The Roman Governors

The history of the Jews after the death of Herod is marked by the

greatest event in human annals. In four years after he expired in agonies

of pain and remorse, Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, whose teachings

have changed the whole condition of the world, and will continue to change

all institutions and governments until the seed of the woman shall have

completely triumphed over all the wiles of the serpent. We can not,
r /> however, enter upon the life or mission of the Saviour, or the feeble

beginnings of the early and persecuted Church which he founded, and which

is destined to go on from conquering to conquer. We return to the more

direct history of the Jewish nation until their capital fell into the

hands of Titus, and their political existence was annihilated.

They were now to be ruled by Roman governors--or by mere vassal

kings whom the Romans tolerated and protected. The first of these rulers

was P. Sulpicius Quirinus--a man of consular rank, who, as proconsul of

Syria, was responsible for the government of Judea, which was intrusted to

Coponius. He was succeeded by M. Ambivius, and he again by Annius Rufus. A

rapid succession of governors took place till Tiberius appointed Valerius

Gratus, who was kept in power eleven years, on the principle that a rapid

succession of rulers increased the oppression of the people, since every

new governor sought to be enriched. Tiberius was a tyrant, but a wise

emperor, and the affairs of the Roman world were never better administered

than during his reign. These provincial governors, like the Herodian

kings, appointed and removed the high priests, and left the internal

management of the city of Jerusalem to them. They generally resided

themselves at Caesarea, to avoid the disputes of the Jewish sects, and the

tumults of the people.

Pontius Pilate succeeded Gratus A.D. 27,--under whose memorable rule

Jesus Christ was crucified and slain--a man cruel, stern, and reckless of

human life, but regardful of the peace and tranquillity of the province.

He sought to transfer the innocent criminal to the tribunal of Herod, to

whose jurisdiction he belonged as a Galilean, but yielded to the

importunities of the people, and left him at the mercy of the Jewish


The vigilant jealousy of popular commotion, and the reckless disregard of

human life, led to the recall of Pilate; but during the forty years which

had elapsed since the death of Herod, his sons had quietly reigned over

their respective provinces. Antipas at Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee,

and Philip beyond the Jordan. The latter prince was humane and just, and

died without issue, and his territory was annexed to Syria.

Herod Antipas was a different man. He seduced and married his niece

Herodias, wife of Herod Philip, daughter of Aristobolus, and granddaughter

of Mariamne, whom Herod the Great had sacrificed in jealousy--the last

scion of the Asmonaean princes. It was for her that John the Baptist was

put to death. But this marriage proved unfortunate, since it involved him

in difficulties with Aretas, king of Arabia, father of his first and

repudiated wife. He ended his days in exile at Lyons, having provoked the

jealousy or enmity of Caligula, the Roman emperor, through the intrigues

of Herod Agrippa, the brother of Herodias, and consequently, a grandson of

Herod the Great and Mariamne. The Herodian family, of Idumean origin,

never was free from disgraceful quarrels and jealousies and rivalries.

The dominions of Herod Antipas were transferred to Herod Agrippa,

who had already obtained from Caligula the tetrarchate of Ituraea, on the

death of Philip, with the title of king. The fortunes of this prince, in

whose veins flowed the blood of the Asmonaeans and the Herodians, surpassed

in romance and vicissitude any recorded of Eastern princes; alternately a

fugitive and a favorite, a vagabond and a courtier, a pauper and a

spendthrift--according to the varied hatred and favor of the imperial

family at Rome. He had the good luck to be a friend of Caligula before the

death of Tiberius. When he ascended the throne of the Roman world, he took

his friend from prison and disgrace, and gave him a royal title and part

of the dominions of his ancestors.

Agrippa did all he could to avert the mad designs of Caligula of

securing religious worship as a deity from the Jews, and he was moderate

in his government and policy. On the death of the Roman tyrant, he

received from his successor Claudius the investiture of all the dominions

which belonged to Herod the Great. He reigned in great splendor,

respecting the national religion, observing the Mosaic law with great

exactness, and aiming at the favor of the people. He inherited the taste

of his great progenitor for palace building, and theatrical

representations. He greatly improved Jerusalem, and strengthened its

fortifications, and yet he was only a vassal king. He reigned by the favor

of Rome, on whom he was dependent, and whom he feared, like other kings

and princes of the earth, for the emperor was alone supreme.

Agrippa sullied his fair fame by being a persecutor of the

Christians, and died in the forty-fourth year of his age, having reigned

seven years over part of his dominions, and three over the whole of

Palestine. He died in extreme agony from internal pains, being "eaten of

worms." He left one son, Agrippa, and three daughters, Drusilla, Berenice,

and Mariamne, the two first of whom married princes.

On his death Judea relapsed into a Roman province, his son,

Agrippa, being only seventeen years of age, and too young to manage such a

turbulent, unreasonable, and stiff-necked people as the Jews, rent by

perpetual feuds and party animosities, and which seem to have

characterized them ever since the captivity, when they renounced idolatry


What were these parties? For their opinions and struggles and

quarrels form no inconsiderable part of the internal history of the Jews,

both under the Asmonaean and Idumean dynasties.

The most powerful and numerous were the Pharisees, and most popular

with the nation. The origin of this famous sect is involved in obscurity,

but probably arose not long after the captivity. They were the orthodox

party. They clung to the Law of Moses in its most minute observances, and

to all the traditions of their religion. They were earnest, fierce,

intolerant, and proud. They believed in angels, and in immortality. They

were bold and heroic in war, and intractable and domineering in peace.

They were great zealots, devoted to proselytism. They were austere in

life, and despised all who were not. They were learned and decorous, and

pragmatical. Their dogmatism knew no respite or palliation. They were

predestinarians, and believed in the servitude of the will. They were seen

in public with ostentatious piety. They made long prayers, fasted with

rigor, scrupulously observed the Sabbath, and paid tithes to the cheapest

herbs. They assumed superiority in social circles, and always took the

uppermost seats in the synagogue. They displayed on their foreheads and

the hem of their garments, slips of parchment inscribed with sentences

from the law. They were regarded as models of virtue and excellence, but

were hypocrites in the observance of the weightier matters of justice and

equity. They were, of course, the most bitter adversaries of the faith

which Christ revealed, and were ever in the ranks of persecution. They

resembled the most austere of the Dominican monks in the Middle Ages. They

were the favorite teachers and guides of the people, whom they incited in

their various seditions. They were theologians who stood at the summit of

legal Judaism. "They fenced round their law hedges whereby its precepts

were guarded against any possible infringement." And they contrived, by an

artful and technical interpretation, to find statutes which favored their

ends. They wrought out asceticism into a system, and observed the most

painful ceremonials--the ancestors of rigid monks; and they united a

specious casuistry, not unlike the Jesuits, to excuse the violation of the

spirit of the law. They were a hierarchical caste, whose ambition was to

govern, and to govern by legal technicalities. They were utterly deficient

in the virtues of humility and toleration, and as such, peculiarly

offensive to the Great Teacher when he propounded the higher code of love

and forgiveness. Outwardly, however, they were the most respectable as

well as honorable men of the nation--dignified, decorous, and studious of


The next great party was that of the Sadducees, who aimed to

restore the original Mosaic religion in its purity, and expunge every

thing which had been added by tradition. But they were deficient in a

profound sense of religion, denied the doctrine of immortality, and hence

all punishment in a future life. They made up for their denial of the

future by a rigid punishment of all crimes. They inculcated a belief of

Divine Providence by whom all crime was supposed to be avenged in this

world. The party was not so popular as that of their rivals, but embraced

men of high rank. In common with the Pharisees, they maintained the

strictness of the Jewish code, and professed great uprightness of morals.

They had, however, no true, deep religious life, and were cold and

heartless in their dispositions. They were mostly men of ease and wealth,

and satisfied with earthly enjoyments, and inclined to the epicureanism

which marked many of the Greek philosophers. Nor did they escape the

hypocrisy which disgraced the Pharisees, and their bitter opposition to

the truths of Christianity.

In addition to these two great parties which controlled the people,

were the Essenes. But they lived apart from men, in the deserts round the

Dead Sea, and dreaded cities as nurseries of vice. They allowed no women

to come within their settlements. They were recruited by strangers and

proselytes, who thought all pleasure to be a sin. They established a

community of goods, and prosecuted the desire of riches. They were clothed

in white garments which they never changed, and regulated their lives by

the severest forms. They abstained from animal food, and lived on roots

and bread. They worked and ate in silence, and observed the Sabbath with

great precision. They were great students, and were rigid in morals, and

believed in immortality. They abhorred oaths, and slavery, and idolatry.

They embraced the philosophy of the Orientals, and supposed that matter

was evil, and that mind was divine. They were mystics who reveled in the

pleasures of abstract contemplation. Their theosophy was sublime, but

Brahminical. Practically they were industrious, ascetic, and devout--the

precursors of those monks who fled from the abodes of man, and filled the

solitudes of Upper Egypt and Arabia and Palestine, the loftiest and most

misguided of the Christian sects in the second and third centuries, But

the Essenes had no direct influence over the people of Judea like the

Pharisees and Sadducees, except in encouraging obedience and charity.

All these sects were in a flourishing state on the death of

Agrippa. Judea was henceforth to be ruled directly by Roman governors.

Cuspius Fadus, Tiberius Alexander, Ventidius Cumanus, Felix Portius,

Festus Albinus, and Gessius Florus successively administered the affairs

of a discontented province. Their brief administrations were marked by

famines and tumults. King Agrippa, meanwhile, with mere nominal power,

resided in Jerusalem, in the palace of the Asmonaean princes, which stood

on Mount Zion, toward the temple. Robbers infested the country, and

murders and robbery were of constant occurrence. High priests were set up,

and dethroned. The people were oppressed by taxation and irritated by

pillage. Prodigies, wild and awful, filled the land with dread of

approaching calamities. Fanatics alarmed the people. The Christians

predicted the ruin of the State. Never was a population of three millions

of people more discontented and oppressed. Outrage, and injustice, and

tumults, and insurrections, marked the doomed people. The governors were

insulted, and massacred the people in retaliation. Florus, at one time,

destroyed three thousand six hundred people, A.D. 66. Open war was

apparent to the more discerning, Agrippa in vain counseled moderation and

reconciliation, showing the people how vain resistance would be to the

overwhelming power of Rome, which had subdued the world; and that the

refusal of tribute, and the demolition of Roman fortifications, were overt

acts of war. But he talked to people doomed. Every day new causes of

discord arose. Some of the higher orders were disposed to be prudent, but

the people generally were filled with bigotry and fanaticism. Some of the

boldest of the war party one day seized the fortress of Masada, near the

Dead Sea, built by Jonathan the Maccabean, and fortified by Herod. The

Roman garrison was put to the sword, and the banner of revolt was

unfolded. In the city of Jerusalem, the blinded people refused to receive,

as was customary, the gifts and sacrifices of foreign potentates offered

in the temple to the God of the Jews. This was an insult and a declaration

of war, which the chief priests and Pharisees attempted in vain to

prevent. The insurgents, urged by zealots and assassins, even set fire to

the palace of the high priest and of Agrippa and Berenice, and also to the

public archives, where the bonds of creditors were deposited, which

destroyed the power of the rich. They then carried the important citadel

of Antonia, and stormed the palace. A fanatic, by the name of Manahem, son

of Judas of Galilee, openly proclaimed the doctrine that it was impious to

own any king but God, and treason to pay tribute to Caesar. He became the

leader of the war party because he was the most unscrupulous and zealous,

as is always the case in times of excitement and passion. He entered the

city, in the pomp of a conqueror, and became the captain of the forces,

which took the palace and killed the defenders. The high priest, Ananias,

striving to secure order, was stoned. Then followed dissensions between

the insurgents themselves, during which Manahem was killed. Eleazar,

another chieftain, pressed the siege of the towers, defended by Roman

soldiers, which were taken, and the defenders massacred. Meanwhile, twenty

thousand Jews were slain by the Greeks in Caesarea, which drove the nation

to madness, and led to a general insurrection in Syria, and a bloody

strife between the Greco-Syrians and Jews, There were commotions in all

quarters--wars and rumors of wars, so that men fled to the mountains,

Wherever the Jews had settled were commotions and massacres, especially at

Alexandria, when fifty thousand bodies were heaped up for burial.

Nero was now on the imperial throne, and stringent measures were

adopted to suppress the revolt of the Jews, now goaded to desperation by

the remembrance of their oppressions, and the conviction that every man's

hand was against them. Certius, the prefect of Syria, advanced with ten

thousand Roman troops and thirteen hundred allies, and desperate war

seemed now inevitable. Agrippa, knowing how fatal it would be to the

Jewish nation, attempted to avert it. He argued to infatuated men. Certius

undertook to storm Jerusalem, the head-quarters of the insurrection, but

failed, and was obliged to retreat, with loss of a great part of his

army--a defeat such as the Romans had not received since Varus was

overpowered in the forests of Germany.

Judea was now in open rebellion against the whole power of Rome--a

mad and desperate revolt, which could not end but in the political ruin of

the nation. Great preparations were made for the approaching contest, in

which the Jews were to fight single-handed and unassisted by allies. The

fortified posts were in the hands of the insurgents, but they had no

organized and disciplined forces, and were divided among themselves.

Agrippa, the representative of the Herodian kings, openly espoused the

cause of Rome. The only hope of the Jews was in their stern fanaticism,

their stubborn patience, and their daring valor. They were to be justified

for their insurrection by all those principles which animate oppressed

people striving to be free, and they had glorious precedents in the

victories of the Maccabees; but it was their misfortune to contend against

the armies of the masters of the world. They were not strong enough for


The news of the insurrection, and the defeat of a Roman prefect,

made a profound sensation at Rome. Although Nero affected to treat the

affair with levity, he selected, however, the ablest general of the

empire, Vespasian, and sent him to Syria. The storm broke out in Galilee,

whose mountain fastnesses were intrusted by the Jews to Joseph, the son of

Matthias--lineally descended from an illustrious priestly family, with the

blood of the Asmonaean running in his veins--a man of culture and learning--a

Pharisee who had at first opposed the insurrection, but drawn into it

after the defeat of Certius. He is better known to us as the historian

Josephus. His measures of defence were prudent and vigorous, and he

endeavored to unite the various parties in the contest which he knew was

desperate. He raised an army of one hundred thousand men, and introduced

the Roman discipline, but was impeded in his measures by party dissensions

and by treachery. In the city of Jerusalem, Ananias, the high priest, took

the lead, but had to contend with fanatics and secret enemies.

The first memorable event of the war was the unsuccessful

expedition against Ascalon, sixty-five miles from Jerusalem, in which

Roman discipline prevailed against numbers. This was soon followed by the

advance of Vespasian to Ptolemais, while Titus, his lieutenant and son,

sailed from Alexandria to join him. Vespasian had an army of sixty

thousand veterans. Josephus could not openly contend against this force,

but strengthened his fortified cities. Vespasian advanced cautiously in

battle array, and halted on the frontiers of Galilee. The Jews, under

Josephus, fled in despair. Gabaia was the first city which fell, and its

inhabitants were put to the sword--a stern vengeance which the Romans often

exercised, to awe their insurgent enemies. Josephus retired to Tiberius,

hopeless and discouraged, and exhorted the people of Jerusalem either to

re-enforce him with a powerful army, or make submission to the Romans.

They did neither. He then threw himself into Jotaphata, where the

strongest of the Galilean warriors had intrenched themselves. Vespasian

advanced against the city with his whole army, and drew a line of

circumvallation around it, and then commenced the attack. The city stood

on the top of a lofty hill, and was difficult of access, and well supplied

with provisions. As the works of the Romans arose around the city, its

walls were raised thirty-five feet by the defenders, while they issued out

in sallies and fought with the courage of despair. The city could not be

taken by assault, and the siege was converted into a blockade. The

besieged, supplied with provisions, issued out from behind their

fortifications, and destroyed the works of the Romans. The fearful

battering-rams of the besiegers were destroyed by the arts and inventions

of the besieged. The catapults and scorpions swept the walls, and the huge

stones began to tell upon the turrets and the towers. The whole city was

surrounded by triple lines of heavy armed soldiers, ready for assault. The

Jews resorted to all kinds of expedients, even to the pouring of boiling

oil on the heads of their assailants. The Roman general was exasperated at

the obstinate resistance, and proceeded by more cautious measures. He

raised the embankments, and fortified them with towers, in which he placed

slingers and archers, whose missiles told with terrible effect on those

who defended the walls. Forty-seven days did the gallant defenders resist

all the resources of Vespasian, But they were at length exhausted, and

their ranks were thinned, Once again a furious assault was made by the

whole army, and Titus scaled the walls. The city fell with the loss of

forty thousand men on both sides, and Josephus surrendered to the will of

God, but was himself spared by the victors by adroit flatteries, in which

he predicted the elevation of Vespasian to the throne of Nero.

It would be interesting to detail the progress of the war, but our

limits forbid. The reader is referred to Josephus. City after city

gradually fell into the hands of Vespasian, who now established himself in

Caesarea. Joppa shared the fate of Jotaphata; the city was razed, but the

citadel was fortified by the Romans.

The intelligence of these disasters filled Jerusalem with

consternation and mourning, for scarcely a family had not to deplore the

loss of some of its members. Tiberius and Tarichea, on the banks of the

beautiful lake of Galilee, were the next which fell, followed by atrocious

massacres, after the fashion of war in those days. Galilee stood appalled,

and all its cities but three surrendered. Of these Gamala, the capital,

was the strongest, and more inaccessible than Jotaphata. It was built upon

a precipice, and was crowded with fugitives, and well provisioned. But it

was finally taken, as well as Gischala and Itabyriun, and all Galilee was

in the hands of the Romans.

Jerusalem, meanwhile, was the scene of factions and dissensions. It

might have re-enforced the strongholds of Galilee, but gave itself up to

party animosities, which weakened its strength. Had the Jews been united,

they might have offered a more successful resistance. But their fate was

sealed. I can not describe the various intrigues and factions which

paralyzed the national arm, and forewarned the inhabitants of their doom.

Meanwhile, Nero was assassinated, and Vespasian was elevated to the

imperial throne. He sent his son Titus to complete the subjugation which

had hitherto resisted his conquering legions.

Jerusalem, in those days of danger and anxiety, was still rent by

factions, and neglected her last chance of organizing her forces to resist

the common enemy. Never was a city more insensible of its doom. Three

distinct parties were at war with each other, shedding each others' blood,

reckless of all consequences, callous, fierce, desperate. At length the

army of Titus advanced to the siege of the sacred city, still strong and

well provisioned. Four legions, with mercenary troops and allies, burning

to avenge the past, encamped beneath the walls, destroying the orchards

and olive-grounds and gardens which everywhere gladdened the beautiful

environs. The city was fortified with three walls where not surrounded by

impassable ravines, not one within the other, but inclosing distinct

quarters; and these were of great strength, the stones of which were in

some parts thirty-five feet long, and so thick that even the heaviest

battering-rams could make no impression. One hundred and sixty-four towers

surmounted these heavy walls, one of which was one hundred and forty feet

high, and forty-three feet square; another, of white marble, seventy-six

feet in height, was built of stones thirty-five feet long, and seventeen

and a half wide, and eight and a half high, joined together with the most

perfect masonry. Within these walls and towers was the royal palace,

surrounded by walls and towers of equal strength. The fortress of Antonia,

seventy feet high, stood on a rock of ninety feet elevation, with

precipitous sides. High above all these towers and hills, and fortresses,

stood the temple, on an esplanade covering a square of a furlong on each

side. The walls which surrounded this fortress-temple were built of vast

stones, and were of great height; and within these walls, on each side,

was a spacious double portico fifty-two and a half feet broad, with a

ceiling of cedar exquisitely carved, supported by marble columns

forty-three and three-quarters feet high, hewn out of single stones. There

were one hundred and sixty-two of these beautiful columns. Within this

quadrangle was an inner wall, seventy feet in height, inclosing the inner

court, around which, in the interior, was another still more splendid

portico, entered by brazen gates adorned with gold. These doors, or gates,

were fifty-two and a half feet high and twenty-six and a quarter wide.

Each gateway had two lofty pillars, twenty-one feet in circumference. The

gate called Beautiful was eighty-seven and a half feet high, made of

Corinthian brass, and plated with gold. The quadrangle, entered by nine of

these gates, inclosed still another, within which was the temple itself,

with its glittering facade. This third and inner quadrangle was entered by

a gateway tower one hundred and thirty-two and a half feet high and

forty-three and a half wide. "At a distance the temple looked like a

mountain of snow fretted with golden pinnacles." With what emotions Titus

must have surveyed this glorious edifice, as the sun rising above Mount

Moriah gilded its gates and pinnacles--soon to be so utterly demolished

that not one stone should be left upon another.

Around the devoted city Titus erected towers which overlooked the

walls, from which he discharged his destructive missiles, while the

battering-rams played against the walls, where they were weakest. The

first wall was soon abandoned, and five days after the second was

penetrated, after a furious combat, and Titus took possession of the lower

city, where most of the people lived.

The precipitous heights of Zion, the tower of Antonia and the temple still

remained, and although the cause was hopeless, the Jews would hear of no

terms of surrender. Titus used every means. So did Josephus, who harangued

the people at a safe distance. The most obstinate fury was added to

presumptuous, vain confidence, perhaps allied with utter distrust of the

promises of enemies whom they had offended past forgiveness.

At length famine pressed. No grain was to be bought. The wealthy

secreted their food. All kind feelings were lost in the general misery.

Wives snatched the last morsel from their family and weary husbands, and

children from their parents. The houses were full of dying and the dead, a

heavy silence oppressed every one, yet no complaints were made. They

suffered in sullen gloom, and despair. From the 14th of April to the 19th

of July, A.D. 70, from one hundred thousand to five hundred thousand,

according to different estimates, were buried or thrown from the walls. A

measure of wheat sold for a talent, and the dunghills were raked for


When all was ready, the assault on the places which remained

commenced. On the 5th of July the fortress of Antonia was taken, and the

siege of the temple was pressed. Titus made one more attempt to persuade

its defenders to surrender, wishing to save the sacred edifice, but they

were deaf and obstinate. They continued to fight, inch by inch, exhausted

by famine, and reduced to despair. They gnawed their leathern belts, and

ate their very children. On the 8th of August the wall inclosing the

portico, or cloisters, was scaled. On the 10th the temple itself, a

powerful fortress, fell, with all its treasures, into the hands of the

victors. The soldiers gazed with admiration on the plates of gold, and the

curious workmanship of the sacred vessels. All that could be destroyed by

fire was burned, and all who guarded the precincts were killed.

Still the palace and the upper city held out. Titus promised to

spare the lives of the defenders if they would instantly surrender. But

they still demanded terms. Titus, in a fury, swore that the whole

surviving population should be exterminated. It was not till the 7th of

September that this last bulwark was captured, so obstinately did the

starving Jews defend themselves. A miscellaneous slaughter commenced, till

the Romans were weary of their work of vengeance. During the whole siege

one million one hundred thousand were killed, and ninety-seven thousand

made prisoners, since a large part of the population of Judea had taken

refuge within the walls. During the whole war one million three hundred

and fifty-six thousand were killed.

Thus fell Jerusalem, after a siege of five months, the most desperate

defense of a capital in the history of war. It fell never to rise again as

a Jewish metropolis. Never had a city greater misfortunes. Never was

heroism accompanied with greater fanaticism. Never was a prophecy more

signally fulfilled.

The fall of Jerusalem was succeeded by bloody combats before the

whole country was finally subdued. With the final conquest the Jews were

dispersed among the nations, and their nationality was at an end. Their

political existence was annihilated. The capital was destroyed, the temple

demolished, and the royal house extinguished, and the high priesthood

buried amid the ruins of the sacred places.

With the occupation of Palestine by strangers, and the final dispersion of

the Jews over all nations, who, without a country, and without friends,

maintained their institutions, their religion, their name, their

peculiarities, and their associations, we leave the subject--so full of

mournful interest, and of impressive lessons. The student of history

should see in their prosperity and misfortunes the overruling Providence

vindicating his promises, and the awful majesty of eternal laws.