Freedom of Zion
Among all the enemies of Rome, few were as troublesome as the Jews of Israel. This tiny, impoverished land was host to two bloody revolts which claimed the full attention of the Romans.
The Romans felt it was necessary to quell these rebellions – even at great expense – to show the rest of its provinces the consequences of revolution. The first of these two revolts against the tyranny of Rome began in AD 66, during the reign of Emperor Nero, and continued in earnest until AD 70, when Jerusalem fell. Thereafter only small pockets of rebellion persisted. The last group of rebels to fall were besieged at the hilltop fortress of Massada.
Their epic struggle ended by suicide on May 1, AD 73. The coins of the First Revolt have a variety of designs, all of which are symbolic of Jewish customs and culture which they hoped to preserve in their struggle against Rome. Shown on this coin are a chalice and a lulav with etrog with inscription on the chalice side tells us this coin was struck in “year four” of the revolt (AD 69) and the inscription on the lulav side declares the very purpose of the revolt: “The Freedom of Zion.”
First Jewish Revolt
The war of the Jews against Rome did not begin suddenly. With the appointment of the procurators clashes of short duration were frequent, even during relatively quiet times. The final straw that broke Jewish patience was the mistreatment by Procurator Florus, even with the warning by the Emperor Agrippa II that “Jews around the world will be devastated by the enemy if you rebel.”
Despite in-fighting amongst the Jews, they unified sufficiently to rout the Romans in and around Jerusalem in May, 66 AD. These victories staggered the arrogant Romans, however, as predicted by Agrippa II, revenge was taken by murdering Jews throughout the Roman Empire.
The Romans knew that success by the Judaeans would give ideas to other nations under their domination, so quelling them was imperative. What with the committment of the Jews resulting in extended sieges, deaths of emperors, insanity of emperors, and civil wars, it took the better part of five years to conquer the Jews. The final three years the zealots of Massada held out, and even when this heroic bastian of freedom fell, the Jews were not crushed. At the moment Rome was declaring a final “victory”, the Emperor Titus was giving his blessing to a center of Jewish learning in the city of Jabneh.
Antonius Felix Under Claudius
Following the exile of Herod Archelaus in 6 CE., Judea was annexed to the Roman province of Syria. The Emperor Augustus appointed Conponius to the post of procurator, or governor, over Judea.
He was the first of 14 men to hold this position. With the exception of the three years Agrippa I reigned as king the procurators ruled until 66 CE., when the first revolt erupted. The procurators resided at Caesarea, the magnificent harbor city built by Herod I. Unlike the governors of Syria, the procurators of Judea were not former senators or others of aristocratic rank, but were from lower social classes.
The procurators who took power after the short reign of Agrippa I were even worse than their predecessors. Of one of them, Felix, who rose to the post of procurator from slavery, Tacitus wrote: “he exercised the prerogative of a king in the spirit of a slave, with superlative cruelty and licentiousness.” This is a coin from this period of Judaean history.