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A Roman View of the Revolt

The Roman historian Dio Cassius (ca. 160 - 230) is an important source of information about the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135). It began, he informs us, when the emperor Hadrian decided to build a new city on the site of Jerusalem and a temple to Jupiter on the Temple Mount. The subsequent revolt was even more serious than the uprising of 66 CE. While the earlier conflict was to some degree a civil war, the Jewish rebels of 132 were under a single leadership. Archaeological evidence confirms the catastrophic consequences for the Jews that Dio describes here.





At Jerusalem [Hadrian] founded a city in place of the one which had been razed to the ground, naming it Aelia Capitolina, and on the site of the temple of the god he raised a new temple to Jupiter. This brought on a war of no slight importance nor of brief duration, for the Jews deemed it intolerable that foreign races should be settled in their city and foreign religious rites planted there.

So long, indeed, as Hadrian was close by in Egypt and again in Syria, they remained quiet, save insofar as they purposely made of poor quality such weapons as they were called upon to furnish, in order that the Romans might reject them and they themselves might thus have the use of them; but when he went farther away, they openly revolted.

To be sure, they did not dare try conclusions with the Romans in the open field, but they occupied the advantageous positions in the country and strengthened them with mines and walls, in order that they might have places of refuge whenever they should be hard pressed, and might meet together unobserved under ground; and they pierced these subterranean passages from above at intervals to let in air and light.

At first the Romans took no account of them. Soon, however, all Judea had been stirred up, and the Jews everywhere were showing signs of disturbance, were gathering together, and giving evidence of great hostility to the Romans, partly by secret and partly by overt acts . . .

Then indeed, Hadrian sent against them his best generals. First of these was Julius Severus, who was dispatched from Britain, where he was governor, against the Jews. Severus did not venture to attack his opponents in the open at any one point, in view of their numbers and their desperation, but by intercepting small groups, thanks to the number of his soldiers and his under-officers, and by depriving them of food and shutting them up, he was able, rather slowly, to be sure, but with comparatively little danger, to crush, exhaust, and exterminate them. Very few of them in fact survived.

Fifty of their most important outposts and nine hundred and eighty-five of their most famous villages were razed to the ground. Five hundred and eighty thousand men were slain in the various raids and battles, and the number of those who perished by famine, disease, and fire was past finding out. Thus nearly the whole of Judea was made desolate, a result of which the people had forewarning before the war. . . . Many Romans, moreover, perished in this war.