RomanArmyTalk

Full Version: Jews in the Roman Army?
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
Pages: 1 2
I was curious - is anyone aware of a Jewish presence in the Republican or Imperial Armies? I recall reading that there were Jews serving as auxiliaries in Pompey's army at Pharsalus - or would these have been an allied contingent sent by a Herodian ruler? Is there any evidence for auxiliary cohorts being recruited from the native population of Judea, or even of individual Jews being accepted into the army before and after the Diaspora under Hadrianus?

I am also curious as to how the Jews were armed during the Jewish wars of 68 - 73 and under Hadrian; I presume they would have utilized a lot of gear taken from slain or captured Romans, but was there a particular weapon that was considered typical of the Jewish rebels? Any answers would be appreciated,

Jon
I think one issue is the definition of Jew. Do you mean people worshipping one god? Then your answer is yes, because there were several Cohortes Sebastenorum, the inhabitants of Samaria. They considered themselves to be members of the Covenant (the Biblical "Samaritans"); however, not everyone agreed. The Jews in Jerusalem hated the Samaritans, because they did not worship in Jerusalem.
To a point, by Jew I am indeed implying the monotheistic inhabitants of the Empire (even the early Christian Church) but I specifically meant the Jewish inhabitants of the provinces of Syria, Aegypta, and especially Iudea, both Samaritans and Jerusalem-worshipping Jews.
Quote:To a point, by Jew I am indeed implying the monotheistic inhabitants of the Empire (even the early Christian Church) but I specifically meant the Jewish inhabitants of the provinces of Syria, Aegypta, and especially Iudea, both Samaritans and Jerusalem-worshipping Jews.
Here's your man.
Jona,

You beat me to it. I had just found my source on Tiberius Alexander (in Rome & Jerusalem by Martin Goodman) and signed in when I saw your post.

Your command of the sources never fails to impress. :!:

With regard to Jews in the Roman Army, at the level of the "common" man, Goodman has this to say (discussing the Roman Army as engine for social integration):

"The provincials were accustomed to live with the soldiers, and enjoyed association with them; in fact many civilians were bound to the soldiers by ties of friendship and marriage." wrote the historian Tacitus, describing the legions in Syria in 69. Conversely, the fact that Jews, unless they abandoned their Jewish customs, did not become soldiers in the Roman army will have hindered such a process of social integration. There is a striking lack of evidence for Jews joining the Roman army voluntarily, probably because they objected to the requirement to participate in the pagan religious ceremonies, especially sacrifice to the military standards, which were normal for Roman troops as demonstration of their loyalty to the commander-in-chief, the emperor. Josephus reports Roman govenors taking seriously a claim by the Hasmonean ruler Hyrcanus II in 43 BCE that Jews "cannot undertake military service because they may not bear arms or march on the days of the Sabbath; nor can they obtain the native foods to which they are accustomed." (Goodman, Rome & Jerusalem, pages 109-110)

:wink:

Narukami
"Sons of Israel in Caesar’s Service" by Andrew J. Schoenfeld is available online:
http://muse.jhu.edu/demo/shofar/v024/24.3schoenfeld.pdf
Excellent -- Thanks for the Link.

Of course the issue here is were these soldiers considered Jewish?

It seems the answer is "No" if asking the Rabbi's,

Echoing the sentiments of these scholars and rabbis, modern Jewish historians
have also tended to view Jewish participation in the Roman military with
skepticism, often labeling Jewish soldiers apostates or questioning their attachment
to the Jewish community


Where as the soldiers themselves clearly did consider themselves to be Jewish.
They were able to square participating in the veneration of the standards with the laws of their faith.

Interesting article -- thanks again.

:wink:

Narukami
Yes, a good article, thank you for the link. I am wondering - I read that Iulius Caesar guaranteed the religious rights of the practicing Jews of the Empire during his dictatorship - perhaps Jews would have been exempt from worshiping the standards and participating in the pagan holidays. By the time we hear of Christian soldiers being persecuted for refusing to participate in these rites, the Church had already grown far apart from its Jewish origins...
Quote:perhaps Jews would have been exempt from worshiping the standards and participating in the pagan holidays.
Why should they? Judaism, back then, was very pluriform and the soldiers had consciences of their own. It was the religious professionals, like the priests, the scribes, and the rabbis, who did not allow any compromise with Paganism. For most Jews/Judaeans, this was just theoretical, and it should be stressed that much rabbinical literature is dedicated to living in a world in which ritual purity could not be kept (compare the central message of 4 Ezra: the Law is impossibly difficult).
Indeed, I find it difficult to imagine that certain groups of soldiers would be allowed to "opt out" of paying respect to the Standards and the Emperor. This veneration of the standards was one of the corner stones of a legion's corporate identity as well as the pride & discipline of the legion.

Generally speaking the Romans were very tolerant when it came to race, color, creed, so long as due respect was paid to the civic religion, which in the case of the legions were the Standards and the Emperor.

Jona echos the thrust of Schoenfeld's article that Jewish religious practices could vary widely depending upon who you were and where you lived thus making it possible for some to reconcile service in the legions and impossible for others.

As I remember my active duty service, no special dispensation was made to excuse certain members from duties or ceremonies -- we were all soldiers and all part of the unit while on duty and what we did off duty was our own business so long as it did not bring disrepute to our unit or to the Army. I have a feeling that was much the same for Roman legionaries. But that is just a guess... :?

:wink:

Narukami
I think that the core of the problem is who defines a Jew. Because our sources were written by religious specialists, we tend to equate their opinions with Judaism. Most believers had other concerns than the theory of ritual purity (et cetera), and were unable to write down their opinions. As always, our written sources are to be distristed because they are written sources and as such not representative.

Living in a society that was heavily influenced by Christianity, we may have become a bit too well-acquianted with "orthodoxy" as a religious category. In Rabbinical Judaism and Islam, we find corresponding categories, and we can also find religious specialists among these religious. But of course, for the Jew, Pagan, or Christian in the street, back then, this did not matter at all.
It was not unprecedented for Jews to serve as soldiers / mercenaries in foreign armies. IIRC, Egypt and the Ptolemaic army were swelled by Jewish refugees fleeing either the Seleucids and /or the Maccabees. I may have read this from Goodman's book but can't remember at the moment.

~Theo
Quote:It was not unprecedented for Jews to serve as soldiers / mercenaries in foreign armies.
The best example is even older: mercenaries in Persian service in Elephantine, fifth century BC. Their written documents show that they were, being Jews, hated by the local people: the mercenaries sacrificed goats, while an Egyptian goat-god was venerated near Elephantine. At some point, there was a pogrom, and the temple of the mercenaries was destroyed. We read about their appeal to the satrap, who discusses it with the high priest in Jerusalem. Other documents are about the lease of land and dowries, about the Passover meal and other aspects of daily life.

Most fascinating is a reference to the temple of the god of the Jews, who is called Yaho, and his wife. This proves that there were still Jews for whom the cultic reforms of Josiah did not really matter: building a temple, venerating more than one god, respecting foreign gods, and writing down the full name of JHVH - it was all rather unorthodox, according to later opinions. Still, they claimed to be Jews and were considered to be Jews by (a) the Egyptians; (b) the satrap; © the high priest in Jerusalem.
Ugh, yeah, sorry about having to march over "into town" and crack heads for starting stuff... It's just a job ya know, nothing personal Tongue

but then if the Jews and Greeks would stop bickering with each other over their self-proclaimed "Alexandrian citizenship", we Romans wouldn't have to be in the towns every other week cracking heads, right? Besides, this "citizenship" mumbo-jumbo...don't they realize it's all under Roman authority now? Sheesh, get a clue, people! :twisted:
There is a story of a Jewish mercenary in service to a hellenistic king- I think Ptolemy- who when listening to arguements over what omen a circling bird portends, shoots the bird and kills it. In essense saying "silly greeks, its just a bird". I don't know where I read this, does anyone know the reference? It might be one of the early christian writers.
Pages: 1 2