12. Upheaval in Palestine
Dominion of the Herod Agrippa II (2nd Half of the 1st Century CE)
Showcase 12: Dominion of the Herod Agrippa II (2nd Half of the 1st Century CE)

When Herod Agrippa died in 44 CE, his 16 or 17 year old son was living at the imperial court in Rome. As Herod Agrippa II was deemed by the Romans too young to follow his father on the throne, his dominion was declared a Roman province and placed under a procurator. Only on the death of his uncle Herod of Chalcis in 48-49 CE did Herod Agrippa II inherit his domain and was he named the religious leader of the Jews: he oversaw the Temple and was awarded the right to appoint high priests. Agrippa II probably remained in Rome until, in 53/54 CE, Emperor Claudius took back the region of Chalcis and instead transferred him the territory of the old Iturean kingdom, which had been partially ruled by Herod Philip and whose capital, Caesarea Philippi, he also made his own (Fig. A.). Only then, at 26 years of age, did he return to Palestine.

During the reign of Herod Agrippa II, social and religious tensions steadily increased in the Jewish populace, which was burdened with high taxes and sought its salvation in prophecies and messianic predictions. The Zealots under their leader John of Giscala witnessed particular influx: freedom and the sole kingship of god were their central causes. Agrippa II was unable to master the problems, and when the last procurator, Gessius Florus, plundered the Temple treasure in Jerusalem in 66 CE, open rebellion ensued.

Gessius Florus was expelled with the Roman troops from Jerusalem, whereupon Cestius Gallus, the governor of Syria, marched to Judea with the 12th Legion. He underestimated the situation there and suffered the only Roman defeat of this First Jewish War. Emperor Nero now charged the experienced general Vespasian with the suppression of the rebellion (Fig. B.).

In the spring of 67 CE, Vespasian moved from the north to Galilee with superior forces of 60,000 men, including three complete legions. He first captured the city of Yodfat under the Jewish commander of Galilee, Joseph ben Matityahu (38 – 100 CE). He deserted to the Roman side, changed his name to Flavius Josephus and became a companion of Vespasian, whom he followed to Rome (Fig. C.). In Rome, he composed several works of history, among them Antiquitates Iudaicae (Jewish Antiquities), the history of the Jewish people from the creation to his present. He considered a subject from contemporary history in his book De bello Iudaico (The Jewish War), which depicted the First Jewish War and also gives a literary justification for his defecting to the Romans.