The Success of Vespasian

Chronology of the War Against the Romans

According to Josephus:

Part 5


Vespasian gave strict orders that Josephus should be guarded with great caution, intending to soon send him to Nero.

Hearing this, Josephus expressed a wish to speak with him alone. When therefore all were ordered to withdraw except his son Titus and two of their friends, he said, "O Vespasian, although you suppose you have taken captive a forsaken Josephus, I have come as a messenger of great tidings. Had I not been sent by God to you, I know the law of the Jews, and how it is fitting for generals to die.

Do you send me to Nero? For what? Will any successors of Nero endure -- until you?

You are to be Caesar, O Vespasian, and Emperor, you, and this your son. Bind me now still more securely, and keep me for yourself, for thou, O Caesar, are not only lord over me, but over the land, and the sea, and all the human race; and certainly I deserve to be punished by closer custody than now, if I fabricate anything concerning God."

When he had said this, Vespasian at that time did not believe him, supposing that Josephus came up with this as a cunning trick to save himself. But after a little while he came to have faith in this, for God was already raising in him thoughts of obtaining the Empire, and by other signs foreshadowing his advancement.

                                   (Josephus, The Jewish War 3.8.9 399-408)

From the Roman historian Suetonius:

"In Judaea, Vespasian consulted the oracle of the God of Carmel and was given a promise that he would never be disappointed in what he planned or desired, however lofty his ambitions. Also, a distinguished Jewish prisoner of Vespasian's, Josephus by name, insisted that he would soon be released by the very man who had now put him in fetters, and who would then be Emperor. Reports of further omens came from Rome..."
                                    (The Twelve Caesars, Vespasian 5)

The illustration above shows Josephus brought before Vespasian, depicted as Emperor, after the prophecy has been fulfilled; Josephus' chains are smashed to pieces by a worker to demonstrate he should never have been a prisoner. This woodcut is from an 18th-century edition of William Whiston's translation, courtesy of Ken West.


    1.  The Galilean Campaign, 67 CE
    2.  The Judaean Campaign, 68-69 CE
    3.  Emperor Vespasian

For military terminology, see: The Organization of The Roman Army


            by G. J. Goldberg

Nero's Choice

Flavius Vespasian was 56 years old when Emperor Nero turned to him to put down the rebellion in Judaea. The choice was a natural one. Vespasian had gained a great deal of military experience when he assisted in the subjugation of Britain under the Emperor Claudius, and since then had engaged in a standard political career as a governor of Africa and other provinces, with command of the associated armies. Of relatively humble origins and not greatly ambitious, Vespasian was seen as posing no threat to Nero's authority, although he had for a time been in Nero's disfavor, according to Suetonius, for "either leaving the room during the Emperor's song recitals, or staying and falling asleep." (The Twelve Caesars, Vespasian 4).

Nero was touring Greece when he heard of the defeat of Cestius in Judaea, and Vespasian was conveniently at hand as a member of his touring court and also, therefore, not far from Judaea. Vespasian's elder son, Titus, was at 24 already also an experienced commander, another factor contributing to Nero's choice.

Vespasian would take command of the Fifth and Tenth Legions in Syria, and his son would gather the Fifteenth Legion in Egypt and march it overland to join up with his father.

Terror Tactics

Martin Goodman writes, in The Ruling Class of Judaea, "...the Roman commander surely knew that Jerusalem's walls would be exceptionally difficult to breach. Any technique that could avoid  a direct assault with the danger of the loss of thousands of soldiers must be avoided. So he, like Cestius Gallus before him, chose a strategy of terror." (p. 182)  Thus Vespasian's' first strategic goal became the subjugation of Galilee.

Josephus' men refused to face the combined legions in the field; as a result, their activities in Galilee were purely defensive. The cities Josephus had fortified waited their turn for the Vespasian's army to come to them; but several of them gave formidable resistance that infuriated the Roman soldiers.

Josephus Captured

Josephus was captured at Jotapata, under extraordinary circumstances, after a siege of forty-seven days.  When brought before Vespasian and Titus, Josephus predicted that Vespasian would become emperor. He was not believed, and spent the next two years in chains in the Roman camp, during which he began to write about the war. After four emperors died in quick succession, and Vespasian became Emperor himself, Josephus was freed and adopted into Vespasian's family, the Flavians, and so became Flavius Josephus.

His unique position on the Roman side gives us one of the very few descriptions of the procedures of the Roman army (War 3.5). He also gives valuable accounts of the geography and lore of Judaea, describing each region in turn as it is subdued by the Romans.

What happened to Josephus' enemies

During Josephus' short command of Galilee he was constantly opposed by local leaders. These had various fates after the invasion by Vespasian, as shown in the following table. See Chronology of the War Part 4: Josephus in Galilee.

Josephus' Enemy
Tiberius Justus son of Pistus Having deserted to Agrippa II, he is accused of setting fire to Greek cities and Vespasian orders him executed; Agrippa does not carry out the order. Twenty years later, Justus writes his own version of the war that is highly critical of Josephus.
Tiberius Jesus son of Sapphias Flees to Tarichaea after moderates surrender Tiberias; probably either killed or sold into slavery when Tarichaea falls.
Gischala  John son of Levi ("John of Gischala") Flees when Titus takes the city; takes refuge in Jerusalem and becomes one of the factional leaders in the subsequent infighting.



1. The Galilean Campaign, 67 CE

        Vespasian invades Galilee (May)
        Gabara taken
        Jotapata beseiged and taken (June-July)
        Josephus captured; predicts Vespasian will become Emperor
        Japha and Mt. Gerizim taken
        Joppa pirates destroyed
        Tiberias surrenders peacefully to Titus
        Naval battle on the Sea of Galilee
        Tarichaeae taken by Titus(September)
        Gamala beseiged and taken (November)
        Gischala surrenders peacefully
        John of Gischala flees to Jerusalem with supporters

2. The Judaean Campaign, 68-69 CE

            Jamnia and Azotus taken
            Factional fighting in Jerusalem
            Gadara taken
            Peraea (eastern Judaea) and Jericho taken by Placidus
            Western Judaea taken by Vespasian
            Gerasa falls
            Emperor Nero assassinated
            Operations temporarily suspended
            The rest of Judaea and Idumaea taken
            Jerusalem is isolated

3. Emperor Vespasian, 69 CE
            The army in Caesarea declares Vespasian Emperor
            Josephus is freed
            Vespasian leaves Judaea for Alexandria
            Pro-Vespasian forces in Rome defeat Vitellius
            Vespasian leaves Alexandria for Rome

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