Some Thoughts on the 10th Legion: How many nicknames can one Legion have?

The 10th Legion is arguably the most famous legion of the Roman army. Even in its day, it was called “Vaunted”. It was Caesar’s favorite legion and Caesar made it famous through his work “The Gallic War”. Time and time again, it is the 10th Legion that does something heroic, important, and noteworthy.

In my novel Casting Lots, Centurion Cornelius is the First Spear, the highest ranking Centurion, in the 10th Legion. His father and grandfather were legionaries and Centurions in the 10th Legion before him. In my novel, it is Centurion Cornelius’ grandfather, who was the first to jump off the ship to invade England when no other legionary would move.

How did the 10th Legion, first raised in Spain, and later which fought in Gaul, then invaded England, ever end up in Judea? And how did a Legion famous for its bravery end up in disgrace? Well, that story is covered in depth in Casting Lots. But of importance, is the fact that the 10th Legion did, in fact, wander from one end of the Roman Empire to the other and apparently traveled further than any other legion. I will tell you that the 10th Legion later covered itself in glory once again at during the siege at Masada.

In its wanderings, it gained a number of nicknames, again, apparently more nicknames than any other legion, or at least more than any other this historian/novelist has been able to research. Each of these nicknames tells us something about the legion and usually something very important.

During the Campaigns of Caesar in Gaul, Caesar showed great favor to the 10th Legion. He wrote of them: “‘…Even if no one else follows, I shall march with the Tenth Legion alone; I have no doubt of its allegiance, and it will furnish the commander- in chief’s escort.’ Caesar had shown special favor to this legion, and placed the greatest of reliance in it because of its courage.” The Gallic War, Book I, 40. Caesar went on to use the 10th Legion in a ruse with the German King Ariovistus. Ariovistus had asked for a parley which Caesar had accepted. Perhaps, re-thinking the matter and maybe thinking of a way to extricate himself from the parley, the German King later imposed a special condition that the parley be held on horse-back with only a cavalry escort-no infantry were to be allowed. Caesar agreed, but fearing that his own cavalry, composed of Galls, might betray him, he mounted the 10th Legion on the horses of this Gallic cavalry and, thus, escorted went to the parley. Thereafter, the 10th earned the nickname Equestris, or the “Mounted”.

Another nickname also underscores the connection of this legion to Caesar. In 69 BC, Caesar claimed, for example, that he was descended from Venus in his oration upon the funeral of his Aunt, the wife of Marius. Later, he claimed that his victories came from Venus (thus, his dedication of a Temple to Venus Genetrix [Venues the Mother]). Thus, his favorite legion became endowed with the nickname: Veneria (Devoted to Venus).

In the early 30’s BC, the Tenth Legion was apparently lent by Marcus Antonius to Octavian. It was stationed in Sicily near Messina. Sextus Pompey, the son of Pompey the Great, was fighting against the two Triumvirs. Sextus Pompey sought to cut off the flow of grain to Rome by controlling the Straits of Messina. Under Marcus Agrippa, in 36 BC, the Tenth Legion helped to defeat Sextus Pompey at the Battle of Naulochus. Due to its actions in the battles of Mylae and Naulochus, and possibly because it has been stationed near the Straits, the Legion was now nicknamed Fretensis (the Straits).

Later, during the Roman Civil War between Octavian and Marcus Antonius, there were two Legions numbered X. The original one, which was Caesar’s favorite legion, sided with Marcus Antonius, because he had been its leader under Caesar. Octavian, not to be without such a famous legion’s designation created his own Tenth Legion. When Octavian defeated Marcus Antonius, the original 10th Legion, was exiled to Judea, stripped of its number, stripped of its nickname, was deprived of its pensions and land grants, and was deprived of its discharge. This Legion, without name or number, languished in Judea for many decades and, again, its story is told in detail in Casting Lots. Octavian’s 10th Legion was named Gemina (the twin) and fought under him during the Civil War with Marcus Antonius and later was assigned to Hispania Tarraconensis.

Herod the Great: Appendix-When Did Herod die?

Because the Gospels of both Luke and Matthew tie the birth of Jesus to the death of Herod the Great, it is important to know when he died.  Josephus, the historian and Jewish general turned Roman loyalist, wrote that Herod died in the year of a lunar eclipse and near a Jewish feast.  Usually, this has been thought to be in the year 4 BC.

Recently, Professor John Cramer suggested a date of 1 BC because of its lunar eclipse, a similar Jewish feast, and its proximity to Church tradition which dates Jesus’ birth from a year later, 1 AD.

In a letter to Biblical Archaeology Review, published in the September/October 2014 issue, Professor Jeffrey Chadwick disputes this theory by observing that the date of 1BC does not comport with other historical facts.  According to Chadwick, Josephus reported that Herod’s son Archelaus succeeded Herod as King and reigned for ten years, until he was disposed by Caesar Augustus.  Quirinius, a legate, was assigned the task of traveling to Jerusalem to liquidate the estate of Archelaus (who was banished to Vienna by Augustus) and to conduct a registration of people and property in Archealus’ former realm.  It is these acts which are carefully dated by Josephus as having occurred in the 37th year after Caesar Augustus’ defeat of Marcus Antonius at Actium which occurred on March 2, 31 BC. Thus, the registration must have taken place in 6AD and thus the beginning of the reign of Archelaus must have been in 4 BC. Finally, as the lunar eclipse of 4 BC was on March 13th, Herod must have died after March 13th in 4 BC.

For a summary of other dates and other eclipses and thus other possible dates see, for example:

Herod the Great: Part VI Building Program, Historicity, and Conclusion

Herod was a prolific builder.   His works spanned the eastern Mediterranean.  A catalogue of his architecture without an explanation would encompass many pages.

In Jerusalem, he constructed or reconstructed some 18 major works, including the Antonia Fortress (which is mentioned and described in Casting Lots, with the observation that Marcus Anthony may have wished that Herod had done more him than simply named a fortress after him), the Royal and Hasmonean Palaces, multiple towers, an amphitheater, a hippodrome, a theatre, multiple pools, including the Solomon Pools, and various aqueducts. The Temple was intentionally built to be far larger and grander than the Temple in Rome to Juppiter Optimus Maximus.

Throughout his kingdom, Herod built: new cities, such as Antipatras, Phasaelis, and the gem of them all, Caesarea Maritima, which required a harbor, mole, a breakwater, towers docks, warehouses and commercial buildings to start and finally emerged as the administrative center of Roman Judea; or refurbished existing ones, such as Sebaste, where walls gates, fortifications, colonnaded streets, Temples to Roma and Augustus were erected,  a stadium, a theatre and of course, aqueducts; palaces, almost by the score, including, Alexandreion, Hycrania, Machaerus, Cypros,  Jericho, with a reconstructed Hasmonean palace, a second palace, and a winter palace;  and fortresses and arsenals,  such as Sepphoris, Masada, Herodium East,  and Herodium West; military colonies, such as Heshbon, Bathyra, and Gaba;  as well as baths, fountains, and colonnades. Caesarea Maritima was the subject of this blog on May 12, 2014.  Caesarea Maritima is a major location for the story of Casting Lots.

Herod did not only lavish his attention upon his kingdom, but built structures throughout Phoenicia and the Roman province of Syria such as theatres at Sidon and Damascus; gymnasiums at Tripolis, Damascus, and Ptolemais;  streets in Antioch, porticoes in Berytus, and walls in Byblus.  He did not stop even here.  For he bestowed gifts upon many Greek cities (whether or not he was looking to head the Olympic Games is not the issue here). Chios, Pergamum, Lycia, Athens, Samos, Delos, Ionia, and other cities received “Herod’s gifts” which he gave freely and were large in scale.

A brief note on the historicity of Herod the Great is in order before concluding the life of this extraordinary individual. Herod is mentioned in a large number of inscriptions that have been unearthed.  These range from inscriptions on the handles of wine jugs found at Masada, to those that were apparently on buildings at Delos, to gifts of pavement stones with the dates of his reign, to gifts made to Herod of statues, to finally, a gift to Herod from the people of Athens of a statute at the Parthenon.  Further, coins minted during his reign both dated and undated exist in large quantities.  Finally, Herod is mentioned by numerous Roman historians and writers.

It is interesting to note that the inscriptions by Herod simply say “King”. They do not include the word great. Further, many of them set forth the following formula: “Herod, King, a Jew”; not King of the Jews, although some scholars disagree with this reading of the inscriptions.

In conclusion, Herod was a man with the gift of being able to make friends and to work himself out of almost impossible situations.  He was able to befriend Romans who were enemies and get them to do what he wanted. He clearly had a gift for building. He surrounded himself with a court of intellectuals and appeared to have a great deal of intellectual curiosity.   He could, of course, be brutal.  He ruthlessly killed members of his family and his close friends, if convinced that they were plotting against him.  Yet, he was a man of courage.  His voyage to Rome during the winter and facing down a terrible storm speaks of a determined man, who would do anything to overcome adversity. He reigned for a long time 40 BC to 4 BC, because he was able to adapt and because he was able to read a situation and make the most out of it.

Herod the Great: Part V-The Intellectual Royal Court

Herod the Great, as has been noted before, was a King who was more Roman or at least Hellenistic, than Jewish. His court reflected this.  He populated it with intellectuals, poets, philosophers, architects, and artists, and even a geographer.  Missing from this Court were Jewish theologians or thinkers.  As a young man, he was noted for his extensive art collection, which focused mostly on sculptures in gold and silver. But as he aged, he began to collect intellectuals.  This collection of intellectuals, while providing Herod with the intellectual stimulation he craved, also presented him with two problems.

Patronage of intellectuals was an ancient Greek tradition. Numerous examples abound, such Solon in the court of Kroisos in Lydia, Eurpides in the court of Archelaos, and Aristotle with Philip II of Macedonia.  During the 40’s BC, patronage of artists and scholars was widely practiced in Rome.  Herod had seen that the Egyptian Court of Cleopatra had been well appointed with intellectuals during Herod’s stay after his flight from Judea and before his first trip to Rome.  Herod, thus upon his ascension to this throne had plenty of examples of what role royal patronage played in the court life of a monarch.

Herod may have founded a library to encourage the intellectual achievement. If so, then it must have been in the context of what had happened to two greatest of the libraries of antiquity shortly before his reign.  The Library of Alexandria had been burned during the Egyptian Civil War (whether or not upon the orders of Gaius Julius Caesar) with the attendant loss of some 400,000 scrolls.  Marcus Antonius had, in an effort to rectify this loss, taken some 200,000 scrolls from the library at Pergamum, apparently the entirety of that library and had them shipped to Alexandria.  Herod may have wanted to fulfill the vision of Gaius Julius Caesar, always a role model for Herod, in the creation of this library

Nonetheless, in the 30’s BC, after the collapse of the dynasty of Cleopatra, with her death and the death of Marcus Antonius, intellectuals migrated from Egypt to Herod’s court. Among them was Nikolaos of Damaskos, the tutor of Cleopatra’s children.  Nikolaos became a close friend and adviser to Herod. Nikolaos is also very important, because he appears to be the source for much of the information which Josephus relates in his histories.

The court of Herod included Strabo, the geographer and historian; the rhetorician, Eirenaios; tutors, Gemellus and Andromachos; Diophantos, who became Herod’s secretary and who later became a great forger who was executed for that crime; Euaratos, who had been a priest of Apollo; Nikolaos’ brother, Ptolemaios; the physician, Olympos; the historian, Philostratos, author of the Indika and the Phoinikika; and the adventurer, Eurykles of Sparta.

Many of these clearly aided Herod in his grand building program. Strabo and Nikolaos, both visited Rome often, as well as Alexandria and brought home a wealth of information about the building programs going on in both of these cities.

This intellectual royal court was clearly a two-edged sword, for many of these Friends of Herod (Herod having bestowed the Hellenistic title of philos [Friend] upon many of them, which is a technical term for a member of a circle of advisors and confidants who advised the king) later became involved in plots against him. Thus, the court became a hotbed for fomenting revolution against Herod.

Some like Andromachos, the tutor, were lucky and were only dismissed from their posts; others, like Antipatros Gadia, who at one time was the King’s closest friend, were executed. Among the others, who revolted against Herod were Antiphilos, the brother of the physician, Olympos; Dositheos, another of Herod’s closest friends, who was executed along with Lysimachos and Antipatros Gadia, mentioned above;  and Philostratos, the historian.

This court also presented another problem for Herod’s reign. The Friends were, with one or two exceptions, Greek, Egyptian, Roman, or Syrian. Put differently, the court had few intellectuals, who were Jewish, thus, further, enflaming the populace which already believed that Herod was not a ‘true’ Jew, but was something altogether different.  Those, who were Jewish, may have included, Alexas, who was married to Herod’s sister, Salome, and may have been Herod’s chief of staff of the military, Antipatros Gadia, Dositheos, who was very involved with Jewish causes, such as petitioning Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Crus for a military exemption for Jews; and Lysimachos.

Herod the Great: Part IV-Timeline

In this part, I shall give a timeline of the life of Herod the Great.

73 BC Herod is born; Herod’s grandfather, who was a governor of  Idumaea, dies

64 BC Antipater (Antipatros), Herod’s father, meets Pompey in Syria

50 BC Aulus Gabinius, originally a tribune under Sulla, now a supporter of Pompey, is appointed to eastern command; Herod meets him

48 BC After the battle of Pharsalus, Julius Caesar confers citizenship upon Antipater; Herod thereby gains citizenship

47BC Herod is strategos of Galilee (the Hellenistic title originally meant general in Greek, by this time it was more of a gubernatorial position)

46 BC Herod flees to Syria due to unrest among Jews due to his ethnic background and opposition from the Synhedrion in Jerusalem; gains favor with Syria Governor, Sextus Julius Caesar, relative of Gaius Julius Caesar; Sextus Julius Caesar offers Herod position in Koile-Syria, but is assassinated;  Herod attaches himself to Gaius Cassius Longinus, the leading instigator of the plot to assassinate Gaius Julius Caesar

44 BC Gaius Julius Caesar is assassinated

43 BC Antipater is assassinated; Gaius Cassius Longinus helps Herod to avenge the death of his father and  proposes that Herod be King of Judea, but commits suicide at the Battle Philippi thinking that Brutus had lost the battle

42 BC Marcus Antonius arrives in Syria and names Herod Tetrarch

40 BC the events of 40 BC were chronicled in depth in Part III of this article

40-37 BC Civil War in Judea; Herod wins only with a great deal of assistance from Romans

37 BC Antigonos II eliminated as a claimant to throne

35 or 34 BC Hasmoneans instigate a revolt against Herod

32-31 BC War with Nabataeans

31 BC Earthquake in Judea and Civil War with Nabataeans prevents Herod from allying with Cleopatra and Marcus Antonius and fighting at Actium

30BC Herod swears loyalty to Octavian at Rhodes; Herod supplies logistical support to Octavian in his Egyptian Campaign; Octavian grants further lands to Herod’s kingdom

29-9 BC Herod’s great building campaign-rebuilding Samaria and renaming it Sebaste (Greek for Augustus), Herodium, Caesarea Maritima, Jerusalem, Nikopolis, and among other places

29 BC Herod executes his wife Mariamme for treason

23 BC Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (Augustus’ chosen heir apparent) is resident in Mytilene and becomes close friends with Herod

22 BC Augustus further expands Herod’s kingdom

20 BC Augustus meets Herod in Syria and further enlarges his kingdom; construction of the Temple in Jerusalem is begun

18 BC Herod dedicates Temple in Jerusalem; visits Rome as King; visits sons; is received by Augustus

15 BC Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa makes state visit to Judea; Agrippa asks Herod to aid him in expedition to Kimmerian Bosphorus, a triumphal tour of Asia Minor ensues

12 BC Herod named Agonothetes of the Olympic Games (after generous donations were made!); Herod visits Rome for third and last time

9 BC Caesarea Maritima is dedicated

7 BC Herod’s sons, Aristobulos and Alexandros, executed for conspiracy against the king

4BC Herod’s son, Antipatros, executed; Herod dies naturally (one of the few of his family to do so)

Herod the Great: Part III

40 BC had started out as very bad year for Herod.  First, the Parthians had seen that Rome, and in particular, Marcus Antonius, who was dallying with Cleopatra, were paying little attention to the affairs of Judea.  In this power vacuum, the Parthians had invaded Judea and quickly gained Jewish military support.  After a short siege of Jerusalem, the Parthians had installed Antigonius as King. Antigonius had based his claim upon the throne on a policy of direct opposition to Rome.  This and a large quantity of money as a bribe to the Satrap, Barzaphranes, one of the Parthian leaders was enough to induce the Parthians to back Antigonius as king.  Thereafter, Jerusalem had revolted against Herod and his brother, Phasel.

Herod, Hyrcanus, and Phasel were ultimately bottled up in the Palace. Phasel learned that Antigonius had bought the throne.  Upon the inducement of the cup bearer of Antigonius, Pacorus, Phasel with Hyrcanus went to Barzaphranes to negotiate a peaceful settlement and what he thought was a much bigger bribe. Barzaphranes did not succumb to the bribe and Phasel, now knowing his life was in danger, got a message to Herod.  Herod fled Judea for Petra where he attempted to raise money to ransom his brother.  When he was unsuccessful, he went to Alexandria.  Thereafter, Phasel submitted to the Parthian leader, Barzaphranes, but was induced to commit suicide.   Hyrcanus was disfigured and exiled.

In Alexandria, Cleopatra offered Herod a commission to lead her armies against the Parthians, but Herod declined the offer.  As mentioned before, it was during the mid-winter of 40 BC that Herod left Alexandria for Rome.

In Rome, Herod brought the terrible news that the Parthians had conquered Judea.  This first-hand account of the conquest by Judea by the Parthians, the fall of Judea, the misfortune that had befallen Herod’s family, and the installation of Antigonius as King roused Rome to action.  Herod had played his hand well, for the Senate, perhaps unlike Marcus Antonius and Octavian, clearly saw the matter as an invasion of a Rome ally-client-state by an enemy.   Antigonius was therefore an enemy.  With both Hyrcanus and Phasel out of the picture, Herod became the only choice for Rome.

Herod’s choice of direct and forceful opposition to Parthia was thus one of his greatest decisions. For without having made this decision, he would not have been a candidate for the kingship in the eyes of Rome.  Rome felt it needed a local force to oppose Parthia.  Herod, with his background of being, in the eyes of the Jews, something less than Jew, was not an ideal choice.

According to Josephus, Herod had not come to Rome with the intent of being made king, but to propose that Aristobulus III, his wife’s brother, be made king.  It is true that Aristobulus III had a better claim to the throne, being a member of the existing royal family.  This fit squarely with Rome’s existing policy of naming kings form the existing royal family.  But he was only 14 or 15 years old.  Had Herod thought he would be regent until Aristobulus III came of age?  Perhaps.   In any event, Rome needed someone who would act now to defeat the Parthians.  Who better than this Herod who had braved the mid-winter storms to come to Rome?

As mentioned before, Herod was appointed King within seven days of his arrival in Rome.   Now, he quickly and decisively, left Rome to return to Judea.

Thus, while 40 BC had begun badly, it ended better for Herod for he was now King of Judea and Idumaea.  But as King he now faced a myriad of problems:  first, he had to oust Antigonius from his throne; second, Parthia was in control in Judea; third, the leading citizens of Jerusalem opposed him; fourth, some of his nearest kinsman, such as Lysanias of Chalcis, were allied with Antigonius; fifth, his credibility with his wife, her brother, and Hyrcanus must have greatly suffered when he returned as King and Aristobulus III was not; and sixth, his kingdom having been plundered by the Parthians, needed rebuilding.