Nero / Caius Cestius Gallus
SELEUCIS and PIERIA, Antioch. Nero. AD 54-68. Æ As (30.5mm, 15.36 g, 12h).
Caius Cestius Gallus, legatus Syriae. Dated year 115 of the Caesarean Era (AD 66/7).
O: Laureate head right; coiled serpent to right. IM • NER • CLAV • CAESAR
R: ЄΠI ΓAIOY KЄCTIO Y ΛNTIO ЄT • ЄIP in five lines within wreath (In the magistracy of Gaius Cestius, Antioch, year 115)
- McAlee 294 = Superior, (9 December 1989), lot 2827 (same dies); RPC I – Extremely rare, the second known.
Josephus lays much of the blame for the Jewish revolt at the feet of Florus, the Roman procurator of Judaea. Florus was notorious for his cruelty and greed. In 66 C.E. he demanded 17 talents from the temple treasury, using the pretense that it was needed by the Emperor. The Jews refused, ridiculing his request by taking up a mock collection for the “poor Florus.”
Florus responded by sending troops to loot and pillage the Upper-Marketplace in Jerusalem. Thousands of Jews were killed, including woman and children. Rather than bringing the city under control, Josephus reasons, “What more need be said? It was Florus who constrained us to take up war with the Romans, for we preferred to perish together rather than by degrees. The war in fact began in the second year of the procuratorship of Florus and in the twelfth of Nero's reign.”
The Sicarii, or “dagger-men,” took the fortress of Masada and killed the Roman garrison stationed there, establishing the first rebel stronghold. The fortress of Antonia was also captured and the Roman soldiers stationed there were slain. The remaining Roman holdouts surrendered under the agreement that their lives would be spared but they too were slaughtered. At the same time, the daily sacrifices for the Emperor were discontinued. A mixture of elation and fear gripped Jerusalem as they awaited the inevitable Roman response.
Gaius Cestius Gallus, Legate of Syria in 66 C.E., was the response. On Nero’s order, he assembled a force at Antioch comprised of legio XII Fulminata, detachments from the three other legions based in Syria, six cohorts of auxiliary infantry and four alae of cavalry. He also had military support from the Jewish ruler Herod Agrippa II and two other client kings, Antiochus IV of Commagene and Sohaemus of Emesa.
Within three months Gallus, with his force of over 30,000 troops, began working their way down from Galilee to Jerusalem, attacking key cities such as Chabulon, Joppa and Antipatris. Although enduring successful raids from the rebels, the Romans finally enter and set fire to the suburbs of Jerusalem as the rebels retreated to the safety of the temple fortress.
After setting fire to Bezetha, north of the temple, Gallus encamped in front of the royal palace, southwest of the temple. At that time, Josephus says he could have easily taken the city since pro-Roman Jews were ready to open the gates of the city for him. A six day delay, however, strengthened the insurgents. The zealots attacked and killed the pro-peace faction in the city, murdering their leaders, then assaulted the Romans from the wall. The advance units of the Romans employ the Testudo, overlapping their shields over themselves like the back of a tortoise, and began undermining the walls. After five days they are on the verge of success when, for an undetermined cause, Gallus called off the attack. In History of the Jews, Professor Heinrich Graetz suggests: “[Cestius Gallus] did not deem it advisable to continue the combat against heroic enthusiasts and embark on a lengthy campaign at that season, when the autumn rains would soon commence . . . and might prevent the army from receiving provisions. On that account probably he thought it more prudent to retrace his steps.” Whatever the reason, Gallus decided to abruptly leave Jerusalem.
Gallus, with evidently little battlefield experience, suffered one humiliating defeat after another during the retreat. By the battles end the losses amounted to 5,300 infantry, 480 cavalry, all the pack animals, artillery and the eagle standard of the legio XII Fulminata. With the rebels emboldened by their shocking victory, the stage is set for the Romans to return in greater force. This time, however, Nero would send general Vespasian.
Cestius Gallus died a broken man in 67 C.E. Tacitus described the outbreak of the revolt to Gallus death as follows: “the endurance of the Jews lasted till Gessius Florus was procurator. In his time the war broke out. Cestius Gallus, legate of Syria, who attempted to crush it, had to fight several battles, generally with ill-success. Cestius dying, either in the course of nature, or from vexation.” - The Histories V