10th Legion Inscription Found In Jerusalem

Inscription Dedicated to Hadrian by 10th Legion

This blog is an edited version of a blog which may be found at http://www.ritmeyer.com/2014/10/21/inscription-dedicated-to-hadrian-found-in-jerusalem/

The inscription dating from 129/130 AD was dedicated by the 10th Legion (Fretensis ) to Hadrian, the Roman Emperor who rebuilt Jerusalem in 135 AD and renamed it Aelia Capitolina.

The stone was found in secondary use as part of the cover of a deep cistern, hence the semi-circular hole that allowed the drawing of water.

The stone that bears the inscription is actually the second part of an original inscription. The first part had already been discovered in Jerusalem by Clermont-Ganneau in the middle of the 19th century and is exhibited in the courtyard of the Studium Biblicum Fransciscanum Museum on the Via Dolorosa just inside the Lions (St. Stephen’s) Gate:Putting the two inscriptions together, the complete inscription reads:

 ”To the Imperator Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus, son of the deified Traianus Parthicus, grandson of the deified Nerva, high priest, invested with tribunician power for the 14th time, consul for the third time, father of the country (dedicated by) the 10th legion Fretensis Antoniniana.”

After the Roman destruction of 70 A.D., the 10th Legion set up an encampment south of the Hippicus Tower on the Western Hill of Jerusalem. After nationalistic uprisings, Hadrian flattened the city and in 135 A.D. built a new one on its ruins and called it Aelia Capitolina.  Some historical sources indicate that a sanctuary to Jupiter was erected on the Temple Mount as were two dedicatory columns with statues of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius.  Jews were forbidden from entering the city on pain of death and Hadrian tried further to erase their connection to the Land by changing the name of Judea to Syria Palaestina (whence the name Palestine).



Some Thoughts on Literacy in Ancient Rome

In my novel, Casting Lots, I assume a fair degree of literacy in the Ancient Roman Empire. Am I right in making this assumption? For example, at one point in my book, when Cornelius takes Lucinius to the Baths in Rome, Cornelius “… then told me of Minerva Sulis, the Goddess of the Waters.  People would seek justice from her by throwing into the fountain little slips of lead upon which they had written their request.  ‘Someone stole my wife.  Let him pay! May he be unable to perform!’  ‘Someone has stolen my cloak!  May he freeze!’  ‘To the Goddess Sulis Minerva, most beautiful Goddess, those who have wronged me have wronged you.  May your wrath befall them!”’ Although the visit of Lucinius and Cornelius to the baths is fictional, the petitions to Minerva Sulis are not; they are actual petitions on slips of lead which have been found by archaeologists. In my research, I found that literally hundreds of people would do this daily in Rome.

However, making written petitions to gods or to goddesses was a common practice throughout the ancient world.

Cato at one point had the following prayer written on placards that were carried around his farm:

“Father Mars, I pray and beseech thee that thou be gracious and merciful to me, my house, and my household; to which intent I have bidden this suovetaurilia to be led around my land, my ground, my farm; that thou keep away, ward off and removed sickness, seen and unseen, barrenness and destruction, ruin and unseasonable influence; and that thou permit my harvests, my grain, my vine-yards and my plantations to flourish and to come to good issue, preserve in health my shepherds and my flocks, and give good health and strength to me, my house and my household  To this intent, to the intent of purifying my farm, my land and my ground, and of making an expiation, as I have said, deign to accept the offering of these suckling victims; Father Mars, to the same intent deign to accept the offering of these suckling offering.” Marcus Porcius Cato, On Agriculture, trans. William Davis Hooper (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), 123 (CXLI).

At Hadrian’s Wall, albeit in the era of the second century AD, Romans soldiers wrote hundreds of letters to their family members who were not with them.   At the fortress of Vindolanda, hundreds of wooden tablets with handwritten Latin writing have been unearthed, which provide a window into the everyday lives of the soldiers.

The texts reveal that military commanders at Vindolanda had wives, and the tablets reveal a correspondence between two women, Sulpicia Lepidina and Claudia Severa. ‘The letters between them deal with little things such as invitations to come and visit: Claudia, for example, invites Sulpicia to visit her on her birthday,’ writes researcher Geraint Osborn in his book, Hadrian’s Wall and its People (Bristol Phoenix Press, 2006).  ‘I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival…’ reads part of the invitation from Claudia (translation from “Vindolanda Tablets Online, Oxford University).” http://www.livescience.com/24460-hadrians-wall.html

“Among the texts found in Dura, most are in Greek, but there are also examples in Latin, Aramaic (from Palmyra, Edessa, and Hatra), Hebrew, Middle Persian, and Arabic (Safaitic).” P.195 The Middle East Under Rome, by Maurice Sartre, Published by Belknap Harvard

“It is well known that during the first and second centuries A.D. a comparatively large quantity of literature circulated widely throughout the Roman Empire, even though there were no printing machines to mass produce multiple copies of an author’s work, or paper-making machines to create a plentiful supply of cheap paper. Educated slaves, on the other hand, seem to have been available in sufficient numbers and adequately performed the task of producing books. …Pliny the Younger expresses satisfaction on hearing that his books are on sale at bookshops at Lyons; Letters 9, 11; Martial boasts that his epigrams are read by soldiers in remote parts of the empire such as Rumania and Britain; Epig., II, 3, 3-5.) but also that the inhabitants of the Roman empire enjoyed a comparatively high degree of literacy, as one would expect if the book trade was to flourish…  Of more interest and of greater validity are the thousands of wall-scrawls recovered from Pompeii and other less known and remote sites of the empire such as the garrison-town Dura-Europos on the Eastern frontier of the Roman Empire. Graffiti from establishments such as inns, restaurants, barracks and brothels, suggest that slaves, legionaries, shopkeepers, mule-drivers and other members of the Roman working classes, enjoyed a reasonably high level of literacy.” – STORYTELLERS, STORYTELLING, AND THE NOVEL IN GRAECO-ROMAN ANTIQUITY, by Alex Scobie

Public libraries were plentiful in Rome. During the period of 39 BC to 19 BC, at least the following public four libraries were opened and one library was enlarged in Rome:

  1. Asinius Pollo triumphed in 39 BC and to the Hall of Liberty added a public library
  2. In 28 BC, at the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine Hill, Augustus built a public library
  3. In 23 BC, Octavia built a public library as a memorial of her son
  4. In 19 BC, Agrippa built a second and enlarged the public library at the Temple of Palatine Apollo and added a public art gallery-Augustus First Emperor of Rome by Adrian Goldsworthy, Published by Yale

Emperors sponsored libraries that were to some extent public. Wealthy aristocrats endowed libraries for a community.  Many amassed impressive private collections used by their resident scholars. Having a large number of public libraries supports the assumption that literacy was fairly widespread.

There are estimates of the literacy rate which from 5 to 30 percent or higher. Full literacy was uncommon, but written documents were ubiquitous, and they were used by a wider range of people in the Roman Imperial world than was typical of most ancient societies. Women were educated women.  Certainly,  upper-class girls would at least attend primary school, most likely in the same classes as boys.  As to secondary education, our records are poor, but maybe only a few, regardless of gender, went on to receive a secondary education.

Bookstores were already well-established in Rome by the beginning of the Imperial period, and are found also in urban centers of the provinces. Books were expensive, but by the later period, popular genres of literature indicate reading for pleasure among non-elites.

In conclusion, if you have book stores, public libraries, texts circulating in many languages and in geographically broad areas, it would appear that there existed a fair degree of literacy in Ancient Rome.  Of course much of the evidence set forth above is anecdotal, and while suggestive, is not dispositive of the issue.  Further research into the subject needs to be done.

Casting Lots Book Tour

The Casting Lots Book Tour starts with a presentation at Palm Beach Atlantic University on Monday, October 20, 2014.  The topics to be presented is: “Using Effective Language”.  The author will present thought on the relevancy of Latin to modern English, Ancient Rome to modern life, and will excerpts from his novel, Casting Lots.

The new Casting Lots web page is now available for your reading pleasure.  http://www.authorwdmceachern.com/

The Casting Lots Book Tour will then move to Raleigh, NC on November 3, 2015.  The Lawrenceville School on November 5th. Then to Founder’s Hall in Ridgefield, Connecticut on November 6th where the Topic will be “The Legacy of Rome”.  On the evening of the 6th, there will be a private dinner party and book reading.  On the evening of the 8th, there will be another private dinner party and book reading.  On Sunday morning at the First Congregational Church, Ridgefield, CT, November 9th, Casting Lots will present a seminar entitled: “The Historicity of Pontius Pilate”.  Later on Sunday November 9th, at Ridgefield Crossings, Casting Lots will present a seminar entitled: “The Historicity of Jesus”.  Finally on November 11, 2014, Casting Lots will be teaching at the Stony Brook School, presenting among other topics, “Pursue Goodness” based on Timothy 6:1-18.

Some Thoughts on the Dating of the Birth of Jesus

My novel Casting Lots provides an exact date for the crucifixion of Jesus, of April 7, 30 AD. This is based upon the known dates of the Prefecture of Pontius Pilate, that is 26 AD through 36 AD, and further based upon the assumption that Christian tradition of Jesus being crucified on a Friday is correct, and finally based upon the assumption that Christian tradition of Jesus being crucified on a Friday after partaking of the Passover supper on a Thursday is correct.  This is the unique date that meets the criteria set forth above.

On the other hand, the date of the birth of Jesus is wrapped in far greater mystery. Our only sources for the birth of Jesus are two of the Gospels, and one of these Gospels contradicts itself.  Historians, such as Josephus, are silent on the issue.

Having said that, I should point out that it is not unusual that no Roman source mentions the birth of Jesus. For example, we have no source for the date of the birth of many famous Romans, including, for example, Gaius Julius Caesar.

Matthew 2:1, (” After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,…”), clearly dates the birth of Jesus to the reign of Herod the Great. Luke 1:5-41, which reads in part  as follows: “In the time of Herod king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah…” , dates the birth of John the Baptist to the reign of Herod the Great and, by implication, also dates the birth of Jesus to the reign of Herod the Great.  As previously discussed in another blog, Herod the Great likely died in 4 BC.

One problem in dating Jesus’ birth arises from the text of Luke 2:1-2, “…there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the entire world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.” Unfortunately, there is no other source that mentions a decree requiring a census and a levy of taxes upon the provinces.  Cyrenius (Publius Sulpicius Quirinius) was governor of Syria and imposed a taxation in 6 AD.  This taxation was deeply resented and was long remembered by the populace of Judea and provoked outbreaks of rebellion.  At that time, Herod’s son, Archelaus was on the throne.  He was deposed and Rome administered Judea as a Roman province, with Cyrenius as legate. Josephus records this census as having occurred in 6 AD and there is no reason to doubt his dating.

Thus we have a clear contradiction between Luke 1:5 and Luke 2:1-2 and Matthew 2:1. There is no easy way to reconcile this, even though many elaborate theories have been proposed.

My best conjecture is that there may have been a census or a levying of taxes in 6 or 5 BC and that Luke in recording a census may have mistakenly thought it was the most famous one, that of the one of Cyrenius. Having said that, I must say that this is completely conjectured.  There is no source for a census or a levy having occurred in 6 or 5 BC.

Comments on Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic Wars

While Casting Lots tells some of the story of Gaius Julius Caesar, The Gallic War, his singular military achievement, in toto, was beyond the net of the novel. Nonetheless, no one can write a blog about Rome and not speak of the greatest general of Rome: Gaius Julius Caesar, and his most famous literary work.

So did Caesar write the Commentaries? According to Suetonius (Suet.Lives.Julius.56), Gaius Julius Caesar wrote the first seven books of The Gallic War, whereas the 8th book of the Gallic War was written by (Aulus) Hirtius. Caesar did not, according to Suetonius, write about the Alexandrian, African and Spanish wars, so their authorship is not certain.

Briefly, The Gallic War is a detailed description of the military campaigns of Caesar in Gaul starting from 58 BC. It opens with the war against the Helvetians, continues with the campaign against Germanic tribes, proceeds with an account of the Belgae, then the invasions of Britain, and Germany, then the second invasion of Britain, followed by the second invasion of Germany and fighting along the Meuse River, and finally culminates with the rebellion of Vercingetorix, the failure of Caesar’s attack at Gergovia, the successful the siege of Alesia, and the surrender of Vercingetorix.

Caesar never leaves the reader in doubt as to who the main actor and main hero is. Somehow, Caesar always manages to show up at the crucial moment and it is Caesar, and Caesar alone, who saves the day. The following is the longest single sentence of the Gallic Wars, which not only encapsulates his writing style, which is dynamic, flowing, evocative, and factual, but also demonstrates how the focus is always on Caesar:

“When Caesar, who had addressed the tenth legion, reached the right wing, he found his troops under severe pressure and, because all the standards of the twelfth had been collected into one cramped place, the soldiers packed so close together that they got in each other’s way as they fought, while all the centurions of the fourth cohort had been killed-together with the standard bearer: the standard was lost-and those of the other cohorts as well, including the very brave senior centurion Publius Sextius Baculus, who had so many terrible wounds that he could no longer stand, and when Caesar saw that the rest of the men were slowing down, and some in the rear ranks had given up fighting and were intent on getting out of range of the enemy, while the enemy in front kept pouring up the hill and were pressing us on both flanks, he recognized that this was a crisis because there were no  reserves available, so he snatched a shield from a soldier in the rear ranks-Caesar had no shield with him-and went forward to the front line, where he called out to all centurions by name and shouted encouragement to the rest of the men, whom he ordered to advance and to open out their ranks so that they could use their swords more effectively.” Gallic War 2.25.1

The Gallic War is a detailed factual report, prepared year by year, of the events. Having said that, it is by no means an unbiased report, as noted above, Caesar always shines. The Gallic War was written to enhance Caesar’s reputation in Rome and was also written to justify his acts, which some felt were beyond Roman law and for which they wanted to try him. Further, Caesar presents Caesar as a much better, more balanced, more humane, and more just leader than do either Suetonius or Plutarch.

What did Caesar call his book, which we know as The Gallic War? We do not know. Caesar referred to his writing as res gestae ‘deeds/things done’ and commentarii ‘commentaries’, suggesting discussion of historical events. Certainly The Gallic War is not a particularly descriptive title, because The Gallic War covers the two invasions of Britannia and the two invasions of Germany.