The First Jewish Roman War

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The First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE); sometimes called the Great Revolt or The Jewish War, was the first of three major rebellions by the Jews against the Roman Empire; fought in Roman-controlled Judea; resulting in the destruction of Jewish towns, the displacement of its people and the appropriation of land for Roman military use, besides the destruction of the Jewish Temple and polity.

The Great Revolt began in the year 66 CE; during the twelfth year of the reign of Nero, originating in Roman and Jewish religious tensions. The crisis escalated due to anti-taxation protests and attacks upon Roman citizens by the Jews. The Roman governor, Gessius Florus, responded by plundering the Second Temple; claiming the money was for the Emperor, and the next day launching a raid on the city; arresting numerous senior Jewish figures. This prompted a wider, large-scale rebellion and the Roman military garrison of Judaea was quickly overrun by the rebels; while the pro-Roman King Herod Agrippa II, together with Roman officials, fled Jerusalem.

Great Revolt is Out of Control 

So as it became clear the First Jewish-Roman War was getting out of control, Cestius Gallus, the legate of Syria; brought in the Syrian army; based on Legion XII Fulminata and reinforced by auxiliary troops; to restore order and quell the revolt. Despite initial advances and the conquest of Jaffa; the Syrian Legion was ambushed and defeated by Jewish rebels at the Battle of Beth Horon with 6,000 Romans massacred and the Legion’s Aquila lost.

Then during 66, the Judean provisional government was formed in Jerusalem including former High Priest Ananus ben Ananus; Joseph ben Gurion; and Joshua ben Gamla elected as leaders. Yosef Ben Matityahu (Josephus) was appointed the rebel commander in Galilee and Eleazar Ben Hanania as the commander in Edom. Later, in Jerusalem, an attempt by Menahem Ben Yehuda; leader of the Sicarii, to take control of the city failed. He was executed and the remaining Sicarii were ejected from the city. Simon Bar Giora, a peasant leader, was also expelled by the new government.

First Jewish Roman War: Vespasian is Taking Command 

So the experienced and unassuming general Vespasian was given the task, by Nero; of crushing the rebellion in Judaea province. Vespasian’s son Titus was appointed as second-in-command. Given four legions and assisted by forces of King Agrippa II, Vespasian invaded Galilee in 67. Avoiding a direct attack on the reinforced city of Jerusalem; which was defended by the main rebel force; the Romans launched a persistent campaign to eradicate rebel strongholds and punish the population. Within several months Vespasian and Titus took over the major Jewish strongholds of Galilee and finally overran Yodfat; which was under the command of Yosef ben Matityahu; as well as subdued Tarichaea, which brought an end to the war in Galilee.

Driven from Galilee, Zealot rebels and thousands of refugees arrived in Jerusalem; creating political turmoil. The confrontation between the mainly Sadducee Jerusalemites and the mainly Zealot factions of the Northern Revolt under the command of John of Giscala and Eleazar Ben Simon erupted into bloody violence. With Idumeans entering the city and fighting by the side of the Zealots; the former high priest; Ananus Ben Ananus, was killed and his faction suffered severe casualties. Simon Bar Giora, commanding 15,000 militiamen, was then invited into Jerusalem by the Sadducee leaders to stand against the Zealots; and quickly took control over much of the city. Bitter infighting between factions of Simon, John, and Eleazar followed through the year 69 CE.

First Jewish-Roman War: Vespasian Named Emperor 

After a lull in the military operations, owing to civil war and political turmoil in Rome, Vespasian was called to Rome and appointed as Emperor in 69 CE. So with Vespasian’s departure, Titus moved to besiege the center of rebel resistance in Jerusalem in early 70. The first two walls of Jerusalem were breached within three weeks, but a stubborn rebel standoff prevented the Roman Army from breaking the third and thickest wall. Following a brutal seven-month siege, during which Zealot infighting resulted in the burning of the entire food supplies of the city, the Romans finally succeeded in breaching the defenses of the weakened Jewish forces in the summer of 70. Following the Fall of Jerusalem, in the year 71 CE Titus left for Rome; leaving Legion X Fretensis to defeat the remaining Jewish strongholds, including Herodium and Machaerus, finalizing the Roman campaign in Masada in 73–74 CE.

As the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed; one of the events commemorated on Tisha B’Av, Judaism fell into crisis with the Sadducee movement falling into obscurity. However, one of the Pharisaic sages Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai was smuggled away from Jerusalem in a coffin by his students during the Titus siege. The rabbi obtained permission to establish a Judaic school at Yavne; which became a major center of Talmudic study. This became the crucial mark in the development of Rabbinic Judaism, which would allow Jews to continue their culture and religion without the Temple and essentially even in the diaspora. Despite the upheaval brought by the revolt and the destruction of the Temple, Jewish life continued to thrive in Judea. Though dissatisfaction with Roman rule eventually led to the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 132–136 CE.


Hi! My name is Arik Haglili, an Israeli native who decided to dedicate his life to share my knowledge about the Holy Land to those that are interested to know more about this amazing piece of land. My career as a private tour guide started at the International School For the Studying of the Holocaust and the rest is history. 

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