Jewish-Roman Wars

66 to 135 A.D.
Rome — versus — Jewish Rebels

First Jewish-Roman War, 66-73 A.D. Kitos War, 115-117 A.D.
Bar Kokhba's Revolt, 132-135 A.D.

First Jewish-Roman War : 66-73 A.D.

The first Jewish war began in Caesarea when, in retaliation for offenses against Jewish property, a Jewish priest led an attack on a Roman Garrison. This resulted in a Jewish victory at the battle of Bezetha over a legion led by Cestius Gallus. As a result of this debacle, Vespasian assumed command of the Roman forces and spent a year taking control of Jewish towns, one of which was Jotapata, the hometown of Josephus, the renowned historian of the Jewish Wars. After pacifying the coastal regions, Vespasian laid siege to Jerusalem, the stronghold of the Jewish rebels. Long before the city could be taken, however, he was called to Rome to replace Vitellius as Emperor. He therefore left his son Titus in charge of the siege.

Roman-Jewish War

The siege of Jerusalem was a horribly bloody affair, not only due to the Roman siege, but also to a civil war that was going on within the city. The rebellion in Judea was made up of several factions, including one led by John of Giscala (the zealots), one led by temple priests, and still another led by bandit chiefs. In addition, a significant portion of the citizens of Jerusalem, including most of the upper classes, desired to make peace with Rome. The zealots were fanatically opposed to surrendering to the Romans, and unhesitatingly murdered anyone who spoke for peace, or attempted negotiations. The factions also fought with each other for territory within Jerusalem, and for leadership of the war effort. The results was that thousands were killed by murder, civil war and starvation before the walls were breached. The rebels fought with fanatical zeal and held out within the temple until the very end. Before storming the town Titus attempted negotiation, but the zealots would not consider any terms whatsoever. After a brutally fought siege, the Romans stormed the city, massacred many of the defenders, and eventually razed the temple. The entire city was burned to the ground and tens of thousands were taken into slavery. Many of the Jews that survived were forcibly deported to cities throughout the Roman territories.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Bezetha   Jews victory
Fought October, 66, when the Romans under Cestius Gallus were attacked by the populace of Jerusalem, and driven out of their camp, with a loss of 6,000 men and all their baggage and siege train.
Siege of Jotapata   Romans victory
This place was besieged by Vespasian, with 60,000 Romans, December, 67, and was defended by the Jewish army under Josephus. The fortress held out for 47 days, when it was stormed and sacked. Josephus gave himself up to Vespasian.
Siege of Jerusalem (Second ) Romans victory
This city was besieged by Titus, with 60,000 Romans, in March, 70 A.D. It was defended with the utmost heroism by the Jews, who were led by the Zealot faction. At the end of six weeks Titus gained possession of the suburb of Dezetha, and then by hard fighting, captured position after position, until on September 8, the resistance of the defenders was finally overcome. Josephus says that 1,100,000 persons perished in the siege, but this is doubtless an exaggeration. The Romans after the capture sold 97,000 into slavery.

Short Biography
Gaius Cestius Gallus Leader of a Roman legion attecked by the Jewish rebels.
Josephus Jewish historian. Captured by Romans at Jotapata. Wrote the Jewish War.
Vespasian First emperor of humble origins. Founder of Flavian dynasty.
Titus Second Flavian emperor. Conquered Jerusalem. Reigned with father Vespasian.
John of Gischala Leader of the Jewish faction holding Jerusalem, which refused to surrender.

Story Links
Book Links
Of Josephus and the Besieging of Jotapata in  Last Days of Jerusalem  by  Alfred J. Church
Of the Troubles in Jerusalem  in  Last Days of Jerusalem  by  Alfred J. Church
Man of Business  in  Pictures from Roman Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Darling of Mankind  in  Pictures from Roman Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Pompey's Conquests  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Siege of Jerusalem  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Siege of Jerusalem  in  Historical Tales: Roman  by  Charles Morris

Book Links
Last Days of Jerusalem: From Josephus  by  Alfred J. Church

Second Jewish-Roman War (a.k.a. Kitos War) : 115-117 A.D.

The second Jewish Roman war occurred forty-five years after the fall of Jerusalem during Trajan's invasion of Parthia. It started in a Jewish community in Cyrene. The rebels destroyed many Roman Temples, and killed both Greeks and Romans. The revolt spread to Alexandria and Cyprus, where thousands of citizens were killed, both Jew and Gentile. The rebellions were disordered mobs, rather than armies, however, and the engagements were riots rather than battles. The governor of Egypt used his legions to protect the unmolested cities, but relied on Trajan to send enough forces to put down the rebels. Trajan eventually raised an army to put down the rebellions in Cyrene and Alexandria, and at the same time, he tried to prevent more rebellions among Jews in his newly won Mesopotamia regions by proactively killing Jews in some of the major cities in the region before they had a chance to rebel. The loss of life during these rebellions was terrific, especially in North Africa, and many of the Jewish urban strongholds outside of Judea were destroyed.

Short Biography
Lukuas Jewish rebel who sacked Alexandria.
Trajan Second of "Five Good Emperors." Ruled with justice and integrity. Conquered Dacia.

Third Jewish-Roman War (a.k.a. Bar Kokhba's Revolt) : 132-135 A.D.

The centers of conflict during the second Jewish-Roman war were primarily North Africa and Cyprus. The Third Jewish War, led by Simon Bar Kokhba, was centered in Palestine, and was triggered by a Roman edict that outlawed circumcision. The fanaticism of the rebels was fueled by widespread belief that Bar Kokhba was the messiah and that, according to prophecies, the end of the world was nigh. The Romans, who were best prepared to conduct large scale sieges and engage in pitched battles were greatly frustrated by the guerrilla tactics used by the rebels, and were confounded by their wide-spread system of tunnels, and complete control of the country-side. Roman losses were extremely heavy in the early years of the war, and only when the Romans embarked on a program of full-scale pillage and annihilation did they make progress against the Jews. The effect of this war on the Jewish population of Palestine was utterly devastating—the entire region was wholly depopulated, and nothing resembling a Jewish state arose in the area again until modern Israel.

There were two more Jewish revolts during the later Roman and Byzantine eras, but nothing on the scale of the three previous wars. A minor revolt against Gallus, emperor of the east arose in 351 but was quickly put down. Three hundred years later, during the Roman-Persian wars, the Jews in Jerusalem allied themselves with Persia on the promise that the Sassanid government would grant them liberty. By the time emperor Heraclius reconquered the city, in 625, the Jews had broken with their Persian allies, and negotiated an amnesty for themselves. Their reconciliation was short lived however, since the Moslem Conquests were underway. The Byzantines lost control of Palestine to the Arabs in 638.

Short Biography
Simon Bar Kokhba Leader of the rebellion. Thought by many Jews to be the Messiah.
Hadrian Third of "Five Good Emperors." Talented artist and architect, good administrator.

Image Links

The tortoise
 in Last Days of Jerusalem

A hand-to-hand engagement
 in Last Days of Jerusalem

A council of war
 in Last Days of Jerusalem

Besiegers felling trees
 in Last Days of Jerusalem

Roman general addressing his troops
 in Last Days of Jerusalem

Spoils of the temple carried in triumph
 in Last Days of Jerusalem