The Great Revolt and the Destruction of Jerusalem

In 66 CE, the Jewish people revolted in the Roman province of Judea due to heavy handed Roman taxes. Until Nero’s reign, all taxes not used in the maintenance of the Roman garrison were sent to Rome which enabled local rule and provided little incentive to overtax. Nero changed the tax code to a large flat sum based on each province. But what was worse, anything collected over that could be kept by the garrison. This provided the perfect excuse for the greedy legate of Judea to create new taxes just to enrich the garrison and himself specifically. The Romans already had a dim view of Judaism because they would not accept the supposed divinity of the Caesars (Caligula specifically) and the silver in the Temple was too tempting a target. After seizing it, the Jews resisted and the legate slaughtered 6000. The Jews then slaughtered the garrison, and subsequently destroyed the Roman Syrian Army at the Battle of Beth Horon.

This shocked the Romans and in 67 they dispatched their best general, Vespasian, and his son Titus, with four legions, including the elite Tenth Legion. (The X Legion was “Julius Caesar’s Own”, and the one he decimated i.e. killed 10%, for cowardice in 60 BCE. He then renamed them the Tenth Legion to remind them of the price for cowardice. They never forgot.) For a year, Vespasian reduced the Jewish garrisons in countryside. In 69, Vespasian returned to Rome to proclaim himself Caesar and Titus began the siege of Jerusalem. Titus broke through the first two rings of walls but the Jews were firmly entrenched behind the third with years of food on hand.

Unfortunately for the Jews, there were two factions vying for power inside the city. The Sadducees and Pharisees wanted religious freedom and return to local rule within the Roman province of Judea. The other faction, the Zealots, wanted their own Jewish state outside of the Roman Empire among other demands. Open fighting between both factions occurred regularly. The Zealots thought that the others were not dedicated enough in the conflict with the Romans. So in early 70, they burned the food stores of Jerusalem to galvanize resistance, much to Titus’ satisfaction.

On 21 July 70, the Romans stormed the city and overwhelmed the starving defenders. In retribution, Titus ordered the slaughter of most of the city and destroyed the Temple. Tens of thousands of Jews fled Judea. The Great Revolt began the 1878 years of Jewish exile from Judea and is mostly responsible for the Jewish diaspora.

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