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The Peloponnesian War Summary of Battles and Betrayals – Part Two

by August 11, 2017

The entirety of the Peloponnesian war is broken into two parts, punctuated by a brief, and probably very welcomed, armistice. The total engagement, with all its battles and betrayals, began in 431 BC and finally concluded with complete devestation in 404 BC. The first collection of campaigns, referred to as the “Archidamian War” after the Spartan king, lasted a full ten years.
The Plan of Attack for the land-loving Spartans and their allies was to surround the Athenians, thereby depriving them of their productive fields. This, however, was only partially effective because the Spartans could sustain siege for just a few weeks at a time. The hoplites, or infantrymen, were still farmers after all. They had to return to their own harvest and to quell the occasional slave uprising.
Athenian Strategy

Athenian Strategy

Nonetheless, Pericles, the Atheniangeneral, advised his men to not enter into combat with Sparta’s masterful soldiers on the ground. They would only fail. Instead, the Athenians, far superior in naval warfare, protected the access to their port with a formidable wall and relied on the dominance of their fleet to launch attacks against their enemy. So far, so good.
Bust of Pericles

The Athenian General, Pericles

That’s when the plague hit. Perhaps more than any other factor, it was the sweeping disease that weakened Athens and brought the fair city to her knees. It wiped out over 30,000 citizens, sailors and soldiers, including their revered general and his sons. It is estimated that between one-third to two-thirds of the entire Athenian population perished.
After all the bodies had been disposed of, Athens renewed her military ambitions with emboldened hostility. The general who replaced Pericles, Cleon, embarked on an aggressive strategy for taking down the Spartans. The Athenians continued relentlessly with their naval raids, and stretched their military activities into Boeotia and Aetolia. In addition they began fortifying posts, one of which was near Pylos on a tiny island called Sphacteria. There the course of the first war turned in Athens’s favour.
Finally, things were looking up for Athens. They started taking advantage of Sparta’s greatest weakness: Helots. Helots were essentially slaves that made the Spartan system possible. By doing the farm work, they freed up the citizens’ time to become expert soldiers. However, they were also prone to revolts – and the Athenian presence at nearby posts helped spur them on. Without their working class, Sparta would have a hard time of surviving.
The Athenians rejoiced after the Battle of Pylos in 425, when they defeated the Spartans and captured between 300 and 400 soldiers. However, this joy did not last long. The Spartans fought back with their own belligerent general, Brasidas. He raised an army and took the Athenian silver mines, a crucial source of funding.
Bust of Thucydides

The historian, Thucydides

Interestingly enough, it was Thucydides, the famous historian, who was supposed to have saved the Athenian silver mines. Maybe it’s not so strange then that he said the following: “War is a matter not so much of arms as of money.”
However, Thucydides failed to arrive at the mines in time to defend them and consequently was exiled for his failure. Fortunately for us, this meant he was able to communicate with both sides, gaining a unique perspective which he later recorded in his major work, History of the Peloponnesian War.
The Athenians also knew that silver was pretty key. And so, they tried to retake their productive metallic mines… but, maybe not so tragically, the bellicose generals from both sides, Brasidas and Cleon, were killed in the fight. With no hawkish fame seekers to push the men into action, it was hard to keep warring. In fact, this resulted in the Peace of Nicias, which spanned 6 years.
‘Peace’, however, might be a little bit of an overstatement. There were still plenty skirmishes. Alliances were created and broken and large forces navigated the seas and lands… war was just a shot away.
Click HERE to read about the post peace Grecian breakdown in The Peloponnesian War Summary of Battles and Betrayals – Part Three: The Sicilian Expedition.
“The Peloponnesian War Summary of Battles and Betrayals – Part Two” was written by Anya Leonard

The Peloponnesian War Summary of Battles and Betrayals – Part One

by July 18, 2017

Reconstruction of Athens

Athens in its Golden Age

You couldn’t imagine two cities less alike. Athens was a powerful democracy where citizens spent their days reclining and discussing politics and culture.

Sparta was a ruthless oligarchy where individuals were born and bred to fight. Athens controlled a large, mostly coastal territory with its commanding navy, while Sparta was infamous for its authoritative army. The former had its own empire; the latter ran the Peloponnesian League. In ethnicity and dialect, too, the Athenians were Ionian, the Spartans Dorian.

Sparta versus Athens

The Navy versus the Army

The Peloponnesian War was bound to happen… eventually.

The two great cities were too contrary, too dominant to stand in the other’s shadow. They were enemies. Man, throughout time, has found causes, large and small, over which to wage war. Jealousies, grudges and human nature, ever open to corruption and debasement, push him to the battlefield.
The Peloponnesian war was no exception.
It was a war that forever changed the Ancient Greek world. It took down the mightiest city-state, Athens, and established Sparta as the superior power. Costly campaigns plunged the Peloponnese into a deep poverty, from which they never really recovered. The war itself was a shift from the earlier, smaller battles to full-out warfare across the region, initiating atrocities never before seen. It marked the end of the fifth century BC and the Golden Age of Athens.
This war, while greater than previous skirmishes, was not entirely anomalous. The two immensely powerful city states had been at each other’s throats for years in the first Peloponnesian war. They only managed a respite from the violence with the ‘Thirty Years Peace’ treaty in the winter of 446/5 BC. That peace accord, however, didn’t really last long.

Thucydides, the great historian and the source for most of the information on the Peloponnesian war, spelled it out clearly: “Peace is an armistice in a war that is continuously going on.”
the_peloponnesian_war__431___404_bc__by_hms_endeavour-d5a56fn
Trouble started brewing as early as 440 BC when some of the Athenian allies started to revolt. Sparta wanted to take advantage of its weakened enemy, which would have triggered a major assault. It was held off, however, by another key player, Corinth. But the calmness proved fleeting. Alliance breaks, wavering warships, stringent trade sanctions, mutinies and betrayals across the region all threatened to erode the thin veneer of Grecian stability.

And then Athens infuriated Corinth, their original saviors. Strategically placed warships stopped the Corinthians from capturing Corcyra, a powerful sea colony not yet allied to either side. This did not sit well with the budding city-state. The insults, however, did not stop there. Afterwards Athens instructed Potidaea, a tributary ally of Athens but a colony of Corinth, to become submissive to the Athenian Empire. Essentially, they were ordered to tear down their walls, send hostages to Athens, dismiss the Corinthian magistrates from office, and refuse the magistrates that the city would send in the future. Now Corinth was really angry.
Eventually, in 423 BC, Sparta summoned the members of the Peloponnesian League to air their grievances with Athens. A debate ensued with the Athenians (who were present…though not invited). The Corinthians accused Sparta of not having the gumption to challenge the growing Athenian empire, goading them on to fight. The Athenians, for their part, retorted that unleashing Sparta’s military might could have undesired consequences. In the end, a Spartan majority voted and declared that Athens had broken the peace agreement… essentially declaring hostility.
And this is how the war began, with a whine and not a bang.
——
To read Part Two of the Peloponnesian War Summary of Battles and Betrayals, click HERE.
“The Peloponnesian War Summary of Battles and Betrayals – Part One” was written by Anya Leonard

We’re building a wall…and Sparta’s going to pay for it!

by August 26, 2016

We’ve discussed The Donald in these pages before. Almost every time we’ve come back from the ordeal beaten and bloodied after perusing our reader responses.
Is Trump the “democratic tyrant” that Plato warns us about in his The Republic?
We pondered that question some months ago. Seemed plausible at the time, but maybe we had the guy wrong. Perhaps Big Don isn’t a fear monger at all. He might just be a classical reader!
Sure, he’s the kinda guy that wants to build a wall because those damn foreigners are coming to kill us.
But he’s not the first…
A great, big, beautiful wall
 
That brings us to our bit of history for today.
Building walls was not an unusual occurrence in the ancient world. Off the top of your head, you could probably name the Great Wall of China, the Walls of Benin, or perhaps even Hadrian’s Wall.
Defensive walls were an integral part of the ancient world. During the infancy of human civilization, marauding pirates, encroaching foreign armies, and addled emperors with a penchant for putting entire cities to the flame were vey real concerns.
Today we look at one particular set of walls. They are the Long Walls of ancient Athens described by Thucydides in his The History of the Peloponnesian War.
The walls of the ancient Athenian city began construction during the lead up to the Peloponnesian War in the mid 5th century BC.
N.B. The Persian armies of King Xerxes had previously destroyed the Athenian walls during the Greco-Persian wars several decades earlier.
An interesting piece of engineering, defensive walls were erected around the city proper, but construction also began on a series of 6km “Long Walls” that would connect the city of Athens to its ports at Piraeus.
Wall
The Athenian Long Walls
The Long Walls created a protected corridor that could provide a valuable link to the sea, even during times of siege.
More interesting than the walls themselves was the story behind how they were built.
The Missing Envoys
 
The historian Thucydides tells us that after the successful expulsion of the Persian armies, the Spartan Greeks looked upon Athens with fear and mistrust. In the course of “defending” smaller cities from the Persians, Athens had acquired herself a sizeable empire. The Athenians coerced or otherwise intimidated smaller cities to join their military coalition or otherwise face destruction.
Fearing the strength of a fortified Athenian city, the Spartans pleaded with Athens to not reconstruct the defensive walls.
They would have themselves preferred to see neither her nor any other city in possession of a wall; though here they acted principally at the instigation of their allies, who were alarmed at the strength of her newly acquired navy and the valour which she had displayed in the war with the Medes.

-Thucydides (History of the Peloponnesian War, Book I, Chapter IV)

 
Themistocles, the man largely credited with orchestrating the Greek victory over the Persians, informed the Spartans that he would sit with them and discuss the proposition.
You know-hash it out.
Themistocles proceeded at once to Sparta but informed his countrymen to delay the departure of themistoclesthe other emissaries. Upon his arrival, the general stalled for time and made excuses. His colleagues had yet to arrive, you see, so he couldn’t possibly go before the Spartan assembly to discuss the prospect of an Athenian wall.
The Spartans trusted Themistocles, a man who was for years their ally. However, unbeknownst to them, the construction of the Athenian wall had already begun.
The Spartans heard rumors of the wall and deployed emissaries to confirm the reports. Themistocles secretly sent word to the Athenians to capture the emissaries and detain them indefinitely.
By this time, construction of the Athenian walls was far enough along that Themistocles felt it safe to drop his ruse. He announced openly that the Athenian wall, to the great consternation of the Spartans, had already been constructed.
In essence, saying: Whaddya gonna do about it?
Taking a page from Thucydides
 
By this time our mind drifts back to the modern age.
Is it fair to The Donald to compare him to ancient demagogues? While we’re at it, is it fair to the demagogues to compare them to Trump?
No answers for certain…but we sure would love to hear what you have to say, dear reader.
For now though, let’s be content with our examination of this unique bit of history. We don’t know precisely how Themistocles made his case to the Athenian people, what stirring rhetoric he must have employed.
But we like to imagine…
Hey guys, I got great news. We’re going to build a big, beautiful wall…
And Sparta’s going to pay for it!

The Fall of Jerusalem (Part 2)

by July 28, 2016

It was not often said of the Romans that they were an empire tolerant of seditious behaviour.
Though arguments can be made that they often bestowed certain benefits on the peoples they subjugated (a certain well-known scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian springs to mind), once a nation lost its statehood and became a Roman territory, acts of physical dissent were not taken, in any sense, as constructive criticism.
Thus, when the people of Judea rose up to initiate the First Jewish-Roman War (66-73AD), the Latin overlords neither ‘umm-ed’ nor ‘ahh-ed’ about the course to take next. The responsibility for putting the Jews back in their place, and reinforcing that said place now belonged not to them, but to Rome, fell to the legate of Syria, Cestius Gallus.
A Surprising Defeat
 
Jerusalem
Whether through incompetence or an underestimation of the foe, and despite some initial gains, Gallus was soon humbled at the Battle of Beth Horon—at which he not only lost 6000 men, but the very symbol of Roman imperium, the legion’s eagle!
For the Jews, this great victory was a recruiting tool no amount of Roman repression could equal; there was now belief that the interlopers in their land could not merely be resisted, but defeated.
“It’s difficult to overstate how important the eagle was to a legion. For example, the ones lost at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest (9AD) were passionately sought after, the last taking 32 years to recover!”
The Romans soon realized that this conflict was not going to be won simply because the enemy were overawed by their shiny breastplates and neat formations, this was a fight that needed to be taken seriously. In true Hollywood style, the floundering Emperor Nero turned to a legendary commander, one currently in the political wilderness (having previously been booted off the ‘force’ (possibly for falling asleep during one of Nero’s theatrical recitals)), but who was now called back for one last job because, damn it, he was the best.
This was how Vespasian, together with his son Titus and 60,000 troops, began systematically breaking the Jewish resistance in town after town across Judea. The wily old soldier knew that, as long as he was making headway, as long as cities were falling and Jews were dying, there was no need to engage the bastion of Jerusalem itself, but leave the rebels to stew and hear daily news of their comrades’ deaths or enslavements.
A Nation Divided
Another, unforeseen, advantage for the Romans was that the radicals they failed to kill in the outlying towns fled to, and took refuge in, Jerusalem. And, as is so often the case when schisms abound, vicious infighting broke out. There resulted, therefore, a bizarre situation wherein the hardliner Jewish forces (the Zealots) were besieged inside the Temple by the more moderate faction, themselves inside the city walls. A separate, but equally radical group (the Edomites) came to relieve their fellow extremists who managed to sneak out of the Temple and unbar the gates during a thunderstorm, thus admitting their remorseless comrades.
Jerusalem
The result would undoubtedly have brought a smile to Vespasian’s lips; at least 6000 Jewish soldiers and countless civilians lost their lives. The cruel irony is that this occurred in 68AD, a year in which Rome was at her weakest. The assisted suicide of Nero had ushered in the Empire’s own era of civil infighting in what was to become known as the Year of the Four Emperors; the fourth and final of which was a popular soldier who had shown great skill, tact and loyalty to his country, Vespasian.
A Bloodthirsty New Threat
The new Emperor left Judea in the charge of his son, Titus (who would one day also inherit the throne from his father). Titus, finally unbound from the steady and prudent influence of his sire, unleashed his youthful impetuosity by marching on and besieging Jerusalem – though not without decimating any unfortunate towns that lay in his wake.
The siege was, in engineering terms, a colossal one. Titus’ forces dug a trench around the entire city’s circumference and, outside of that, built their own walls to completely isolate Jerusalem from the wider world – as well as ensuring anyone exiting it was promptly caught and crucified.
In spite of the enemy being at the gates, infighting was still prevalent in the city itself; a masochistic bickering epitomised by the decision of the Zealots to burn the city’s food reserves in order to force the undecided into an ultimatum: fight or starve. Though many suffered the latter fate, the city finally began to cohesively defend itself as the threat of a full-on Roman assault became evermore imminent.
Some accounts estimate those besieged inside the three vast city walls at close to half a million, whilst contemporary
“Titus’ forces dug a trench around the entire city’s circumference and, outside of that, built their own walls to completely isolate Jerusalem from the wider world – as well as ensuring anyone exiting it was promptly caught and crucified.”
Jewish historian, Josephus, claimed it was about double that. Either way, such numbers would have meant that this once proud beacon of Jewish civilisation could only have been a picture of squalor, starvation, disease and death during the seven long months that Titus’ troops took to breach the three, seemingly impenetrable, walls; they finally managed to break through in the summer of 70AD.
Titus
The Fall of Jerusalem, depicted on the Arch of Titus
Once inside, the Romans were merciless. The city was ransacked and burned. The surviving population was enslaved. The Second Temple was looted and destroyed.
Though it took another three years to seek out and destroy the last of the Judean resistance, the fall of Jerusalem was the de facto point at which Roman victory was assured.
Josephus tells us that over a million civilians died during the great siege with another hundred-odd thousand sold into slavery. Though such contemporary accounts are usually considered to be inflated, if the reality was only a fraction of this, then it must still have been one of the most horrific and bloody episodes in antiquity.
The importance of the event in the history of their respective civilizations was lost on neither the Romans nor the Jews. The former celebrated the campaign both on official coins and on the—still standing—Arch of Titus, whilst Jews today still recall the destruction of the Second temple on their annual day of mournful reflection, Tisha B’Av.

The Battle of Arginusae

by December 9, 2015

The year is 406 BC. The Peloponnesian War has been raging off and on for almost three decades. The Spartan general, Callicratidas, is roaming the eastern Aegean with a fleet of about 140 triremes. Callicratidas lays siege to the city of Methymna on the island of Lesbos. The general takes the city and has the potential to take the entire island of Lesbos.
The island of Lesbos was strategically important. If Callicratidas can take the island, then he will have clear access to the Hellespont, a narrow strait in northwestern Turkey. The Hellespont was a crucial grain supply route for the Athenians. If Hellespont fell into Spartan hands, the Athenians would loose access to one of their most crucial supply lines.
The Athenians could not allow this.
The Athenian general, Conon, was harbored at the nearby island of Samos with a meager fleet of about 70 triremes. Despite having low morale among his men, Conon is forced to sail to meet Callicratidas and attempt to thwart his efforts.
Conon was older and more experienced than
“The Hellespont was a crucial grain supply route for the Athenians. If Hellespont fell into Spartan hands, the Athenians would loose access to one of their most crucial supply lines.”
Callicratidas. However, experience can only do so much. Conon’s fleet confronted the Spartans off the coast of Lesbos, but faced with overwhelming odds and severe losses by the ensuing skirmish, Conon was forced to flee to the safety of Mytilene, a city on the southeastern side of the island.
The historian, Donald Kagan tells us…
Conon’s situation was extremely perilous. He was cut off from obtaining supplies, and he found himself in a large city containing many people who had revealed themselves to be hostile to Athens in the past….

…Unless a message got through, Mytilene might fall because of treason before help could arrive. The fall of the city would surely cause the loss of the whole island and, no less important, of the rest of the fleet. –Donald Kagan (The Peloponnesian War)

Desperate times, desperate measures…
Conon did manage to get word to the Athenians who quickly responded by building an additional 70 triremes to the 40 that they already had on hand. In order to pay for such an endeavor, the Athenians were forced to melt down a golden statue of the goddess Nike, which had been placed atop the Acropolis, and mint the gold as coins.
Trireme
In order to rescue Conon, the Athenians built 70 additional warships in the span of a month.
Manning the ships would be another task altogether. Eventually, the Athenians were forced to enroll citizens from all classes. Wealthy aristocrats, farmers who typically served as hoplites (foot soldiers), even slaves; they were all appropriated for use upon the newly formed armada.
Every man of ripe age, whether slave or free, was impressed for this service, so that within thirty days the whole one hundred and ten vessels were fully manned and weighed anchor. –Xenophon (Hellenica)
Such scraping of the barrel had been unheard of before this time. But you know how it is, desperate times, desperate measures.
Let Them Fight!
The newly created ships sailed north to relieve Conon, who was still barricaded in the harbor of Mytilene. Callicratidas got wind of the oncoming vessels and immediately sailed to meet them before they could reinforce Conon’s ships.
Callicratidas, however, was forced to leave behind about 50 ships in order to maintain the blockade. This would have depleted his numbers to about 120. Meanwhile, the ragtag Athenian vessels had acquired a number of allied ships and had bolstered their number of warships to about 155.
Trireme
The Battle of Arginusae
The two adversaries met off the western coast of the Arginusae islands (there were three of them!). The ensuing battle was the largest and most costly sea battle of the Peloponnesian War and the largest battle ever fought between Greek navies.
The Spartans were slightly outnumbered, yes. However, the Spartans were well- trained, experienced warriors whose morale had been sustained by recent victories. The Athenians vessels, on the other had, had been slapped together in the span of a month. The crew were untrained and undisciplined. Everything was suggesting that the Spartans would win the day.
However, it was the Athenians, miraculously, who were victorious. Using clever tactics devised by their generals, Pericles the younger (illegitimate son of the statesman of the same name) was among the generals. The Athenians also used the Arginusae islands as a barrier to prevent the Spartans from outflanking them.
The losses on the side of the Athenians were twenty-five ships, crews and all, with the exception of the few who contrived to reach dry land. On the Peloponnesian side, nine out of the ten Lacedaemonian ships, and more than sixty belonging to the rest of the allied squadron, were lost. –Xenophon (Hellenica)

What goes good with executions? More executions!
There is an interesting tidbit about the aftermath of the battle.
There were approximately 25 ships that either sunk or were disabled off the coast of the Arginusae islands. The eight Athenians generals who had taken part in the battle took measures to rescue these men, but their efforts were thwarted by a sudden storm. The stranded crew all perished in storm.
The Athenians assembly blamed the generals for the loss of the stranded crew, and six of the generals (two of them had fled) were put on trial for their lives upon returning to Athens.
Coincidentally, our old buddy Socrates was acting as an epistates (an overseer of sorts) and was one of the men who would decide the fate of the generals. Interestingly, Socrates objected to trying the generals en bloc, as it was unconstitutional.
They must have told the old philosopher to keep his big trap shut, because Socrates’ objection was overruled and the generals were tried and executed for letting the stranded sailors drown.
Interestingly, it would appear that the Athenians regretted the decision to execute the generals. The Assembly actually attempted to bring charges against the main instigators of the execution.
Essentially, the Athenians regretted the first round of executions. So what do they do to make it better? More executions!
Many of the accusers fled, so none of the instigators were actually executed. But still, it’s the thought that counts.

The Fall of Jerusalem (Part 1)

by December 4, 2015

By Ben Potter
It is known as primum populi Romani bellum in Iudaeos to the Romans, ha-Mered Ha-Gadol to the Jews, and The Great Revolt to the romantically inclined. However, this brutal and bloody conflict is best and most easily known to most as the First Jewish-Roman War (66-73AD), and is yet another war on an ever-expanding list that proved Rome was no flash in the pan, boom and bust, Alexander the Great style of empire, but one that was here to conquer, to rule, to dominate and to endure.
Sack of JeruselemDepiction of the Roman Triumph celebrating the Sack of Jerusalem
However, there was something different about this conflict—something that made Rome, for a while at least, look like she may have bitten off more than she could chew; this was no ordinary war, this was a holy war… well, for some at least.
Of course, Rome had come up against plenty of dedicated and devout people during her inexorable conquest of the known world, but these had all been broadly pagan, polytheistic or invested in the veneration of a living mortal. Militant monotheists with a mandate from the Almighty to protect a land that was not merely their home, but a sacrosanct and sanctified space, were a new kettle of fish – and history bludgeoningly tells us, again and again, that people who are willing to fight for a cause greater than themselves are not those that one would wish to meet on the battlefield.
However, like a mohel at a baby-shower, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Yes, THAT King Herod
The complicated origins of this titanic tussle for the Jewish (and burgeoningly Christian) holy land date back a couple of generations prior to the outbreak of hostilities in 66AD. Indeed, the source of this tension can be traced back to a controversial figure who, at the time, was perhaps the most important man in the history of Judea, one whose acts and deeds have often been crassly misinterpreted or blurred into a peculiar religious mythology. We are, of course, talking about the King of the Jews himself… Herod the Great.
Herod
Herod The Great
We remember Herod (ruled Judea 37-04 BC) from Sunday school as the infanticidal antagonist of the Nativity story. While there is no reliable evidence for this cull of the innocents, it does fit in rather neatly with what we know about the character of this mega-lo-maniacal client-king of the Romans.
To consolidate his own power, Herod ruthlessly murdered rival claimants to the throne (including family members); a smart idea to keep oneself in power, but not so shrewd when it comes to the long-term stability of a dynasty. This
“…and history bludgeoningly tells us, again and again, that people who are willing to fight for a cause greater than themselves are not those that one would wish to meet on the battlefield.”
bloodthirstiness, as well as his toleration and support for non-Jews, his perceived bias for the Jewish diaspora, high taxes, and the fact that he was a convert, not a born Jew, meant that the Jewish population of Judea began to strongly resent Herod and, at the time of his death, needed little encouragement to turn their discontent into open rebellion.
This manifested itself in the form of an uprising led by the (capital ‘z’) Zealot, Judas of Galilee, in 6AD. This was in direct response to another bible class staple, the Census of Quirinius – itself a result of the fact that Rome had assimilated Judea into its empire in the same year, ending the small amount of autonomy it had as a vassal.
As the decades progressed, it became clear that the fragility of the empire’s newfound multiculturalism was in danger of being exposed. This was true across the Eastern Mediterranean as several provinces, particularly Egypt, struggled with the conflicting realities of being under Roman law, enjoying Greek culture and juggling elements of the pagan and Jewish faiths as well as the quasi-divine worship of the emperor.
That religious sensitivities could easily boil over into open violence was recognised even by the mad, bad, and dangerous Emperor Caligula (ruled 37-41AD) who, unhappy he wasn’t receiving due veneration from his Hebrew subjects, wanted to erect a huge statue of himself inside the Temple of Jerusalem, but was finally convinced to shelve this particular piece of blasphemous and incendiary narcissism.
Various small riots and scuffles marked the decades preceding the conflict, to find out what finally set the tinder-box ablaze, we have to turn to the pages of Josephus.
The Spark For War…
Josephus, a Jewish solider turned scribe, is one of our best sources for goings on in the region
XXXJosephus
in the first century AD and, as such, is a key figure in corroborating the life and crucifixion of Jesus (as well as the stoning of Jesus’ brother, James). Much like Polybius centuries before, Josephus, though taken prisoner by the Romans, quickly showed the worth of his intellect and connections and was soon granted his freedom and used by the Romans as a tactical ally and go-between during the war.
That he was taken prisoner at all is either a stroke of fate or a mark of the scholar’s cunning as, being trapped in a cave with forty of his comrades, they opted to assist each other in suicide rather than surrender to the Romans. They did this by stabbing every third man in a circle – some scholars suggest that Josephus may have made a swift and brilliant mental calculation in order to avoid his own death.
Now, back to the aforementioned spark. Josephus tells us that it started when some Greeks deliberately antagonized Jews by making sacrifices outside a synagogue, thus shrouding it in ritual pollution. The historian states that, although there were Jewish factions baying for blood,
the citizens of Jerusalem, although they took this matter very ill, yet did they restrain their passion; but Florus (the Roman procurator of Judea)… blew up the war into a flame and sent some to take seventeen talents (from the Temple’s treasury)
 
The unrest escalated with the Jews feeling increasingly unhappy about their tax burden as well as their duty to make prayers and sacrifices to the Emperor. Therefore it couldn’t have come as a surprise that some Roman citizens were assaulted and Florus was openly disrespected. Though some reaction would have been expected, the procurator’s drastic response was a shock to many:
Florus ventured to do what no one had done before, that is, to have men of the equestrian order whipped and nailed to the cross before his tribunal; who, although they were by birth Jews, yet were they of Roman dignity
 
However, this extremist barbarity only galvanised the Jews, who had, until then, been deeply divided as to how to deal with the Romans. First Jerusalem, then wider Judea as a whole, broke out in open revolt against their occupiers and oppressors.
The war had begun.