ROME AND JERUSALEM have existed for centuries in the Western imagination as opposite ideals of grandeur and sanctity. Rome, the “Eternal City,” has long been conceived as the epitome of magnificent power imposed through military might and the force of law and as a warning of the dangers of moral corruption. The picturesque ruins of the imperial city have both fascinated and repelled, stimulating admiration for brilliant achievements by past generations and rumination on the fallibility of human desire for glory. Such images retain a hold even now in literature, art and cinema. In contrast, Jerusalem has been idealized as a holy place of revelations, miracles and spiritual intensity. The origins of these idealized images lie in the real history of these cities in the time of Jesus. At the beginning of the first millennium CE both cities were at the peak of their prosperity and grandeur, each famous throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond. They were two cities whose inhabitants came into close contact: Romans visited Jerusalem as soldiers, politicians, tourists; Jews came to Rome as suppliants, slaves or fortune-seekers. They were two cities with a culture partly shared, from the gleam of ceremonial white masonry in the summer sun to acceptance of Greek as a prestige language of the erudite and the influence of Greek architecture and philosophy. They were two cities that shared a political world fostered by friendships, alliances, patronage. But they were two cities which, as it turned out, came into conflict, with terrible results.

That a great deal can be said about both cities two thousand years ago is not entirely a matter of chance. Both Romans and Jews prized highly the art of writing, and produced large literatures. No less important, in both cases much of the literature survives to the present through a tradition of manuscript copying and preservation which was continuous from late antiquity to the Renaissance and the invention of printing. In the case of the Jews, Hebrew and Aramaic writings were preserved within the literary tradition of the rabbis, whose teachings, formulated in the first five centuries CE, laid the foundations of both medieval and modern orthodox Judaism. Jewish writings in Greek were ignored by the rabbis but preserved by Christians, who appropriated to themselves for religious edification a large number of Jewish texts composed before c. 100 CE, including the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, with additional material now commonly found in English Bibles as the Apocrypha), the philosophical treatises of Philo, the histories of Josephus, and Greek versions of more mystical Jewish writings originally composed in Hebrew or Aramaic.

Christians were also responsible for the preservation of much of the literature of ancient Rome. From the fourth century CE Christians adopted the literature of pagan Greece and Rome as their own. Some pagans, like the emperor Julian (ruled 361—3), objected that Christians could not properly teach literature about the pagan gods if they did not believe in them, and the Christian St. Jerome (c. 347—420) worried that his devotion to Ciceronian style in his Latin prose made him less devoted to his faith, but during the fifth century the great works of Greek and Latin literature came to be seen by many Christians simply as a central element in the education of Christian Romans alongside the texts composed by Christians themselves. Thus many texts survive through the pious efforts of monks, from Cassiodorus in sixth-century Italy to the industrious scholars of Byzantium as late as the fifteenth century, who saw the reproduction of manuscripts as an act of devotion, almost regardless of their contents; and from many of the pagan writings they preserved, such as Vergil's Aeneid or the philosophical musings of Seneca, Christians would in time derive appropriate moral teachings.

The inhabitants of Jerusalem and Rome inevitably shared many experiences imposed upon them by the natural rhythms of the Mediterranean climate. For Jews, the Mediterranean was ha Yam ha Gadol, “the Great Sea”; yama, the word for “west” in Hebrew, reflected the view of the sea from Judaea. For the Romans, the Mediterranean was simply mare nostrum, “our sea,” rather like the English view of La Manche as the English Channel.

Both cities sometimes experienced stifling heatwaves at the height of summer, although in Jerusalem, where snow is a great rarity, winters were milder than in Rome, where freezing temperatures are not unknown. Annual rainfall was less in Jerusalem than in Rome, and the summer drought, which could last from May to late November, was much longer and more complete, so that farmers in the Judaean hills relied more on the heavy dew precipitated by the sharp drop of air temperature at night. But in both cities people were all too aware of the potential effect of drought. In Jerusalem in 24 and 23 BCE drought led to food shortages and thus to plague, and to a dangerous lack of clothing in winter because flocks had died and there was “no wool or any other material to cover themselves.” Livy, in the time of Augustus, thought it worth including in his history of Rome the information that the year 181 BCE, nearly two centuries before, had been “remarkable for drought and the failure of the crops. The story goes that for six months it did not rain at all.”1 Inhabitants of both cities imagined agricultural plenty in terms of wine, fruits and olives, grown on terraced hillsides, and pasturage, to supplement the grain crops cultivated on coastal plains and in valleys where the ground was sufficiently level for shallow ploughing. A Roman would have well understood the divine blessing that, if Israel will obey God's commandments, “I will give the rain for your land in its due season, the first rain and the latter rain, so that you may gather in your grain, and your wine, and your oil. And I shall send grass in your fields for your cattle,” and the prophet Micah looking forward to the days when “they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid.”2

But away from the sea, the ecology of Judaea was very different from anything to be found in Italy and in some ways Jerusalem lay outside the Mediterranean sphere. The distinctive geography of the land of Israel is a result of the great rift valley which runs southwards from Syria towards Africa and includes the long stretch of the Jordan valley, ending in the region of the Dead Sea, many feet below sea level. Moving eastwards from Jerusalem, the terraced hillsides rapidly gave way in antiquity to semi-desert. As the road descended towards Jericho, the wholly arid terrain was punctuated only by rare oases such as Jericho itself, En Gedi, and the spring of En Feshqa, which fed the strange community of Jews who inhabited Qumran, the site near which the Dead Sea scrolls were found. Josephus with some reason extolled the extraordinary fertility of such parts of the rift valley as could be sufficiently watered: on the borders of the Sea of Galilee, he claimed, fruit trees bore their produce continuously throughout the year.3

Josephus had good reason to exaggerate the prosperity of the land of Israel, both through natural patriotism and out of a desire to demonstrate the impressive feats of his patrons, the emperors Vespasian and Titus, but his geographical information can probably be trusted, and it is striking that he divided the Jewish homeland not into two, Judaea and Galilee, but into three: Judaea, Galilee and Peraea (which is Transjordan). Jewish territory looked not just west, towards the sea, and north, towards Galilee, but also east, towards the desert. The region east of the Jordan rises up to a basalt plateau made sufficiently fertile by precipitation of rain coming from the west to support a small number of cities in the Roman period—Philadelphia (on the site of modern Amman), Jerash and Pella among others—fed by grain production and the raising of livestock, particularly cattle. Further east still lay the semi-desert, suitable only for the grazing of sheep and goats (what the Bible called “small cattle”), and beyond the Peraea the Syrian desert itself, which was opening up precisely in the first century BCE into a major highway for international trade from Mesopotamia. The success of the camel caravans was best illustrated by the growing prosperity of the oasis of Palmyra, the trading centre known in the biblical texts as Tad-mor. It was in the Roman period, particularly in the two and a half centuries after the imposition of Roman authority in c. 17 CE, that the oasis reached the apogee of its wealth; many of the splendid tombs and temples on which the Palmyrenes lavished their wealth, favouring a curious amalgam of Parthian, Greek, semitic and Roman artistic traits, can still be seen.4

Links to the east mattered to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Josephus even claims, in answer to the calumny that Jews could not have had a distinguished ancient history since the ancient Greeks did not write about them, that “ours is not a country with a sea coast; neither commerce nor the mixing which it enables with others has any attraction for us. Our cities are built inland, remote from the sea …” Certainly Judaean Jews maintained close contact in the first century with their fellow Jews in Babylonia, undeterred by the fact that Babylon was ruled by Parthia, outside the sphere of Roman control. Herod the Great established in Batanaea, to the east of the Sea of Galilee, a military colony of Babylonian Jews to provide protection against brigandage for pilgrims coming to the Jerusalem Temple from Mesopotamia. According to Josephus, the first High Priest appointed by Herod after his capture of Jerusalem in 37 BCE was a certain Ananel, a Babylonian of inferior priestly origin. According to later rabbinic tradition, the great scholar Hillel, who flourished in Jerusalem in the early first century ce, also came originally from Babylon.5

On the other hand, if Judaea was not a wholly Mediterranean culture, neither did it easily fall into a category defined by the fertile crescent which links this region to Mesopotamia. The region shared the use of a language, Aramaic, which had originated in upper Mesopotamia and then spread to the Levant primarily through its adoption as the language of royal administration in the Persian empire during the fifth and fourth centuries BCE; but there is no evidence that inhabitants of the fertile crescent had a sense of common destiny such as was found among some communities on the shores of the Mediterranean, particularly the Greeks. Such a sense of belonging even to a smaller regional entity is not widely attested for communities in the Near East apart from the Jews until the imposition of Roman rule, and the regional identities which then emerged seem often to have been by adoption of Roman or Greek categories. During the first three centuries CE the Near East became increasingly Roman, both in the sense of a concentration of state military resources in the eastern part of the Roman empire and through the award to existing cities of the status of Roman colony, but in the early first century CE this process was still in its infancy. Viewed from the rest of the Mediterranean world, much of the fertile crescent, variously designated as Syria, Assyria or Arabia or by other exotic names, was still an undifferentiated region of little-known barbarism. To some extent, the unhappy fortune of Jerusalem under Roman rule was a result of the city's ambivalent position between the Mediterranean world and the Near East.6

DESPITE ALL the differences between the cultures of the two cities, a casual visitor to Rome and Jerusalem in the last decades of the first century BCE might have been more struck by similarities, since it was during these years that both cities metamorphosed from ramshackle agglomerations into shining testimonies to massive state expenditure. Rome, which up to the mid-first century BCE had been an unimpressive collection of brick buildings divided by winding alleyways, clustered around a small public area in the Forum and on the Capitoline hill, was remodelled with a series of new monumental public buildings and grand public spaces. Similarly, Jerusalem was expanded and transformed by Herod, to make it, as a Roman observer, the elder Pliny, proclaimed after its destruction in 70 CE, “by far the most famous city of the East.” Both cities used the most up-to-date techniques of urban planning, borrowed architectural styles from the most impressive city of the previous generation, Alexandria in Egypt, and used vaulted arches to erect platforms out from the side of hills to form level public spaces. These two ancient cities were reborn at the same time and in similar ways, but the origin of the glory of Rome was wholly different from the foundation of the splendour of Jerusalem.7


WHEN JOSEPHUS came to Rome from Jerusalem for his brief visit in the early 60s CE he found the city at the height of its opulence. The huge, sprawling city lay on the river Tiber, near the west coast of Italy and above the plain of Latium. By the first century, the true origins of the city had long been lost from collective memory, and speculation about its mythical foundation allowed free range to the imagination of poets and historians. Already by the early part of the first millennium BCE isolated villages, similar to others in the surrounding region of Latium, were in existence on the hills of the site that was to become Rome. These settlements grew in size and sophistication over the ensuing centuries, but the origins of the city as a single political unit are best dated to c. 600 BCE, when the Forum was laid out as a public meeting space in the valley between the hilltops. From then to the mid-first century BCE, the power of the city grew inexorably. Incorporation of all of Latium was followed by a gradual expansion of influence over the rest of Italy. In the third century BCE a long, bitter, but eventually successful struggle against the Phoenician trading city of Carthage, which lay on the north coast of Africa in modern Tunisia but also had many interests in Sicily and in Spain, left Rome in control of much of the coast of the western Mediterranean and, through use of a newly confident navy, of the sea routes between them. The conflict also left a residue of vocabulary and concepts to express hostility and contempt for a dangerous enemy, defined by their Punic language and customs as irremediably fickle. This early encounter was to have a formative effect on later Roman attitudes to barbarians from the Syrian East.

Of Punic culture, or of the customs of the Celts to the north of Italy with whom Rome had already come into violent contact in the fourth century BCE, Rome adopted almost nothing. By contrast, Rome's conquest of the eastern Mediterranean from 200 BCE to the battle of Actium in 31 BCE changed the culture of the city markedly. We shall see in Chapter 2 how the imposition of Roman political power on the Greek cities of the Greek mainland paradoxically led to widespread Roman acceptance of the superiority of Greek art, architecture, literature and philosophy. The impact of Greek art on Roman taste can be traced further back to the first urbanization of the site in the early sixth century BCE, when Greek pots were already being imported into the city, and it is probable that a liking for Greek artefacts was promoted throughout the early period of Rome's history through the similar cultural preferences found both among the more developed urban society of the Etruscans, whose cities lay to the north of Rome, and among the inhabitants of the Greek colonies in Italy, such as Neapolis (modern Naples); but there can be no doubt that Roman hegemony over Greeks from the second century BCE much increased the availability and attractiveness of Greek objects and ideas. During the conquest of the eastern Mediterranean Roman enthusiasm for Greek art could take the crudest of forms. In 146 BCE the Roman general who destroyed Corinth, Lucius Mummius, looted great quantities of art for display in Italy and especially in Rome.

As a result of almost continuous conquests Rome exercised political and military control by the mid-first century BCE over almost the whole of the Mediterranean world. Even Egypt, which was not formally brought under Roman rule until 30 BCE, was for some years before this treated by Roman aristocrats as a Roman protectorate—the last queen, Cleopatra VII, kept her throne only through manipulation of Roman politicians, most notably Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. The biggest danger to Rome came not from the subject peoples of the empire but from the personal ambitions of the Roman nobles themselves.

In 49 BCE the tensions between ambitious aristocrats, which had already escalated earlier in the century into sporadic civil war on the soil of Italy, erupted into an internecine struggle which was to involve almost every corner of the Mediterranean world as the arena for battles or in the supply of troops and money to the warring factions. The war began with a demand by one such aristocrat, Julius Caesar, to be permitted to assert his right to a share in power, but desire for glory after his victory over his enemies led to his proclamation in early 44 as perpetual dictator, and on the Ides of March of that year he was murdered by a large group of fellow senators, including some of his former friends. The ensuing years witnessed a struggle for Caesar's political legacy, dominated by the claims of his closest political ally, Mark Antony, and his young heir, his great-nephew Octavian.

The decisive battle took place near Actium, off the western coast of Greece, on 2 September 31. Octavian emerged as victor not only over his immediate rival Antony and his paramour Cleopatra, but over the whole system of shared power and authority on which the Roman state had been founded since the expulsion of the early kings some five centuries before. From 31 Rome was to be governed by sole rulers. Octavian described himself modestly as princeps, “chief,” with the implication that he was only first among equals, and his example was followed by his successors for centuries. But the English word “emperor,” derived from the acclamation of Roman generals as imperator, “commander,” more accurately captures the nature of his autocratic rule, and the family name “Caesar,” inherited (through adoption) from Julius, came to be used to designate any Roman monarch (whence Kaiser and Tsar in more recent societies). The remodelling of the city of Rome in the last decades of the first century BCE was thus ultimately the achievement of one man and his vision. By the time of Actium, prolonged war had left the Roman world exhausted and appalled. Contemporary literary references to the longing for peace within Italy, regardless of the cost of liberty, ring true. Octavian's rule, like that of all subsequent emperors, rested ultimately on his control of a military machine: he maintained a huge standing army, ensuring the loyalty of the army commanders by dispersing the legions to the frontier provinces to inhibit conspiracies between them. Nonetheless, the new regime saw value in a change of image to help offset public memory of the new ruler's bloody progress to power. The Senate in 27 BCE conferred on Octavian a new name, Augustus, “revered one,” which was widely advertised on coins. An era of peace, prosperity and plenty was proclaimed. The city of Rome was transformed to become as magnificent as the greatest city of the Greek East, Alexandria, the capital of the erstwhile enemy queen, Cleopatra.

In Augustus’ own summary and highly selective account of his achievements, he claimed to have repaired many temples in Rome—eighty-two in the year 28 alone—and to have built impressive new ones. His biographer Suetonius, writing a hundred years later, explained his motivation: “Since the city was not adorned as befitted the majesty of the empire, and was exposed to flood and fire, he beautified it to the extent that he could justly boast that he found it built of brick and left it in marble.” Suetonius specified Augustus’ most impressive building achievements: a new forum to house the increased population and the legal cases that had to be heard, the temple of Apollo on the Palatine, the shrine of Thundering Jupiter on the Capitol, the temple of Mars the Avenger, libraries for Latin and Greek books, colonnades and basilicas in honour of members of his family, the theatre of Marcellus. Nor was Augustus alone, since it was self-evident that flattering imitation of the princeps would be politically prudent. “Many such works were built at that time by many men: for example, the temple of Hercules of the Muses by Marcius Philippus, the temple of Diana by Lucius Cornificius, the Hall of Liberty by Asinius Pollio, the temple of Saturn by Munatius Plancus, a theatre by Cornelius Balbus, an amphitheatre by Statilius Taurus, and by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa in particular many structures, and they were outstanding.” Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa was Augustus’ closest political ally, for the good reason that Augustus’ victories in his rise to power had largely been owed to Agrippa's military competence, a skill that Augustus himself never acquired.8

The new Rome was indeed magnificent in the provision of public facilities as well as private indulgence. The public baths in the Campus Martius provided for the Roman people by Agrippa in c. 20 BCE were more luxurious and impressive than any previously known. Julius Caesar had already in his will left his gardens near the Tiber for the common use of the people; to these were now added the lavish gardens on the Esquiline of Maecenas, Augustus’ close confidant and minister. Of private monuments, none outshone those of the imperial family, in particular the grandiose mound built by Augustus for his own mausoleum and, crowning the summit of the Palatine hill overlooking the Forum, the house of Augustus himself, a complex of buildings which from 12 BCE incorporated the shrine of Vesta, the goddess of the city's hearth. Over the next century the imperial residence was to increase in luxurious magnificence. By the late first century CE it had become the archetypical palace—the word “palace” itself derives from the hill on which it stood.9

The concentration of wealth and power in the city attracted a huge and heterogeneous population. War and the demands of empire brought about population movements in Italy in the last two centuries BCE on an unprecedented scale. This was a society accustomed to a great deal of human mobility. Migration into Rome from the rest of Italy had been common for well over a century before Augustus’ rule, partly because of pressure on peasant smallholders caused by the agglomeration of landholdings by richer farmers able to take advantage of the demands for produce by the city market. To what extent such impoverished Italians retained in the late first century BCE a distinct sense of their identities as Etruscans, Samnites or others doubtless varied. Surviving evidence mostly concerns the rich, who maintained connections with their region of origin at the same time as embracing the life of urban aristocrats: Augustus’ friend Maecenas was celebrated by his protégé, the poet Horace, as a descendant of Etruscan kings. But other groups were more easily identified within the crowds in the city. Syrians, Gauls, Germans, Spaniards, Africans, all took a full part in the life of Rome. They or their ancestors had come to the city as slaves but, once freed, they merged into the wider population while retaining their native customs and characteristics to varying extents. Not least visible among them was the local community of Jews (about whom more will be said in Chapter 10).

Rome in the first century thus had a multifarious, cosmopolitan population of perhaps a million people. Many of them lived in appalling poverty, dependent on regular imports of cheap food from the rest of Italy and, increasingly, from Sicily, and then from Egypt across the Mediterranean. The gap between the very rich in their grand town houses and the poor, crammed into high-rise apartment blocks (see p. 45 below) or left to beg on the streets, has its closest parallel in the great Third World cities of today. The city was a focus of excitement and squalor, power and despair. The wealthy enjoyed lives of extraordinary private luxury, served by hundreds of slaves, while immediately adjacent to their mansions the indigent starved. The whole unstable society was held in control by a large military force stationed, from the time of Augustus, just outside the city limits.

There was a constant danger from fire, about which little could be done. Augustus’ establishment of a permanent semi-military force to deal with outbreaks could only be a partial solution when houses were packed so close, with so many inhabitants, in the heat of the Mediterranean summer. The great fire of 64 CE in the time of Nero, for which the government, seeking a scapegoat, blamed the Christians, was only the worst of numerous such disasters. The many aqueducts brought water in massive quantities from the Apennines, and the great drainage system which flushed the urban effluent into the Tiber was improved and repaired constantly throughout the early imperial period, but the city still stank from the presence of so many people.10

Despite all the disadvantages of overcrowding, a visitor to Rome in the early first century CE would have found much to admire. The Greek geographer Strabo, a native of Amaseia (modern Amasya, in Turkey), who made several journeys to Rome in the time of Augustus, notes that the position of Rome was not particularly advantageous—“neither was the site naturally strong, nor did it have enough land of its own in the surrounding territory to meet the requirements of the city”—but argues that this had been a blessing in disguise, deliberately adopted by the city's founders, who reasoned “that it was appropriate for the Romans to depend for their safety and general welfare, not on their fortifications, but on their arms and their own valour, in the belief that it is not walls that protect men but men that protect walls,” as a result of which the Romans had early in their history been impelled to conquer the surrounding region. The result, notes Strabo, was that Rome in his time had access to exceptional supplies “not only in respect to food, but also in respect to timber and stones for the building of houses … a wonderful supply of materials provided by a plethora of mines and timber and the rivers which transport them.” Besides these “blessings” which “the nature of the place provides to the city,” Strabo remarks on the practical amenities in Rome provided by the foresight of the inhabitants:

for if the Greeks had a reputation for aiming particularly well in the founding of cities, in that they aimed at beauty, strength of position, harbours and productive countryside, these people [the Romans] had the best foresight in those matters of which those [the Greeks] took little account, the construction of roads and aqueducts and sewers able to

Rome in the Julio-Claudian period

wash out the filth of the city … They have so built the roads through the country, cutting through hills and banking up valleys, that their wagons can carry loads off the ships, and the sewers, vaulted with close-fitting stones, have in some places left room enough even for wagons loaded with hay to pass through them.11

A Greek contemporary of Strabo, the historian Dionysius of Halicarnas-sus, notes specifically that, in his opinion, “the three most magnificent works of Rome, from which the greatness of her hegemony is most apparent, are the aqueducts, the paved roads, and the construction of the sewers. I say this not only because of the usefulness of the work … but also because of the magnitude of the expense.”12

In contrast an Italian contemporary, the poet Ovid (43 BCE–17 CE), picked on rather different aspects of Rome when he depicted the city from his involuntary exile in Tomi (modern Constantsa) on the Black Sea (not so very distant from Strabo's home in Amaseia). For Ovid, Rome was where he belonged, among the “advantages of city life,” lamenting from far away the localities of the “beautiful city.” His mind “surveys everything with eyes of its own. Now the fora, now the temples, now the theatres sheathed in marble, now every portico with its levelled ground comes before me; now the grass of the Campus [Martius] looking towards the beautiful gardens, and the pools and the canals.”13 Strabo had also not been immune from admiration for some of the Roman buildings he saw, but only for those recently erected: “the early Romans took but little account of the beauty of Rome, because they were occupied with other, greater and more necessary, matters, but the later Romans, and especially those of today and in my time, have … outdone all others in their zeal for buildings and in the expense incurred.”14 What this meant was that, to an outside observer like Strabo, accustomed to the gracious urban planning ubiquitous in his own Hellenistic world, the impressive monuments of Rome were primarily to be found in the new areas only recently incorporated within the city proper, such as the Campus Martius, which had lain outside the civic boundary until it was constituted as the ninth of the fourteen urban regions in the administrative reorganization carried out by Augustus:

The size of the Campus is remarkable since it affords space at the same time and without interference, not only for the chariot-races and every

other equestrian exercise, but also for all that multitude of people who exercise themselves by ball-playing, hoop-trundling and wrestling; and the works of art situated around the Campus Martius, and the ground, which is covered with grass throughout the year, and the crowns of those hills that are above the river and extend as far as its bed, which present to the eye the appearance of a stage-painting—all this, I say, affords a spectacle that one could hardly draw away from. And near this campus is still another campus, with colonnades round about it in very great numbers, and sacred precincts, and three theatres, and an amphitheatre, and very costly temples, in close succession to one another, giving you the impression that they are trying, as it were, to declare the rest of the city a mere accessory.

The original religious and political heart of Rome, the Capitol, which housed the great temple of Jupiter, and the Forum where the Senate held its meetings, had been much adorned over the centuries, but their organic evolution had militated against a development as impressive as in areas outside the old city, even if periodic attempts were made to create new monumental public spaces alongside the old (a tendency which accelerated under the emperors, not least in the new forum built by Augustus himself). Strabo noted that “if, on passing to the old Forum [the Forum Romanum], you saw one forum after another ranged along the old one, and basilicas, and temples, and saw also the Capitolium and works of art there and those on the Palatine hill and in the promenade of Livia, you would easily forget the world outside.”15

If Augustus incorporated suburban space within the new city boundary, there was a physical limit to the extent of urban sprawl without benefit of a modern transport system; when the elder Pliny noted in the 70s CE that it could be fairly claimed that “there had been no city in the whole world that could be compared to Rome for its size,” he also noted that such a huge population was housed not just through settlement of a large area but, specifically, by density of occupation in high buildings.16 A visitor to Rome, approaching on one of the fine paved roads flanked on either side by the funerary monuments of the aristocratic families of old, passed quite suddenly from countryside with peasant farms and grand villas surrounded by gardens to a dense mélange of winding streets and apartment blocks. The architect and engineer Vitruvius, who wrote in the time of Julius Caesar or in the very early years of Augustus’ rule, noted rather optimistically that

with this greatness of the city and the unlimited crowding of citizens, it is necessary to provide very numerous dwellings. Therefore since a level site could not receive such a multitude to dwell in the city, circumstances themselves have compelled the resort to raising the height of buildings. And so by means of stone pillars, walls of burnt brick, party walls of rubble, towers have been raised, and these being joined together by frequent board floors produce upper storeys with fine views over the city to the utmost advantage. Therefore walls are raised to a great height through various storeys, and the Roman people has excellent dwellings without hindrance.17

The height of tenement buildings was to increase dramatically in later centuries, when buildings of three storeys became standard and blocks of five or six storeys not uncommon.

A good idea of the standardized architecture of these blocks, with the ground floor dedicated to shops or perhaps the living quarters of a single rich family and the upper floors crammed with tenants in conditions of unsanitary squalor, can be gauged from buildings of the imperial period excavated at Ostia, the port through which passed the imports that supplied Rome. The gracious living evident in the more relaxed environment of first-century-CE Pompeii and Herculaneum, where evidence of the lives of the inhabitants has been preserved for posterity by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79, was possible only for the few in the heart of the capital of empire, where rents were exceptionally high. For the ordinary inhabitants of Rome, enduring a dark, smelly, smoky apartment, the roar of the city's trades in the day and the rumble of wagons at night, lugging water from aqueducts through the narrow streets and up the stairs for washing and cooking, venturing out at night in the unlit alleyways at peril of robbery or worse, gazing with envy at the blank walls surrounding the luxurious houses of the rich, congregating with friends in taverns or the all too public communal latrines, constituted an urban way of life that might sometimes provoke disgust or tedium but which evidently appealed sufficiently for hundreds of thousands to wish to live in Rome, turning their minds (like Ovid) to the happier aspects of the city—the temples, forums, gardens, and the great river Tiber flowing through the midst of the bustle, only occasionally transformed by heavy rainfall into a dangerous source of floods.

The magnificence of the city and its vast size were attributable directly and only to political power achieved through military conquest. Rome was not particularly well placed to profit from trade, although (as Strabo notes) goods could be transported easily enough into the city along the busy Tiber. The natural trading centres of the region lay further downstream on the Mediterranean coast, and the port of Ostia flourished in the imperial period. Rome enjoyed the benefit of no special mineral resources, and the Latian plain provided agricultural produce only for a local market. The massive population, which far exceeded that of most other contemporary cities, survived and continued to expand only through continuous exploitation of the rest of the empire. Much of the exploitation was direct. Provincial subjects of Rome paid to the state regular taxes fixed by the size of their landholdings as established by regular censuses. Of the sums thus raised, a large proportion was expended on the army on which the emperor's personal power depended, but much of the surplus went to Rome for expenditure on the city's inhabitants. The jibe by the satirist Juvenal (c. 67—c. 130), that “the people longs anxiously for only two things: bread and circuses,” reflected all too accurately state spending in the capital city.18 Subsidies ensured a regular supply of free grain for those adult male citizens resident in Rome who were registered on an official list which entitled them to tickets exchangeable for the corn dole. The number who benefited was limited by Augustus in 2 BCE to around two hundred thousand, and, since the tickets themselves could be sold, many of the poorer inhabitants were not helped by the scheme; but the emperors appointed prefects to keep a watchful eye on grain prices and, if necessary, to intervene in the market if shortages led to too drastic a price rise and potential disorder. The ability of a strong ruler to ensure regular food supplies was a major factor in the popularity of imperial rule among the ordinary people of Rome.

State expenditure also provided a great deal of employment at different levels, for shippers and other middlemen, and for dockers, porters, wagoners and other labourers. Excavation has revealed huge warehouses for grain and other products in the city, in the suburbs and in Ostia. Some acted as general stores, but others were more specialized, dedicated to specific types of merchandise, such as the buildings on the Esquiline used for the storage of papyrus and parchment. Inscriptions reveal the extraordinary variety of imported goods for sale and also the great variety of Roman tradesmen, many of them apparently self-employed, offering their skilled services as tanners, ropemakers, carpenters or caulkers, or simply their physical prowess as building workers or stevedores or in other menial tasks. That more than a hundred and fifty trades can be listed is partly the result of the custom (helpful for later historians) of Roman craftsmen organizing themselves into corporations, and the tendency of such corporations to advertise their existence on stone inscriptions, which still survive in large numbers. The urban economy thrived through the local provision of goods and services by the inhabitants of Rome to each other, fuelled by the regular and predictable influx of grain, raw materials and luxury goods from elsewhere in the empire.19

Imperial munificence ensured that public entertainments in Rome far outstripped in their splendour anything to be found elsewhere in the empire. Such entertainments were genuinely available to all, although the best seats were naturally reserved for those of high status. The numerous construction projects financed both by the state and by politicians, grown wealthy not least from their terms as provincial governors, provided employment for many of the poor. Rome in the early empire may not always have been the pleasantest place to live, but there was no doubt that the city offered excitement and, especially when the emperor and his entourage were in residence, glamour.


THE RATIONALE of Rome, the grandiose capital city of a huge empire in which the boastful architecture of triumphal arches celebrating human achievements competed with the numerous temples and shrines that housed the images of many gods, could hardly have been more different from that of the Temple city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem too was reliant on an income far beyond the resources of its immediate environs, but the sources of its wealth and importance lay not in conquest but in religious enthusiasm.

Remains of structures from the early Bronze Age indicate that settlement began near the Gihon spring (which provided Jerusalem with its only reliable water supply) as early as the fourth millennium BCE, long before the coagulation, far away across the Mediterranean, of the villages that were to become Rome. By the end of the second millennium the site had become a stronghold, the natural defence of the rugged terrain enhanced by well-fortified walls. This was the city that, according to the later, idealized, biblical account, King David conquered in c. iooo BCE to make the capital of his two realms, which stretched from the borders of Egypt to the Euphrates, so that from David's reign to its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BCE Jerusalem was a major political and cultural centre. But David (it was said) had also shrewdly transferred from its previous obscure lodging to Jerusalem the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God's relation with his people, and when Solomon, his son and successor, erected in the city the first Temple as a fitting place for the Ark to rest permanently and as the sole sacred site for the people of Israel to come together in communal worship through the performance of sacrifices, the future of Jerusalem as a focus for religious cult was sealed.

The gravest blow to this future was dealt in 586 BCE when the city was conquered by the Babylonians, the Temple was destroyed and many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem were carried off into exile. But in 539 BCE the Babylonian empire itself fell to the Persian king Cyrus, and soon after the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland and to rebuild. Progress on the rebuilding of the Temple itself seems to have been slow, but, since Jerusalem was now at the centre of a rather unimportant Persian province rather than a royal capital, this religious role gradually became the city's most important function, and the priests who served in the Temple came gradually to dominate the life of its inhabitants. In 331 BCE this Temple city was one of the less impressive places to fall under the control of the Macedonian Alexander the Great (356—323) in the course of his extraordinary conquest of the Near East up to the borders of India. There was a popular legend that Alexander visited Jerusalem and was much impressed by the cult of the Jewish God. From that date the city lay securely within the political orbit of imperial powers that operated in the Greek language and treated Greek culture as prestigious. The impact of Greek ideas and values on the Jews of Jerusalem was to be as profound as the parallel process in Rome.

Alexander died while still in his early thirties and his kingdom was rapidly dismembered at the hands of the dynasties founded by the generals who succeeded him. During the third century BCE Judaea was ruled from Egypt by the Ptolemaic dynasty, whose last representative was to be the Cleopatra who fought against Octavian at Actium. In a series of campaigns against the Ptolemies, the Seleucid kings, descendants of another of Alexander's generals, who ruled Syria and Mesopotamia from 301 BCE, attempted to wrest control of the southern Levant, and in 198 BCE Antiochus the Great, the most dynamic of the Seleucid kings, finally succeeded.

The transfer of Jerusalem to rule by a new dynasty, albeit another of Graeco-Macedonian origins, was to have dangerous results: Josephus records that Antiochus the Great guaranteed the inhabitants of Jerusalem that their ancestral cult would be safeguarded and that the priests would receive extensive privileges, but his son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, tried to end worship of the Jewish God altogether, and provoked a revolt in 167 BCE. The precise reasons for Antiochus’ behaviour are hard to reconstruct. The contemporary Greek historian Polybius, who had known Antiochus as a fellow hostage in Rome, claimed that the king was generally thought to be not epiphanes, “god-incarnate,” but epimanes, “crazy.”20 The Jewish author of 1 Maccabees, composed perhaps a generation after the events, blamed compliant Jews who sought to assimilate into the world of Greek culture. Some non-Jewish authors attributed Antiochus’ actions to his need to acquire easy money by looting the Jerusalem Temple after his ambitions to conquer Egypt were thwarted by Roman intervention. But whatever Antiochus’ motivation, his attack on their worship prompted a robust defence by a number of Jews, and led to guerrilla warfare by Judas Maccabee and his brothers (later to be named, in honour of a distant ancestor, the Hasmonaeans), until in 164 BCE the Temple was rededicated to the Jewish God. It has been argued, with some justification, that the whole traumatic experience of opposing the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes was decisive in ensuring that over the following centuries Jews, unlike some other Near Eastern peoples, retained their ancestral customs intact.21

Over the course of the remainder of the second century BCE the Hasmonaeans capitalized on the glory they acquired by Judas’ opposition to Antiochus, although Judas himself achieved no more than the liberation and purification of the Temple, and never seems to have held any formal office of pre-eminence in Jewish society: in 161 he fell in battle against Seleucid forces and his place as leader of the Jews was taken over by his brother Jonathan. By manipulation of the interests of competing aspirants to the Seleucid throne, Jonathan in c. 152 elicited from one of those aspirants, Alexander Balas, nomination as High Priest. By the 120s Jonathan's nephew John Hyrcanus was exercising power in Jerusalem as independent ruler over the city and the rest of the hill country of Judaea, and in 104 his son Aristobulus was the first Hasmonaean to take for himself the title of king. The emergence of the Hasmonaean state as an independent force and, by the early first century BCE, as the dominant regional power, was facilitated by the gradual break-up of the Seleucid state, which in turn was much hastened by Roman interference in Seleucid affairs, although the Hasmonaeans themselves naturally stressed the internal Jewish factors in their rise to power. They saw themselves as the righteous champions of the Jewish God against the wicked gentiles and those Jews who had been prepared to give way to them. The book of 1 Maccabees, which narrates the political history of Judaea from 175 to 134, is a remarkably blatant example of dynastic propaganda dressed up as piety.22

The Hasmonaeans were not without opponents, not least because some Jews doubted their right to usurp the High Priesthood. The festival of Hanukkah, still celebrated today for eight days from 25 Kislev, around mid-December, originated as a commemoration of the victory of the Maccabees over the forces of the Seleucid king in the 160s BCE, but during the period of Hasmonaean rule it also provided an opportunity for all citizens of the Jewish state to demonstrate their loyalty in public; the essence of the demonstration was the exhibition of lighted wicks in a position where they could be seen by the public. Visibility of the lights was crucial: a rabbi quoted in the Mishnah (a collection of rabbinic legal opinions compiled in c. 200 CE) ruled that a shopkeeper would generally be liable for the damage to a camel-load of produce if it caught fire in the street because lighted lamps had been left outside the shop, but made an exception for the lamps lit for Hanukkah, when the danger of naked flames on the street was outweighed by the religious duty to proclaim the miraculous victory achieved by Judas Maccabee. What it felt like for an opponent of the Hasmonaean regime to be forced to protest his loyalty in this public way can readily be imagined.23

By the early first century BCE the political behaviour of Alexander Jan-naeus, over twenty-seven years (103—76 BCE) the most aggressive and expansionist of the Hasmonaean rulers of Judaea, was much like that of other monarchs in the Hellenistic world. His was a personal monarchy like that of the Ptolemies and Seleucids before him. He used mercenary troops to increase his dominions, conquering cities on the coastal plain, including Ptolemais (ancient Akko) and Gaza, and the cities of Transjordan, many of which, such as Gadara and Pella, had long been centres of Greek culture. Alexander's aim seems to have been glory for its own sake: these newly conquered regions were not incorporated into the Jewish polity as Idumaea had been by his father, John Hyrcanus, in the 120s or 110s, and Galilee by his brother Aristobulus I in 104—103, but were ruled as vassal states, with the result that their inhabitants resented him and his successors as tyrants. He resided in magnificent palaces designed and decorated in Greek style, including a winter palace built in Jericho to take advantage of the special climate of the Dead Sea region.24

Alexander Jannaeus’ kingdom was a distinctively Jewish state in which Hebrew remained the language most in public use, and he himself would have appeared at his most magnificent not in the garb of a king or a general but when he served in the Jerusalem Temple as High Priest, particularly when he wore the gorgeous vestments reserved for use on the most solemn day of the ritual year, the Day of Atonement in the early autumn, when the whole nation fasted in penitence for their sins and the High Priest performed an elaborate sacrificial ceremony to ensure that their repentance be acceptable to God. On the other hand the Hasmonaeans were sufficiently secularized by the first century BCE to be able to envisage political power being exercised separately from religious authority. Under the terms of his will, Alexander Jannaeus was succeeded on his death in 76 BCE by his widow, Salome, known in rabbinic tradition as Shelomzion. As a woman, Salome was debarred from the role of High Priest, so she devolved the post to her elder son, Hyrcanus, with the intention that he should become sole ruler when she died. These plans were already being challenged before her demise at an advanced age in 67 BCE, and within a short time after her death her younger son Aristobulus had defeated Hyrcanus in a battle near Jericho and seized for himself both priestly and royal power. Hyrcanus was initially inclined to acquiesce in his loss of position, but, egged on by his advisers, he made an attempt to recover his kingdom and his leading role in the Temple.

This fraternal dispute was to prove fatal to the fortunes of the dynasty.25 By the 60s BCE Roman power had spread to almost every land neighbouring the eastern Mediterranean, and each brother recognized that his fortune depended on Roman support. Roman intervention during the second century BCE had fatally weakened the Seleucid empire which had once stretched from Anatolia to Iran. The power vacuum had been filled in the early first century BCE by an alliance of two dynasts, Mithradates of Pontus and Tigranes of Armenia, whose territorial ambitions were challenged by successive Roman generals in a series of campaigns. By 66 BCE both kings had been decisively defeated. In 64 Syria had become a Roman province, and Aristobulus and Hyrcanus competed in the level of bribes they were prepared to pay to the Roman general Pompey, who was based there. In 63 Pompey took these approaches as an invitation to intervene in the affairs of the Jews and marched on Jerusalem, ostensibly in support of Hyrcanus. Much of the city fell without resistance, but the Temple itself was stoutly defended for three months by Aristobulus’ supporters until its capture in the late autumn. A massacre ensued. Thousands of captives were enslaved and taken to Rome. In 61 Aristobulus himself was made to walk, as representative of his defeated nation, in Pompey's triumphal procession through the streets of Rome. Hyrcanus was restored to the High Priesthood, but without the title of king, and with a much reduced territory to rule. In any case, his power was nominal. Jerusalem and its territory were required to pay tribute to Rome. The comments of Josephus were apt:

For this misfortune which befell Jerusalem, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus were responsible because of their dissension. For we lost our freedom and became subject to the Romans, and the territory which we had gained by our arms and taken from the Syrians we were compelled to give back to them, and in addition the Romans exacted from us in a short space of time more than two thousand talents, and the royal power which had formerly been bestowed on those who were high priests by birth became the privilege of commoners.26

Josephus’ opinion reflected his views not just as a Jew but as a Jerusalem priest. For over a century after 63 the political influence of the Temple authorities was to be diminished as rule was concentrated in the hands of secular authorities appointed by Rome. The power exercised by Hyrcanus in the 50s BCE was circumscribed by frequent interference in Judaea by the Roman governors of Syria, whose attention was drawn to the country by a series of insurrections led by Aristobulus and his sons, all of whom had escaped from Roman custody. In 57 Judaea was placed by one governor of Syria, Aulus Gabinius, into the care of a number of regional councils. Hyr-canus was left with only the custody of the Temple to his charge, but his astute support for Julius Caesar during the civil war against Pompey was temporarily effective in enhancing his own role in Jerusalem. The murder of Caesar in 44 threw all political calculation back into turmoil. Taking advantage of the distractions which beset the Roman elite, in 40 a Parthian army invaded northern Syria. Its commanders were persuaded by Aristobulus’ son Antigonus, who had made many efforts during the preceding years to unseat Hyrcanus, to march south to Jerusalem to win for him the throne of Judaea. Hyrcanus was captured and taken by the Parthians as a prisoner to their power base in Babylonia, where his ears were cut off to render him ritually unfit for ever to serve as High Priest in the Jerusalem Temple. Antigonus’ rule with Parthian support proved to be brief. It was ended in 37 by the Roman reconquest of Jerusalem with the aid of one of Hyrcanus’ most long-standing and energetic henchmen, the Idumaean adventurer Herod the Great.

The Roman Senate chose Herod to become king of Judaea only for lack of a better option. Normal Roman practice in the subversion and control of countries which fell into their orbit was to hand over control to a selected scion of the native dynasty, on the grounds that gratitude would ensure the rulers’ loyalty to Rome and inherited prestige would ensure authority over the subject population. Precisely such a policy had kept Hyrcanus in his post as High Priest in Jerusalem from 63 to 40. But in 40, when Herod appeared before the senators to seek their help, no adult male Hasmonaean remained alive for Rome to endorse, apart from Hyrcanus, who was in captivity in Mesopotamia, and Antigonus, the nominee of the enemy Parthians. If Rome was to recover influence in Judaea, normal practice would have to be waived; in 40, in the middle of upheaval in Rome, this would only be one policy innovation among many. As it turned out, from the point of view of Rome the choice of Herod proved inspired. Herod's paternal ancestry from Idumaea, an area some way to the south of Jerusalem whose inhabitants had been forcibly converted to Judaism only in the late second century BCE, was not best calculated to bring him prestige in the eyes of his fellow Jews—the Hasmonaean Antigonus is said to have described him, with a sneer, as a “half-Jew.” In Roman eyes, his lack of local support made him all the more reliable in the interests of the Roman state. His rule in Jerusalem depended on Roman power from the moment in 37 that Roman legions conquered the city on his behalf and were with difficulty bribed not to indulge their natural instinct to loot and destroy as a reward for victory.27

At the point in 40 BCE when the Senate took its fateful decision to appoint him king of Judaea, Herod's main patron within the Roman aristocracy was Mark Antony, once the close lieutenant of Julius Caesar and now both colleague and rival to Caesar's heir, Octavian (the future emperor Augustus). Over the following years Herod maintained his friendship with Antony, not least through the judicious presentation of gifts, so it was no mean feat to change sides in 31 when Antony was defeated by Octavian at Actium. Herod had at least the good fortune, or had deliberately ensured through careful calculation, that he was not present at the battle itself, having duties nearer home. He endeared himself to Octavian with the prudent and effective promise that he would prove as loyal a servant to Octavian as he had been to his defeated rival.

Thus, just as Octavian, in his new incarnation as Augustus after 27 BCE, set himself to transform Rome, so Herod, in flattering imitation, devoted himself to rebuilding Jerusalem to reflect the magnificence of his ambitions. When Augustus’ friend Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa visited Herod in Jerusalem in 15 BCE, he would have been confronted by a city still in some places a building site, but already partly transformed into a showpiece of modern architecture. Jerusalem was of course much smaller than Rome, not least because Jerusalem had no equivalent to the Apennines or the river Tiber: the Gihon spring had already proved inadequate in Hasmonaean times, and further water supplies had to be brought great distances by aqueduct. The narrow, twisting streets, following the natural contours, could not be redesigned without mass clearances, which Herod did not attempt, but in some places gleaming new pavements overlay the worn pathways of Hasmonaean times and new forts and towers, each named after one of Herod's family or, like the Antonia by the Temple site, after one of his friends, loomed over the city at strategic points, their perfect rectangular blocks shaming the rustic, rough-hewn masonry of earlier times. A few miles from Jerusalem, at Herodium, the site of a skirmish in 40 BCE, Herod prepared for himself a monumental tomb on a natural hill whose summit was levelled to create an outline as striking as Augustus’ mausoleum, already constructed in Rome. Herod's own palace was dedicated to luxury, as Josephus described:

In extravagance and equipment no building surpassed it. It was completely enclosed within a wall thirty cubits high, broken at equal distances by ornamental towers, and contained immense banqueting-halls and bed-chambers for a hundred guests. The interior fittings are indescribable—the variety of the stones (for species rare in every other country were here collected in abundance), ceilings wonderful both for the length of the beams and the splendour of their surface decoration, the host of apartments with their infinite varieties of design, all amply furnished, while most of the objects in each of them were of silver or gold. All around were many circular cloisters, leading one into another, the columns each being different, and their open courts all of greensward; there were groves of various trees intersected by long walks, which were bordered by deep canals, and ponds everywhere studded with bronze figures, through which the water was discharged, and around the streams were numerous cots for tame pigeons …

In, or close by, Jerusalem itself there was a theatre, adorned with inscriptions honouring Augustus, and “in the plain” was an amphitheatre. By the 60s CE the city also boasted a hippodrome and a monument known as the Memorial of Herod, although whether these were built in Herod's time or later is uncertain. But dwarfing all these impressive constructions was by far the most ambitious building project of all, the rebuilding of the Temple. Herod almost completely dismantled the existing building and erected a magnificent new edifice in its place. Work began late in 20 or early in 19 BCE and was to continue for decades. In part, Herod must have wished to impress his Roman patrons, as with all his other buildings, but the rebuilding of the Temple was also a monument to his piety and his bid for acceptance by his Jewish subjects.28

Already in the mid-second century BCE a Jew from Alexandria in Egypt who wished to impress upon his gentile readers the marvels of Jerusalem had stressed the domination of the earlier Temple over the rest of the city. The author of the Letter of Aristeasdisguised his Jewish identity and presented himself as a gentile courtier of the Ptolemaic king, in order to give a greater impact to his profession of admiration for the sacred texts and laws of the Jews. He claimed to have been part of the embassy sent to Jerusalem by the Ptolemaic king to bring back to Alexandria learned translators to render the Jewish law into Greek. He offers his readers a description of the whole countryside near Jerusalem: “When we approached near the site, we saw the city lying in the midst of the whole land of the Jews, upon a mountain which rises to a great height. On the top of the hill the Temple had been constructed most splendidly.” There follows an effusive account of the accoutrements of the building, then of the water supply system which served it, the unremitting work of the priests, who operate in reverent silence. Some have suspected, with good reason, that the author of this work had never actually visited the land of Israel and was simply repeating the fantasies of diaspora Jews. The notion that the Jordan “never dries up … As the river rises, like the Nile, about the time of harvest, it waters much of the land … ” is, sadly, far from the truth, which is why water supply has often been a major political issue in the region. The perception that Jerusalem was essentially a Temple city is all the more striking. It was a perception shared by a gentile contemporary, the historian Polybius, who referred to the renown of “the Temple called Jerusalem” and the Jews who dwell around it.29

Thus if Herod wished to make his mark on his capital city of Jerusalem, it would be most effective to do so by a striking contribution to its central institution, the Temple, and, once his position was secure, he accordingly devoted himself to the embellishment of the Temple buildings on a scale and to a level of magnificence that would shed glory on his name for generations to come. Josephus’ report, both of what Herod achieved and of his motivation, is not beyond criticism, not least because Josephus’ main source of information was Herod's court historian, the gentile polymath Nicolaus of Damascus, who later decamped to the court of Augustus, but the sentiments recorded ring true:

It was at this time, in the eighteenth year of his reign … that Herod undertook an extraordinary work, the reconstructing of the Temple of God at his own expense, enlarging its precincts and raising it to a more imposing height. For he believed that the accomplishment of this task would be the most notable of all the things achieved by him, as indeed it was, and would be great enough to assure his eternal remembrance. But since he knew that the populace was not prepared for or easy to enlist in so great an undertaking, he thought it best to predispose them to set to work on the whole project by making a speech to them first, and so he called them together and spoke as follows. “So far as the other things achieved during my reign are concerned, my countrymen, I consider it unnecessary to speak of them, although they were of such a kind that the prestige which comes from them to me is less than the security which they have brought to you … But that the enterprise which I now propose to undertake is the most pious and beautiful one of our time I will now make clear. For this was the Temple which our fathers built to the most great God after their return from Babylon, but it lacks sixty cubits in height, the amount by which the first Temple built by Solomon exceeded it … But since, by the will of God, I am now ruler and there continues to be a long period of peace and an abundance of wealth and great revenues, and—what is of most importance—the Romans, who are, so to speak, the masters of the world, are loyal friends, I will try to remedy the oversight caused by the necessity and slavery of that earlier time, and by this act of piety make full return to God for the gift of this kingdom.”30

The response of the people was dismay at the thought that the king might tear down the Temple and lack the means to complete its rebuilding, but their lack of confidence proved unwarranted. The building was a marvel,

built of hard, white stones, each of which was about twenty-five cubits in length, eight in height and twelve in width … The entrance-doors, which with their lintels were equal [in height] to the Temple itself, he adorned with multicoloured hangings … Above these, under the cornice, spread a golden vine with grape-clusters hanging from it, a marvel of size with artistry to all who saw with what costliness of material it had been constructed. And he surrounded the Temple with very large porticoes, all of which he made in proportion, and he surpassed his predecessors in spending money, so that it was thought that no one else had adorned the Temple so splendidly.31

The huge stones, fixed with iron clamps invisible from the outside, enclosed a great courtyard with the Royal Portico on the south, a crowning monument almost as impressive as the Temple shrine proper. The Temple, with its altar, and the Holy of Holies, into which only the High Priest was permitted to enter (and even he only on one day a year), was dedicated to God, but the Royal Portico, along the southern flank of the Temple courtyard, was the place where Herod could enjoy the fruits of his munificence, giving him a central presence in the Temple even though he could never himself act as a priest:

It was a structure more noteworthy than any under the sun. For while the depth of the ravine was great, and no one who bent over to look into it from above could bear to look down to the bottom, the height of the portico standing over it was so great that if anyone looked down from its rooftop, combining the two elevations, he would become dizzy and his vision would be unable to reach the end of so measureless a depth. Now the columns [of the portico] stood in four rows, one opposite the other all along—the fourth row was attached to a wall built of stone—and the thickness of each column was such that it would take three men with outstretched arms touching one another to envelop it.

For Herod in Jerusalem, as for Augustus in Rome, expenditure ostensibly donated for the glory of the deity was also a way to bring glory to the ruler.32

The routines of the Temple shaped life for everyone in the city, not least because of the noise of the constant supply of animals for slaughter and the smell of the livestock and raw meat. Each day a huge staff attended to the sacrifices from dawn to dusk, dealing with both the regular daily communal offerings and the many thousands of animals brought by individuals to mark events in their private lives. The priests who officiated, and the Levites who assisted them, were divided into twenty-four “courses” which succeeded each other, a week at a time, in providing teams to perform the rites. Each course was associated with a specified section of the lay population, and a delegation from that population was designated to stand by the public sacrifices to witness them on behalf of the nation as a whole when the service was being carried out by the priests of the course to which they were attached. The Temple was a place of constant activity, often crammed with worshippers. The rabbis remarked over a century after the building had been destroyed that the “miracles wrought for our fathers in the Temple” included the alleged facts that “no woman miscarried through the smell of the flesh of the offerings, no flesh of the offerings ever turned putrid, no fly was seen in the shambles … [and the people] stood pressed together yet bowed themselves at ease.” The mass of private offerings required the attentions of thousands of priests and attendants, particularly during the major festivals. The Temple was the main meeting-place of the city, the site of public gatherings of many different kinds, but it was also a place of, and for, intense religious emotion.33

The presence of the Temple turned Jerusalem into a magnet for Jews not just from the Judaean countryside but from all over the Jewish world. “There were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven … Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the inhabitants of Mesopotamia, and Judaea, and Cappadocia, of Pontus, and Asia, of Phrygia and Pamphylia, of Egypt and the parts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians,” each, as the author of Acts noted, using their own language. International pilgrimage was encouraged by the ease and comparative safety of transport around the Mediterranean world ensured by Roman power, particularly after Pompey's campaign in 67 had denied to pirates their former bases in coastal Cilicia, and thus reduced dramatically the safe havens from which they could operate against shipping. Pilgrims brought with them some of the wealth they had accumulated in other countries and spent it in Jerusalem as an act of piety. The result was a population as culturally heterogeneous as the rainbow population of the city of Rome, with one major difference. Almost everyone in Jerusalem, apart from the small Roman garrison, was religiously committed to the Jewish God. Such commitment could take many different forms, as will be seen, but everyone in Jerusalem knew that this was a Jewish city.34

The population of first-century-CE Jerusalem was also economically heterogeneous, with the very poor living side by side with the very rich. Peasants moved from the villages to seek more lucrative employment, though not always with success. Some took to begging, but Josephus describes also the pressures placed in the 60s CE on Agrippa II to create jobs for eighteen thousand men in Jerusalem whose income had depended on their work on the Temple edifice: now that the building was finally complete, their services were redundant, and Agrippa, in a form of state aid, paid for them to be employed instead on repaving the city streets. At the other extreme of wealth were rich expatriates like Queen Helena of Adia-bene, a pious proselyte whose munificence to the populace was famed. Helena, with the rest of the ruling dynasty of Adiabene, a small kingdom in northern Mesopotamia, had converted to Judaism, and she had moved to Jerusalem as an expression of her devotion to her new religion. Her palace and tomb became noted landmarks in the city. Her funerary monument, which consisted of three pyramids, was so famous that the Greek writer Pausanias in the mid-second century CE mentions it in the same breath as the famous tomb of Mausolus: “I know many wonderful graves, and will mention two of them, the one at Halicarnassus and one in the land of the Hebrews. The one of Halicarnassus was made for Mausolus, king of the city, and it is of such vast size and so notable for all its ornament that the Romans in their great admiration of it call remarkable tombs in their country ‘Mausolea.’ The Hebrews have a grave, that of Helena … in the city of Jerusalem, which the Roman emperor razed to the ground.” Pausanias goes on to describe a mechanism which permitted the stone door to the grave to be opened only at a particular hour on a particular day each year. The monument is almost certainly to be identified with the Tombs of the Kings which can still be seen in Jerusalem.35

The total size of the settled population of the city is altogether more difficult to gauge. Estimates vary wildly, not least because both the methods and the data used vary. Some scholars have suggested a total of thirty-five thousand inhabitants in Herod's reign, others seventy thousand. All are agreed that numbers are likely to have increased over the following decades, when the city expanded, but there is less agreement on the extent of the increase. One method of calculating the population is to measure the size of the inhabited area, but this procedure is prejudiced by uncertainty about the density of settlement, particularly in the suburb of Bezetha in the north of the city which only began to be built up in the mid-first century CE, when Agrippa I, Herod's grandson, began work on the new northern defensive wall which would be the first to be breached by Titus in 70 CE. Other scholars have derived population figures from the amount of the water supply brought into the city, noting that this had to be increased during the first century CEwhen the governor Pontius Pilate ran into trouble with the local population by using sacred money to finance the building of an aqueduct. But here too there are uncertainties, not least over the extent to which water might be used extravagantly in a society influenced by Roman enthusiasm for bathing.36

Even if the permanent population was only in the tens of thousands (which in ancient terms would already constitute a large city), the numbers of people in Jerusalem exploded three times each year, when pilgrims came from all over the Jewish world. In the spring, early summer and early autumn, at the festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, Jerusalem was packed. In his account of the last days of the Temple in 70 CE, Josephus states that the total number of those who perished during the siege of Jerusalem was one million one hundred thousand. Of these the greater number were Jews but not native to the city,

for, having assembled from the whole country for the feast of unleavened bread [Passover], they found themselves suddenly enveloped in the war … That the city could contain so many is clear from the count taken under Cestius. For he, being anxious to convince Nero, who held the nation in contempt, of the city's strength, instructed the chief priests, if at all possible, to take a census of the population. Accordingly, on the occasion of a feast called Passover, at which they sacrifice from the ninth to the eleventh hour, and a little fraternity, as it were, gathers round each sacrifice, of not fewer than ten men (feasting alone not being permitted), while the companies often include as many as twenty, the victims were counted and amounted to two hundred and fifty-five thousand six hundred; allowing an average of ten diners to each victim, we obtain a total of two million seven hundred thousand.

Josephus’ arithmetic (or the text) is at fault, since the total should be two million five hundred and fifty-six thousand, and it is not unlikely either that he exaggerated the numbers or that the manuscripts have been corrupted, or both, but the implication of his story is clear enough: the number of pilgrims was staggeringly large. Since women and children also attended the festivals, albeit in smaller numbers, the size of the temporary population on these occasions will have been even greater. These pilgrims came from all over the Jewish world: according to the Jewish philosopher Philo, “countless men from countless cities.”37

Thus Jerusalem, like Rome, housed a large proportion of impoverished inhabitants living alongside the very rich, with a community dependent on wealth imported from outside the country in order to maintain itself; but Jerusalem had as an added source of instability the periodic influx of great numbers of temporary residents, who brought with them economic opportunities but could also cause political and social unrest. As later in Mecca, the pilgrim festivals were the “harvest of the city,” the residents of Jerusalem profiting from fellow Judaeans as well as diaspora Jews. The Mishnah describes how the first fruits were brought in procession to the city from all over the land of Israel:

They that are near [to Jerusalem] bring fresh figs and grapes, and those that are far off bring dried figs and raisins. Before them goes the ox, having its horns overlaid with gold and a wreath of olive-leaves on its head. The flute is played before them until they come near to Jerusalem. When they came near to Jerusalem they sent [messengers] before them and bedecked their first fruits. The rulers and the prefects and the treasurers [of the Temple] go forth to meet them. According to the honour due to them that came in used they to go forth. And all the craftsmen in Jerusalem rise up before them and greet them, saying, “Brethren, men of such-and-such a place, you are welcome.”38

Pilgrimage ensured that Jerusalem was an international city despite its distance from the sea and its isolation from the main land trade route. The countryside around Jerusalem was undoubtedly farmed intensively, but such agriculture was hardly in itself the basis of the city's astonishing prosperity in the century preceding its destruction in 70 CE. Jerusalem's greatness in the time of Jesus was the result not of victory in war or success in commerce, political intrigue or the harnessing of natural resources, but of the religious fervour of millions of Jews living throughout much of the eastern part of the Roman empire and beyond.

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