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Classis Syriaca in the Bar Kokhba War
#1
I've been collecting some inscriptions detailing Roman military units and individuals involved with the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt in Judea in cAD132-135. Most of these are quite self-explanatory, but one of them perhaps suggests the involvement of the Syrian fleet in the campaign.

Sextus Cornelius Dexter (CIL 08, 8934) was praefecto classis Syriacae donis militaribus donato a divo Hadriano ob bellum Iudaicum hasta pura et vexillo.

Could Dexter have been so decorated just for accompanying the emperor as part of his retinue, during the brief period in which Hadrian apparently took personal command of the operations? Or does the award of the hasta pura and vexillum imply some more active role?

Could he have been in command of a detachment of the fleet, and if so what might they have been doing? Some sort of operation on the Dead Sea, or a land-based construction or logistical function, perhaps?
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#2
The next appointment listed in Dexter's career is praef(ecto) alae I Aug(ustae) gem(inae). If I read her correctly, Valerie Maxfield considers him to have received his awards in that capacity (The Military Decorations of the Roman Army, London, 1981, pp. 176-177).
Michael King Macdona

And do as adversaries do in law, -
Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.
(The Taming of the Shrew: Act 1, Scene 2)
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#3
That seems an unusual interpretation! The full text appears to read:

Sex(to) Cornelio / Sex(ti) f(ilio) Arn(ensi) Dextro / proc(uratori) Asiae iuridico Ale/xandreae proc(uratori) Neaspo/leos et Mausolei praef(ecto) / classis Syr(iacae) donis milita/rib(us) donato a divo Hadri/ano ob bellum Iudaicum / hasta pura et vexillo / praef(ecto) alae I Aug(ustae) gem(inae) co/lonorum trib(uno) leg(ionis) VIII Aug(ustae) / praef(ecto) coh(ortis) V Raetorum / praef(ecto) fabrum III patrono / coloniae

Ala I Augusta Gemina Colonorum was based in Cappadocia during Hadrian's reign, so participation in the war in Judea might be possible, but not immediately likely. The mention of the dona comes directly after the fleet prefecture, though, in a list of other offices, so seems more appropriately to refer to it.

I've found a number of other works that refer to Dexter and his possible participation in the war, without any particularly sound conclusions: was he commanding a fleet of boats on the Dead Sea, intended to cut the rebel communications with the Arabian shore? Was there actually a naval battle off the Judean coast? No particular evidence is given either way, although Bar Kokhba's area of control does not seem to have extended to the coast, so the second seems unlikely.

There is another tantalising scrap of inscriptional stuff, however, from Rome. The very fragmentary CIL 06, 1565 seems to mention a bello Iudae(ico?)... qua Liburni ( c)lassis ornatu... orae mari[timae]... Some suggestion of naval input, maybe?

I did wonder about the 22 marines from Misenum who ended up serving in X Fretensis, but another reading of the papyrus text reveals that they were transferred around AD130, before the revolt began!
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#4
(01-23-2016, 10:35 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote: That seems an unusual interpretation! The full text appears to read:

Sex(to) Cornelio / Sex(ti) f(ilio) Arn(ensi) Dextro / proc(uratori) Asiae iuridico Ale/xandreae proc(uratori) Neaspo/leos et Mausolei praef(ecto) / classis Syr(iacae) donis milita/rib(us) donato a divo Hadri/ano ob bellum Iudaicum / hasta pura et vexillo / praef(ecto) alae I Aug(ustae) gem(inae) co/lonorum trib(uno) leg(ionis) VIII Aug(ustae) / praef(ecto) coh(ortis) V Raetorum / praef(ecto) fabrum III patrono / coloniae

Maxfield's interpretation need not be unusual. Dexter's career is set out in reverse. Thus, his military posts in order are praefectus cohortis V Raetorum, tribunus legionis VIII Augustae, praefectus alae I Augustae geminae colonorum, praefectus classis Syriacae. Coming between his posts as praefectus alae and praefectus classis, the award of decorations could, perhaps, be taken as relating to either but Maxfield evidently reads this section of the career chronologically and places the award in his tertia militia. Taken this way, the career runs, prefect of a cohort, legionary angusticlave tribune, prefect of an ala, award of decorations, prefect of a fleet, which seems to place the award more logically with his post as prefect of the ala, than as prefect of the fleet.
Michael King Macdona

And do as adversaries do in law, -
Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.
(The Taming of the Shrew: Act 1, Scene 2)
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#5
(01-24-2016, 11:58 AM)Renatus Wrote: Maxfield evidently reads this section of the career chronologically and places the award in his tertia militia.

Hmm, it seems she does. Epigraphy isn't really my strong point, obviously, but it still seems unusual - all of the career inscriptions I've seen, I think, either place the award of dona in conjunction with the post or office held, and immediately following it, no matter what the direction of chronology, or place it at the end of the list of military posts.

An example of the latter would be Statius Priscus, listed by Maxfield alongside Dexter. He has his vexillo militi donato a divo Hadriano in expeditione Iudaico at the end of the list of military posts, which has led some people (mistakenly, I think) to assume that Cohors IV Lingonem participated in the campaign - one historian even supposes, confusing Segedunum and Segontium, that the Lingones were brought to Judea due to their experience of mountain warfare gained in North Wales!...

Anyway, Maxfield's point is the difference in dona for different steps of the tres militiae - but would a fleet prefecture count as militia quarta? As there seem to be no other examples of individuated Hadrianic awards to equestrian officers beyond Priscus and Dexter, can the apparently single upward step in Dexter's dona be used as evidence that he was still doing his militiae tertia at the time? If it's equivocal, then surely a senior command based in Syria is a more likely choice for a Judean award than a more junior one in Cappodocia?
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#6
(01-24-2016, 03:13 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote: all of the career inscriptions I've seen, I think, either place the award of dona in conjunction with the post or office held, and immediately following it, no matter what the direction of chronology, or place it at the end of the list of military posts.

I can see the logic of that, especially the former.

(01-24-2016, 03:13 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote: Anyway, Maxfield's point is the difference in dona for different steps of the tres militiae - but would a fleet prefecture count as militia quarta?

I think that that is quite likely. The quarta militia was introduced by Hadrian and is normally associated with the prefecture of a milliary ala but a fleet prefecture could well be regarded as a step up from the prefecture of a quingenary ala. What may have influenced Maxfield is the scale of the award, one hasta pura and one vexillum. Although she makes the point that Hadrian may have been making awards on grounds of merit, rather than status, the Antonine evidence suggests that a recipient in his quarta miitia might expect to receive at least two hastae and two vexilla.

(01-24-2016, 03:13 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote: surely a senior command based in Syria is a more likely choice for a Judean award than a more junior one in Cappodocia?

But surely the fact that the award relates to the Judean war simply means that, whichever unit Dexter commanded at the time, it served in that war - or do I misunderstand you?
Michael King Macdona

And do as adversaries do in law, -
Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.
(The Taming of the Shrew: Act 1, Scene 2)
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#7
(01-24-2016, 05:22 PM)Renatus Wrote: whichever unit Dexter commanded at the time, it served in that war - or do I misunderstand you?

I was a bit unclear, sorry! I meant to say that if the inscription could be read either way, and we therefore can't tell which of Dexter's units participated in the war, it's a safer assumption that it was the one based on Syria rather than the one on Cappadocia. It would not be implausible for a prefect of the Syrian fleet to at least have come into contact with a large-scale imperial operation in a neighbouring province, which we know involved troops from Syria.

Anyway, to return to my original query - if we assume that Dexter's award was given for his service as praefectus classis - what might he or the fleet have been doing in the revolt?

Might that second inscription I mentioned (bello Iudae(ico?)... qua Liburni ( c)lassis ornatu... orae mari[timae]) have anything to do with it?
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#8
(01-25-2016, 10:46 AM)Nathan Ross Wrote: I meant to say that if the inscription could be read either way, and we therefore can't tell which of Dexter's units participated in the war, it's a safer assumption that it was the one based on Syria rather than the one on Cappadocia.

I don't think that this follows at all. A major revolt in Judaea could well require reinforcements to brought in from elsewhere in Asia Minor.

(01-25-2016, 10:46 AM)Nathan Ross Wrote: Anyway, to return to my original query - if we assume that Dexter's award was given for his service as praefectus classis - what might he or the fleet have been doing in the revolt?

E. Mary Smallwood suggests that it was probably undertaking naval engagements to protect or recover coastal cities from the rebels, including Caesarea which, as the Roman capital, was an obvious target for Jewish attack (The Jews under Roman rule: from Pompey to Diocletian: a study in political relations, Leiden, 2001, p. 449).

(01-25-2016, 10:46 AM)Nathan Ross Wrote: Might that second inscription I mentioned (bello Iudae(ico?)... qua Liburni ( c)lassis ornatu... orae mari[timae]) have anything to do with it?

Smallwood says that it could be Hadrianic but equally could relate to naval operations in 67 (ibid.).
Michael King Macdona

And do as adversaries do in law, -
Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.
(The Taming of the Shrew: Act 1, Scene 2)
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#9
(01-25-2016, 06:02 PM)Renatus Wrote: A major revolt in Judaea could well require reinforcements to brought in from elsewhere in Asia Minor.

True. Reinforcements did come from the Danube provinces, and possibly from Raetia and Germania too, so anything's possible!


(01-25-2016, 06:02 PM)Renatus Wrote: probably undertaking naval engagements to protect or recover coastal cities from the rebels... equally could relate to naval operations in 67

I've had a look through Smallwood's book, which is generally excellent on the revolt. In this case, though, I'm not sure if I agree. The scope of the revolt, and the area 'conquered' by the rebels, seems to have been limited to inland Judea, particularly around Hebron and the hills south of Jerusalem, and the area around the Dead Sea, perhaps spreading east into Arabia. Samaria, Galilee and the coastal areas don't seem to have been affected.

Still, again, it's possible. What I was wondering, though, is whether we have evidence of any sort of land-based campaign roles for marine troops or seamen, perhaps non-combat, that might have earned their commander an award? I vaguely remember that Jasper Oorthuys came up with a theory about fleet personnel doing something in Arabia...
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#10
(01-26-2016, 01:46 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote:
(01-25-2016, 06:02 PM)Renatus Wrote: A major revolt in Judaea could well require reinforcements to brought in from elsewhere in Asia Minor.

True. Reinforcements did come from the Danube provinces, and possibly from Raetia and Germania too, so anything's possible!


(01-25-2016, 06:02 PM)Renatus Wrote: probably undertaking naval engagements to protect or recover coastal cities from the rebels... equally could relate to naval operations in 67

I've had a look through Smallwood's book, which is generally excellent on the revolt. In this case, though, I'm not sure if I agree. The scope of the revolt, and the area 'conquered' by the rebels, seems to have been limited to inland Judea, particularly around Hebron and the hills south of Jerusalem, and the area around the Dead Sea, perhaps spreading east into Arabia. Samaria, Galilee and the coastal areas don't seem to have been affected.

Still, again, it's possible. What I was wondering, though, is whether we have evidence of any sort of land-based campaign roles for marine troops or seamen, perhaps non-combat, that might have earned their commander an award? I vaguely remember that Jasper Oorthuys came up with a theory about fleet personnel doing something in Arabia...

Jasper Oorthuys in his contribution to Ancient Warfare VOL.IV Issue 4 intitled "Fleets of the empire" suggests that roman naval troops, stationed in Italy or scattered in small bases in the Mediterrean, could act as a ready pool of trained troops to be employed in a myriad of task not necesarily related to maritime affairs, ranging from supply duties to maintaining commnunications and police operations as the necessity arose. Maybe the answer could be found looking at the syrian fleet marines acting against the judean rebels in this role. Although he refers mainly to the Italic fleets it could be supposed as well to be a job for the detachments based in the Eastern Mediterranean coasts.

salvete
SI VIS PACEM COLE IVSTITIAM

NVLLA SINE DIGNITATE FELICITAS

LVCIVS SERGIVS ANTONINVS - Toni Sagarra
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#11
(01-28-2016, 08:25 PM)LVCIVS SERGIVS ANTONINVS Wrote: Ancient Warfare VOL.IV Issue 4 intitled "Fleets of the empire"... maintaining commnunications and police operations as the necessity arose. Maybe the answer could be found looking at the syrian fleet marines acting against the judean rebels in this role.

Do you mean VOL.V, issue 5? I've just got that one... [Image: wink.png]

Yes, that could well be right. Marines and naval personnel were used against bandits and rebels, and the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt was largely a sort of guerilla war, so some kind of 'police operation' role could fit well.

Actually, with all those caves used by the rebels, I wonder if the marines and sailors were used as tunnel fighters? The 'cave of the letters' near En Gedi is high in a ravine, with a Roman camp on the clifftop above it - maybe some 'nautical ropework' was involved in taking it?
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#12
(01-29-2016, 08:18 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote:
(01-28-2016, 08:25 PM)LVCIVS SERGIVS ANTONINVS Wrote: Ancient Warfare VOL.IV Issue 4 intitled "Fleets of the empire"... maintaining commnunications and police operations as the necessity arose. Maybe the answer could be found looking at the syrian fleet marines acting against the judean rebels in this role.

Do you mean VOL.V, issue 5? I've just got that one... [Image: wink.png]

Yes, that could well be right. Marines and naval personnel were used against bandits and rebels, and the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt was largely a sort of guerilla war, so some kind of 'police operation' role could fit well.

Actually, with all those caves used by the rebels, I wonder if the marines and sailors were used as tunnel fighters? The 'cave of the letters' near En Gedi is high in a ravine, with a Roman camp on the clifftop above it - maybe some 'nautical ropework' was involved in taking it?

Well, I'm happy to see that maybe I was useful.

By the way, my paper edition reads VOL.IV issue 4 "Darkness descends: End of the Bronze Age Empires". Maybe some difference between paper and digital editions? I don't now.

regards

Toni
SI VIS PACEM COLE IVSTITIAM

NVLLA SINE DIGNITATE FELICITAS

LVCIVS SERGIVS ANTONINVS - Toni Sagarra
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#13
(01-29-2016, 08:50 PM)LVCIVS SERGIVS ANTONINVS Wrote: my paper edition reads VOL.IV issue 4 "Darkness descends: End of the Bronze Age Empires".

Aha! My mistake - I thought you were referring to V.5, the issue called 'Securing Seas and Shores: Fleets of the Roman Empire'!

Actually the earlier article you mention by Jasper sounds very interesting too - I might have to look that one up.
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#14
(01-23-2016, 02:14 PM)Nathan Ross Wrote: Or does the award of the hasta pura and vexillum imply some more active role?
I certainly took this view when I wrote the chapter on Hadrian (in 2014) for Josho Brouwer's forthcoming Ancient Generals book. Hadrian was so parsimonious with decorations that it's difficult to gauge why individuals might have received what they received. There's no other evidence of maritime action (known to me), but operations on the Dead Sea wouldn't be entirely out of the question. The award is clearly associated (imho) with the post of prefect of the Syrian fleet.
posted by Duncan B Campbell
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#15
Since I'm being quoted here... There's substantial circumstantial evidence that the Jewish revolt was very costly in terms of manpower. OTOH, it's been noted that there seems to be a relative dearth of diplomas after the revolt and a glut 25 years later, suggesting that there was a recruiment drive to bring back numbers. In that situation, men from the fleets were either drafted into other units, or just gathered up wholesale into new units. IIRC Speidel the elder discussed diplomas dated to after the revolt mentioning new Cohortes Classicae from Arabia, which very well may have found their origin in this revolt. In short: if a PraefectusClassis gained an award during this era, it need not be for maritime action of any kind..
Greets!

Jasper Oorthuys
Webmaster & Editor, Ancient Warfare magazine
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