a long-running problem—since Fadus was not the first governor to upset the Jews by the way he administered the affairs of the Temple—was sufficiently successful in the few remaining years in which Herod of Chalcis was alive for the experiment to be continued, at least from 50, with Herod's nephew Agrippa II. Thus in the 50s and 60s Agrippa had the duty and prerogative delegated by Rome to ensure that the Temple was properly and peacefully managed.
Agrippa exercised control most obviously through appointment of the High Priest of his choice. This right he used frequently from the late 50s, perhaps as a way of discouraging any individual High Priest from becoming too powerful through the prestige of the post. A High Priest could in principle be appointed for life, but Agrippa installed six different men, each apparently from a different priestly family, between 59 and 66. Unsurprisingly, the relationship between king and leading priests was often fraught, most dramatically when Agrippa's attempt quite literally to oversee proceedings in the Temple was thwarted by the erection of a blocking wall. There was equal potential for tension between Agrippa and the Roman governor, although the king seems to have got on well enough with the procurator Festus, with whom relations may have been particularly close: according to the Acts of the Apostles, Festus allowed the king to question Paul even after his formal trial by the governor was complete and judgement—that he should be sent to Caesar—pronounced. It is hard to know whether Agrippa's comment to Festus at the end of the hearing, that “this man might have been set at liberty if he had not appealed to Caesar,” constituted a private remark or a formal legal decision. If the latter, it might look dangerously possible for the king to undermine the governor's authority. But it may be that Festus' willingness to permit a hearing of Paul by Agrippa (and by Berenice, who was present “with great pomp” but is not portrayed as speaking during the proceedings, or as being addressed by Paul) was an exceptional act of friendliness in response to the politeness of the king and queen, who had come specially to Caesarea to greet Festus at the beginning of his period of office.40
It is significant that this hearing by the governor took place in Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, since that was his headquarters and the place where the majority of his troops were stationed. The governor, and indeed the Roman state as a whole, had a much lower profile in the city of Jerusalem, which he visited only occasionally, at times of potential tension, such as the pilgrim festivals. The single cohort of between six and twelve hundred auxiliary troops stationed permanently in the Antonia fortress next to the Temple was commanded by a quite lowly military official, described in Acts as the “tribune of the cohort,” whose task was to keep an eye out for trouble in the Temple court and to intervene before it got worse, as he did when “all Jerusalem was in an uproar” about Paul:
As they went about to kill him, news came to the tribune of the cohort … who immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them; and when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the tribune came near, and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and demanded who he was, and what he had done. And some cried one thing, some another, among the crowd: and when he could not know the certainty for the tumult, he commanded him to be taken to the barracks.
When the governor himself went to Jerusalem, he probably stayed in Herod's former palace in the west of the city, near what is now the Jaffa Gate, an impressive building and a well-fortified citadel in which he presumably quartered the troops brought with him from Caesarea for the duration of his visit. The inhabitants of Jerusalem were thus left in no doubt about the grandeur of their governor, but he was a distant figure most of the time. Even when he was in Jerusalem his residence was sited on the edge of the city, next to the city wall, at a distance, albeit only ten minutes' walk, from the Temple compound. By contrast, the much smaller, less pretentious, palace of Agrippa II was in the city's centre, overlooking the Tyropoeon valley and, of course, the Temple site. It must have felt sometimes as if the city had two masters, particularly when Agrippa was present and the governor was not.41
In any case, governors will have been uneasily aware that the political clout in Rome of some members of the Herodian family was considerably greater than theirs. In the first year of his reign, in 54, Nero placed the government of Armenia Minor into the hands of Aristobulus, son of the deceased Herod of Chalcis, for no known reason apart from his royal ancestry. By contrast, all governors of Judaea were of comparatively lowly Roman status—none was a senator, and Felix, governor from c. 52 to 60, was an ex-slave. Few governors will have been as close to the emperor as Agrippa II seems to have been. Educated probably at Rome, he was certainly in the imperial capital as a young man when his father, Agrippa I, died in 44, and was much favoured by Claudius, who wanted to appoint him immediately to his father's kingdom but was dissuaded on the grounds of Agrippa's youth. His relations with Nero were perhaps less close, as there is no explicit evidence that the two of them became friends and companions as Agrippa I and Gaius had done in the last days of Tiberius' rule. Nero was probably too young, aged only twelve when marked out for greatness in 49 by the marriage of his mother Julia Agrippina to the aged Claudius, to need a mentor ten years older. Nonetheless, Nero's warmth towards Agrippa was indicated by the grant to him of new territory when the young prince became emperor in 54, and Agrippa reciprocated by renaming his capital city “Neronias” in 62. Agrippa's coins bore Nero's name and image, and the king styled himself “philo-Caesar.” It is possible that Agrippa and Nero were in fact closer than Josephus cared to recall by the 70s when he began writing his history. By then Nero was vilified as a monster, and cataloguing his vices had become hackneyed. All those politicians who had prospered under his regime might prefer reticence about this aspect of their past. Agrippa, as son of a Jewish king, had high status in the eyes of the Jews of Jerusalem, but his power ultimately derived entirely from the emperor in Rome. It will have been no surprise that, when revolt eventually erupted in 66 and his efforts at mediation had clearly failed, Agrippa abandoned both city and Temple, attaching himself and his soldiers to the army of Cestius Gallus, governor of Syria, as he marched south to recapture Jerusalem on behalf of the emperor.42